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Prepare Your Boat for Fishing: Expert Tips and Suggestions

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Learn how to prepare your boat for fishing with our expert tips and suggestions. Discover essential gear, organization strategies and setup techniques for a successful and enjoyable fishing trip. Perfect for anglers aiming to enhance their fishing experience.

You show up one fine day at the dock or launching ramp with your new fishing boat. While gassing up or preparing to launch, you notice two salty-looking characters leaning on the railing nearby. Professional guides, maybe? Or commercial fishermen, maybe boatyard workmen? They are obviously eyeing your boat rather closely.

After a while one of them says to the other, “Now that’s what I call a real fishing machine!”

Hearing those words sends a thrill shooting through you. Now you know for sure that you’ve done a good job of outfitting your new boat, which only a month or so ago was likened to others of its make and model as one tomato can is to another.

Boarding from boat
An example of a good all-round utility boat is Crestliner’s 14-foot aluminum Super Seaman, rated for up to a 24-h. p. outboard

Well, there are two ways it is not done. You cannot take a stock boat to a shop that specializes in “customizing” ordinary boats into well-equipped fishing boats, for there are no such places. And you can’t spend a few giddy hours in a marine supply store loading up with one each of everything on display that seems to have some connection with fishing, and festoon your boat with all this stuff wherever there seems to be room for it.

Successful jobs are done when a rather enthusiastic and dedicated sportsman spends a lot of time thinking about what he wants in his new boat, what he wants it to be able to do, and what is needed to make this possible. He haunts boat stores and boat shows with a sharp eye out for interesting details. He studies catalogs, makes pencil sketches of possible layouts, and generally does a very deliberate and carefully-reasoned job of deciding what items should be put aboard.

It’s fairly common, also, to visit fishing docks in particular areas and observe all the boats there are outfitted in the same way. In such cases, it’s usually the result of many sportsmen having tried many things and gradually worked out a standard way of outfitting for a particular kind of fishing activity. No one man “invented” these outfits, they are the result of many men’s experience. The point is, if you’re going fishing there, it makes sense simply to outfit your boat the same way. The right way has already been developed.

Once in a while you see a boat that stands out from all the rest in the harbor – it’s loaded, really loaded, with equipment. And it certainly does attract attention. But before rushing to imitate it, find out something about who did it and why. Could be one of those chaps who has just inherited a pile of money and has gone hog-wild on acquiring and installing everything he could find in the catalogs under “fishing.” If that’s the case, his boat is in the same class as a motorcycle loaded with chrome gewgaws from one end to the other for the sole purpose of attracting attention and building up the owner’s ego. Of course such a boat is not a fishing machine, any more than a bike loaded with chrome is a racing motorcycle.

It’s really very rare to find a fishing boat that someone has outfitted in a really different-looking manner and which really makes a lot of sense. When you do see one, it’s because the owner has a real mind and has made good use of it. He has probably approached the task exactly as a trained scientist approaches a research problem. Any trained researcher makes it a point to perform one experiment at a time. He observes results carefully before proceeding to the next step, for he knows that if he fiddles around with three or four different things at once, he will have no way of being sure what it was he did that produced the results he got from his tests.

Men fishing
Dave Hickman, famed Florida bass fisherman, plays a black bass in close so his fishing companion can net it

In the methodical fisherman’s case, he installs and thoroughly tries out one item of equipment before adding the next one. Thus he makes certain that each item does what he hoped it would do, and that it has no unanticipated shortcomings. Any veteran boat yard foreman can vouch that this is indeed the way to do things. He has seen scores of excited new boat owners have their craft loaded with half a ton of fancy gadgets prior to the first launching – and he’s gone out in his launch to tow them home after there has been a chain reaction of breakdowns and malfunctions among a boatload of newly-installed and untested gadgets.

We’ve become accustomed to taking delivery of new television sets, refrigerators, wrist watches, cameras, power tools, vacuum cleaners and other contrivances, and having them work properly from the moment we first use them. This makes us expect the same initial reliability from everything, including boats, bicycles, swimming pools and camping outfits. We forget these things have a big and vital difference – they are usually delivered as components and set up when we buy them.

