Whether youÂre into lure fishing, live baiting, cubing, or whatever, a well set-up game or sport fishing boat can handle all styles of fishing.
GETTING INTO SPORT or game fishing can be an extremely expensive exercise. The rods and reels are costly and the price of some of the lures will blow you away, but thereâs one saving grace. While you could spend more than a million dollars buying a new flybridge cruiser for your fishing platform, set-up correctly, even a 6m cuddy cabin can be turned into an effective game fishing platform. It all boils down to how much you have to spend and how far you intend to run chasing elusive game fish.
Big or small, there are basically only three things that make a good gameboat (leaving a boatâs sea-keeping ability aside), a wide open, flat-floored cockpit; high gunwales you can brace against and a place for everything and everything in its place. But in bigger boats, always remember to close the saloon door before you back down on a fishâŚ that carpet will never survive the drowning. Also remember, itâs common knowledge among game fishermen that the hum of shaftdrive diesel engines at trolling speed does attract inquisitive marlin to a boat. So thatâs something to keep in the back of your mind when deciding on power for a bigger boat.
Yes, buying a boat for game fishing can be expensive, but by starting with a bare boat and fitting it out yourself, you can save thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars depending on the size of the boat. Itâs time consuming and labour intensive, but nine times out of 10, itâs a labour of love. Thereâs also a huge range of prefab accessories now on the market these days, so visit your local marine chandlery. You will be surprised at the amount of ideas you will pick up.
Having decided (with the help of your bank manager) whether youâre going for a big, or small boat, the next consideration is where you are going to do most of your game fishing â under the Queensland sun, out on the âShelfâ off Sydney, or in the cooler waters of Bass Strait. Why? Because an open centre-console boat would be a cold and wet platform to chase southern bluefin tuna from in the middle of Bass Strait. But whether youâre into lure fishing, live baiting, cubing, or whatever, a well set-up boat will handle all methods of fishing.
The first item on the list of criteria for a good game/sportfishing boat is a high flat transom. And yes, there are many smaller boats, even trailerboats that fit this bill. Itâs also desirable to choose a boat that has a transom door. This gives the angler quick access to the marlin board to free a snagged line, or through which to drag fish into the cockpit. Most large game boats have the marlin board removed for fishing, so fish can be tagged, gaffed, or released at the stern of the boat. But if the marlin board canât be removed and the transom door is on the starboard side, a berley bucket could be mounted through the marlin board to port, and vice versa.
Setting up a gameboat is all about utilising available space. So, if the transom is wide enough, why not fit after-market, flush-mounted storage/tackle lockers into this bulkhead wall.
Transoms are also where many boats have a plumbed live-bait tank (draining overboard) and preferably should also have a handheld shower/deck-wash facility. If possible, two below gunwale, flush-mounted, or pop-up cleats, should be located near the stern with another two on the gunwales amidships. Being of a pop-up, flush-mounted, or of under gunwale design, means they wonât snag any fishing lines when theyâre not in use.
Many larger boats have a bait-rigging bench, bait freezer and a tap and sink unit located against the aft saloon bulkhead. But smaller boats can use a removable bait station that can be slotted into two rod holders mounted behind the engine well. It needs to be removable, so it doesnât get in the way when trolling, but can be left in place when cubing. Then, once a big fish is on, it can be pulled out and placed in the cabin, leaving the cockpit clear to fight the fish from.
Speaking of rod holders, larger boats normally have two rod holders in each gunwale and possibly another two in the transom for âflat linesâ. Smaller boats have one in each gunwale and two or three across the transom. The one in the centre of the transom is for general trolling, the ones around 25cm in from each gunwale are good to use when cubing on the drift.
When deciding on rod holders, donât make the mistake of fitting cheap plastic-rod holders for game fishing purposes. The force exerted by a fast moving fish slamming a lure or bait will shatter the plastic type instantly. Rod holders need to be high-grade stainless steel, with a horizontal pin in the base. This allows a game rodâs gimbal to lock into place and hold the rod pointing in the right direction.
Quick release tethers need to be located near each rod holder. These can be clipped onto any outfit using the rod holder to stop a fish pulling an unattended rod over the side before an angler can grab the outfit on strike.
If a game chair is fitted it needs to be capable of rotating 360 degrees without obstruction, so the angler (with the help of the deckie to move the chair) can keep the rod pointed at the fish at all times. When fitting a game chair, close attention must be paid to the method used to secure the chair to the cockpit floor. It needs to be heavily braced and reinforced, so it will withstand the pressure exerted by an angler fighting a big fish. But the quality of stand-up tackle these days, which imitates what a game chair does in even a small boat, (once you understand how the system works), means the line drawn between big boat/small boat captures is now almost equal.
