Boating Bits


Greg Finney gives us the lowdown on using outriggers after installing some on his new project boat.

BEING a keen offshore angler, I spend quite a bit of time trolling lures for marlin and yellowfin. Trying to do this without a set of outriggers is pretty futile. Unless you’re happy to run a rod from each corner, and maybe one down the middle, you really need outriggers to separate and lift the outside lines. With outriggers fitted, two outside lures can be run clear of prop wash and wide enough so that turning the boat won’t tangle the lot up and cause a lot of frustration.

Selecting, fitting and setting up a set of outriggers to a trailer boat is a bit of a “black art”; many anglers have absolutely no idea where to start, what they are trying to achieve or even how to operate outriggers to get the best performance. I’ve had dozens of anglers ask me over the past few years to write an article on fitting outriggers to a trailer boat and explain how tag lines work and how to set them up. It’s really not that hard once you understand the basic principles of using outriggers. I’ve seen some great set ups on boats over the years and most of these involved quality bases and poles that were fitted properly with obvious thought going into the installation. I’ve also seen some God-awful installations done on the cheap by anglers trying to save a few bucks, or by guys who simply had no idea how outriggers work.

There are currently several purpose built outrigger bases designed for trailer boats on the market. Some are very well made, but a few look and perform like they were designed by someone who hasn’t fished or used outriggers. Others look the goods but fall apart or seize up with corrosion after a short while. My last boat had a set of stainless steel Killwell bases fitted to each side of the rocket launcher. They gave good angle in the upright position and worked well when out. I had 11 foot one-piece Pacific Poles fitted to them, which were a bit short but did a reasonable job. The bases could be unscrewed and the poles removed when towing the boat. I ran them for three years and while they were a bit fiddly out on the water – a big wing nut that had to be tightened up every time you needed to adjust them – they worked pretty well. Voodoo will be used for more gamefishing than my last boat so I looked around and did a bit of research before committing to a set.

Outrigger Theory

Basically outriggers are long fibreglass or aluminium poles fitted to each side of a boat. They carry two lines wider and slightly higher so that a spread of lures can be run behind the boat. They also need to pivot, turn or fold up so that you can travel with them in the upright position and then lay them out to the side for trolling. Doing this on large, moored boats isn’t all that difficult but achieving a practical result on a trailer boat means that the poles need to fold back to the horizontal, collapse or be removable for towing. I most commonly see removable poles that detach from the bases via a pin or bolt. Other set ups use collapsible two or three-piece poles that can be shortened for road travel. I’m not a fan of collapsible poles as I’ve seen too many aluminium units seize up through corrosion and too many fibreglass poles collapse while fishing in rough conditions.

Outriggers also need to be set up so that the ends where the lines attach are at the right height. I see a lot of outriggers set too low and many too high. The ends of the poles should be around four to five metres above water level to get the best action from your lures. This equates to an angle of around 30 – 40 degrees from the horizontal. As you run lures out further behind the boat the tow angle is reduced, compared to when run directly from the rod tip. This lower tow angle doesn’t help the lure’s action and it is normally improved by lifting the tow point by running it from an outrigger several metres above water level. You’ll hear experienced billfish anglers talk about a particular lure being best run from the “long” or “short” ‘rigger. Other lures work best run on shorter “flat” lines from the transom corners either direct from the rod tip or even with the line elastic banded around the reel handle to lower the tow angle even further. Lures designed to be run from outriggers are designed for a slightly higher tow point so that they work best and spend more time up on top creating some splash and that all important bubble or smoke trail behind when they do dive under for brief periods. To properly understand outriggers you need to have a basic grasp of trigonometry but you don’t need to be a nuclear physicist. Get your outriggers set up with the tips at that four to five metre range above the water and you’ll get the best from your lures by having the correct tow angle from the tag lines.

Tag Lines

A tag line runs back behind the outrigger pole tip, roughly the length of the pole to reduce angle and minimise the length of line from rod tip to lure. The main line from the rod tip attaches to the tag line end with an elastic band and the band breaks when a fish grabs the lure. It’s fairly simple and very effective. The problem with running a tag line from each outrigger is that they are hard to reach. This is where line weights or tag line slides come into play.  A slide is a metal barrel with a hole though the centre. They come in chromed brass or stainless steel and are about 50-60mm long and around 25mm in diameter. They go over the outrigger line that runs from the boat to the pole tip and the tag line. When a lure is run out, the pull on the tag line drags the slide out to the end of the pole so the line stays out there where it should be. When a fish grabs the lure and breaks the elastic band connecting the tag line to the main line, the weight of the slide brings the tag line back down to within reach.  

Project boat outriggers

There are a few good outrigger set ups and bases on the market these days. Reelax Enterprises from Queensland manufacture two sets of outrigger bases for trailer boats along with a wide range of poles, spears, outrigger kits, slides and tag lines. None of it’s cheap but the quality and functionality is first class. Reelax’s gunwale mount bases are cast in stainless steel and have a splined arrangement that has 20 positions. These can be run with 4.5 metre poles only. I decided on Reef 450 bases, which are folding units that mount to the side of the cabin. They are virtually a scaled down version of the bases you see on larger game boats. A stainless steel pin holds the outrigger poles in the vertical position and is simply removed to allow the bases to fold out and down for trolling.

These bases aren’t specifically designed to have the poles removed but by removing the pin and one bolt that holds the upper folding mechanism in place you can easily remove the poles for road travel. The Reef 450 bases can be used with 4.5 and 5.5 metre two-piece poles, which are available in black or white. The Reef 450 bases put a pit of strain on the cabin sides when folded down so we fitted large stainless washers and nyloc nuts inside the cabin to hold them in place. You could also go one better and use a stainless or aluminium plate on the inside. My young bloke and I fitted these bases and 4.5 mere poles up in an hour or two and it was quite easy. I got black poles with silver spears and used stainless eye bolts to hold the lines in place. The two-piece poles were glued up using 24 hour Araldite with the centre eye bolt going right through the join to hold them in place also. I made up my own shock cords with black bungee cord. I fitted a stainless clip to one end and a small nylon pulley to the other. I doubled the bungee cord through and bound it up with tight layers of 80 pound braid before covering it with heat shrink.

You can buy complete tag line kits and accessories from Reelax, or others such as Wellsy’s Tackle or Black Pete’s. We used 400 pound mono for the lines and tag lines. You can buy cork balls to go on top and under the connections and for the end of the tag lines to prevent them becoming a weapon when the elastic band snaps; we used bright orange foam bobby corks, which work just as well. Tag line slides are about $40 or $50 for a set of two but a guy I work with knocked me up a set up out of stainless steel. I used a small pulley at the top of the poles but found the lines were too easy to run out so the tag line connection point slowly works back down towards the boat and away from the pole tip. We fixed that by tying a No.32 elastic band around the bottom pulley to keep the line in place.  

Lastly, we didn’t include a “shotgun” centre ‘rigger on Voodoo; this shorter outrigger is run down the middle and up high so you can run a lure right out the back. They work well but when you hook up in a small boat with limited crew it’s just another rod to be wound in before you can start fighting a fish!

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