How Do Fishing Outriggers Work? (Full Guide)

Deep sea fishing can be a fantastic day out in a relaxing natural environment. However, you can start to think your total catch is not a great reward for the time spent and that other anglers seem to catch far more. This is when you may want to consider fishing outriggers.

Fishing outriggers work by using multiple poles to spread multiple fishing lines across a wider stretch of water. This method sees you troll lures and bait just below the water surface to replicate bait fish. The depth of the lures can be adjusted with the outrigger.

Outriggers can prove a valuable accessory for a more successful sea fishing trip. This article will provide a full guide to fishing outriggers, including what they are exactly, how to best use outriggers and how you can choose the right outrigger for your boat.

What Are Fishing Outriggers?

Fishing outriggers consist of two poles, one on either side of the boat, which are used for trolling while fishing at sea. These poles are usually made from carbon fiber or aluminum and hold your fishing lines. Depending on the size of the boat, outriggers tend to be between 12 to 35 feet in length.

Outriggers are designed to set up multiple fishing lines for trolling, allowing you to cover more of the water. The lures are angled close to the surface, resembling a school of bait fish to attract your targeted fish. The outrigger poles are connected to the boat via a mount designed for the size of the boat.

Anatomy Of An Outrigger

The main constituent parts of a fishing outrigger are the poles. Although they are generally made from either carbon fiber or aluminum, carbon fiber is often the favored choice of sea anglers. This is because carbon fiber is more lightweight and is less prone to erosion and rust.

The poles need to be mounted on the boat, from where a pole can be extended from each side. Fishing boats may already have mounts installed and the main mounts include:

  • Deck mount – this is a convenient mount system and one which is relatively easy to install. They place the pressure of the outrigger entirely through the deck and allow two fishing lines to be run simultaneously. They suit a moderate size boat of between 20 to 30 feet using more lightweight poles.
  • Top or side mount – these style of mounts provide more space for rods. A side mount can create an obstacle when walking around the boat whereas the top mount, although out of the way, can be trickier to reach.
  • Wish bones – This style of mount tends to be seen on larger boats, such as those over 30 foot in length. They offer a longer spread on a longer outrigger pole and therefore allow you to cover a larger area of water. This mount can see you operate three fishing lines or more.

The mounts will be fastened to the boat using stainless steel fasteners, while a backing plate will help even out the distribution of the load from the mount and outrigger. As a general rule, the length of an outrigger should be half that of the boat. Therefore, a 30 foot boat should be using 15 foot outriggers.

How Much Do Fishing Outriggers Cost?

Fishing outriggers cost between $500 and $2,000. The cost of your chosen outrigger will depend on various factors, notably the brand you opt for and the materials from which it is made, but the length and type of outrigger will also factor into the cost.

There are a number of factors that play a role in how much you might expect to pay for fishing outriggers. The size of the poles, materials used in their construction, and the brand of manufacturer will all affect the price you might be quoted.

Good standard fishing outriggers can cost you between $500 to $2,000. Of course, you will always find cheaper alternatives somewhere, but when you consider safety and taking into account the desire for an effective product that lasts, the saying “you get what you pay for” can be the wisdom to follow here.

At the other end of the scale, you can pay many thousands of dollars for outriggers from the top end manufacturers. Budget and purchasing the appropriate outriggers for the size of boat are therefore important considerations.

You will also need to be aware of any additional costs. This can include mounts for the boat and installation fees if you are not qualified to fit the outriggers yourself, as well as ongoing maintenance fees to ensure the outriggers are in good working order.

How Do Fishing Outriggers Work?

The purpose of fishing outriggers is to use multiple fishing lines to drag the lures beneath the surface of the water as your boat moves along. The use of multiple lures helps to attract fish by mimicking the movement of a school of fish. Such trolling of lures also presents them in a way that makes them look like live bait and is more likely to attract a bite.

The outrigger poles contain eyes for the halyard lines, as well as a system of pulleys and release clips that allow you to reel in and release your fishing line. When a fish bites, the release clip opens in order to transfer the weight of the fish back to the rod. Once you are done fishing for the day the outriggers can be swiveled back from the sea and stored in a suitable position.

No Tangled Lines

One of the major benefits outriggers provide is prevention of tangled lines. When operating multiple rods you run the risk of entanglement, which is not only frustrating but can also be very time consuming to correct. The outrigger spreads the lines and bait apart to cover a wider stretch of water, helping prevent them from becoming entangled, particularly when you turn the boat.

Outriggers also help keep your lures out of the turbulent white water thrown out in the wake of the boat. While attracted by white water, fish are not so keen on entering such areas. The stretch of the outrigger poles will see your lures placed in the clearer water, making them more visible to the fish.

Better Hook-Up

The outriggers also introduce a little slack through the angle they present the lure into the water. This allows for some movement of the fish before the line tightens and allows for a better hook-up. This is particularly so when using live bait.

However, when using plastic or rubber lures the fish will soon become spooked by the unnatural bait and you therefore require less slack or drop-back. Experience will help you set the level of slack on the outriggers from your boat for the fish you are targeting.

Types Of Fishing Outriggers

We have already touched upon the two main materials used to make outrigger poles, with carbon fiber often preferred as it is lightweight compared to aluminum and usually more cost effective. Aluminum poles are sturdier, but anglers tend to prefer the lighter carbon fiber poles as it places less weight burden on the boat.

However, there are other types of outrigger where similar comparative decisions will need to be made.

