Game fish, whether they be marlin, tuna, sharks, mahimahi, wahoo or kingfish, can be successfully caught from all manner of boats.
You can fish from small skiffs up to megayachts over 80 feet, but how the business end of the boat, the cockpit, is outfitted plays a major role in your fishing success.
Cockpit layout has a lot to do with functionality, but what goes where and why also has a safety element to it. The deck of a pitching game boat in heavy seas is no place to be crashing into things.
Starting with the most noticeable feature on a game boat, outriggers help spread the lines when trolling and impart additional action into the lures and/or baits. Riggers are also the prime place to hang your capture or release flags at the end of the day!
Traditional braced aluminium outriggers add a certain degree of panache to a boat and contribute to a crisp release on the bite with no pole whip, but they do have their drawbacks. Maintenance is needed to keep them functioning (and looking good), and it's necessary to carry spare spreaders and wires. They can also bend in extreme weather or if the clips are too tight and a real bruiser hits hard.
Fibreglass or 'glass composite poles, on the other hand, are relatively headache-free and are probably the best choice for the occasional blue-water angler or time-poor enthusiast.
Outriggers need to be easy to lower and raise regardless of sea conditions, without putting the skipper or crew at risk by leaning outboard. This has a lot to do with base design, but also where they are fitted, and each boat is different. What fittings the poles are rigged with depends on the species being targeted and whether fishing baits, lures, or a combination of both.
Using cord as outrigger halyards has been superseded by Spectra, but most boats manage quite successfully with 600-pound monofilament. Just use copper or nickel-plated crimps, not aluminium, to rig the halyards with, because the latter will corrode after being exposed to the elements. Losing all the rigging and fittings in the drink because of a cheap shortcut proves mighty expensive in the long run.
When rigging halyards you need to run the lines though pulleys at the top and bottom of the pole, as the slight imperfections in eyebolts that most poles are supplied with will abrade even heavy nylon over time. Go for the more expensive pulleys that run on bearings, not bushes. Conversely, glass or stainless rings might be decidedly old school, but once bound in place they are completely maintenance free.
There are several release clips available for a range of applications. Most start with the universally popular Blacks Outrigger Release Clip for bait trolling, rigged above a solid ring, to which is snapped a tag line via a ball bearing snap swivel, which runs through a return weight for lure trolling. The Blacks Clip sits there minding its own business when lure fishing, and the tag line can be removed when switching to baits. R & R Tackle has a line of light-tackle clips that are popular with sailfishing crews. It all depends on what you're after.
Tensioning the halyard and pole via a length of rubber shock cord might be fine for trailer boats or T-top mounted riggers, but the rubber will deteriorate over time, meaning the pole isn't correctly tensioned. The best method I've found is running the mono through a pulley, which is connected to a short length of Spectra run through a stainless-steel eyebolt and tensioned through a cam cleat.
If it's do-able, the sleakest approach of the lot though, is having the Spectra run though a flush-mounted deck lead, with the cam cleat underneath the gunwale so it's all completely out of sight.
Rod holders are like the bank on a boat because they are called upon to hold rod-and-reel combos that can easily cost upwards of $3,000. It's important to buy reliable, proven rod holders. Rod holders should be made of cast, not stamped metal. Marine grade 316 stainless is a given, never use aluminium except as passive rod storage, and certainly don't trust plastic.
If regularly fishing heavy tackle, the covering board may need to be strengthened underneath, as a 130 outfit weighs about 10 kilos (22 pounds), but rocks back and forth a lot while at sea. Then there's the added weight that comes into play when a fish hooks up. Two heavy tackle outfits in close proximity to each other only exacerbates the problem. Rod holders must be fixed in place with nylon-inserted locking nuts, not standard nuts, and definitely not self-tappers!
For trolling, the standard heavy-tackle setup consists of two rod holders in the port and starboard gunwales, and two to four in the chair armrests, with perhaps one shotgun running off the bridge, as well as a bait rod in the transom.
