Like many great ideas that go south, mine sounded like a good one at the time. My wife Maria and I had anchored the pontoon boat for the night, intending to sleep aboard on the warm August evening and skip the having to dock, drive home and return again the next day to enjoy a weekend on the water. The spot I selected was on a large gravel flat that extended from the mouth of a bay on the local flood control reservoir where we do most of our boating and fishing. This was early in our relationship, when the closest thing we had to children was a twinkle in my eye that brightened considerably whenever I had (note the past tense here.) the hull of a boat underfoot or a glass of wine in hand.
That particular night, both options conspired to set the tone for the evening, and we corked a bottle of bubbly within minutes of setting the anchor and watching the sun do the same over the western horizon. While Maria poured the vine and got things shipshape for the overnight stay, unfolding the facing bench seats to form a sleeping platform across the front of the cockpit, I was busy setting lines for catfish.
We are allowed two lines per angler in our home state, so I set four rods out, one at each corner of the boat, baited with long-lasting, foul-smelling catfish dip baits and secured in sturdy rail-mounted rod holders. The last thing I did was attach little bells to each rod, which would serve to audibly alert us to any action the baits attracted once it got too dark to see the rods.
The sun set, the wine did its job and we were comfortably cocooning when the first bell went off. Leaping from the platform I lunged for the rod, reeled in a respectable channel cat, and re-set the line. Accompanied by the scent of catfish slime and Junie's Catfish Dip, I returned to bed where I was quickly repulsed. I spent the balance of the night answering call of catfish that had a knack for knowing just when I was dozing off before grabbing the line and ringing the bells topside.
By sunrise, my shins were well-barked, all four rods were in various stages of retirement, two bells had mysteriously disappeared into the deep and my wife was no longer speaking to me.
But I did have a brace of fat channel cats for my overnight effort, thanks to the jingling bellwethers that let me know when a fish was interested in my offerings.
Passive vs. Aggressive
Ever since the first angler baited one end of his line, tossed it into the depths and tied the other to his toe before getting prone for a nap on the bank, passive fishermen have relied on alarms of one kind or another to let them know when the fish were biting. And let's face it: most of us who own pontoon or deck boats do so because the craft allows us to enjoy a variety of on-water activities which include angling, and the majority of us can hardly be called fanatic fishermen. The folks who fit that description are more likely to own hard-core fishing boats that are designed for their particular angling passion.
But even avid anglers are forced to use alarms to alert them to action at certain times. Serious bottom fishermen targeting carp and catfish-who take the sport a whole lot more seriously than I-use highly sensitive battery-powered bite indicators that trigger flashing lights, and/or electronic alarms when the line moves a pre-set distance. The alarms' sensitivity can be custom set for windy conditions and adjusted to toll at different cadences and pitches to tell the fisherman which rod is getting the bites without the angler even having to look at the rig. Some of these alarms are even wireless, offering a remote alert from a receiver that's smaller than a cell phone and can be as far as 100 feet from the tackle. The majority of these electronic bite alarms are designed for use from the shore, but most can be adapted for use onboard a boat.
Some savvy fishing reel manufacturers are getting the hint, and offer built-in alarms. Zebco has a new series of Hawg Seeker spincast and spinning models with a BiteAlert feature that has an audible alarm and a red flashing light to let the angler know when a fish is messing with a bait.
That's a better bet for boat anglers who can place the rig in any rod holder, go play some cards, read a book, watch the sun set, play slap and tickle with the spouse or go to bed for the night knowing that he or she will be aware of their baits below. And believe me, it's much easier to roll over and ignore a small flashing light in the middle of the night than a string of miniature sleigh bells sounding their merry alarm.