Everything you need to know about fitting out a gameboat

By: Glen Booth, Photography by: Glen Booth & Supplied

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  • Trade-A-Boat

Moored game boats.
Flybridge boat on the water.
Flybridge gameboat on the water with outriggers.

Outriggers do not a gameboat make. Competing with the big gameboats takes skill and experience, but you can shorten the odds with a little preparation and a suite of the right tools…

Everything you need to know about fitting out a gameboat
Even if you don't have a top-tier flybridge cruiser, getting the basics right on your gameboat will allow you to compete with the best.

Gamefish, whether marlin, tuna, sharks, mahi mahi, wahoo or kingfish, can be successfully caught out of all manner of boats, from small tinnies right up to mega cruisers more than 80 feet long. But how the business end of the boat — the fishing cockpit — is fitted out, can have a major bearing on angling success.

 

Preparing a gameboat

Cockpit layout has a lot to do with functionality, but what goes where and why needs to have a safety element to it as well. The deck of a pitching gameboat in heavy seas is no place to be crashing into things. And while it is of less importance it’s a bonus if it looks good too.

 

OUTRIGGERS

Surely the most obvious feature of a gameboat, outriggers spread the lines when trolling and add action to the lures and baits as they swim through the water.

Traditional wire-braced aluminium outriggers add a certain degree of panache to any vessel and contribute to a crisp release on the bite. However, they do require regular maintenance to keep functioning and looking the part. Try to carry spare parts on longer excursions.

Glass composite poles on the other hand are relatively headache-free and are probably the best choice for the occasional bluewater angler or time-poor enthusiast.

Outriggers need to be easy to lower and retrieve regardless of the sea conditions and without putting the skipper or crew at risk. This has a lot to do with base design and the location fitted.

 

RIGGING THE POLE

For halyard material the ever-popular Venetian blind cord has finally been superseded by Spectra, but most boats manage successfully with 600lb nylon. Just use copper or nickel-plated swages, not aluminium, to rig the halyards because the latter will corrode after being exposed to the elements.

The halyard needs to run though pulleys at the top and bottom of the pole, as slight imperfections in eyebolts of most poles will abrade even heavy nylon over time. If possible opt for the more expensive type that run on bearings, although glass rings, which are decidedly old-school, are completely maintenance-free.

A very workable outrigger release combination is the universally popular Blacks Clip attached directly above a solid stainless steel ring. Snap a tag line via a ball bearing snap swivel to this ring and run it through a return weight to complete the system. The Blacks Clip sits there minding its own business when lure fishing, and the tag line can be removed when switching to baits.

While rubber shock cord is fine for trailerboats, the best way to add tension on a bigger vessel is to run the mono through a pulley, which is connected to a short length of Spectra that can be tensioned via a cam cleat.

 

RODHOLDERS

A rodholder may be called upon to hold an outfit worth upwards of $4000, and when the heat comes on they do break so it’s important to buy the strongest possible. Consequently, gamefishing rodholders should be of cast rather than stamped construction. Marine grade 316 stainless steel is usually the best option.

It may be worth strengthening the gunwales if the 130lb tackle and outfit weighs about 10kg, this can apply 60kg of leverage under full load. Rodholders should be fixed in place with nyloc nuts — never use self-tappers!

The standard heavy-tackle setup features two rodholders in each of the port and starboard gunwales, and two more in the chair’s armrest. Of the two rodholders on each side, the forward one should be mounted in the vertical position, while the aft one is mounted at 30 degrees so as to keep the rods separated during multiple hook-ups.

 

EXTRA CONSIDERATIONS

Throwing rigged rods on the saloon floor in the event of a hook-up is a no-no, potentially leading to breakages or accidental impalement. Therefore places to store rods when not in use are essential. A rocket launcher on the aft flybridge rail is one approach and boats with towers usually feature passive rodholders welded to the legs.

If drift fishing is part of the game, an additional 30-degree rodholder angling outward at 90 degrees from the port and starboard covering boards will have the rod pointing the right way, and is also useful when trolling with light-tackle, straight-butt rods. Boats that drift for tuna and sharks can benefit from having a number of rodholders bolted to the bowrail at various distances to spread the lines.

Finally, all rods need a safety lanyard attached to them via a stainless steel snap hook (never brass). If you can splice a rope, it’s easy to make these up out of 14mm silver rope with a loop at one end. If not, there are a number of commercial options available.

 

GAME CHAIRS

Nothing shouts big gamefishing like a decent fighting chair. Varnished teak chairs look magnificent but are very expensive and require a lot of maintenance. Invest in a cover to keep them protected from the elements when not in use. If varnishing is not your thing, a good-quality fibreglass chair will do the job admirably.

Well-designed chairs should have at least two rodholders in the armrests. Also a double-ended gimbal fitting is a decided advantage when both bent and straight-butt rods are in use, because it will remove the need to adjust the gimbal height.

A good chair will also feature a correctly-designed footrest that has the angler literally standing up and riding high in the saddle when the heat comes. Non-skid pads on the footrest should also be mandatory. It might spoil the chair’s look, but in this instance safety concerns must override aesthetics.

In an ideal world, the chair pedestal would extend all the way to the keel, but production boats often have fuel tanks and the like positioned underneath the cockpit floor, so a substantial stainless steel backing plate is needed. This is a case where big is best. As a rule of thumb, at least twice the diameter of the base plate is a good start.

And lastly, when deciding where to locate the chair, remember that the rod tip must clear the corners of the transom so measure twice and drill once. Oversized cockpits can benefit from a goose-necked pedestal.

 

RIGGING BENCH

Like the workbench in the garage, a well thought-out rigging bench is something keen fishos get excited about. The most obvious place for this centre of bait-rigging creativity is the top of the cockpit freezer behind the saloon bulkhead, but some boats have a dedicated bait-rigging station, complete with tackle drawers and a sink already built-in.