The covering board rod holders consist of one vertical rod holder and one 30-degree angled rod holder, which lays flatter, so the rods remain separated even during multiple hook-ups.
Throwing rigged rods on the salon floor in the event of a hookup is going to lead to breakages or someone stepping on a stray hook. Properly storing rods when not being used is important. A rocket launcher on the aft flybridge rail or T-Top is one approach, although they can be a bit of a stretch to reach from the cockpit. Boats with towers usually feature rod holders welded to the tower legs, which prove very handy. Bait station/rocket launcher combos on the back of the chair are also popular, but can be in the way when an angler is in the chair.
If drift fishing is part of the game, an additional 30-degree rod holder angling outward at 90 degrees from the port and starboard covering boards will point the rod the right way, and is also useful when trolling with light tackle, straight-butt rods. Boats that drift for tuna, swordfish and sharks can benefit from having a number of rod holders bolted to the bow rail or mounted on the gunwales leading up to the bow to spread out the lines.
Finally, all rods need include a safety lanyard attached via a stainless-steel snap hook (never brass). If you can splice a rope, it's easy to make these up out of 14-mm silver rope with a loop at one end. If not, there are a number of commercial options available. When attaching the lanyard to the fighting chair pedestal, make sure they are long enough to lay flat on the ground so no one trips on them.
Like outriggers, fighting chairs are representative of what heavy-tackle game fishing is all about. These chairs must be built to withstand heavy pressure and abuse. The chair must match the line classes being fished, as there's nothing scarier than losing an angler over the transom because the chair fell apart under the pressure -- it happens!
Varnished teak chairs look magnificent, but are very expensive, require a lot of maintenance, and a cover to keep them protected from the elements when not in use. This is why most people opt for more workmanlike fibreglass.
Well-designed chairs will have at least two rod holders (and up to four) in the armrests, as a place for storing rods when travelling and for trolling. A double-ended gimbal fitting is a decided advantage when fishing bent and straight butts because it removes the need to adjust the gimbal height.
The footrest must offer a variety of settings, which brings us to an important design feature. Footrests that extend straight out are worse than useless. Fighting a fish by sliding back and forth in the chair like rowing a scull is going to tire out the angler and also raises a safety concern. Getting 'frogged,' where the angler bends his knees and is unexpectedly pulled forward, is extremely dangerous and indicative of bad technique. It can also be the result of an incorrectly adjusted or badly designed chair.
A correctly designed footrest allows the angler to literally lift his or her butt up off the sea and 'ride high in the saddle' when the heat comes on. You can then use a rocking motion to lift the rod and recover line on the down stroke. Non-skid pads on the footrest should also be mandatory. It might spoil the chair's look, but safety concerns must override aesthetics.
In an ideal world, the chair pedestal will extend all the way down to and be firmly bolted to the keel for ultimate strength, but production boats often have fuel tanks and the like positioned underneath the cockpit floor, so a substantial stainless steel backing plate is the next best solution. The bigger the plate, the better to spread out the load. As a rough rule of thumb, twice the diameter of the base plate is a good start.
Another consideration when fishing from a fighting chair is that the rod tip must be able to clear the transom corners at the very least, which can be difficult on the big battlewagons. In such applications, a gooseneck pedestal may be called into play.
The last piece of the puzzle is the harness. The harness snaps into the lugs on the top of the reel so the angler can use all of his or her weight to load the rod, not just their arms and shoulders. There are several styles available including the most popular bucket style harnesses which acts like a bit of a seat for the angler. This is a comfortable, proven design, though some anglers favour a shoulder harnesses that looks more like a vest. Several big-game tackle manufacturers offer harnesses and it's best to find one that fits your frame well and stick with it. You don't want to show up on a game boat and have to use a harness that's way oversized for your build. AFTCO, Seamount, Alutecnos and Braid all offer proven harness designs.
In the next instalment of Outfitting a Fishing Boat, we'll offer tips to set up your Rigging Bench, Bait Boards, Bait Tanks, Tuna Tubes, Gaff Storage and Teaser Reels. Stay tuned!