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When it comes to choosing a boat for inshore saltwater flyfishing there are a few key points to consider that will make your angling so much easier and less frustrating. Justin Duggan uses examples from his Edgewater 188cc work boat to help fine tune your set-up and create a more functional flyfishing boat, and ultimately catch more fish!
Let me start by saying that every vessel is a compromise and for this article I’d like to cover setting up a vessel for the style of angling I do, Inshore or nearshore saltwater angling.
When it comes to vessel design there are only a few styles that will suit the avid fly angler. By its nature, flycasting requires open space and a reasonable amount of clear deck. For this reason boats with Canopies, T-tops or confined open space will be less than ideal. It’s tough enough that T-tops and canopies can restrict casting options but I’ve actually seen rods broken when anglers have hurriedly backcast and clipped the rod against the metal construct.
Any open boat such as a centre console or even a bow rider will provide the ideal space for casting in multiple directions.
Fishing Front And Back
To accomodate a fly angler fore and aft it is important to have clear area, this is often achieved with elevated casting platforms at the front and back. I simply love casting platforms and I extended the platform on the work boat to double the space. Some centre or side console configurations set the helm well back toward the rear of the boat, this can place the helm seat and controls within easy tangling range of the aft anglers flyline and can cramp space. I definitely prefer a set up that allows plenty of space behind the drivers seat.
When elevating casting platforms it is ideal to rig a form of lean post to assist balance in rougher conditions. Elevating the casting area means anglers can topple into the water easily. Ensure all lean posts have no corners or edges to catch flyline. a lip between the platform and the top of the gunwale of around 15-20cm can assist in keeping flyline from blowing off the deck in windy conditions.
The freeboard or height above water level of the fishing area is very important to me, I simply hate being too far from the water when flyfishing. If an angler is too high from the water they will find lots of slack developing between the rod tip and the water when retrieving. I really like the rod tip in the water at around 45 degrees for ideal angling. I also find it far easier to land fish by hand at times and leaning over to comfort lift fish is just too hard in high sided boats. High sided vessels can be far safer in rough seas but if the gunwale height is around waist height it can make fighting fish hard as this places the rod butt close to touching the boat in a straight up and down fight.
The choice of motor is always a compromise but I would definitely opt for quieter modern 2-strokes like the E-tec or 4-stroke over standard noisy 2-strokes, fish can hear!
The other consideration will be what other styles of fishing will be performed from the boat. In my case I also do sport fishing with occasional bait. Most well set up flyfishing boats will accommodate sport fishing comfortably but the addition of lots of rod holders for bait fishing can be troublesome, I’ll cover this option just a bit further along.
Clear and Clutter Free
If you are anything like me then you are going to want gadgets and then possibly more gadgets. Sounders, hydrowaves, cleats, rod racks, rod holders, storage boxes, anchor wells, handles and even steering wheels and throttles can all catch flyline and get in the way if installed incorrectly. Firstly, ask yourself “do I need it”. Secondly, will it benefit my angling or get in the way. A clear fishing space is a happy fishing space and flightiness caught on accessories during a blistering fish run can break or worse, break the accessory.
I have a large sounder mounted on the helm, well clear of the fishing space but it is standard practice these days to mount a sounder on the front so it can be viewed whilst fishing. The standard mounting hardware is a flyline death trap and was likely to see $3500 of sounder lassoed and sent into the ocean. I had a fibreglass mounting box made for minimal cost which stops line catching I then mounted the sounder on the forward anchor well area. The angle of the box makes vision possible from the entire forward casting area.
If Line Can Catch It Will
All tie off cleats on the boat are retractable and flush and fuel and oil caps are low profile too. The horizontal rod racks are recessed back from the gunwale edges so as to create less chance of getting knocked. Flush mounted horizontal rod racks can leave rods vulnerable to kicking, knocking and even knees snapping the rods as well as tangling lines. Another little addition to the rod storage was to place a vinyl cover over the reel/rod end that is adjacent the rear casting area. These exposed ends of the rods are just begging for line to wrap over them and snap the rods. To prevent reel abrasion against the fibreglass sides of the boat I had carpet glued to the contact area, this saves the reels and gave me a perfect spot to velcro the vinyl cover. I also make sure rod tips are well protected inside tubes and that no graphite rods can rub or bounce on hard surfaces during transit, keep rod storage well padded.
The use of a trolling motor is a huge advantage however the side of the boat you mount it can really be important. Given that the lions share of fly anglers are right hand casters I generally present the fishing out the port side. This ensures fly lines pass on the outside of the boat which is far safer. If you are setting up for right hand casters then the stored electric motor mounted on the port side will be in the way of the rod when retrieving. This is why I chose to mount it on the starboard.
The ‘B’ Word
For a boat that occasionally bait fishes I made sure I had flush mounted gunwale rod mounts however, these were only good for trolling. If a live bait was set under the boat then a solid bite could snap the bait rods due to the critical angle. I needed rod mounts at closer to 90 degrees but any permanent fixture was going to be a flyline snag. The answer was removable stainless holders that simply slide in or out, strong and removable, problem solved!
For vertical fly rod storage whilst travelling I found it hard to find a good rod rack that fitted fly rods, they were all designed for spin rods. I finally discovered a brand called Railblaza that made a flush mounted accessory system that takes rod holders, cup holders , tripods, nav lights and a host of useful boating options. The rod mounts fitted most fly rods as well as spin and bait cast and could be removed if needed, leaving a small, snag proof base. These were great to scatter around the boat for handy storage options.
The bottom line is that if it can catch flyline or get in the way of the rod it will!
The Macgyver Technique
We all know how MacGyver could build a nuclear weapon out of gaffa tape and a safety pin, well, its possibly to snag proof a flyfishing boat with similar tools, well, almost. Heres some easy ways of cutting down those flyline “death traps”
Electrical tape – For an easy compromise that is a great option when hoping onto other peoples boats use electrical tape. Simply tape across exposed items like cleats or corners and you create a snag proof barrier for flyline.
Cable ties – By placing cable ties into a base like shade cloth or nylon board you can create a flyline holding area that stops line blowing around. I have stretched shade cloth across a motor well and placed scattered vertical cable ties through the shade cloth to prevent line blowing off the boat into the propellor – it works brilliantly
Velcro – much like the electrical tape you can snag proof corners and accessories with a more robust/removable barrier by using velcro. The corner of my removable casting platform has velcro tabs. If I need to remove the platform I just peel off the attached velcro, a great solution that stops flyline falling into the crack between helm and platform.
Towels and cloth – got a tangly area, easy, throw a towel over it!
Line management devices – these come in many forms but for boats they are usually a vertical tub or a flat matt with spikes. Wearable stripping baskets are far less desirable in a boat.
The vertical tubs are available as portable travel options or heavier bins. Simply place a small amount of freshwater in them to keep line well lubricated. These are a great option in cluttered boats and very handy when travelling between spots as you can leave your line ready. The spiked matts are really good on vessels like flats boats where line can blow off the boat very easily.