Outrigger Basics

Bobby Byrd & John Cochrane
Outrigger Basics
Blue marlin exploding out of the water.

The sun glimmering on the ocean surface has a mesmerizing effect on the human mind–as you watch your lures popping and smoking behind the boat, there is a certain harmony that develops that's not easy to explain. But this afternoon something's not right. After several hours of consistent watching, you detect an unusual splash. Was that a fin? Maybe the sun is playing tricks with you. Staying up most of the night before fishing probably wasn't a good idea and you're just getting a little tired. No–there's something going on. Suddenly, behind one of the new lures that the guy at the tackle shop told you to buy; you realize there is a dark shadow.

"Right Rigger There he is!" your buddy yells. The shadow gets darker and bigger and a large dorsal fin is now behind your lure. A bill the size of a baseball bat starts whacking on your new lure as the fish grabs it out of the outrigger. The afternoon calm has just been shattered into what is probably best described as organized chaos.

Everybody on board is running around, reeling stuff in and putting it away as the angler grabs the rod and gets his harness on. Just as the last lure comes in; the ocean explodes with 500-pounds of mad, mean, magnificent blue marlin -
greyhounding across the water, changing directions, shaking her head doing everything she can to ruin your day. After a moment you realize that it feels pretty good being hooked up, on your own boat, with line smokin' off the 80 wide–life is good! It looks like another great day of big game fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Outriggers play an important roll in big game fishing and are standard equipment for bluewater trolling. They come in many shapes and sizes, but basically serve the same purpose. First of all they help prevent tangles. By spreading your baits apart, outriggers make it easier to pull multiple lines. Staggering the distance you pull the baits behind the boat will also help keep them from tangling, especially in a turn. Another way to avoid a tangle is to always put your farthest or "long" bait out first; then the close or "short" baits. Do the opposite when you pull them in, short ones first. This may seem like we're being overly paranoid, but it's easy to get lines crossed and tangles weaken the line, burn up valuable fishing time, and keep you from being productive. Getting a bite while tangled is pretty self-explanatory and can ruin your day. Always watch for tangles and crossed lines.

As your boat moves through the water, the turbulence creates an area of low visibility underwater due to the trail of bubbles. It can be difficult for a fish to see your bait if it is in this prop wash and outriggers help to get the baits away from this area. Outriggers also add height to your line which makes a dead bait skip and helps a lure run better. An added bonus is that it also keeps most of the lead

The final benefit of the outrigger is to provide some "drop-back" or slack in the line when a fish bites. This gives the fish time to turn its head before the line comes tight, resulting in a better hook-up. If you can't put all your lines in the outriggers and must pull one off the rod tip, put the line in an outrigger clip mounted on the transom or other location to give it some drop-back. Your hook-up ratio will improve dramatically.

Finding the right drop-back on your boat takes a little time, especially with lures. Live and dead bait are pretty easy, let the fish eat and set the hook. However, lures can be a lot different. You are fooling the fish into eating a piece plastic and rubber. When a fish grabs the lure he will soon realize it's not real and drop it, at least most of the time. So, on a lure strike you want to give the fish some drop-back, but not too much. This is where a "tag line" comes in.

Instead of attaching your line to an outrigger clip, you attach the tag line to the rigger and attach your line to it, usually with a rubber band. Your line goes from the tip of your rod, out to the end of the tag line, and then to the lure. This is a short cut to the lure and removes excess drop-back. On a small boat, start with a 6'- 8' tag line and see how your hook-ups go. On a larger boat you may want a 12'to 20' tag line, depending on how long your outriggers are. Vary the length to get the best results for your boat.

To explain everything about rigging and fishing with outriggers would take many more pages than we have in this article, but we have tried to cover the basic concepts. Whether you have 18' poles on your outboard or triple spreader riggers on your big sportfisherman, the theory is the same. Larger poles can handle more weight and thus large and multiple lures.

A center rigger is also a nice added addition that enables you to put a bait way back in the "shotgun" position. This is a great way to catch a tuna, wahoo or dolphin and plenty of billfish. Normally a smaller lure or a small ballyhoo with a skirt is fished in this position. There are many different types of rigger clips to choose from. One of the most popular is a Black's Clip. Aftco also makes some great clips, so take a look at theirs also. Your local tackle shop should have a good selection and can explain how each works.

Here are a few other tips. Don't try to pull more lines on your boat than you can handle comfortably. It doesn't do you any good to get 800 yards of line out on a fish while you are trying to reel everything else in. A good rule of thumb is one rod more than the number of people on board. By doing this you be able to clear lines and start fighting a fish more quickly, it's better for you and the fish.

One of the most important rules to remember when big game fishing, is to
always protect your line. Always be careful handling it, don't step on it or smoke around it. Don't cram your snap swivels into the tip of your rod. This scratches the tip and it can chafe the line. Check the first 50 yards of your line and your terminal knots at the end of every day of fishing.

For more information about outriggers or if you want to talk about fishing or rigging your boat, give us a call at Byrd & Cochrane. It's time to go fishing! Remember, Byrd & Cochrane is an authorized broker for Fox Yacht Sales, the Texas dealer for Cabo and Riviera Yachts. Come by the Fox Yacht Sales office at Tops-N-Towers and check out the line up of Cabo Yachts as well as Riviera Yachts, made in Australia. Fox has an extensive inventory of brokerage boats as well and will be glad to help you find a boat or sell yours. We specialize in sportfishing boats and motor yachts. Come by and get a great deal on your next boat. For more information call our office at 281-291-0656 or check out our website at www.byrd-cochrane.com or www.foxyachtsales.com