So it really does amount to custom work, with all its attendant trying and adjusting. You try out a new bicycle several times before the seat and handlebars have been adjusted to fit you. It takes a number of camping trips to become proficient at making the gasoline stove, gasoline lantern and camp kitchen work as intended and produce good results quickly. Remember that a new boat, its motor, steering system, controls, pumps, instruments and electronics were manufactured in separate factories. You selected your choice of various makes and models and then had the dealer assemble them to make the complete rig. The work involved was not production-line work with all the details figured out and an assortment of jigs and automatic tools to speed the work. It was all cut-and-try work and your first few trips on the water are the test runs. Any boat, whether it be an outboard skiff or an ocean liner, thus has to make at least a few shakedown cruises so small flaws can be discovered and corrected.

It works like this with fishing equipment too. Install one (or two closely related things) at a time. Try them out and make sure they are working properly and dependably before bringing aboard the next goodie on your list. Realize that the mechanics employed by your marine dealer are called upon to work on a much wider assortment of makes, models and products than is the average automobile dealer’s staff.

If they have to spend time to figure out how best to install an unfamiliar gadget you discovered on your last business trip to San Diego, or if they have to come aboard again a few times to get it adjusted right, you are not entitled to label them inefficient or to complain about the labor bill they rack up. It has become the national fashion in recent years to criticize manufactured products severely – and we as a people tend to forget that one reason these products cost more to maintain and take time to adjust properly is because they are sophisticated and complicated devices, made that way of necessity to give us the high performance we demand!

Some more wisdom. Watch weight – carefully. It is amazing how weight can add up when a man allows himself to be carried away by his enthusiasm for gadgeteering. A pound here, a few pounds there, it adds up, man, it adds up! We don’t notice it when the boat is on dry land. We have no warning when our loading on of accessories has built the craft’s weight up to a critical point. However, one soon discovers it after the boat has been launched.

Remember, you are starting out with quite a number of pounds of basic necessities such as navigation lights, life preservers, anchor and line, mooring cleats and other fundamental items of equipment. To this list you add things that you know are highly desirable, such as:

  • battery,
  • boat hook,
  • bilge pump,
  • compass,
  • tachometer,
  • extra fuel tanks,
  • folding top,
  • searchlight,
  • horn,
  • windshield wipers,
  • boarding ladder and so on.

At this point you can easily have added 200 pounds or more to the boat’s weight. Few people realize how heavy storage batteries are – a typical one for an Boat Outboard Motorsoutboard motor or small Advantages of the Inboard Enginesinboard engine can easily weigh 40 or 50 pounds. Gasoline weighs about six pounds per gallon, so a 24-gallon extra-range fuel tank will add to your boat a weight of 144 lbs. plus the weight of the tank, tank supports and fuel lines.

This brings us to an old rule-of-thumb which states that each 100 lbs. added to the weight of a typical planing hull in the outboard or small inboard class will take one mile per hour off the boat’s top speed. This is an especially vital matter, with all the uncertainties about fuel. Concerned at what shortages might do to their businesses(and hence to the unemployment rates in their communities), various powerplant and boat manufacturers have been making test runs, compiling that data and releasing information to the press on the most economical speeds at which to operate their products.

It works out to the average small powerboat giving its best economical performance when its engine is throttled back between about 25 % and 35 % of its rated top speed. This is fast enough to keep it up on plane, in which condition it can eat up the miles easily while going acceptably easy on gas. When a boat is slowed down this much, it is not zipping over the very surface of the water with only a little of its bottom contacting. It has settled slightly, but it’s still definitely planing and the hull is running cleanly in the water.

If when operating under this reduced speed, a boat encounters the waves and swells often experienced on coastal waters, it will be going “uphill” much of the time – climbing up the sides of the waves. It is then often on the verge of dropping off plane, due to the combination of reduced speed and momentum lost climbing wave sides. And here, a little excess weight added by extravagant gadgets can make it actually drop off plane frequently. Each time his boat threatens to do so, its skipper naturally gives it a blast of throttle to “catch” it and keep it on plane. Up goes the fuel consumption, down goes the owner’s economy. So – by all means install genuinely useful and needed equipment, but watch the weight carefully and do not go on a gadget spree.