Telescopic Or Fixed Length

A telescopic outrigger allows you to adjust the length of the poles. This has a number of advantages, one of the primary ones being that you’re able to change the length to avoid obstacles such as bridges. Being adjustable, a telescopic outrigger can also be set to a length depending on how many lines you want to use when fishing. Telescopic outriggers can also be easier to retract for storage.

With more moving parts comes more areas that require maintenance to keep a telescopic outrigger in good working order. This is not a concern with a fixed length outrigger. The attraction of this type of outrigger is they are easier to use and can be a more suitable option for the budget-conscious.

Of course, with a fixed length outrigger you will need to be more aware of any potential obstructions and also pay attention to how you are going to store the outrigger when you’re not using it. A poorly stored outrigger has the potential to snag and break off, which could result in damage to the boat as well as the outrigger.

Gunwale Or Top Mounted

Gunwale is usually the cheaper option if budget is a concern when mounting an outrigger. However, having a top mounted outrigger helps keep the boat clear of obstacles and does not hinder an angler moving around the boat following a hooked fish.

The flip side is that top mounted outriggers are harder to reach when you want to make any adjustments. Therefore, if you are leaning toward the top mounted option, consider your access points and how you can make it easier to adjust an installed outrigger.

Spreaders Or No Spreaders

For longer outrigger poles, or if you intend to fish for larger fish, you may want to consider outriggers equipped with spreaders. These are perpendicular bars that run the length of the pole, supporting the wires that add rigidity to the pole.

Spreaders are designed to help prevent the pole from buckling, but they also help create more space between the stacked fishing lines and can reduce the risk of the lines becoming entangled.

How To Choose The Right Outrigger

When looking to choose an outrigger the primary considerations are the boat size and any other hardware or accessories already installed on the boat that could hamper using the poles. For small boats lightweight carbon fiber poles can be more suitable than the aluminum alternatives.

Smaller boats may also need to angle their poles to generate height. Longer poles can be an option here, although they should not be more than two thirds the size of the boat. Poles that are stiff and bases that offer height adjustment can also be beneficial for smaller boats.

Where Are You Putting It?

Another major consideration is the location on the boat where the outrigger is to be installed. Top or hard mounted outriggers tend to be the most common since they do not create obstacles around the boat. However, if you already have hardware installed such as an antenna or radar that may interfere with the poles, you may need to reconsider the type of outrigger you wish to use.

Similarly, the design or mold of the top of a boat can prove a barrier to rotating a standard handle. In this case you may need a handle designed at a different angle to the standard ones, allowing for more hand clearance. Ultimately, the major manufacturers will have their guidelines concerning which of their outriggers is best suited for different boat sizes.

If you tend to fish the same waters, then you will know how busy that particular stretch is and if there are any obstacles to consider. A fixed outrigger pole is practical if you know you have continuous clear water ahead, but if you have obstacles such as low bridges to contend with, an outrigger fitted with a telescopic pole may be the better choice.

How To Fish With An Outrigger

To successfully troll for fish using an outrigger, you are looking to replicate a school of live bait fish in the water. The white water generated by a boat will attract fish, and while they do not necessarily like the turbulent water, they will take note of bait in clearer waters nearby. This is where the reach of your outrigger comes into its own.

The lures you use need to behave in a way that appears natural to the fish you are targeting. Wind, current and the size of your boat will impact how the lures move. You will need to pay attention to the lures to decide on the optimal speed of the boat. Once the lures are rotating you may look to reduce your speed bit by bit as you work out the best trolling speed for the conditions on that day.

You can adjust the angle of the outrigger to place the lures at the depth required for the fish you are targeting. The actual rigging of the poles can prove the hardest element to master, though this will come with experience. Some setup examples include:

  • Double halyard lines and bungee cord – This is a standard setup that is connected to the gunwale on a double pulley and is good for start-up rigging.
  • Professional setup with double halyard – Uses the same basic setup, but has two double pulleys as well as double the cam cleats, sheet lines and rope guides.
  • Tag line setup with single or double halyard lines – This setup uses spring clips to help keep tension in the line and is a good option when fishing with larger lures and at faster speeds.
  • Center rigger with single halyard line – Similar to the tag line setup with the exception that it does not use cam cleats and pulleys. This can be thego-to setup when other bait setups have been unproductive.

These are four of the more common rigging systems employed when trolling at sea using outriggers. Online videos are a good source to show you exactly how to set up a rig, but nothing will work quite as well as getting out there and experiencing it for yourself.

What Is The Difference Between An Outrigger And A Downrigger?

The simple difference between the two is that while an outrigger spreads lines and bait out from the boat, a downrigger is designed to fish at depth beneath the boat. Outriggers are used to troll toward the surface of the water, whereas a downrigger provides more precision and control to troll at greater depths.

Which type you use will depend on the type of fish you are aiming to catch. Downriggers can be used in open water as well as bays, estuaries and large rivers. Salmon, king mackerel, grouper, rockfish, halibut and sharks are fish often targeted using a downrigger. With a downrigger you can troll lures or bait to a depth of around 100 feet.

The downrigger pole is usually between three to six feet long and uses a weight to take the lure down to the required depth. As outriggers are used to spread multiple lines across a wider area of water, the poles are between 12 to 35 feet in length. While you can target salmon and trout with an outrigger, other species you might fish for include marlin, kingfish and sailfish.

Final Thoughts

Fishing outriggers work by allowing you to stack multiple fishing lines on multiple poles on your boat. This lets you target more of the water around you at one time, and you can troll lures and bait just below the water surface, emulating schools of bait fish and therefore attracting target fish.