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Sportfishing

Fighting-Chair Physics

All the time and money you’ve spent to match perfectly tuned engines to your well-rigged convertible, researching and selecting the most advanced electronics, and all those practice runs boil down to this moment: You’re sitting on the biggest school of tuna you’ve ever seen.

You run to the cockpit, rig the lures, drop the lines, and toss that bait out there, just waiting for it to be devoured like a box of Krispy Kreme donuts at a Weight Watchers’ meeting.

Moments later, the center rod starts screeching. You can tell by the speed at which the line is spooling that on the other end of it is the fish you’ve been waiting for your whole life. Your deckmates bring in the other lines, and you rejoice as you get ready to reel in your prize. The moment of truth has arrived.

You sit down in your deck chair, but find there’s nowhere to put the rod, and the fish—whatever it is—is pulling you and the chair toward the transom while switching directions like a slalom skier. You’re using every last ounce of strength you can muster from your arms, legs, fingers, and toes to keep him on the line. But it doesn’t matter: The line breaks, the fish is gone, and you’re left trying to figure out what went wrong.

While no owner of a true battlewagon would dare head to the canyons without a fighting chair, few sport anglers appreciate the value of having the right fighting chair until it’s too late. Then they realize it can be the difference between having a “one that got away” story or a photo of their 300-pound catch proudly displayed on the office wall.

John Rybovich is largely recognized as the inventor of the modern-day fighting chair, and although its general shape and design haven’t changed a whole lot in the 70 or so years it’s been in production, the technology behind it has changed a great deal. Whereas the original chairs were largely crafted of chrome-plated brass and/or aluminum and composed of numerous different working parts, today’s chairs are made of marine-grade stainless steel and feature as few multiple-piece parts as possible. The idea, according to Jeff Donahue, a salesman for Pompanette fighting chairs and captain of the 77-foot Hatteras Safari, is to build a chair that won’t break, no matter what kind of pressure it’s subjected to. “When you’re fishing and in the moment, the last thing you want to think about is your chair,” says Mike Murray of Murray Products. You should focus solely on the fish.

So, first things first: What are the benefits of a fighting chair? It is the pivot point between you and the rod and allows you to put significantly more pressure on a fish than you would otherwise be able to; the chair does the work that your body can’t, so that you can endure the often long and arduous battle of landing a big fish. “To put it into perspective,” Donahue says, “a 15-year-old girl weighing 110 pounds with a 90-pound drag on her line can sit in one of our chairs and not get tired. A lot of people would probably be scared to do that kind of thing, but it is entirely possible. The mechanical advantage of a fighting chair is tremendous.”

This article originally appeared in the March 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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