a Small Boat for Big Game Fishing
When asked to describe a boat geared
towards big game fishing, often many anglers think of a thirty or
forty foot sport fisherman with a fly bridge, tuna tower and
fighting chair. When you add Yankee ingenuity into to the equation,
one may include simple downeast type boats, or craft with Novie style
hulls, both of which are very comfortable and at home in our New
England waters. Mount a few swivel rod holders in the gunwales of
these classic New England boats and your all set to go.
One style of boat which may not
immediately come to mind for use as a big game rig is the common
center console. I often think back to the New Bedford whaling days and
those old black and white photos of men fishing from 16 foot dories.
Some of today's small center console boats can be more sea worthy than
anything those poor souls had to keep them afloat. So why cant big
fish still be caught from small boats? They can, just as long as you
are prepared, have safety in mind and watch the weather closely.
This article describes how I rigged my
20 foot Mako center console Shortfin for giant tuna fishing. The
improvements and enhancements range from rebuilding hatches,
reinforcing gunnels, to simple items like extending rod safety lines.
From what I understand many fishermen
today do fish for giant tuna from center consoles. They either fight
the fish from a gunwale mounted swivel rod holder or use some sort of
rod mounting apparatus in the bow. A center console has little deck
space for a fighting chair.
game fishing out of Shortfin is focused around a battle station
mounted on her bow. The battle station I chose is made by Gibi-Inox,
an Italian engineering company in Padova Italy that has been
manufacturing big game fishing equipment since the sport began. The
Gibi battle station has been called the Swiss army knife of fighting
posts, and for very good reason. It can be adjusted to almost any
configuration you require. The IGFA compliant gimbal rod holder can be
set to free swing, or it can be set to stop at any angle and still
allow the rod to be pumped. The unit can swivel a full 360 degrees.
The height can be adjusted over a wide range. The brace can be used as
a stand-up support, or inverted and used as a seat in what I call
fighting chair mode. The unit in my opinion can be used in any number
of situations. On Shortfin, I decided to use the battle station in
stand-up mode, where the angler stands behind the support and fights
the fish. (Gibi-Inox products can be purchased through Pesce
Shortfin's bow area is made up of a
raised deck, with a large hatch covering a storage tub beneath the
deck. This initially posed a problem as there was little strength in
the deck to support the battle station, let alone the force that would
be applied during a fight with a giant tuna. I fully expect to be
towed by a giant tuna fish, and with around 30 pounds of drag on a 130
outfit, that equates to hundreds of pounds of force at the base of the
rod. I would have to design a solution to mount the battle station and
find a way to distribute that force over a large area throughout the
deck. Since the battle station would have to be mounted on the hatch,
the hatch would need much work as well since it was merely fiberglass
with a plywood core.
At first I thought I could tie into the
hull stringers below the storage tub in the deck. Or at the very least
tie into what was supporting the bottom of the tub. If I could gain
access to what was under there, and somehow bring supports up close
under the deck, I could somehow mount the battle station. But I would
loose all the storage space provided by the tub and would be creating
large holes in the tub. I could be jeopardizing the integrity of the
boat's floatation design when, god forbid she ever became swamped. I
couldn't do that. Storage on a center console is limited, and with the
extra safety gear required for tuna fishing I would also need all the
storage space I had.
Plan B involved installing 4 inch stock
aluminum angle under the deck. The aluminum beams would traverse from
the starboard to port side under the deck. They would both pass
through the storage tub and under the hatch. One beam would be mounted
near the hatch hinges close to the bow, and the other beam mounted
near the hatch handle. The beams could tie into the two support beams
that are under the deck. I could reinforce the hatch and somehow bolt
the hatch down to the beams when fishing.
This seemed a little more feasible and
I wouldn't be loosing much storage space. I now wished I had taken
more of those mechanical engineering classes in school.
At this point I decided I should
probably ask for some professional advice before finalizing my design.
I contacted a very helpful engineer at Mako Marine named Doug
Cratch. He is one of the very few who has been with the company
long enough to still remember how the older center consoles where
built. Plans are no longer available for these boats since the company
was sold. Doug confirmed my thoughts that tying into the stringers
wasn't a very good idea, and that there probably wasn't much under the
tub to lend strength, but my second idea was very feasible.
