Setting up a sportsfishing boat
  |  First Published: September 2014

My mate Murry was on the bow of my previous boat (a 4.40 tiller steer), fly rod in hand, 80ft of flyline stripped onto the deck chasing school mac tuna around the bay. Conditions were near perfect, and the fish were in range. Murry made a good cast, hooked a fish, high fives all round and as it sped off with the school, the line on the deck wrapped around a tie down latch for the front deck and the leader instantly snapped! Heartbreak.

This is just an example of one of the little things that can be changed to make a good boat into a great boat. Over the past 25 years I have owned dozens of boats, big and small, but now I owned a small fibreglass centre console. It is low sided, self-draining and there is nothing to hook up a stray flyline, soft plastic, lure, net, shin, toe etc.

I wont get into the construction material debate, I’ve owned everything from plate boats, fibreglass and Polycraft and at the end of the day they all have pros and cons with weight, hull design and setup being the main consideration.

A good boat setup really depends on the type of fishing you intend to do. My fishing styles have slowly evolved over the past years and, as a consequence, so have my boat needs.

One thing I have learnt after doing years of guiding is you definitely don’t need anything protruding to catch on gear; just check out some of the American boat layouts. These guys have been doing this way longer than us Aussies with a massive flyfishing market over there. Just remember a good boat set up for lure fishing often won’t work for a fly fisher but the other way around works great.

Fly boat setups should have absolutely nothing protruding, especially around the front deck area, even those tiny bungy strap loops and the little buttons they hook on will catch something. I was out with another mate the other morning and he had a nice snapper up to the boat but placing the net on the front deck, some of the mesh hung over and caught on one of these buttons and the split second it took to reach down and unhook it, he lost his fish – a groper ate the fish off the surface!

My current rig has a flush front deck hatch with a generous drain channel underneath, so there is nothing to kick toes, hook nets or flyline on, and great drainage even when hit with a high pressure hose. Every boat should have dry storage in the hatches, I had a boat once and after every trip’s wash down everything had to be taken out and dried, which was a real pain.

If you are serious about your sportsfishing, whether it’s bass, bream, barra, or tuna, a good sounder is a must. My advice is to get the biggest screen size you can afford or fit on your boat. I am currently using a Lowrance HDS 10 with structure scan, I started with a 7” screen then went 9” but now use a 10”. You will spend a lot of time looking at one of these things so don’t go cheap, the bigger screen will let you see things in better detail.

Side imaging is nearly a must nowadays, so spend the money, get one and learn how to use it. I have learnt so much about fish movements, how they hang off structure and found the smallest bits of bottom where I never thought it would be, which is often overlooked and with some good fish on them.

Some of the guides up the Cape now use side imaging to look into the drain mouths for barra in a metre of water; they can get in real close and quiet on electric power. On many occasions in Hervey Bay I would quickly sound around a GPS mark and if I saw nothing good on the side image then I’d just keep moving. They definitely save time from fishing dead water.

Rod holders are another topic that needs exploring. Vertical rod storage can be great, but I have seen on many occasions rods stored around consoles and bait boards that get hit by a cast lure, fly or bait. Not only is there a high chance of them getting broken, but they can get in the road when following a hot fish around the boat. They may look cool all lined up but it is a disaster waiting to happen.

Horizontal storage is the way to go, especially under gunnel out of the road. I have 50mm poly tubes glassed into the front deck that follow the curve around towards the bow. The tips slide in and the rod butts are hung on Velcro straps at the rear. This system is fool proof for both spin and fly rods as the rods are easy to access. I have never broken a rod this way.

Serious sportsfishing boats rarely have canopies or T-tops as they hinder casting. Fold down shades can work, but aren’t ideal. Sun protection should be high priority, especially with kids in the boat, but I prefer to use a good cap, sunnies and a buff pulled up over my nose. Just remember to take it off when heading home, a friend forgot to take his off after retrieving his boat and was pulled up by the police, I guess they thought he was a bank robber.

Everyone has an electric motor nowadays, however I tend to take mine off when sportsfishing for tuna and deepwater plastic fishing. They are just too slow to follow tuna and generally it’s too windy to hold position offshore. Occasionally on a calm day they can work, but a slow drift works fine.

Power poles are another invention that are valuable when shallow water fishing. The first one I saw was on a client’s boat he towed up for a week. I remember thinking what a useless thing this would be but after going out in his boat I went out and bought one for myself. Best bit of gear I ever put onto a boat, whether working drains for barra or flathead, popping for whiting, flats fishing for trevally. They even have a drift paddle you can simply clip on so at the press of a button you have a sea anchor.

High cast decks are great value, allowing the angler to have better vision, and more storage underneath for tackle, swags on so forth. It is another American design, and the poling platform over the outboard allows a great place to stand up on to look for fish and suitable spots. There is a great place to sit with the electric motor control in hand even to clean fish on or cook a feed on.

Outboard choice is again personal, most of the new generation engines are super-efficient with many sportsfishing boats now running further afield exploring new country and reliability seems to be better than ever. It’s not uncommon up the Cape to see small 4.5-6m sportsfishing rigs run 150-200km on a trip down the coast, 20 years ago it would have been a massive effort to get the extra fuel needed!

Lastly, under every good boat should be a great trailer. Be weary that some boat deals cut costs by placing inferior trailers under the vessel but most boat damage is done by cheap, light trailers that just don’t support the hull correctly. Get a good solid one with plenty of hull support. I’m currently using a full alloy drive on/off Mackay with Teflon lead-ins like a vee at the rear, so whatever angle I approach it automatically centres. Most manufacturers are now starting to customise trailers with some really good ideas coming out! – Mark Bargenquast

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