In addition to watching the total weight, watch also the weight distribution. Larger inboard boats in the sportsfisherman category have cabins, thus not much fishing equipment can be installed in the forward half. Most of it ends up installed in the after one-third of the boat, in the stern cockpit area where the actual fishing is done. Watch out for the monkey-see-monkey-do syndrome here if you’re working with a smaller boat in the outboard or stern drive category. Just because the big fellow puts all his equipment in his aft cockpit doesn’t mean you should imitate him mindlessly. The big inboard boat probably has its engine amidships. Typical items of fishing equipment represent a very small fraction of the boat’s overall weight, and installed in the stern they won’t upset the boat’s designed balance much.

Man with nets
Fisherman with nets
Source: unsplash.com

But in your outboard or stern drive, you’ve got the weight of the engine or engines in the stern to begin with. No matter how small it may be, each item of fishing equipment does in fact amount to a larger percentage of the boat’s total weight, and so it will have proportionally more effect on the boat’s balance in the water. If the equipping job is approached mindlessly and everything crammed into the stern of a small boat, the result is going to be a stern-heavy craft. It will “drag its heel” when accelerating onto plane, it will tend to “kite” (let wind lift and throw about the bow) at high speed on blustery days, and it will want to fall off plane sooner and more often when being operated at gas-saving reduced speed.

That’s one reason why the increasingly popular outboard and stern drive fishing boats as made by the Mako, Aquasport, SeaCraft, and Boston Whaler are of the open-cockpit type in spite of their seagoing size. A man can move around more in one of them, thus he has his choice of more possible places at which to install his fishing equipment, with both balance and convenience in mind.

We’ve already mentioned that gasoline weighs about six pounds a gallon. Salt water weighs about 64,5 pounds per cubic foot. The practical implication of this is that water and ice in bait tanks and fish boxes is heavy stuff. The owner of a 48-foot sportfisherman can get away with installing a big bait tank in his stern cockpit. In your small boat of average size, you have to be more careful.

Read also: Portable Boats – Overview, Transportation

Because it is often very hard to find space inside finished boats for extra gasoline tanks, some of the firms that make extra-range tanks do offer triangular models for installation in the bow of a small boat, under the foredeck. They have to be fastened down quite strongly to stay put against the violent up-and-down poundings they receive when a fast boat rips over the waves. The point is, when you understand something like this about tank installation, you know right away that up forward in the bow of a fast open boat is not the place for a bait tank! Your live bait won’t be very lively upon arrival at the fishing ground.

You’re beginning to see why a good fishing boat requires a lot of careful thinking. A bait tank in the stern would put that end down in the water, one in the bow wouldn’t work well for the abovementioned reasons. Somewhere amidships might be the best compromise from the standpoints of hull balance and giving the contents a fairly soft ride. Trouble is, with the console, seats and 50-gallon gas tank in that area, it can be hard to find space for a bait tank too. How small a one can you live with? Maybe a small one in the stern? A portable one? You start looking into catalogs, you spend hours in your boat with a ruler in hand, you make one sketch after another. It’s often a mixture of frustration, challenge and fun.

When you seem to have reached a dead end, remember that there’s always more than one way to do a thing. You’ve seen something done a certain way for years on fishing boats in your area. It might be a good way, for all I know. But it won’t fit into your boat very well. Oil up your imagination and turn it loose on the problem. Think of other ways in which it might be done. Don’t be afraid to be radically different – when everyone thinks alike sometimes that means only that nobody is doing any thinking! Sketch all the ideas that occur to you, both conventional and wild.

Review each one in turn so your barin has the whole picture on its tape, then forget about the problem entirely. The human brain is an amazing machine. This trick of reviewing methodically each possible solution and then putting the whole matter out of your mind really works. While you’re mowing the lawn, driving to work or watching a very dull TV program several days later, it is possible for the perfect, imaginative answer to the problem to suddenly flash into your consciousness just like the electric light bulb that comes on over the head of a cartoon character who has just gotten an inspiration or, as the saying goes, has “seen the light.”