With a plan in place, I spent the
winter of 2003 designing, mixing epoxy, cutting and fitting what would
become the structure to support Shortfin's battle station. It hoped it
would be strong enough to fight a giant bluefin tuna, and more.
first task at hand was to rebuild the front hatch. With my trusty Roto-Zip
tool I cut away the fiberglass shell from the inside bottom of the
hatch. By doing this I exposed the wet plywood core, I'm now glad I
did this, that wet plywood needed to be replaced. With a chisel and
hammer I carefully removed the wood. The wood was bonded to the inside
top of the hatch cover, and it was no easy feat to separate and remove
it. A few hours later I had an empty fiberglass shell of the hatch
cover. The next step was to fit and epoxy a new 3/4" piece of
marine plywood into the shell. I also reinforced the area where the
hinges would be through-bolted. I tied everything together with narrow
strips of fiberglass cloth and epoxy around the perimeter. To complete
the strengthening of the hatch cover, a 3/8" thick piece of
aluminum plate was gooped with 5200 to the bottom. Finally I applied
three coats of battleship gray marine deck paint to protect and seal
The 3/8" aluminum plate was
drilled with four holes which lined up with the mounting bolts for the
battle station. This was done previous to mounting the plate to the
hatch cover. Gibi sells a mounting kit for the battle station which
gives a very professional result. The kit supplies four knobs with
bolts and four stainless mounting adapters which install flush with
the deck. This kit allows the battle station to be easily removed from
the deck when not in use.
one very critical step in the building and fitting procedure was that
of marking and aligning the hatch hold down bolt holes. These bolts
reside in the beams (more on them later) and pass up through the hatch
where they are secured with large hand knobs from the top. These bolts
keep the hatch from opening when there is hortizontal force placed on
the battle station. Obviously this force will be from the fish when
he's towing the boat around the Gulf of Maine.
All holes in the deck and hatch where
drilled oversized then filled will epoxy. The holes were then
re-drilled to the proper size. This procedure isolates the plywood
core from the elements and keeps it from getting wet and rotting.
Since the core of my front deck hatch
was wet, and I knew my live well hatch had cracks on the bottom side,
I decided to refurbish it was well. Both hatch tops were painted with
non-skid deck paint.
of using aluminum angle or I-beams, I decided to manufacture the
reinforcing beams for under the hatch from 3/4" plywood.
Rebuilding both hatches only used a half sheet of marine plywood, so
why not use the remaining to make the beams?
With West Systems epoxy I laminated
several lengths of marine plywood together to make two solid beams of
4" x 4" x 4'. I used a 6" hole saw and my Roto-Zip to
create the openings in the side of the storage tub for the beams.
These beams where fitted under the front deck then bolted in place.
Bolts and 3M 5200 adhesive were used to adhere the beams and
spacer/distribution blocks to the underside of the front deck. When
installation of the beams was complete, foam insulation was sprayed
into the gaps where the beams pass through the tub sides. This helped
seal the tub and retain the vessels flotation properties. I installed
and epoxied 1/2" stainless bolts in the beams that pass up
through the hatch. The hatch is fastened down secure with stainless
knobs from above, and can be accessed easily by unscrewing the knobs.
Other modifications to Shortfin
- Installing 15 degree swivel
rod holders in the gunnels. I installed 2 holders on one side and
one on the other. Pieces of the same 3/4" marine plywood was
fitted, drilled and secured with 3M 5200 adhesive under the
gunnels. The holders were installed with stainless baking plates.
Reinforced safety cleats were installed near the holders for the
rod safety lines.
- Instead of using a huge 128qt marine
cooler for bait like most guys do, I've downsized. Shortfin only
has room for small coolers so I use two 60qt Icy Tech coolers
instead. These smaller coolers are easier to move when full and
they stay colder than the larger coolers. I can load a tote of
bait on to the boat by myself much easier with two coolers than
one. I use stainless bungee cords to secure the coolers to each
side of the front deck.
- I've mounted a 60qt cooler on the
bow which stores my gloves, harpoon lines, many loose items that
normally don't have a place on board but are needed for giant
- Extra line cleats near the stern for
hauling the anchor, tying off the painter, tying off fish.
- Extra line chocks near the fore left
and right quarters for use as anchor line toggle points for when
the tide and wind are opposite.
Some of the project costs:
- 1 sheet 3/4" marine plywood $70
- 1 gallon West Systems Epoxy, Glass,
- 2'x2'x3/8" Aluminum Plate $40
- Stainless T-Hinges $70
- Knobs, SS bolts, hardware, $100
- Battle Station $800
- Rod Holders $300
Taking large game fish with a small
boat is challenge, but with the proper planning and right equipment it
can be fun. Advantages of a small boat include maneuverability, speed
and economy. When fishing from a small boat offshore you really
need to become competent in forecasting weather. You need to use the
land and marine forecasts only as guides, and with experience you'll
soon understand what days are doable and which are not.
Tight lines, fair winds and screaming
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