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November 12, 2008

Eyes in the Sky

Adding a tower to a midsize boat can help you spot - and catch - more fish.

From our vantage point in the tower nearly 13 feet above the water, the motionless tripletail stood out like a neon bar light against the mocha-brown water. A pinpoint cast produced the desired reaction, and after a brief but spirited tussle, we released the 16-pounder.  

"What did I tell you?" asked my host, Capt. Keith Grimes, as we resumed our hunt. "You can see everything from up here. The fish can run, but they definitely can't hide."

When Grimes started shopping for a replacement boat for his inshore charter operation (tarpontarpontarpon.com) last winter, he focused on midsize tower models. A pre-owned 2400 Bay Ranger with a folding custom aluminum tower ended his search. With upper station add-ons like a Morse single-lever electronic control, Yamaha push-button ignition, Garmin 178c chart plotter, dual rocket launchers and a canvas T-top below for shade, the boat makes the ideal fishing platform for his clients in the waters around Apalachicola, Florida.

"Adding a tower is not cheap," says Grimes. "With the options I have, you can expect to pay up to $18,000 extra. But for my style of fishing, where I search for bait and diving birds over the tarpon, it's perfect. And for tripletail, it's absolutely deadly. The tower expands my visible range and cuts down the surface glare because of the overhead angle. It really takes sight-fishing to a whole new level."

Using height to find more fish isn't new. Zane Grey had a special "crow's nest" installed on his boat to spot basking swordfish near Catalina Island in the 1920s. Tuna towers were instrumental in developing the bluefin fishery off the Bahamas decades later. That led to half-towers as the current standard for blue-water battlewagons. Now with anglers pursuing dolphin, cobia, snook, false albacore and other game fish by sight, towers are increasingly reshaping the profile of coastal craft.

Design Factors
Constructed from heavy-gauge polished or powder-coated aluminum tubing, spotting or sport towers are typically mounted to fiberglass hardtops or the console and deck. As such, structural integration between the boat and the tower is paramount.

"Basically, a tower is an upside-down pendulum," says Ed Forbes, head of manufacturing for Engineered Metals and Composites in Columbia, South Carolina. "That's a lot of weight up in the air, and if it's not secure, stuff is going to start coming apart. When we design our towers, we always consider safety first and then the weight."