I’m fond of telling my anglers that the best angler on my boat is Rod, as in rod holder. Indeed, a great percentage of the bites occur while trolling, drifting and fishing live bait with the stick in a gunwale or rail-mount rod holder.
Whether used for fishing or stowage, tubular rod holders represent essential components of today’s saltwater fishing boats. And on many boats, they are numerous. On my own 21-foot center console, for example, I count 32 tubular rod holders. Boats in South Florida that are customized for kite-fishing might sport half again as many. Both sides of these boats can be filled with a battery of gunwale rod holders.
In recent years, rod-holder design has experienced significant evolution, resulting in more choices, mounting options, versatility and accessories than ever before. Let’s take a look at what’s available in the way of robust and innovative tubular rod-holder systems for saltwater anglers today.
One of today’s popular designs comes from Mate Series, which has created gunwale rod holders (about $120) that double as recessed drink holders. Many new boats offer these, not only along the gunwales, but also abaft the leaning post. Made to accommodate a foam koozie, the heavy-duty polished stainless-steel models come in a choice of 30-, 15- or zero-degree tube angles. Tubes with drain fittings for boats with enclosed inwales are also available.
The cleat/rod-holder combo from Accon (about $97) offers exactly what the name implies. A 6-inch pull-up cleat integrated into the gunwale rod holder is perfect for securing a fender or a dock line for a light skiff. It saves space along the gunwales, and when you’re done, the cleat retracts flush with the rod-holder flange. These polished stainless-steel rod holders secure with four bolts, and are available with a choice of 30-, 15- or zero-degree tubes.
Moving Rod Racks
Rod racks along the aft edge of a T-top or hardtop pose an age-old dilemma: You want them high enough so you don’t bang your head on the tubes, but low enough for easy access to stow and retrieve rods. They’re usually too high, and you have to stand on a seat or gunwale to reach the holders — a dicey practice in rough seas.
Taco Marine once offered a clamp-on rod holder that pivoted downward with the pull of a cable, then retracted to its upright position. Unfortunately, the product is no longer in production, though you might find some leftover stock on boat-part websites.
An ingenious retractable rocket-launcher option from Scout Boats is available on models such as the 380 LXF. The entire rack of rod holders on the aft edge of the hardtop is motorized. At the press of a button, the tubes tilt down — you easily grab or stow a rod — then press a button to retract the rocket launcher. It also facilitates deployment of an optional SureShade. You can tilt the rods down for clearance to extend the shade over the aft cockpit.
Transom Rod Holders
Many anglers like to troll a center line, as well as lines from both sides of the boat. Yet many boat transoms cannot accommodate a gunwale rod holder due to lack of horizontal space or because the top is occupied by hatches for livewells and other compartments.
That’s where products such as C.E. Smith’s transom rod holders come in handy. Both are designed to mount on the outside of a transom bulkhead. The aluminum model (about $105) features a 5-degree angle, and attaches with a four-bolt base. The polished stainless-steel version (about $176) also has a four-bolt base but features a 20-degree tube angle.
There are also rod racks designed to mount on the outside of the transom bulkhead. The four-rod rack from Taco Marine (about $185), for example, features anodized-aluminum construction that’s strong enough for trolling. It offers spline adjustments for the tube angles and to fit the contour of the transom exterior.
Nearly all saltwater rod holders feature a cross bar at the bottom of the tube that engages the gimbal on a rod butt to lock the rod in position and prevent it from swiveling. That covers 90 percent of fishing situations. But sometimes you want a rod to swivel so it can align with a drift bait or follow a blue marlin that inhales a trolling lure and then races ahead of the boat.
The answer is a swivel insert. Available from brands such C.E. Smith, Dozer and Tigress for as little as $35, the swivels drop into the rod-holder tube and engages with the cross bar. The top of the swivel has a cross bar of its own that engages the rod gimbal but allows the rod to swivel inside the tube.
Anglers who deep-drop with electric reels can also use swivel inserts so the rod is allowed to follow the angle of the line while the motorized reel operates. This helps reduce the possibility of the line fraying, especially when using roller guides.
Boats with bow rails can fish or stow more rods with clamp-on rail-mount holders. A number of brands offer these rail-mount systems suitable for saltwater applications, including C.E. Smith, Taco, Tigress and West Marine. You can also use these to add holders to the rail of a T-top or hardtop. Some anglers use them to create kingfish rod holders that angle out from the top for slow-trolling live baits.
I particularly like the C.E. Smith midmount adjustable clamp-on rod holder (about $112). This polished stainless-steel holder adjusts on two planes to fit virtually any application, and the clamp system is ultrastrong and secure. I have four of them on the bow rail of my boat.
Tubular rod holders on pedestals that insert into a base are found on many freshwater fishing boats, but are not very popular among saltwater anglers. One notable exception is the Burnewiin system that has found acceptance among salmon and albacore fishermen in the Pacific Northwest.
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The Burnewiin GM650 low-profile stainless-steel base (about $150) mounts on a horizontal surface with four bolts and accepts the RH7220 adjustable stainless-steel rod holder (about $420). The system will accept high loads, including the jarring strike of an albacore hooked while trolling. The heavy-duty base can also be fitted with mounts for downriggers.
No matter what kind of fishing you enjoy aboard your boat, there are tubular-holder systems that let you carry all the sticks you need, and will help you — and Rod — become more-effective anglers.
Tubular rod holders are not limited to boats. Thanks to a new rod-rack system for the bed of a pickup truck, you can carry your rods to and from the marina or launch ramp without risking scratches or breakage.
The pickup-truck rod rack from Boat Outfitters (about $472) fits the beds of Chevy/GMC, Ford, Honda Ram and Toyota trucks to let you conveniently carry eight large outfits. The rack attaches to existing hardware in the bed of the pickup, so no drilling is required. The angle of the tubes lets you carry other gear such as coolers and tackle bags under the rods. A special lock (about $35) is also available for securing the outfits.