Having a T-top or hardtop on your center-console, fish-around, walkaround, dual-console or express fishing boat not only provides shade, but it gives you a place to add equipment that performs better on high or is more convenient when installed in an elevated position. I’m talking about accessories such as extra rod holders, a pair of outriggers, floodlights, dome lights and electronics boxes. Of course, T-tops and hardtops also offer hard points for installing radar domes and arrays, antenna mounts and night-vision cameras, but let’s focus on hardware, lights and overhead storage.
The rail around a T-top offers places to add rod holders, and many hardtops have an aft rail just for this purpose. A number of companies offer bolt-on rod holders in stainless steel, aluminum and plastic, including C.E. Smith, Lee’s Tackle, Perko and Taco Marine.
I don’t recommend plastic rod tubes or clamps — they break too easily in rough conditions with a heavy trolling rod inside. Stick with metal holders, but to help prevent galvanic corrosion, match the metal of the top frame.
For example, with an aluminum rail, use a model such as the Taco F-31-2721 aluminum clamp-on rod holder. For a stainless frame, use a model such as the C.E. Smith 53650A stainless clamp-on rod holder. Both models let you adjust the angle in two axes to suit your needs and style of top.
T-tops and hardtops provide the ideal location to mount outriggers, getting them up and out of the way, allowing anglers unimpeded access along the sides of the boat. Gunwale-mounted outriggers force anglers to reach around the rigging as they move forward, dangling a rod and reel over the water — not an easy task when pinned to a strong, fast fish.
Outrigger systems for tops are available from a range of manufacturers, including Lee’s Tackle, Rupp, Taco and Tigress. All allow you to swing the outrigger poles in or out and adjust the angle up or down to clear low bridges. The poles are also removable, an important consideration if you’re towing your boat.
When installing outrigger bases on a top, make sure there’s a solid backing plate, preferably one welded into the frame. Long, flexing outrigger poles can exert substantial pressure on the base, especially in rough seas.
Floodlights (aka spreader lights) — including the newer, more-efficient LED models from companies such as Hella, Imtra, OceanLED, Optronics and Taco — are far more effective in illuminating the deck at night when mounted high. The aft and forward edges of a top are perfect spots for floodlights.
Most tops have special tabs for bolting on lights, most of which come with a mounting bracket. You might have to drill the mounting holes in the tab. If your top has no tabs, you can use clamp-on rail-mount systems from brands such as Sea-Dog or SeaStow to easily create attachment points. I have found the Sea-Dog 327102-1 rail-mount bracket particularly well suited for this application.
A dome light that mounts to the underside of the top comes in handy at night. The top-selling lights on the market are the newer tube-style, amp-stingy LED lights from companies such as FLO LED, Lumitec, Taco and Tigress. These feature more than just typical white light.
For instance, the FLO LED Oceanic LED T-Top Light lets you switch between red and white or blue and white, while the Tigress Clamp-On Aluminum LED Light can illuminate in six different shades. Clamp-on mounting systems let you easily attach most of these overhead 12-volt lights to a tubular cross-member.
One the most common add-ons for a top is an overhead box, which usually mounts slightly forward of the helm. While originally designed to hold marine electronics such as a radar display or VHF radio, these boxes have evolved to incorporate all kinds of other accessories, including switch panels, stereo control heads, stereo speakers and dome lights.
Ready-made models are available from a number of companies, including C.E. Smith and SSI Custom Plastics. The low-profile, lightweight SSI 691-GRD4430-00 overhead box includes a compartment for loose items such as log books, tide charts or a small flashlight. When adding an overhead box, make sure it does not interfere with your forward view when you’re at the helm.
Finding places to stow life jackets poses a challenge aboard just about any boat. These vital safety items need to be kept dry yet readily accessible. One of the best options is a breathable canvas or netted storage bag on the ceiling of the T-top or hardtop. This helps keep the jackets away from moisture and mildew, yet with one zip, a few snaps or a pull of a Velcro strap, you can quickly get to them.
You’ll find models from companies such as C.E. Smith and Fishmaster. I especially like the T-Top Storage Bag from C.E. Smith because the Velcro enclosure offers instant access, and there are four other storage pockets for items such as paper charts, sunscreen and sunglasses.
Ultimately, a T-top or hardtop opens up a world of possibilities when it comes to adding new gear for your fishing boat. The only limits are your imagination and your budget.