Selection and Installation of Fishing Rod Holders for Boats

We all know that adding more baits or lures to a trolling spread increases its attractiveness by making it look like a school of real baitfish trying to elude capture. However, it’s tricky to add more baits if you’re limited by the standard allotment of four gunwale-mounted rod holders found on most boats. Fortunately, with some insight — and some extra holders — you can turn virtually any boat into a more effective trolling machine.

Proper Positioning

Prior to installing any additional rod holders, make sure the existing aft holders are mounted close to the transom and near the inside edge of the gunwale. Also, since these holders are designed to accommodate the flat-line outfits, they should point directly behind the boat.

The next pair of holders are usually designated for the outrigger rods. They should be mounted in the center of the gunwale and angled outward at about 45 degrees. With this arrangement, the lines will not interfere with the other rods, even when a fish is hooked.

Angle, offset and distance between the two sets of holders serve to keep the various rods and lines apart. As long as the holders are positioned properly, four lines can be fished without interfering with one another, even with out the use of outriggers. This can be accomplished by running the flat lines through transom release clips or reel-seat release clips, which reduce the line’s angle to the water. Now the lines from the next set of rods can be fished straight off the tips and farther back without interfering. Because of the low-profile entry of the flat lines and the 45-degree angle of the second set of rods, there’s little risk of interference.

Expanding your bait spread is easily done through the use of outriggers and additional holders. If you choose to add another pair of gunwale holders, bringing the total to six, they should be mounted at a 45-degree angle and as close to the outside edge of the gunwales possible. This will help keep all the rods and lines separated.

With a rocket launcher, you can eliminate the need for extra gunwale holders. In this situation, the height of the outrigger clips will keep the lines clear of the gunwale-based rods, even on the strike. Furthermore, since these outrigger lines are fished farther behind the spread, there’s little chance of their lines crossing others in the spread, even with a fish hooked up.

Ten-Line Spread

I do a lot of trolling, so my 28-foot Mako center console is set up to fish at least seven lines. My seven-line spread consists of two flat lines, two short outrigger lines, two long outrigger lines and one center-rigger line. On those occasions when I really want to “load up” the spread, I’ll run the flat lines from transom release clips or release clips on the reel seats. The next set of rods are fished straight back off the rod tips, followed by two short-outrigger baits, two long-outrigger baits and two center-rigger baits. This gives me a total of ten lines.

My two flat lines are fished from Lee’s flush-mount holders, and are angled straight back at 45 degrees. The next set of rods are fished from Lee’s Swivel Rod Holders and are angled outward at 45 degrees. The swivel holders are ideal for trolling with curved-butt rods, but also accommodate straight-butts. The holders can be adjusted to keep the rods aimed at virtually any angle. Furthermore, the adjustable tension setting allows the holder to swivel as the fish runs, keeping the rod tip pointed at the fish. These holders are mounted approximately 30 inches forward of the flat-line holders.

Two feet forward of the swivel holders and mounted closer to the outer edge of the gunwales are two additional flush-mount holders angled outward at 45 degrees. Some two feet behind those, and just shy of lining up with the center console, are two more holders angled outward at about 80 degrees. With this setup I can troll up to eight lines with enough rod clearance to keep the spread looking great and the lines and baits from interfering with one another. The rods for the short and long center-rigger baits are fished from the rocket launcher. With the rocket launcher, I have the option of placing the long outrigger rods here, too, and I usually do if I’m not fishing a close center-rigger bait.

The Clamp-On Option

As mentioned, it’s possible to troll a half-dozen or so baits without outriggers. A means of accomplishing this is with clamp-on rod holders for boats that affix to the T-top or hard top. Clamp-ons are commonly used on go-fast offshore boats. The owners of these boats generally don’t use outriggers due to the possibility of damaging the T-top and ‘rigger system when speeding through rough seas.

Three holders can be positioned along the sides and rear edge of the top. When paired with four gunwale holders, this increases the spread to seven baits, and keeps the lines well separated. A key to proper placement of these clamp-on holders, which come in vertical-and horizontal-mount versions, is making sure they can be easily reached. Those on the side of the top should face outward and be angled slightly upward. This helps spread the lines, similar to an outrigger. The slight upward angle should reduce the threat of the rod sliding out on a strike. Lee’s clamp-on, tulip-style holders are a popular choice on T-tops, because the tapered end helps secure the rod.

Playing the Angles

Most flush-mount gunwale holders come in 90- (straight up), 15- and 30-degree versions, which dictate the vertical angle of the rod. My flush-mount holders are 30-degree models. I chose them because the angle is better suited for trolling, as less strain is applied to the reel seat, rod tip and line when a heavy fish strikes.

Similar to flush-mount holders, the Lee’s swivel holders come in 90-, 15- and 30-degree models. With a curved-butt rod, the 30-degree holder keeps the rod closer and more parallel to the water, whereas the same rod in a 15-degree holder will point slightly upward. The 90-degree holder provides an angle that is nearly identical to the angle of the curve in the rod butt.

When selecting gunwale-based holders, make sure the diameter isn’t too narrow for your rods. Sometimes a slick-butt trolling outfit will fit fine in a holder, while a spinner or smaller conventional outfit with a thicker butt may barely fit into the same unit. If there’s not enough space around the butt, the rod may prove difficult to remove when a fish is running. Also, it’s wise to opt for holders with cross-pins at their bases, which will keep a gimbal butt locked in place. This is an important consideration if you have any rods with gimbal butts, or plan to buy some.

Quality counts, too. Go with the best holders your budget allows, as the premier rod holders are manufactured with the best materials and components. Correctly installed with premium hardware, you’ll never have to worry about them.

If you do a lot of offshore trolling, take a hard look at your rod holders. With a little common sense and some innovation you can troll a parade of baits and increase your overall effectiveness, regardless of the size of your boat.