Practical: Boat fishing
Having the correct rod holder set-up on your boat can maximise your chances at fishing success. As a leading member of the “can never have enough rod holders on your boat” club, David Green offers some sage advice.
Setting up a boat for fishing requires careful planning. Rod holders and rod racks make a tremendous difference to how a boat works when it’s fishing. It can also be confusing for new boat owners to plan this facet of their boats correctly.
I had my six-metre Sportfish centre cabin custom built quite a few years ago, and the manufacturers commented at the time that they had never built a boat with so many rod holders. All up there are 34 of them! You can never have enough rod holders, in my opinion.
Fishing or storage?
If you tend to fish lots of different techniques, you’ll need different rod holder positions. Trolling requires careful placement of rod holders so the lines can be separated to avoid tangles. This gives a much better spread of the rods and allows the lures to troll in clean water wide of the prop wash where fish can find them more easily. If you fish at anchor with multiple rods, there are commonly situations where the wind and the tide run in different directions, and in this situation it helps if you have a variety of holders positioned all over the boat. It also helps if you have rod holders at different heights, some from the top of your console or cabin, some from your elevated bait table and off the gunwales and transom.
For storage it’s important to get unused rods either stored in a horizontal rod rack or up and out of the way on a rocket launcher system. A lot of boats also carry lockable rod lockers for extra security. Most of the boats with rod lockers I’ve fished in have a history of snapping the odd rod tip off if care isn’t taken. From a practical point of view I prefer my rods in a rack where I can easily grab them as needed. In my Stessl Edge Tracker this is positioned along the inside of the starboard gunwale, out of the way but easy to access. This holds rods up to 2.4m long.
The longer the rod, the more problematic the storage may be. With a lot of premium rods costing the best part of $1000 these days, safety and security are extremely important. A good rod locker is more than just a long open space. Each individual outfit should be clipped into its own holder. Don’t get into those situations where the rod locker is a tangled mess of braid and graphite interspersed with treble-armed lures holding the whole thing together. Avoid lids that snap shut or are heavy and can accidentally drop while you are trying to store the gear.
For estuary and impoundment fishing, adjustable rod holders that are removable and easily stored are a blessing, but these types of fittings are really only suitable for light tackle use. They aren’t the sorts of thing you put your 24-kilo troll rod in and go marlin fishing with. Over the past 10 years I’ve used a few types of these removable holders and it is important to get the strongest you can find. The heavy duty Scotty models are pretty good.
Vertical rod storage needs careful consideration to ensure rods don’t get in the way once you’re fishing.
I had a near miss a few years ago while trolling a dam at night. At about 4am after an extremely long day the rod in the front holder went off with a “crack” and flew through the air towards me before I caught it on the way past. The barra was only about 70cm, but an overly heavy drag combined with a sudden hit saw the rod holder disintegrate on strike. Since this little pre-dawn event I ditched those dodgy rod holders and have only used the Scottys. I’ve had no drama so far. Although the plastic inserts on these holders take a fair bit of pressure they aren’t designed for locked drag trolling. The fact they are removable is great when you stop trolling and start casting. On most of these types of holders the bases are unobtrusive and easy to mount.
Tidy and at the ready
A tidy boat is easier to fish from and good rod storage looks after hard to store items. When targeting big fish from small boats, you will commonly have to follow the fish around the boat during a fight, be it a big barra or a blue marlin. For this reason rod storage must be central so the angler can walk around the rods, or up high so the angler can walk under them. In my Sportfish I have a rod storage rack at the back of the transom that holds six game rods. We tend to put the rods there for travelling, and once we begin fishing either use them or store the unused rods in the rocket launcher and cabin. I tend to find that on a lot of trips we carry a wide range of gear, commonly carrying over a dozen rigged outfits. A couple of these are permanently placed on holders to the side of the cabin, pointing vertically. Both are long 10-kilo type spin outfits. One is rigged with a metal lure for casting to tuna or mackerel, the other rigged with a multi-hook bait jig for catching yakkas and slimies. Because these are often used in quick, opportunistic situations, they are rigged and ready to go at all times. These rods catch most of my bait and berley.
Heavy (and expensive) game tackle is best secured by a lanyard to the reel seat lugs to prevent heartbreaking losses. Big seas can easily lift outfits out of their holders so a securing line is mandatory.
Metal insert tubes that slot into pre-existing rod holders are a great tool. I had mine custom made 20 years ago and have taken them from boat to boat. There are quite a few commercial varieties on the market now. They let you position your rods at the right angle for the job at hand. As an example, if you are fishing a deep live bait you need the rod positioned almost horizontal to the water. This is easy with an insert tube. A lot of rods have been broken over the years when using straight vertical rod holders. If the rod is pointing straight up and the fish pulls straight down, graphite tips will snap very easily. This is a definite trap for new players and a very expensive lesson to learn.
Another very useful type of rod holder position is an angled rod holder at either side of the rocket launcher. This is great for positioning live bait back in a berley trail, trolling high speed lures or float lining for snapper. I designed my rocket launcher like this a decade ago and it has been a fantastic success. I am now also able to run my outriggers out of these holders using straight poles that are very easy to store. These high rod holders are also great for positioning the “shotgun”, that is, the lure the furthest out the back, as the elevation lets the close in lines swing under the shotgun on a tight turn without tangling.
Lanyards are also extremely important when trolling or using tackle targeting big fish. I made a set up years ago and use them for all types of trolling. They’ve definitely saved a couple of outfits over the years. All you need is some light rope, whipping thread and dog clip style fasteners – the solid brass ones work very well. If you leave them permanently in place near all your rod holders, you will soon get in the routine of slipping them on as a mandatory precaution. The lanyard is easily clipped onto the harness lugs of the reel.
The smaller the boat, the cleverer the rod storage needs to be. In small tinnies long rods are impossible to fully store unless they are two-piece, and in this situation it is often best to stow them so the tips face backwards along one side of the boat, poking past the transom. Some clumsy big-footed anglers have a passion for walking on rod tips, and if you do any crabbing you may have heard that distinctive noise of mud crab claw on Loomis rod. Crabs only like crunching expensive graphite! The message is to protect the potentially brittle rod tips at all costs.
The take home message is to plan to install rod holders for both storage and fishing, and think very carefully about exactly where you want to position them. It will make a tremendous difference to your fishing versatility when you get it right.