Rough Water Boat Rigging

By Mark Hicks

Pro angler Joe Balog talks about how to rig your fishing boat and gear for rough weather.

Photo of two anglers fishing in rough water

Fishing In Adverse Conditions

Ohio angler Joe Balog excels when he fishes bass tournaments on Lake Erie, which he regards as his home water. He's weighed in many five-fish limits of smallmouth bass in excess of 20 pounds by fishing deep, offshore smallmouth structures, some of which were 40 miles or more from the takeoff point.

As you may suspect, Balog has endured countless white-knuckle boat rides on treacherous water to reach smallmouth hangouts on this inland sea. Pounding through 3- to 4-foot waves is the norm on Lake Erie, and sudden, unexpected storms have assaulted Balog with 8- to 10-foot waves. He has learned the hard way how to rig a boat that holds up to the abuse. He is able to continue fishing when other anglers break down. More importantly, his boat withstands the elements and carries him safely to dry ground.

Though no one purposely ventures forth in dangerous water, every bass angler invariably takes a beating due to windy weather or heavy boat traffic. These bone-jarring rides also take their toll on your boat and tackle. Big waves can break trolling motors, rip depthfinders from their mounts, and swamp your boat, just to name a few perils. Even a single rogue wave from a big cruiser can be damaging if you inadvertently hit it at speed. Every bass angler would be wise to implement Balog's tips for rough water boat rigging. These precautions will prevent breakdowns and save money. They could also save your hide.

The Electric Motor

The electric motor, perched on the very nose of the boat, takes more pummeling than any other piece of equipment. If it isn't rock-solid secure, the mount may loosen or break, and internal brushes and control boards can fail.

"Most electric motors come secured with only four bolts and some have plastic nuts," Balog says. "That's asking for trouble. I fix my electric motor to the bow with six big stainless steel bolts, over-sized washers and lock nuts."

When Balog lifts the motor out of the water, he turns the motor's head toward the middle of the boat to give it more support. In addition to the nylon hold down strap that comes with his electric motor, Balog installs a second strap just behind the motor's lower unit, and a third up near the motor's head. He positions the straps so the Velcro lies on the inside portion of the shaft where it won't be loosened should he spear a wave. A RAM mount secures the head of the electric motor and also serves as a shock absorber. Balog replaces the stock bolts that come with the mount with longer bolts that make it easier to tighten the mount in tight quarters. The foot control pedal must also be permanently secured to the floor with large screws or bolts.


RAM mounts secured to the deck with bolts and lock nuts support all sonar and GPS units not mounted in the dash or bow panel. If the unit's mount has a horizontal slot, Balog faces the slot's opening toward the bow to prevent a wave from ripping it out.

"I remove my bow electronics and store them in a rear compartment before making long runs," Balog says.

Rods For long runs, Balog stores his rods in the rod locker. For short runs, Balog fastens the rod strap around the reels, especially spinning reels, to prevent them from beating on the deck.

Photo of bass fishermen boating in rough water


Given the compact weight of batteries, battery boxes must be held in place with screws and the batteries strapped in place. The batteries should also be situated so they balance the boat for a level, stable posture on plane. Since Balog is lighter than many of his partners, he stores three batteries on the driver's side and one on the passenger side to even the load.

Balanced Load

"The boat's balance influences how it runs on big water," Balog says. "An unbalanced boat beats you to death and will destroy itself and your equipment."

Balog stores everything heavy in the rear of the boat such as batteries, a spare prop and anchors. He once made the mistake of putting a spare battery in a forward compartment. When the boat started slamming into waves, the battery crashed through the bottom of the compartment and into the hull.

Outboard propellers sporting four or five blades generally grip the water better that three-bladed props. This is a huge advantage when running at slow speeds on rough water because the boat is less inclined to full off plane. Balog favors Mercury's High Five prop. A spare prop is locked in place with a holder in the bilge area.

Anchor and Rope

A 20-pound Richter anchor and 150 feet of anchor rope are needed to hold Balog's Ranger in place on rough water. He sometimes fishes from an anchored boat, but the anchor would also prevent his boat from drifting for miles should his engine fail.

Spare Bilge Pump Cartridge

These days some bass boats come with bilge and livewell pumps that feature quick change, replaceable cartridges. Balog always carries spares. For boats not equipped with this feature, he recommends that you carry a spare bilge pump and extra hose clamps so you can replace the entire pump, if need be.

Emergency Bilge Pump

Just in case his boat's electrical system goes on the fritz and kills his regular bilge pumps, Balog carries a spare 1,000 gph pump rigged with a 6 foot hose and 6 feet of wire with alligator clips. He can clip the pump to any of the boat's batteries and pump the water out.

Waterproof Boxes

Balog stores flares, tools, spare parts, a first aid kit and other items not directly related to fishing in waterproof marine boxes made by Plano. He stores his lures and tackle in Plano 3740 waterproof Stowaway utility boxes.

Double-Nut Outboard Bolts

Whenever his boat has been subjected to a rough ride, Balog checks the outboard's transom nuts to insure they are tight. On one occasion, the nuts were finger loose. Now he locks the nuts down by putting a second lock nut on top of them.