The Great Tiller Debate
By: Mark Romanack
Not only are tillers great fishing boats, many outdoorsmen favor this design for cross over boats that hunt and fish.
This week we will open a can of worms and willingly proclaim that real men fish from tiller boats! I bet that got your attention! Admittedly, not everyone is a “tiller man”, but those who are know that no other fishing boat layout can match the open floor plan of a tiller controlled rig. Once thought of as only a viable option for small to medium sized boats, these days if you want the power of that outboard in your hand instead of a steering wheel, there are almost no limits to boat size, brands and available options to choose from.
Most of the major outboard manufacturers now produce tiller handle kits including power trim and hydraulic steering that tames even the mighty V6 models. This means that big or small, there is a tiller operated boat out there with your name on it.
While many consider a tiller controlled boat as the ultimate example of “ole school”, the truth is that in the hands of an angler who understands boat control the tiller takes fishing to a whole new level. That goes double when tiller powered boats are equipped with modern tools of the trade such as auto-pilot style electric motors and networked sonar units that allow anglers in both the front and back of the boat to see what’s going on at the tiller.
SPACE, SPACE AND MORE SPACE
Clearly one of the biggest advantages of a tiller controlled boat is the extra fishing space this design offers. Without consoles, control boxes and associated rigging cluttering up the inside of the boat, an angler can stretch his legs in a tiller controlled boat.
Critical features and controls such as trim, sonar, tachometer, fuel gauge, navigation lights, live-well, pumps and more are literally at your finger tips. The passenger seat on a tiller boat is offset to the port side so the operator has a clear view of what’s in front of the boat.
The bow of a tiller model is also wide open. Boats that feature a raised casting platform on the bow also enjoy additional storage for things you don’t want on the floor like tackle, rods, bait coolers, life jackets and an ice chest for drinks and snacks.
Mid-sized tillers like this SmokerCraft Adventurer 180T provide a lot of fishing space and critical storage in an affordable boat.
While a tiller boat brings up images of “back-trolling” that is only one of the forms of boat control a tiller can accomplish flawlessly. An angler who is serious about back-trolling will want to add splash guards to the transom of the boat. Splash guards keep water on the outside of the boat where it belongs.
Adding a sea bag makes it possible to slow down your back-trolling roll even when the boat is equipped with a V6 outboard. This feature makes it easier to back-troll without having to shift in and out of gear so often.
Add in an auto-pilot electric motor and the game gets even more interesting. Say you’re back-trolling a weed or shoreline structure edge and you hit a fish. Literally at the touch of one button from the key fob, the boat can be locked in position on “anchor” mode, freeing up your hands to make more casts to the precise water that just produced a fish.
Tiller boats that are equipped with an auto-pilot style electric motor really open up the boat control options. Using the key fob, a simple touch of a button makes it possible to anchor in place, jog or to troll following a heading or to troll to a specific waypoint.
Say you bang a bonus fish or two and the action suddenly goes cold. Again, using the electric motors “jog” function makes it easy to re-position the boat without leaving that tiller seat. The jog feature makes it possible to move the boat in any direction in increments of about five feet for each time the indicator arrow is pushed. Talk about dialing in a bite!
Don’t forget, with sonar units in the boat networked, everything the tiller guy is seeing on his sonar can also be observed by a second angler fishing from the bow.
WHAT ABOUT TROLLING?
It’s a common misconception that tiller operated boats are no good for trolling chores. Most modern outboards feature a locking feature on power steering piston that makes it possible to lock the engine into the forward position. Even smaller outboards without power steering have this same feature.
Now let’s get a little more creative and implement the help of an auto-pilot style electric motor to augment forward trolling skills. The electric motor is useful in dialing in trolling speeds, maintaining a specific course using the “course or heading lock” feature and also for steering around other boats in your trolling path.
If the electric motor is networked to your sonar units, you can even use the electric motor to navigate directly to waypoints or to create a route that intercepts a host of different waypoints. All of these functions are features the tiller boat masters with ease.
If the forward speed is too fast, a pair of sea bags mounted on the port and starboard sides of the boat easily solves that problem. Another option is to consider adding a gasoline kicker motor to handle serious trolling chores. The beauty of using a gasoline kicker is it keeps the hours on the main outboard to a minimum and spreads out those expensive maintenance schedule costs.
If rod holders are mounted using after market track systems, these accessories can be added as needed and stowed for other fishing presentations. Lots of manufacturers these days are offering “integrated track systems” which are essentially gunwales that feature a groove extruded in place that readily accepts accessories such as rod holders. Every manufacturer has their own integrated track specs, so it’s wise to inquire which brand of rod holder a particular boat brand meshes up to.
HOW BIG IS TOO BIG?
As stated earlier, tiller boats have normally been the domain of small to medium sized craft. These days if a tiller is what you crave, there are both aluminum and fiberglass models on the market that stretch 20, 22, 24 and even 26 feet in length! So if size matters, choosing a tiller operated boat should not be a limiting factor.
If size matters, tillers come in some impressive size offerings these days. A number of manufacturers offer tillers in 20, 22, 24 and even 26 foot models made from either aluminum or fiberglass!
The down side to owning a tiller operated boat is resale value can be an issue. It’s not that a tiller lowers the value of a boat, but it does lower the demand. In certain places such as Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas, selling a tiller boat is no issue. In others such as Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania or New York, selling a tiller model is going to be more challenging.
Thankfully, the internet brings the challenge of selling a used boat down to size. Just because you live in an area where tiller boats aren’t popular, doesn’t mean you can’t find a new home for your boat once it’s time to upgrade.
It’s true that real men do fish from tiller boats. It’s also true that real men also fish from those other boat layouts. The beauty is that we have choices and not every angler is forced to adjust to just one boat configuration.
So, if you’re that guy that thinks tillers are cool. Don’t hesitate to make your dream fishing boat a reality. Tillers aren’t just cool, they can fish with the best of them.