Tournament Class Rigs

Equipment and Features to Consider to Get in the Game

by Eric Labaupa

As published in Boat Show Issue 2018 Hooked Magazine

March Madness affectionately describes the frenzy of action during ice fishing prime time. It also accurately describes the angst many open water tournament anglers feel at this time of year as they eagerly await opening day. Boat show season is in full swing across the country and that usually is enough to get their competitive juices flowing.

Contrary to popular belief, having the biggest and fastest boat in the field is not the end all-be all of tournament angling. In fact, those two qualities aren’t even at the top of the list of features to get started in the sport. While there is no definitive classification of what a tournament class boat is, there are definitely options on the market with features that make a model more apt than others for deployment in competitions. When researching a possible boat purchase, if participating in competitive events is in your plans, here are just a few things to consider before making a decision.

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Perhaps the most important feature to have in a ‘tournament’ boat, a working livewell is necessary to ensure your fish stay healthy for release after weigh-in. Any live release weigh-in event will require your boat to be equipped with one and proof of it working during morning inspection. Most standard livewells in today’s boats range from 60 litres and up which is more than enough room for five fish boxes of walleye or bass.

Next level: -Some boats are equipped with two wells which can aid with separating keepers and upgradables or perhaps isolating a giant in a well on its own for maximum oxygen. -Location and ease of access are things to consider for efficiency during tourney hours as some wells are located beneath flip seats or benches for example. -Boats with wells in the bow can be more susceptible to fish getting banged around in rough water. -A recirculation pump feature can be useful to ensure water in the livewell has continuous oxygen added to it while an auto pump feature is almost invaluable for peace of mind on the water as it takes care of pumping new water in every few minutes for you.

livewell 2 KF                    livewell KF


An often-overlooked consideration are storage options on a boat. Successful tournament angling often requires to have on board an inordinate amount of tackle, rods, and gear. Having compartments to store them in addition to other items such as safety equipment, extra clothing, and packed lunches is helpful to ensure they a) get taken aboard and b) keep the boat as uncluttered and organized as possible. Rod storage lockers for example encourage bringing more options in the boat and also with keeping extra setups out of the way and safe from getting damaged.

Next level: -Multiple rod storage compartment locations and capability to house one-piece rod lengths well beyond 7’ are advantageous. -Plastic dry storage compartments with lids resistant to water seepage keep items dry even in torrential weather. -Above-deck storage and cargo netting for items such as landing nets, anchors, personal devices, and tackle trays can be the difference between a cramped boat and a spacious free to roam platform. -A built-in icebox or cooler for your drinks and food not only eliminates a portable taking up space, keeping good ice at the ready can prove necessary during the hottest tournament days of the year. Livewells can sometimes use a drop in temperature when the surface water being pumped in is too warm to maintain the health of your fish.

rod storage KF                    storage KF


While these products generally do not accompany boats out of the factory, many dealers sell packages that feature all manner of electronics and gadgetry for today’s boaters. Tournament anglers in particular have taken full advantage of modern technology and in many ways, have influenced its advancement in this field. Tools for boat control and reading the water are better than ever before and boats that are capable of sporting these products are a huge advantage when competing at any level.

A rig that can accommodate a bow mount or transom trolling motor is a huge consideration. The specs of the hull will directly affect the required thrust and length of the shaft so take these into account when factoring in costs. Mountable surfaces and space for graphs is also very important. Examine possible locations for screens looking at wiring, battery source, obstructions, and ease of use among things to consider.

Next level: -A transom to which you can safely affix an electronic shallow water anchor. Powered spikes such as the MinnKota Talon have revolutionized the ability to hold in one spot. -Battery storage and wiring for a 12, 24, or 36-volt system. More electronics means more power needed, some boat designs account for this or have as an upgrade option. -A convenient and accessible spot for an on-board battery charger. Many boat designs lack logical spaces to attach one of these essential units so keep this in mind when looking at layouts.

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Size and Speed

What boat you decide on will ultimately depend on the right blend of your budget and needs. Like I mentioned earlier, bigger and faster doesn’t necessarily translate into tournament success. Theoretically, any vessel that meets the rule requirements of an event is capable of carrying its anglers to a Top 10 finish. In actuality, there have been plenty of tournaments big and small that have been won by anglers in smaller and not as fast boats. Perhaps it goes without saying however, there are definite advantages to having more size and speed in competitions. What you need to consider though, is whether these benefits apply to your own strategies, methods, and choice of events.

An obvious edge to being faster than the competition is getting to a fishing spot first. Depending on factors such as your takeoff position in the field, size of body of water, strategy of targeting community spots or areas of your own, this advantage can be negligible or negated altogether. With the clock always ticking, the true benefit in the end is more total time that your line is actually in the water, ability to cover more water to drop your line, or a combination of both.

Generally speaking, smaller tournament boats are 16’ in length while the biggest ones in the fields go just past 21’. Beam width as much as length also factors into how much space is available for design and layout with some models being narrower than others despite being longer. With almost all events in Central Canada being two-person team competitions, how much room two anglers need in a boat is subjective. What might be easier to agree on is that some boats can handle rougher water better than others. Events on big wide-open lakes may lend a clear advantage to those with deeper hulls if conditions dictate for example. In the end, the size of boat you require to compete can come down to personal preference or what specific bodies of water you intend to fish on.

livewell action shot KF