June 19, 2017
How Florida tournament captains use towers to find fish and mobilize team strategies.
Small tower on this outboard boat offers a good vantage point for spotting fish and communicating with fellow anglers below.
From perches well above deck level, captains can see farther over the ocean, increasing the odds they will spot signs of fish, such as free-jumping sailfish or schools of flying fish bursting from the surface to escape predators.
Equally important is a greater ability to see into the water. This affords the captain a few critical seconds to alert anglers and position the boat after spotting approaching fish.
“You can see sailfish swimming, and you can get the boat to them without running over them,” said Capt. Ray Rosher, a Miami captain well-known in South Florida's winter sailfish tournament circuit.
The tower on Rosher's custom 43-foot Miss Britt II puts him about 25 feet above the waterline, a perch Rosher refers to as his “office.” Towers on larger boats may reach to 40 feet or more above the waterline.
Tower helm on this Miami sportfisher puts the captain 25 feet above the waterline, extending the view to the horizon and deep into the water.
But towers don't have to rise seemingly into the clouds to be effective. Simple platforms and elevated helm positions over the T-tops of center consoles offer distinct advantages over deck-level fishing.
During the 2014 West Palm Beach Fishing Club Silver Sailfish Derby, Capt. Chip Sheehan spent most of the time running a 42-foot Invincible, Reel Easy, from the small marlin tower that sits over the center console's hard T-top.
“It makes it so much easier when you're chasing down a fish,” said Sheehan, who plans to add a tower to his 33-foot Invincible, Chip's Ahoy. “You're not just following the direction of the line in the water.”
Running a boat from an over-the-T-top helm facilitates communication with anglers on the deck. Sheehan calls out commands from above as sailfish approach, often coaching anglers to make minor adjustments to baits to trigger a strike.
The elevated view also allows captains to spot sailfish attracted to dredge teasers.
Prices for small towers on center console boats range from about $2,000 for a simple observation platform over a T-top to $25,000 for a marlin tower with a helm and controls, said Bobby Birdsall of Birdsall Marine Design in West Palm Beach.
A marlin tower with controls and a buggy top adds $39,000 to the price of an Invincible center console, by way of example. The Invincible's tower folds down, and the buggy top can be removed to facilitate trailering.
Owners of trailer boats should measure carefully before ordering a tower. The total height of the boat on the trailer cannot exceed 13.5 feet above the pavement and still be legal on Florida roads. Anything taller requires a special permit from the Florida Department of Transportation and could limit the boat being towed to specific roads.
Large towers on sportfishing boats range in price from $60,000 to $200,000 or more and vary in height with the size of the boat, said Drew McDowell, manager of Palm Beach Towers in Riviera Beach. Typical towers range from 25 to 40 feet above the waterline.
The extra elevation of sportfishing towers may limit where the boats can go.
Dave Dickerson used a push pole and a flats boat to measure the high-tide clearance under bridges leading to his house in Jupiter before ordering the tower on his 42-foot Gamefisherman, Strictly Business. The buggy top on his tower still won't squeeze under some Jupiter bridges during exceptionally high spring tides. [Dickerson's crew was featured in last month's photo essay, “Seasons of Sailfish.” –Ed.]
As with other parts of a boat used in salt water, aluminum towers should be rinsed thoroughly and washed with soap to remove salt. Waxes for stainless steel such as Star Brite Premium Polish, Woody Wax or Collinite Insulator Wax help prevent corrosion. FS
First Published Florida Sportsman Magazine August 2014