Boat Rigging for Successful Fishing | Great Days Outdoors

An angler doesn’t have to be the smartest at boat rigging to be the best prepared (but it helps).


The water was choppy, with swells in the two-to-four-foot range as we headed toward the offshore platforms south of the mouth of Mobile Bay.

Snapper and other edible fish wait for us to catch them around the platforms. The prospects of boating several fine specimens excited us. The first platform, however, proved to be unproductive. So, we did the next-best thing. We approached the second platform. Wouldn’t you know a dark blob would appear on the horizon?

We decided this thunderstorm would miss us, so we continued fishing. We were wrong.

From Bad to Worse

The chop began to worsen and the waves quickly swelled to the six-foot range. Our boat began bouncing around like a cork. No surprise there, I thought.


But then a high wave slammed us and our tackle slid toward the back of the boat. A few seconds later, the motor shut down. We began to drift toward the rig as the wind and rain increased.

Only then did we notice that the ice chest, not tethered in place—and there was a secured place—had sheared the fuel line where it was connected to the tank.

It was get-er-done time. Thanks to a quick repair job by Captain PJ and the availability of a hose clamp, we were soon underway again.

But take it from me; holding off from a drilling platform in rough seas with only a gaff and a paddle is about as much fun as a stuntman during a high-wire act hearing the movie director yell “Cut!”  Let’s be clear; I was in no mood to receive a Blooper of the Year Award.

Boat rigging can eliminate unnecessary issues.

Simple oversights can lead to serious consequences. Failure to secure an ice chest caused it to be propelled to the rear of the boat when we hit higher waves. Photo by Clay Richardson



Lessons Learned

What I learned from this experience was twofold: (1) Never think you can outguess the weather, and (2) Have a place for everything and keep everything in place.

Many seemingly innocuous occurrences can turn disastrous. At a minimum, it can make for a less-enjoyable trip than is otherwise possible.

The array of boats available makes it impossible to describe the best possible application for a specific purpose. Rather, I like to believe that each of us has the perfect boat available.

Maybe you can tweak it some to make it an even better fishing machine. All good fishing boats have certain features and traits in common. It goes without saying to put the largest horsepower outboard the boat is certified for on the rig. The newer fish finders are superb at helping you find, identify, and prepare to catch more fish quicker.

A typical angler preparing to go fishing dumps everything he packs in the bottom of the boat and heads to the water. During the course of the day, that is where it remains—getting stepped on or over.

Have you ever stepped on a rod, or couldn’t find something you need? You are wasting fishing time at this point.

Get Organized, or Else

Brian Barton, a catfish guide from the Shoals area, believes in well-organized boat rigging. Everything has a place, so there is never any doubt where it’s located. Ice chests, live bait boxes, tackle, even the lunch box is held in place by bungee cords or floor clips.

“You are much less likely to forget something if there is a familiar place for it.”

Tackle boxes remain in storage compartments until needed. Barton says that customers do not want to lose fishing time while he rummages around for a particular item. Also, they are less likely to stumble and fall overboard if items are safely stored out of the way. You are much less likely to forget something if there is a familiar place for it.

There is more to a properly-rigged boat than having a place for all your gear. Boat rigging, or outfitting your boat, starts with deciding what fish you will pursue most frequently.

Bass, crappie, bream, and catfish anglers each have different needs.

It’s a given that you should use the best equipment you can afford. Quality tackle makes for better and more hookups.

Can you see your fish finder from both the drivers’ seat and while using the trolling motor? If not, you need another fishfinder or at least a second mount. Keep every factor in the boat working in your favor.

A safe, comfortable—not necessarily faster—boat will be appreciated at the end of the day. The traditional spring fishing season is just around the corner, so why not take a few days to help assure a safer and more successful fishing season?

Devil in the Details

How many years has it been since you changed the water pump? If it has been over three, spend a couple hundred dollars at your boat dealer and have it done. Have the spark plugs changed at the same time.

Unless you have gone through all your electrical connections and tightened/greased them, let him do that too. Corrosion and loose connections pull the battery down quickly. While you are at it, use a bottle of upholstery cleaner to remove the winter accumulation of mold and mildew.

Have you ever deep-hooked or foul-hooked a fish and had to search all over the boat to find pliers or forceps? The easy solution is to leave these tools on a tether at both ends of the boat. An alternative is to place a rod holder with slots for tools nearby.

Frabill, as well as others, makes an excellent net/gaff holder that also includes accessory holder slots.

I recently acquired a Frabill bait bucket. It holds about three-dozen live minnows and has an excellent aerator. The built-in net makes it easy to get bait. Crappie anglers will particularly like the idea that you no longer have to interrupt the person with the main bait bucket in order to hand someone a minnow.

Remember, the devil is in the details. When you wipe the fish slime off on your trousers, you take a chance on staining them as well as repelling everyone in the area with the odor. Why not take a towel, put a shower hanger in it, and attach it to the seat post? Or buy one at your sporting goods/marine dealer.

Does Your Auxiliary Equipment Work?

As they age, we all know of anglers who have quit fishing for health or safety reasons. The fishing “seasons” for these people can be extended by several years by a few simple steps. The first is to never fish alone.

Buy and wear one of the auto inflate vests now on the market. Install a base plate for seat pedestals along your travel route in the boat and put the pipe support in. It makes an excellent handhold and helps the angler retain his balance.

Does all of your auxiliary equipment work? Several years ago, I tied my boat to a pier overnight. A thunderstorm filled it with water and it sank. The boat had an automatic bilge pump, but the automatic float had trash jammed into it, and it didn’t start properly. The cleanout screen was readily accessible; I just didn’t check it.

Nylon makes a good anchor rope. The poly ropes are susceptible to ultraviolet rot. Four years ago, while fishing on the Black Warrior, I broke an anchor rope lifting an eight-pound anchor. The rope had dry-rotted.

A friend who fly-fishes small lakes exclusively does his boat rigging in a unique way. It’s a 40-year-old wide 14′ aluminum boat. Two-by-six planks line the bottom to weigh it down enough so it will be stable in a wind or when changing position in the boat.

Likewise, I know several professional crappie anglers who weigh the bow to keep the rod tips from dipping into the water in a chop. A mid-range-priced fish finder, spare battery, and anchor mates are the only other additions to the boat.

On each of the boats’ fishing seats rests a line nipper, narrow nose pliers, and a set of forceps. He spends whatever time it takes to learn a lake thoroughly. He uses no gas motor, definitely not a “run ‘n gun” type.

Not only is he the most successful bream angler I have ever known, he’s also a “catch and release” angler who uses a clicker type tally counter to keep count.

Photo by Clay Richardson

Train to Maintain

Most of us have become frustrated with our ice chests allowing all the ice to melt in a day in the sun. I was introduced recently to a cooler made by a new company—Outdoor Recreation Company of America(ORCA)—that says their coolers will stand up to any competition. It’s rugged and well-designed to withstand hard use.

It and other outdoor products are manufactured in Tennessee. I did not get to try one, but I plan to soon. You can find them at

Repetition is the mother of learning, so make it a habit to maintain your equipment. And while you’re at it, take a tip from the pros: Get the best equipment you can afford, service and maintain it properly, and go catch fish! But not in stormy weather.

Stay Updated

Get outdoor trends, data, new products, and tips delivered to your inbox.