Small Boat Outriggers - Yes or No?

Outriggers mounted on console
Are the outriggers you can buy for small boats worth the effort?. Click HERE to see the full story.
No other feature of an offshore fishing boat is more recognizable than outriggers. But do they have a place on ocean-going skiffs? Based on reviews of several articles (see sidebar), website searches and conversations with a number of knowledgable anglers, the answer is a definite "maybe".


A basic premise when trolling lures offshore is that the boat itself attracts fish. The propwash, foaming water, etc. create a disturbance visible and detectable by fish from quite a distance, both horizontally and vertically. The fish come to check out the disturbance, and see the trolled lures as either stragglers from a school of bait being attacked, or as unsuspecting smaller predators trailing a school of bait. Lures should be positioned so that they are visible to approaching fish, and located where they would be expected to be - either to the side, behind, or behind and below the "bait school".
In small boats, especially those with outboard motors, the difficulty is finding spots to place the lures that are not too far back.
In larger inboard or sterndrive boats, the consensus is there are clearwater "holes" in the wake in which lures can be placed, making them visible without being too far back. Apparently these holes are not there in outboard wakes.

In addition, there are some types of lures and certain types of teasers (such as spreader bars) which swim best when the line is coming from above. The rationale for using outriggers in ocean skiffs is that they allow you to place lures away from the wake in clearwater areas, and also allow things like spreader bars and certain lures to be used more effectively.


Arguably better placement of lures Cost - even an inexpensive set of outriggers will set you back around $250
By spreading the lures farther apart, tangled trolling lines are rare Complexity - yet another thing to worry about or break
Some types of lures, such as spreader bars, are designed to be run from outriggers, or have better action when run from outriggers Depending on installation, could be yet another obstruction


Length & stiffness
Longer, stiffer outriggers seem to be more desirable. However, longer, stiffer outriggers are heavier, require heavier mounts, and can be more complex (many larger outriggers have guy wires and stays to keep the rigger straight). Most manufacturers make 12' or 14' "skiff outriggers".

Materials & construction:
Tubular fiberglass or aluminum are the norm. Many people opined that aluminum and stiff riggers are a necessity to troll lures effectively. However, it should be noted that many larger Australian fishing boats use tubular fiberglass without stays, and troll large lures without a problem.

Type & location of outrigger mounts:
Gunwhale, T-top, and bulkhead mounts are common. Outrigger mounts usually are designed to allow the 'riggers to be turned 90 degrees, which, because of their construction, causes the 'riggers to point

straight up for travelling at high speed. Keep in mind that in an ideal world, outrigger mounts should be installed with backing plates and through-bolts.

Release clips:
Each outrigger will have one or more release clips. Release clips come in many styles, each trying to strike a balance between reliable release, ease of use, and release tension. Some clips are good at releasing under light pressure, some are not. Clips that release reliably under light pressure often can not be cranked up high enough for larger lures.

Halyard setup:

Halywards are the pulleys and cord setup used to move the release clips in and out. Most are braided dacron or mono line, with glass rings or pulleys on shock cord used to maintain tension. The most expensive outriggers will have pulleys with locks.


What are some alternatives to outriggers?:
  • The most popular alternative seems to be"rod riggers". These are rodholders that fit into existing gunnel rod holders, and hold a rod sideways away from the boat - effectively using the fishing rod itself as a mini-outrigger.
  • A spinoff of the rod rigger is a device called the "Flat Line Boom" This is a patented device from Pelinet, Inc., which mounts a 4' or 6' aluminum boom into the rod holder, instead of using the fishing rod. The Flat Line Boom incorporates a rod holder as well, but the rod is held vertically

    Flatline boom
  • In some cases, it may not be practical or legal to use outriggers. For example, many people who fly fish for billfish do not use outriggers because they might catch the flyline. Instead, they use teasers on short flatlines and a single long fishing rod to work the active teaser. For people fishing in Mexican waters, you are only allowed one line per angler. In a small skiff, that means you may legally have only two or three lines out, making outriggers a moot point.


Do outriggers help you catch more fish? It seems to depend on the preferred style of fishing:
  • People that rely more on trolling alone tended to use outriggers more. People who use a combination of trolling and live bait, did not use outriggers as often.
  • A general consensus is that they are not as necessary for tuna as they are for billfish, unless you are trolling specialized outfits like spreader bars or daisy chains.
  • Outriggers on boats under 24' are relatively rare.


We purchased a pair of Precision Marine econline outriggers with gunwhale mounts for Toy Boat 2. These are 12' tubular fiberlgass 'riggers with inexpensive glass ring halyards.  In the next issue, we'll cover installation and setup issues, and talk about field performance.