Elevation Revelation

Does a height advantage really make a big difference?

Capt. Mike Genoun September 28, 2012

Inshore and off, maximum visibility with a clear view of your surroundings is absolutely essential for safe navigation and successful fishing. We all know quality polarized sunglasses are a must to help penetrate the blinding glare and allow us to see what lies beneath the surface, but what about a height advantage. Does elevation really make a big difference? The answer is obviously clear.

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Photo: doughertyphotos.com

From technical poling skiffs to multi-million dollar battlewagons, leading boat manufacturers go to great lengths to provide captains and guides with an unfair advantage—a bird’s eye view of the surroundings. Height is the number one reason aquatic birds of prey are such successful hunters. In the case of fishing boats, the blessing may come in the form of a 3-foot poling platform or a 30-foot tuna tower, as both provide anglers increased visibility and greater situational awareness. The advantage afforded by even a few feet of added elevation is truly impressive.

Aesthetically speaking, a well-designed upper station simply looks good and increases the overall value and appeal of any boat.

On the crystal clear Bahamian flats and across Florida’s vast backcountry, sight fishing rules the roost as the most exciting means of shallow water fishing. Regardless if you are presenting an imitation fly or natural bait, sight fishing is the closest you’ll get to actually hunting on the water. In this endeavor a cast is not executed until a target is in clear view. Backcountry gurus spend upwards of eight hours a day perched a few feet above the water’s surface where the extra height provides a much better angle for penetrating the glare and spotting cruising bonefish and permit, and at substantially greater distances. Having the ability to see wary shallow water game fish before they see you greatly increases your odds for a successful encounter.

Because an elevated poling platform allows you to see baitfish concentrations, prized game fish and prime habitat like potholes, channel edges and fertile grass flats, it is an absolutely essential tool that no shallow water craft should be without. And because poling platforms come in everything from rudimentary fiberglass platforms to custom fabricated works of aluminum art with any number of mounting options, there is certainly a poling platform ideally suited for your particular application. If it’s added weight and decreased draft you’re concerned with, ultra lightweight carbon fiber and Kevlar are now being utilized in order to keep added weight to an absolute minimum.

On the other end of the spectrum, tuna towers shadowing blue water convertibles and express style sportfish are even more advantageous. These massive aluminum super structures are specifically designed and manufactured for each particular boat design using high tech engineering and a combination of modern materials. They are integral to the overall layout of the boat as they support outriggers, hardtops, fly bridge enclosures and towering helm stations. It’s easy to see which towers were built for serious fishing as competitive fishermen wouldn’t make the required investment in a tower without including complete controls and at least some level of electronics.

When it is done right, a captain operating a vessel from multiple stories above sea level can scan the horizon for great distances in every direction and indicate the presence of birds, weedlines and fish investigating the spread. Some of these elaborate tuna and marlin towers reach so far into the sky that skippers are forced to communicate with crew in the cockpit via wireless headsets.

Perhaps the fastest growing segment of the market are open center console boats equipped with upper stations. This is in no way a novel idea as boat builders have been offering this option for decades. However with the introduction of plug and play digital throttle control boxes and networked gauges and electronics, there has recently been a noticeable spike in the popularity of upper stations. The increase could be credited to easier installation with fewer moving parts, or the fact that an increasing number of center consoles are competing against larger battlewagons and need the height advantage afforded by the upper station when fishing prestigious billfish tournaments. Whatever the case, there are certainly more tower boats of all sizes out there than we’ve ever seen before.

In the case of center consoles, you may think a seven foot height advantage over standard eye level is minimal, but the increase in distance and clarity afforded is an invaluable tool for competitive fishermen. Not only can the helmsman monitor and suggest fine tune adjustments to trolling spreads and kite baits, but he can more easily spot a pack of ravenous dolphin crashing the spread or lit up sailfish tailing down sea. The extra height is also extremely beneficial when attempting to collect bait. Along Florida’s shallow reefs and shorelines where various forms of baitfish are often procured, extra height allows crews to peer into the depths and pick off baitfish concentrations with pinpoint accuracy.

Aesthetically speaking, a well-designed upper station simply looks good and increases the overall value and appeal of any boat. However even with all of the benefits there are some downsides. First and foremost, a poling platform, tuna tower or upper station of any kind must be easily accessible. If it’s too challenging to access safely and comfortably, no one will use it. Depending on the configuration, an upper station may set you back $20K and a full tuna tower with complete controls could cost twice or three times that amount. Next is clearance, as you won’t be trailering a tower boat down the highway anytime soon. The same applies for drawbridges or any other overhanging obstructions where fixed height may cause an issue or inconvenient delay getting to and from the inlet. These factors must be considered when contemplating the purchase of a pre-owned or new vessel equipped with a tower or upper station. Yet with these downfalls, the benefits afforded by even the slightest height advantage far outweigh any negative concerns.

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