A crewman needs to be able to complete all rigging duties on a rough day, without everything sliding around. A piece of marine carpet or rubber matting over a sheet of nylon cutting board will stop the bait escaping, and is easy enough to remove and hose off after each rigging session.

A nearby cupboard or locker to store crimping pliers, fishing pliers, rigging needles and spare items of terminal tackle is also beneficial. While good crew carry their tools in holsters on their belts, a yacht-winch holder makes an inexpensive knife/tool scabbard.

Some owners like the all-business look of having the rigging equipment on show in specially-made dispensers, while others prefer to maintain the cockpit’s cleaner lines as the boat designer intended. Deep Blue Marine makes a series of handy Dacron/waxed thread holders and tool caddies that are attached via suction cups, so they can be removed at the end of the day.

 

BAIT TANKS

Livebait tanks appear on duckboards, built into transoms, under decks, around gamechair pedestals, in fact anywhere 

they can fit. It’s fair to say that there have been plenty of imaginative ideas realised over the years. However, if live baiting isn’t a big part of the gamefishing agenda, a deck hose running into a 68lt fish tub might be the simplest answer.

Ultimately, the best systems are about good water flow without overloading the tank, so good pumping and drainage systems are a must. The best bait tank shape is circular as there are no corners for the baits to bash their heads into, but sometimes the final shape is determined by where it has to fit.

A number of custom-built Cairns boats have underfloor flow-through bait tanks. These are probably the best of all as there’s no plumbing to break down, or hoses to split or come loose and flood the boat. Just make sure that the water doesn’t drain out when running at speed.

 

SLIMY & TUNA TUBES

Tuna tubes are a great way of transporting baits from a distant shoal or reef to where the target species are hanging out. Often, bait-size tuna can be difficult to catch on-site because they’re on the menu, and unstressed bait from another location is likely to be easier to catch.

The tubes need to be long enough to encase the whole fish as they don’t seem to last if their tails are sticking out in the air and a lid is a definite plus. For whatever reason, they’re certainly more active after being in the dark for a while.

Slimy tubes are for keeping a live slimy mackerel rigged and ready to pitch. In reality, they are all about convenience as the tube stops them twisting up the leader, which is what they would do swimming endless laps in a bait tank. If you have the room, it’s often possible to fit slimy tubes into a bait tank.

 

PUMPING CONSIDERATIONS

Tuna tubes need a high volume of water to work successfully and can be run off an engine-driven deckwash hose or plumbed to their own independent pump. Just remember the flow distance to the tube has a big bearing on its efficiency. If running paired tubes of whichever size, water distribution from a central point will ensure the baits are getting an equal share of the water flow.

Fabricated 316 stainless steel tuna and slimy tubes are widely available, but they’re also easy enough for the home handyman to knock up out of PVC pipe and a couple of funnels.

 

GAFF RACKS

Gaffs are cumbersome and dangerous so their storage needs a bit of forethought. Tucked away under the gunwale cap is generally safest, but protect the tips from errant humans by slipping a piece of tube or garden hose over the end.

Stainless steel boathook holders and U-clips are ideal for gaff stowage, the clips also good for storing gaffs in a vertical position. Cairns boats like to hang their whopper-stopper flying gaffs ready-rigged over a convenient part of the tower leg so they’re ready to go if needed.

 

TEASER REELS

Switch baiting — where hookless lures or baits are used to tease a gamefish into range for a fly rod shot or a hook-up on a specific line class — is an incredibly exciting way to fish.

The secret is not to have too many teasers in the water and to recover them at a speed fast enough to keep the fish turned on, but not so slow as to allow the fish to grab hold. The crew are usually busy at
this, so a bridge teaser the skipper can operate from above is an asset.

The simplest bridge teaser is an old star-drag overhead reel filled with 200lb monofilament bolted to the back railing, with the mono run through a glass ring or pulley halfway up the outrigger pole. Electric reels used for deep dropping can do a similar job. Alternatives to these are hardtop-mounted manual reels (they look a little like a big Alvey sidecast), and for the well-to-do inbuilt recessed electric reels.

They all do pretty much the same job. At this point in time though, it just depends on how many cheques are left in the book!


If you’ve gone to the trouble of having an aluminium tower fitted, you’d be crazy not to go with braced aluminium outriggers too.


This is a handy outrigger halyard setup, covering both bait and lure fishing.


A length of Spectra through a saddle and clam cleat is an effective way of tensioning an outrigger: note the double pulley system for running two outrigger halyards.



Rocket launchers are a good place to store outfits, but can be a bit of a reach from the cockpit on bigger boats.


Even though they are in line a vertical rodholder and another at 30 degrees won’t touch, even in the event of multiple hookups.


Passive rodholder storage for outfits not utised can be retrofitted or purchased as part of another system.


Teak gamechairs look magnificent, but the anglers and crew need to respect the fine finish.


A yacht-winch-handle pocket makes an inexpensive knife scabbard.


A good bait thread and string dispenser makes life easy.


Nannygai make a hardy yellowfin tuna bait. Again, the trick is plenty of water flow and don’t overload the bait tank.


Bait tanks often have to be shoehorned into whatever space is available, but a high volume of water flow and rounded internal corners contribute to the baits’ longevity.


Changing the internal diameter will give more verstility.


Tuna tubes can be made at home or purchased ready to go.


A neat and functional tag pole/gaff rack on a smaller boat.


Boathook clips make excellent gaff racks.


Bridge teaser reels enable the skipper to recover one or more of the teasers, while the crew concentrate on making the swithch.


A neat and stylish custom-made icebox/freezer setup.

From Trade-a-Boat Issue 433, Nov-Dec 2012.

 


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