Like so many possible fishing accessories, outriggers may not be necessary on a small boat (for the sake of argument, we'll say less than 35 feet LOA), but you may want them because they make your fishing life easier. The whole point of outriggers is to spread your baits out behind you, keeping them far enough apart so they don't tangle in a turn or seaway and to keep them individually visible to predators that look up at them from below.
But before you blithely go out and purchase outriggers, evaluate your fishing style. Can you get away with just adding a few rod holders - perhaps ones that mount at right angles to the centerline of your boat? If you add to that a rod holder on centerline on the transom or T-top, you may be able to get almost the same effect. No? Then here's what you need to know to choose and install the correct outriggers for your boat.
Telescoping outrigger poles have enjoyed enormous growth in popularity over the past several years, especially among boaters who store their boats in a dry stack, regularly trailer their boats or run across the ocean at exceptionally high speeds. The ability to shorten those poles (making them stronger at the same time) adds dramatically to their longevity in these particular circumstances. But you can mount them in any base you choose.
Fixed-length poles are durable and stiffer than telescoping models, and they're less expensive as well.
Ron Karpanty, vice president of Rupp Marine (one of the more ubiquitous brands), offers a rule of thumb for determining what length non-telescoping pole you need: "When installed, the pole ends shouldn't extend much past the transom or back of the engines. For those selecting telescoping rigger poles, the length becomes less of an issue since they'll be collapsed when not fishing."
However, telescoping poles should be sturdy. "Consider only telescoping poles with a base diameter of 1½ inches or more," Karpanty says. "Anything less is too flimsy and won't last. If you're going to spend the money for telescoping poles, spend a little extra and buy good ones."
Most outriggers today - both fixed and telescoping - are made from aluminum extrusions. Fixed poles sometimes come with steel cable-support stays for additional longitudinal stiffness, though that's rare on small boats. Carbon fiber has recently made great inroads into the gunwale-mount-outrigger market thanks to its light weight.
Gunwale-mount outriggers probably satisfy the needs for the smallest boats in the sport-fishing stable. Gunwale mounts feature a rod-holder-style receptacle that holds the poles upright, turns them outboard for deployment and then locks them. A small regular or jam cleat on the outrigger pole itself fixes the rigger line; I've never seen this style of outrigger with more than one rigger line.
Though gunwale riggers are available in aluminum, many anglers purchase carbon-fiber poles for superior strength without the hernia-inducing weight. The main shortcoming of this style: It's on the gunwale, which makes working the full length of the boat somewhat problematic.
T-top- or hardtop-mounted riggers are by far the most common style for center-consoles. These riggers pivot via a sleeve, lock in place and come in several compositions and configurations.
Most often, the poles raise and lower at a friction hinge to allow the boat to pass under marginal bridge clearances. These vertical adjustments may be made by hand or by using optional electric or hydraulic systems. Tigress makes electric-deployment models, and E-Tec offers mechanical worm-gear models that are adjustable with an old-fashioned car-window-type handle.
The only downside to T-top mounts can be accessibility. Shorter anglers may need to stand on something to reach the rigger lines. However, on the plus side, top mounts keep riggers, lines and everything else out of the way, allowing you to fish stem to stern unimpeded.