Beginners guide to choosing a trailer boat

Beginners guide to choosing a trailer boat

A lot of the fishing specific equipment fitted on trailer boats is dictated by the type of fishing the boat is intended for. For example, if you are a hard-out big-game fisherman you may not be interested in fitting a davit for lifting cray pots or a deep-dropper line; if you are strictly a bottom bouncer, you probably don’t want outriggers.

There is a lot to cover here, so let’s get into it.

Down and out

Downriggers are basically a winch-and-boom arrangement used to raise and lower a weight that allows trolling lures or baits at depth. When a fish strikes, it pulls the fishing line free from a release clip on the weight, so you can fight a fish unencumbered.

These devices can be manual or some more serious models incorporate electric winches.

Downriggers can be used to add a third dimension (depth) to trolling, for everything from broadbill to trout, and can also be used to deploy teasers (especially dredges), or even to lower berley bombs in strong currents.

Most downriggers are fitted in the stern corners of cockpits so they can clear the hull and props when the boat turns. They are removable when not needed and are attached to special mounting plates, or a have a fitting that can be dropped into a rod holder. A rod holder used for downrigger mounting will need to be a strong metal one, not a plastic type and this also applies to the attendant rod holder that holds the fishing rod. The leverage of the boom can put a huge amount of pressure on the downrigger mount, especially if you snag the weight on the sea bottom, or a mako eats it! (Seen it happen.)

Attaching a safety line to the downrigger is a good idea, or use bolts and a backing plate if attaching a heavy-duty throughgunwale mount. If the downrigger is an electric model, you will need an electrical outlet somewhere nearby. Similarly, electric reels are becoming popular with many of those who bottom-fish in deep water. If this is your bag, then electric sockets near the rod holders may be considered when the boat is constructed and fitted out.

While downriggers take troll lines down, outriggers spread lines to each side of the boat, to allow more lures to be trolled without tangling. As with downriggers, the fishing line is held in a release clip and is pulled free when a fish strikes. I won’t go into this in detail, except as it concerns the boat.

There are two basic types of outriggers. Drop-in outriggers are simple poles mounted by dropping their metal bases into sockets similar to rod holders, usually situated on the outside corners of rocket launchers. These need to be built so they deploy the outriggers at the correct angles for trolling.

If using this system, be aware that an outrigger is essentially a big, long lever and can transmit a lot of pressure to the mount when a fish strikes. These mounts, and especially the gimbal pins, need to be substantial (i.e. made from metal with stainless pins. I have seen welded-in pins made from a section of aluminium rod twisted out when the pressure of a strike was magnified by the leverage of the outrigger).

More substantial outrigger designs have permanent base plates, usually mounted on the cabin sides. These are adjustable and allow the outriggers to be carried vertically until the time comes to deploy them at a flatter angle for trolling. When the boat is off the water, or the outriggers are otherwise not required, the poles can usually be pulled out of the mounts for storage. The NZ-made Oceanblue model of outriggers is very popular.

Also like downriggers, the part of the boat where the outrigger bases are attached may need to be strengthened with a backing plate to take the extra pressure.

If the plate is internal, this must be done during the boat’s construction, so check this aspect if it applies to you.

The best fisherman

It is a standing joke that sometimes ‘Roddy’ (the rod holder) is the best fisherman on the boat, as rods left unattended in rod holders sometimes catch the most fish. Certainly, rod holders, correctly positioned and aligned, are important fishing accessories.

First, let’s look at construction materials. There are three main choices here – plastic, aluminium or stainless steel/chromed brass.

Plastic is OK for use in small boats with relatively lightweight fishing tackle, but I have seen heavier game rigs when dropped into plastic through-gunwale holders, generate enough force to punch out the bottom of a plastic holder and its moulded-in gimbal bar.

Aluminium rod holders are robust and work well on aluminium boats, as there are no corrosion issues caused by contact between dissimilar metals. Stainless, or chromedbrass, rod-holders are mostly used on fibreglass boats.

There are plenty of adjustable plastic rod-holders that offer a range of mounting options (flat plate, vertical plate, rail clamp etc.). The holders themselves are very widely adjustable in horizontal and vertical planes.

The first I fitted (to a 12-foot tinny) was a set made by Canadian company Scotty. I had to import them from the USA many years ago, but they are readily available here now. I fitted my latest boat with similar products made by innovative New Zealand company Railblaza. I don’t consider this style of holder strong enough for big-game work, but brilliant for snapper, trout, gurnard, dory and the like (especially for deploying small live baits), supplementing the heavier alloy holders fitted at the factory.

If the rod holders are ‘throughgunwale’ types, the tops need to rise a bit above the gunwales to stop them funnelling water into the boat. For this reason, rod holders made for this job usually have domed tops or surrounds.

Additionally, some boats have ‘turnouts’ – a short section of alloy plate angled across the gunwale top just forward of the cockpit to turn overboard any water running down from the bow.

When you look down a rod holder tube, you should see a gimbal pin running across near the bottom of the tube. This engages with the gimbal nock, found on the bottom of many fishing rod butts, to hold the rod steady in a single plane in the same way an arrow nock fits a bowstring. This stops a rod and reel from spinning around when the boat is underway and wearing away at the rod butt or clashing reels together. It also holds the rod and reel facing in the correct direction when fishing.

This is especially important when trolling for big fish with heavy tackle.

Because most gimbal nocks in rod butts are a 90-degree ‘X’ shape, the rod can face in the same direction with the gimbal pin in two different positions at 90 degrees to each other.

However, only one of these is correct. The gimbal should be installed so the pin is pointing down the direction the line runs.

This is because, if the pin is at right-angles to the direction of the line, under the load of a heavy fish the nock will bind on the pin, making the rod very hard to get out of the holder. Fortunately, rod holders are made in a range of orientations, and some now have the gimbal pins made as part of an insert so the angle can be adjusted with a ‘key’.

Consider also that if you wish to fit safety lines to your rods and reels, you may need points to attach them to the boat, so a series of U-brackets, stirrups, or similar fittings may be necessary.

It is also becoming common to flush-mount a cup-holder near rod holders, providing a handy place to put a jig, sinker or other items, as well as a drink.

In short, choose a material, design and installation that is fit for your purpose. In my opinion, it is almost impossible to have too many rod holders.


Apart from ‘fishing’ rod holders, there are others that are designed to store and carry rods to keep them out of the way and to protect them from getting knocked around. Variations include rod holders inside the boat (which help keep the spray away from your reels), holders built around a bait station (which may also be fishing positions) and multiple position overhead units called ‘rocket launchers’ for obvious reasons.

Getting a rocket launcher design right is not easy. First, you must be able to reach it to get rods in and out, so height and obstructions (like canopies) need to be taken into account.

Rake (the amount of lean astern in the holders) only needs to be a few degrees to lean the rods off vertical; overdo the rake, and you risk bouncing the rods out of the holders when travelling in rough conditions, and the rod tips also crowd the air-space above the cockpit, making casting and striking difficult.

The other aspect is flare – the angle the rod tubes are tilted out to the sides. Unless flare is necessary to fit drop-in outriggers (in the two outside holders) at the correct angle, it should be avoided. If the flare takes the rod tips outside the footprint of the hull, rods risk breaking when the boat comes alongside a wharf, pile etc., or another boat.

Consider, too, if your reels are going to be exposed to a lot of spray up in the rocket launcher.

Maybe a more sheltered position would be better when underway? And allow enough space between the rod positions so that the reel handles don’t clash.


   This article is reproduced with permission of   
New Zealand Fishing News

August 2018 - Sam Mossman
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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