Most modern game chairs normally have two rod holders built into their sides to hold rods running skip baits from the outriggers. It keeps the rods closer to the angler on strike, so they donât have as far to move a rod into the chairâs gimbal once a fish is on.
Those into lure fishing, especially on smaller boats, will need another two rod holders in the gunwales. This allows the angler to run a âlong riggerâ (a lure set well back behind the boat from one outrigger) and a âshort riggerâ (a lure closer to the boat from the other outrigger). The port and starboard transom rod holders run lures from the âshort cornerâ (a lure set closer to the boat running directly behind the boat) and âlong cornerâ (a lure set further away from the boat, but also running directly behind the boat).
Any rod not in use should be stowed in a rocket-launcher styled rod rack mounted above the helm station on smaller boats, or at the rear of the flybridge on larger vessels. This needs to be positioned at a height that allows those working in the cockpit to access it easily. When a big fish strikes, the other rods need to be cleared quickly and stowed up off the floor and out off the way.
Many larger gameboats store rods in lockers in the saloon, or in the forward cabin, at the end of play. On smaller boats gaffs and tag poles can be stored in racks under the gunwale, while bigger vessels normally mount racks for these items on the cabin bulkhead.
The cockpit should be self-draining, if not completely, at least through large drains into the bilge, where a large-volume automatic pump should be fitted to remove any water as quickly as possible. This normally isnât a problem with smaller boats, because their manoeuvrability doesnât require them to back down hard on a fish like a big cruiser. But, if you buy a big cruiser, the bigger the scuppers the betterâŚ ask anyone who has sat in the chair with a cockpit full to the gunwales with water and youâll understand just how efficient this system needs to be.
A top of the line deck wash set-up is also a necessity so any blood and bait bits can be washed out straight away before they have time to dry and stain the cockpit floor and walls.
A kill tank situated under the cockpit floor is a definite bonus. Plus, storage in any boat should be optimised by the addition of lockers and built-in tackle boxes into gunwales, the transom or, in smaller boats, under the helm and navigatorâs seats.
The height of the gunwales is also extremely important. They should be at least thigh-high and padded if possible. An angler, or gaff man, needs to be able to brace against the sides of the boat with their toes in under the gunwale, so theyâre balanced to fight, tag, or gaff the fish.
A bimini top over the flybridge, or helm station, is fine, but on larger vessels only a small shade cover should extend over the cockpit. Otherwise it will obscure the skipperâs view of the fishing action in the cockpit from the flybridge or tower and may impede rod use.
Up on the flybridge the skipper also needs to be able to stand at the controls facing backwards. This enables them to steer the boat using the engines to keep the transom pointed at the fish, or to back down on a fish to regain any lost line.
I will not go into electronics in this piece, because itâs an issue on its own; suffice to say that a GPS chartplotter and a good sounder are essential. For game fishing a colour sounder is the go, because they show bait schools better. Remember, find the baitfish and youâll find the big âuns.
Outrigger poles are also a necessity, because they allow the lures, or rigged baits, to be kept out of the shadow of the boat. They also spread the lures over a wider area, which allows the boat to turn without tangling lines and also run more lures.
Outriggers need to be located where they can be accessed easily and safely. Before positioning the bases there are two angles to be considered â the angle of the poles relative to the sea and the angle the poles need to be splayed at. Try and position the outriggers 20-30 degrees from the horizontal. This will allow for most waves and any rolling motion. The splay angle should be angled back around 20 degrees to the centreline of the boat.
Tuna towers, or spotting towers, are handy items on a game boat. They aid in locating bait schools on the surface and spotting hunting fish moving into your spread of lures or baits. But if you really want to see whatâs going on, get yourself an underwater CCTV unit. Putting a tower on a big boat isnât that great a problem, but they need to be custom built, so it gets expensive. Then, if you are going to add a helm station up there the cost will obviously increase dramatically. On a smaller boat the height of any tower, or any spotting platform you may fit, is closely governed by the beam and length of the hull. Get it wrong and the boat will be unstable when someone goes topside.
Setting up a good gameboat can be done by trial and error, but a better way is to go out on a boat thatâs already set up and get a feel for how things work. Also check out boats at your local marina, take notes and make a few sketches. Talk to a few owners and get their ideas on what works for them. Even better, why not pay to go out on a charter boat and pick the crewâs brains.
When setting up a gameboat, or any boat for that matter, remember to give everything a place and to put everything in its place. All the gear you need has to be close at hand and quickly accessible â things happen quickly when a big âbeakyâ strikes. But most importantly, keep the cockpit uncluttered and utilise every available space for storage.
That way you can head for the horizon safe in the knowledge that your boat is set up to handle the big ones.
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