Equipment for outfitting a fishing boat comes from assorted sources and it’s worth having a bit of insight on this matter. It is probably safe to say that all of the items on the market can be divided into two categories. There are items made to serve quite specialized purposes. They tend to be made by small, specialist firms, and they are of good to high quality because they are made specially to serve some serious purpose where dedicated sportsmen will not tolerate shoddiness or failure. And there are items to serve generalized, widespread purposes. You can find quality merchandise in this field too – but you can also find cheap stuff made to be distributed in vast quantities to a nationwide market. Once you know this, you’re able to size up pretty accurately the probable worth of any item you might find yourself looking at.

A lot of the quality firms have developed in locations where sport-fishing is a major activity – Florida and Southern California. Of course good things are made in other parts of the country, but from what I can see at boat shows and in marine trade directories it seems that a slightly unhappy situation exists. Because their major sales area is so localized, the Florida and California firms don’t do a great amount of promotion in other parts of the country. For this reason, many boat owners in Maine, Missouri and Montana are not aware of the existence of many, many useful products. When they go shopping, they see things that marine distributors have found will sell well in their areas so the marine stores are stocked with such items. They’re useful – but they do not give much scope to the ingenuity of the sportsman who wants to upgrade his boat into a real fishing machine.

So, he should start his improvement project by obtaining and thoroughly studying certain items of literature that are full of goodies. Outriggers large and small, water pumps-suitable for bait tanks, valves, fittings, deck hardware, bronze nuts and bolts, drains, sealing compounds, adhesives, gasketing, repair kits and so on are plebian things but often vital to installing and rigging up your gadgets.

By the time you’ve finished How to Buy a Boat?reading all this material, you will be one of the best-informed salt water sportsmen on your stretch of the coast, and you should be able to design and outfit a fishing machine to end all fishing machines!

Author photo - Olga Nesvetailova
  1. Cruising World, Subscription Service Dept., P. O. Box 953, Farmingdale, NY 11737.
  2. Motor Boating & Sailing, P. O. Box 10075, Des Moines, IA 50350.
  3. Multi-hulls, 421 Hancock St., N. Quincy, MA 02171-9981.
  4. Nautical Quarterly, 373 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10016.
  5. Sail Magazine, P. O. Box 10210, Des Moines, IA 50336.
  6. Sailing, P. O. Box 248, Port Washington, WI 53704.
  7. Small Boat Journal, P. O. Box 400, Bennington, VT 05201.
  8. Soundings, Soundings Publications, Inc., Pratt Street, Essex, CT 06426.
  9. The Practical Sailor, Subscription Dept., P. O. Box 971, Farmingdale, NY 11737.
  10. Wooden Boat, Subscription Dept., P. O. Box 956, Farming-dale, NY 11737.
  11. Yacht Racing/Cruising, North American Building, 401 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19108.
  12. Yachting, P. O. Box 2704, Boulder, CO 80321.
  13. Beiser, Arthur. The Proper Yacht, 2nd ed. Camden, Maine: International Publishing Co., 1978.
  14. Chapman, Charles F. Piloting, Seamanship and Small Boat Handling, 56th ed. New York: Hearst Marine Books, 1983.
  15. Coles, Adlard. Heavy Weather Sailing, 3rd rev. ed. Clinton Corners, N.Y.: John De Graff, Inc., 1981.
  16. Pardey, Lin and Larry. Cruising in Seraffyn and Seraffyn’s Mediterranean Adventure (W. W. Norton, 1981).
  17. Roth, Hal. After 50 000 Miles (W. W. Norton, 1977) and Two Against Cape Horn (W. W. Norton, 1968).
  18. Royce, Patrick M. Royce’s Sailing Illustrated, 8th ed. Ventura, Calif.: Western Marine Enterprises, Inc., 1979.
  19. Kinney, Francis S. Skene’s Elements of Yacht Design, 8th ed. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1981.
  20. Street, Donald M., Jr. The Ocean Sailing Yacht, Vols. I and II. New York: W. W. Norton, 1973, 1978.


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