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January 09, 2012

Sight-Fishing Advantage

Optimize you and your boat to see more fish

To see fish in the water, captains focus on two main issues - elevation and polarization. A perch above the water and quality sunglasses vastly improve the chances they'll find fish. However, many options and opinions exist for just how high to go and what type of glasses to wear.
For instance, captains who chase cobia and bonefish usually invest in a boat built with a poling platform or tower, or they buy a custom, aftermarket crow's nest or second station. Some add a bow platform for the casting angler.

Super Structures

"I fish two different kinds of boats," says Capt. Clif Jones, an Orange Beach, Alabama, guide (251-747-4702, who sight-fishes for cobia and redfish. "I have an East Cape skiff with a regular poling platform, and on the front I have a casting platform with a cage [rail] around it. On the right-hand side is a spinning-rod holder. The angler can grab it and go."
Jones' second boat - a 31-foot center-console - features an 18-foot tower. "My tower is as tall as I can get it. It's four steps above the hardtop," he says. "The outriggers are pop-outs. I can pop them out and they're out of the way. My sun shade/T-top is also removable."
The rod holders on the tower face forward and upward about 10 degrees, so Jones can pick up a rod and cast from his perch. Jones generally throws a teaser toward an interested cobia, drawing it toward the bow, where a fly angler can make his presentation.
"We have certain dimensions and area we can work with," says Jamey Breland of Island Towers (251-973-1320,, the Theodore, Alabama, company that built Jones' tower and platform. "We try to optimize it for the client, and make it comfortable and safe. It's all based on the customer's preference."
Only a few parameters remain hard and fast: Total height for trailer boats transported over road can't exceed 13 feet 6 inches by law; boats must also fit in their storage facility.
The typical "ling," or cobia, tower elevates the captain about seven to eight feet. It features a starboard floor, screwed to the boat's T-top, and a frame. It's either removable or it hinges forward. Basic cost is $1,200 to $1,500, Breland says. Owners can opt to pay for an extra set of controls and electronics in the tower.
A 14- to 16-inch bow platform costs $400 to $500. Add a cage, or rail, for support in choppy seas, and you'll spend $700 to $900.
Innovate and Adapt

Captains who chase other species - such as jacks, tripletail, false albacore and others - generally use what they have on board to stand a little taller. Those fisheries occur seasonally, and in areas where other styles of fishing might negate the use of a tower.
"I took the poling platform off my boat (Maverick Master Angler 21) because my fly guys were busting too many rods on it," says Capt. Mike Holliday (772-341-6105,, a Stuart, Florida, guide who sight-fishes for jacks and hunts many inshore species.
Holliday says he occasionally stands on his console and holds the tip of a rod racked vertically next to him, or he stands on a cooler on the back deck. "Most of the time that's not necessary," he says. "I do that when I lose fish - like a school of cobia that are on a stingray - and I need to get a little higher to see the darkness of the ray on the bottom."
Other captains stand on the seat of their leaning post and steady themselves by holding a dock line wrapped around the center-console grab rail in front of them. Still others stand on the gunwale

Holliday also recommends wearing a Buff-type cloth facemask. He wraps one over his nose and under his sunglasses, then over the top of his hat. "That lets the facemask block the sun on the side and darken everything around me. And as always, it's a dark underbill on the hat," he says.