Dream Boat or Nightmare?

By Ted Takasaki and Scott Richardson
Buying a boat is only the beginning! Getting that boat ready for your style of fishing, on the waters you fish, is known as rigging. Good rigging separates great fishing boats from all the rest.

A boat is a fisherman’s tool chest. You can’t grab the right tool at the right time if things are in the wrong place. “The user has to control the systems of the boat,” says rigging expert Jim Wentworth. “The systems can’t control the user. Wentworth’s Minnesota-based company, Fish Lectronics, has been rigging boats for everybody from everyday anglers to TV fishing stars for more than 40 years.

Wentworth is a physics professor. He brings that scientific background and approach to boat rigging. Like physics, he feels that the goal of proper rigging is to make sense from chaos. “Rigging is the most critical phase of any boat,” Wentworth says. “That’s the time when things can get screwed up. This is a very complicated subject.”

Unfortunately, rigging is often the phase of boat assembly that gets the least attention. For one thing, many anglers fail to realize that accessories and good rigging (trolling motors, kicker motors, electronics, batteries and more) can add $4,000 to $6,000 to the cost of a quality boat. It pays to get your boat rigged right the first time, when that kind of money is invested.

“It costs twice as much,” notes Wentworth, “if you have to do it over.” Worse yet, fishermen leave critical decisions to salesmen who don’t fish. Their intentions may be good, but salesmen cannot know what type of fishing the boat will be expected to do. That’s why Wentworth starts the rigging process by interviewing the boat owner.

How much do they want to spend? Are they a tournament angler or a guide who is going to need top-of-the-line gear to gain an edge? Are they weekend anglers who can get satisfactory results without all the costly bells and whistles?

Here’s a big one: Do they need boat control from the bow for precise jigging and casting? If so, don’t under-power the boat. Get the biggest electric trolling motor you can afford. Make sure the shaft is long enough to stay in the water even in rough conditions. MinnKota’s Terrova trolling is a perfect example of a motor that is quiet, powerful, and is available with a wide range of shafts lengths for different sizes and types of boats.

Do they need boat control from the stern for rigging and back-trolling? Will the boat’s configuration allow it? Most tiller boats permit placement of an electric trolling motor on the transom.

Will they be trolling? Consider the size of the boat and the size of the water to be fished. Mercury’s 9.9 horsepower Pro Kicker is an awesome 4 stroke kicker motor and will handle almost all trolling conditions. You might think bigger is better, but weekend anglers often fish smaller lakes with 10-horsepower limits.

Do they want to steer the kicker motor by hand? On console boats, kicker motors can be linked to the main motor and maneuvered with the steering wheel. But with that configuration, steering radius is often sacrificed.

Is the boat a tiny craft that will function well with a 12-volt or 24-volt electrical system? Or, is it a 20-foot Lund Pro V that needs a 24-volt or 36-volt system to drive the trolling motor and all the accessories?

Are extra batteries needed? Will the angler be fishing where finding electricity to recharge is easy? If not, Wentworth can rig electrical circuits to back-charge batteries “on the run” as he calls it. One of his customers once spent six weeks in the backwoods of Canada without ever having to plug in for a recharge.

When Wentworth is done, every wire is labeled, every switch located in a convenient place and every owner knows what each operates. “The systems,” he says, “have to be put in where a guy can control them.” Questions are similar when buying fishing electronics, said Mark Gibson, spokesman for Humminbird Electronics.

* What kind of fishing will you be doing?
* How much do you want to spend?
* How much do you fish?

“If a guy is only going fishing a couple of times a year, then keep it simple,” Gibson said. “He is not going to want something complex. He doesn’t want to have to consult the owner’s manual every time.” But if you fish often and seriously, you might want a more complex unit that provides more data, such as side imaging and additional resolution/pixels.

If he is only going to troll the Great Lakes for suspended salmon, then he doesn’t need a unit that will ‘see’ fish lying tight to the bottom as walleyes often do. A salmon fisherman could do very well with a wider cone angle and lower frequency to cover more water. True, walleye fishermen troll, also. But there are times when they need that precise separation to tell a fish from the bottom. Only a narrow cone angle/higher frequency transducer can do that. High-end units can give you multiple options for optimum performance in a wide range of uses.

Do they need two sonar units or will one unit with a large screen mounted on the front deck suffice on a small boat? If two, consider getting a pair of the same model, Gibson said. That way, you can switch one with the other if one malfunctions at a critical time.

Install transducers according to manufacturer specifications. When in doubt, phone them. They have the experience with every make and model of boat to know what positions are best.

Do they need a GPS? That answer is a no-brainer if you fish big water. GPS gives the ability to return to spots far from shore precisely and quickly. A GPS can increase fishing success and save time even on small waters by taking you back to a honey hole time and time again. A GPS can be used for mapping structure. A GPS also increases safety in bad weather when fog or rain decreases visibility and you need to find the launch ramp fast.

Whatever electronics you choose, run power cords and test the units near the point of installation before drilling holes. Make sure they do not block other things you need.

The same goes for placing rod holders, said Mark Lozelle, President of Tempress Products, makers of Fish On rod holders. Decide how many rod holders you want, depending on the states and waters to be fished. Minnesota, for example, only allows one rod apiece. Wisconsin allows three per person when trolling on certain lakes.

Once you know how many, decide how you want them mounted. Should they be bolted to the railings or drilled and secured to the gunnels? Don’t drill any holes until you make certain the rod holder and the rod butt will not interfere with other things like the throttle lever or the side of the boat.

Contact Wentworth at 218-568-4806. He’ll be glad to answer your rigging questions. Take the time to rig your boat properly. Control the systems so they don’t control you. Only then will you stop your dream boat from becoming a nightmare!

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