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Rod Holder Designs

By: Mark Romanack

A boat that is equipped with quality rod holders is a dream to fish from. In this case the author is using rod holder trees for in-line boards and cradle style holders to hold his flat lines.

A rod holder is an essential part of any fishing boat. Even the bass angler who only occasionally targets other species will find a conveniently located rod holder is a beautiful thing. Like just about everything else manufactured for the sport fishing industry, rod holders are not all created equal.

The market is flooded with imported “budget priced” rod holders. Beware because “budget” does not always mean functional or even practical for that matter.


Over the years I’ve used a host of different plastic rod holder designs. Some function exceptionally well, others pretty well for some situations and others yet aren’t worth taking out of the package. I’m a little reluctant to even suggest plastic as a material suitable for rod holders because many could only be described as junk. Sorting out the good from the bad is a slippery slope.

Probably the biggest issue I’ve seen with plastic rod holders is the indexing mechanisms (ability to turn them to different positions) strip out easily with use. This commonly happens when plastic rod holders are used to fish heavy duty gear like a diving planer or when high speed trolling applications are employed.

I’ve also seen plastic rod holders literally rattle out of their bases when the boat is running and fly off the boat! Now that’s a nice feature!!

It’s safe to say I’m not a fan of buying things that end up needing to be repaired, replaced or worse yet that fail at the worst possible moment. For small boats and some very light duty trolling chores, it could be argued that plastic rod holders are an option. For anything resembling serious use, I’d personally not a fan of rod holders molded from plastic.

One possible exception are the heavy duty polymers used to create special purpose rod holders for things like downriggers. Polymers can be exceptionally tough and they of course can be molded into any shape desired. The polymer rod holders on my Cannon downriggers are bullet proof, but they are not exactly a bargain either in terms of price point.


Metal rod holders are generally made from machined aluminum stock or from stainless steel tube. Both are strong enough to last a lifetime, but aluminum has some advantages. Aluminum can be machined into literally any shape, making them more functional in terms of creating different rod holder designs.

Aluminum is also generally better suited for welding applications. Stainless steel can be welded, but doing so requires special skill sets which lead to added costs.

It’s safe to say that metal rod holders are more expensive, but it’s also safe to say that rod holders should be a long term investment. Many anglers who invest in metal rod holders justify the expense by holding onto them when they sell a boat and buy a new one.


There is a time and place for fixed tube style rod holders. I often use this style of rod holder at the back of my boat to hold rods while the boat is running. The idea is that a rod mounted upright is less likely to get damaged than a fishing rod that is simply laid down in the boat.

Anglers who troll using a planer board mast system also commonly use fixed tube style rod holders. The ideal rod position when running big skis requires positioning several rods next to one another and in a vertical position.


Tube style holders that can be adjusted for angle and also pitch are ideal for a host of trolling applications. Many anglers prefer this style of rod holder for trolling in-line planer boards because the angle of each rod tip can be adjusted to create more space between trolling lines. This helps to reduce the problem of “line jumping” a situation that occurs when turning and one board line swims over top of the line next to it.

Adjustable tube style rod holders such as pictured here are commonly used for trolling with downriggers. This style of rod holder can also be used for fishing diving planers and in-line boards.


A saddle style rod holder or what some anglers refer to as “cradle” rod holders are designed to position the rod parallel to the water or at a downward angle. This is a commonly used rod holder design for fishing things like flat lines, diving planers, bottom bouncer rigs and other gear that is normally fished straight out the back of the boat.

The beauty of a saddle style rod holder is when a fish is hooked, the rod can be lifted straight out of the saddle, coming tight on the fish and setting the hook in the same motion as removing the rod.

Saddle or cradle style rod holders can typically be used for both trolling and spinning style rods. In this case, the author is long line trolling jigs for crappie.


A lot of anglers these days are switching to rod holder trees. A tree features two, three or even four rod holders mounted on a rod or pole that mounts to the deck. Rod holder trees do a great job of getting rods up and off the deck and they help space out rods better than tubes or saddle style holders. Also, because the butt of the rod is positioned outside the boat, space inside the gunwale of the boat is maximized.

I like to use rod holder trees for trolling with in-line boards, especially when fishing sinking lines like lead core. Trees allow me to bring my board lines further forward in the boat. This helps to space out my in-line board rods from other gear such as diving planers or downrigger rods. The beauty of spacing out my gear is when a big fish like a chinook is hooked, I can fight that fish without worrying I might tangle in other lines.

Trees also space out my rods in such a way that the line never touches the water even when making tight turns. This virtually eliminates “line jumping” and insures that my trolling lines are totally functional.

The only issue with rod holder trees is those who are “height challenged” may find it more difficult to reach up and remove the rod when a fish is hooked. This is particularly an issue with deeper boats and also when a heavy fish is hooked and putting a lot of pressure on the rod.

The Cisco Fishing Systems rod holder tree pictured here is an excellent choice for anglers who do a lot of trolling with in-line boards. Trees help position rods further forward in the boat, making room at the back of the boat for other gear such as diving planers and downriggers.


A trolling arch equipped with rod holders are a thing of beauty. Not only does an arch help to position rods further forward in the boat, they generally function very well as a way of storing rods not in use at the moment.

The “rocket launcher” style rod holders that are typically mounted along the top of a trolling arch do an exceptionally good job of storing long and cumbersome trolling rods that probably don’t fit in the rod locker. An arch is also a handy place to mount a VHF antenna or radar system. Boats that are moored at dock most of the time, such as charter boats, are an especially good candidate for a trolling arch.

The down side of trolling arches is the cost. These days with the high cost of raw materials and labor, a trolling arch is going to be cost prohibitive for many recreational anglers. Installation is also an issue with trolling arches as it takes a skilled hand to assemble and install a trolling arch properly on a fishing boat.


Quality rod holders are expensive and with the rising costs of raw materials and labor, it doesn’t appear that situation will change anytime soon. On the positive side, a quality designed and built rod holder functions flawlessly and is likely to last the life of the boat. It’s hard to say that about other accessories that are commonly added to a fishing boat.


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