"The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win‚" is a quote that is commonly associated with coach Bobby Knight. While Mr. Knight didn't pen the line (actually it was Bud Wilkinsin), he is in fact a fisherman and would probably agree with me that the wisdom is as equally at home in a boat as on the court. In most fishing, winning can be defined in many ways, but preparing to win is paramount to all of them. Maybe you are super-casual weekender who defines winning as spending some time outdoors with family and chasing fish is a good excuse. You could be an avid angler with thousands of dollars in tackle and a really cool boat in the garage whose idea of winning is catching something that will ultimately prove your spot in the food chain. Or maybe you are a genuine‚ "mine's bigger'n your'n" kind of guy fishing derbies in clubs who has a clear winning definition of catching more fish than everyone else on a given day. For all these anglers, preparing for the season or individual trip is a key to success. Now is the time to do it.

What you do to prepare depends on your specific fishing endeavors, but some preparations are good in all cases. For instance, a new calendar year has rolled in; did you get a new license? Waiting until you are actually going fishing will invariably lead you to scrambling around looking for a place that's open really early or late. Worse yet, maybe you'll forget altogether and have a run-in with The Man. That's surely no way to win. And while you are getting your new license, check out the new regulations. Usually changes are noted in the beginning of the literature and it will pay to know them. Who knows, the changes could be in your favor. Look for newly opened ponds, lakes, or access areas as these are often great places to have winning days by any definition.

Another good preparation tip is buying maps of any lakes you are thinking of fishing in the coming season. Check them out carefully during the cold winter months so you can apply early season reports or patterns as you hear them. Same holds true for pond fishers; get familiar with the locations, characteristics, and species during the off season so you are ready for those first spring days in March.

If you make only one preparation before you angle for the first time this season, change your line. It doesn't matter if it was brand new the last time you fished, monofilament line does not age well. If it sits on your reel in the garage all winter one of two things will happen the next time you use it. Either it will have so much memory that it will tangle in minutes, or it will be brittle and break at the wrong time. Braided lines are better about this, but check them carefully to be sure. This is also a good time to check your guides for spurs or abrasion that will damage line and limit casting. I use a Q-tip to check and clean them. Check for loose inserts, too. I also check reel seats and generally clean and inspect the entire rod. If you are a fly guy, pull your line off the reel, check you backing knot for damage, and reel the line back in while running it through a cleaning patch. Install a new leader and check out the rod for the same reasons as above.

Your reels should also get some love. I lightly clean my reels with WD-40 before re-spooling. I also put one drop of high quality oil on any bearings I can get to. Check spool edges for rough spots and re-line your spare spools, too. Generally make sure the reel is smooth, clean, and serviceable before you embark on your first get away.

Now is also the time to do some shopping. How many flies, lures, or soft plastics did you lose last year? Replace them. Many of the ones left in your tackle box are there because you didn't use them last year. Do you want to start the season without your favorite lures? Speaking of favorites, check the hooks and split rings on the ones you have left. Check your terminal tackle as well. Make sure you have pliers, nippers, floatant, hookfiles ‚ or whatever paraphernalia you use. Do the pliers need oil? Are the cutters sharp enough to handle your braid? Can you still see through your polarized shades? Again, fix or replace it now and you will have a better chance at success.

Lastly, check your clothes. This sounds stupid, but your outerwear is the first thing you'll use in spring. Boots, too. Make sure they are up to the task of keeping you both warm and dry. Being cold and wet is a losing proposition. Bottom line; spending a little time preparing for the coming season while it is freezing outside is not only a great way to increase your success by whatever definition applies, but it can be an enjoyable way to extend your season. A bonus lies in that it is an excellent way to get youngsters excited about fishing. Try it and be prepared to win when the opportunity arises this season.