Setting Up Your Outriggers

How to effectively troll lures from smaller boats.
Peter Pakula

There's a very good chance the outriggers on your boat are set up wrong.

Captains always debate which motors will raise more fish - two-stroke or four-stroke, outboards, inboards, diesels, etc. After much discussion, the outcome is usually "big boats with inboard diesels will catch you more fish." But maybe it's not just about the size of the boat or the type of power. I think it's all about the outriggers.  

Let's do the comparison... Big boats have very long outriggers. The longer the outriggers are, the higher the outrigger tips off the water's surface. You also need to consider how high the boat's gunwales are. This governs how far the rod tips are from the surface when trolling. This is especially important for the short rods where line is fished off the rod tip and not in the outriggers.??Smaller boats, say less than 25 feet, represent the common sport-fisher in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. On these vessels, the outriggers are set up very different than a big boat. The riggers are much shorter and the tips are very low to the water. The smaller boat's gunwales are much lower than the big boats as well.??Here's the problem -- at the same trolling speed, the prop wash is longer on a small boat than it is on a big boat --  not just in proportion, it's physically longer. Percentage wise, the width of prop wash is wider on a smaller boat than a big boat. So, out of the two boats, which one needs the longer and highest riggers to get the same performance out of the same set of lures?

Trolling lures will not perform as well on the smaller boat, unless you make some rigger changes.

The factors that govern the performance of lures are speed, position of the lure on the face of pressure waves and the angle of the leader in relation to the water. The angle of the line hitting the water varies depending on the boat.?However, perfecting the angles is hard to achieve as there is sag or a belly in the line so that the lure is often being dragged rather than trolled.

The height of the rod and outrigger tips on larger boats compensates for sag and to a large extent achieves a much higher angle of entry. There are several reasons this higher angle of entry is important. The high angle of entry helps stabilize lures and cut down on lure spinning so the hooks stay in a better position to get results. There is less leader in the water, so there is less leader trail and the lures are more active with consistent action. Since the same is not true on smaller boats, these crews usually have a lot more leader dragging in front of the lure.??The differences are certainly hard to quantify, but it seems most applicable in calm weather where bigger boats and longer, higher riggers seem to consistently out fish the other configurations. ??So if you fish from a big boat with long riggers you're feeling pretty happy right about now. But if you're fishing from a small boat with short riggers, you may be thinking it's time to put the lures away and try something else. Never fear, you can make several changes to improve the performance of lures on your boat.

Getting longer riggers is certainly the easiest solution. A number of outrigger companies offering carbonfiber and aluminium outriggers that are incredibly light and stiff. You can also use a base that offers easy adjustment to height and rake. Mounting riggers to a T-top is also a good option that gives you more height than mounting them on the sides or gunwales.
?Speed is another factor you can control. By slowing down to speeds around 6.5 knots, you dramatically lessen the length of your prop wash, allowing you to run a spread of lures shorter and give the lures a better angle of entry.

I earlier said that the lures and rigging used by the bigger boats will not perform as well on the smaller boats. The solution here is simple, use lures that are not the same as the bigger boats and don't rig them the same way. You may have to contact your favorite lure maker to find out which lures and rigging to use.?
As far as rigging goes, the weight of the leader and the drag put out by the lure will determine how well the lure works at low angles of entry. The shorter and lighter the leader, the better the lure will work. ??Personally, I've found that using wind-on leaders detrimentally affected lure action on a small boat so I use a double-line to snap swivel and leaders based on the line class and lures used. For 12- to 20-pound tackle I use 11 feet of double line and 7 feet of 100- to 150-pound test leader. For 30- and 50-pound tackle I'll use 19 feet of double line and 12 feet of 150- to 300-pound leader. For 80- and 130-pound tackle I 19 feet of double line and 17 feet of 300 to 400-pound leader.

On smaller boats I use lures that I designed to alleviate the problems mentioned and have sufficient drag to get the leader up and out of the water. These features give the lures the best chance of getting a good solid strike. I will discuss how to choose the right trolling lures for your boat in a future article, so please stay tuned.

The bigger the boat, the longer the outriggers. Check out the length of the outriggers in the photo above and how high the rigger tips are off of the water's surface. Bigger boats also have higher gunwales. This is important for lures run off of the rod tips in the rod holders and not in the outriggers.
Here's an average-sized sport-fisher in Australia and New Zealand. It's very different to the big boat. The riggers are much shorter and the tips are very low to the water.
The top diagram shows the name for each lure position in the spread. The bottom diagram shows how the height of the the outrigger changes the angle of the line as it hits the water. The height of the rod and outrigger tips on larger boats achieves a much higher angle of entry. This will compensate for any sag or belly in the line. Unfortunately, lures run off of smaller boats have  more leader dragging in front of the lure.
You can still troll lures from a small boat with no outriggers. You just need to select the right lures, and position them correctly to compensate for the propwash. The basic spread shown in the diagram is a good starting point.
If you fish from a smaller boat, you may want to opt for longer riggers, or try mounting them on a T-top or further up on the side of the boat to achieve a better angle of entry.


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