What are the benefits of a fighting chair?

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.”

To ensure that you can rely on your chair when you need it most, it’s gotta be sturdy. That’s why Pompanette uses marine-grade 316L stainless steel on the main structure and claims to be the only manufacturer to offer a stainless steel leg plate. On the other hand, Savannah, Georgia-based Release Marine says its chairs have minimal metal-to-metal connections and moving parts, thereby reducing rattle, wear, maintenance, and the risk of something breaking or going wrong. Release’s vice-president and co-owner Jimmy Dewberry confirms: “You could tow a dinghy from our fighting chair.”

But it’s not just about the chair. Many boatbuilders not only design their battlewagons to be big and fast, they also lay out cockpits with fighting chairs in mind, usually laminating in aluminum or steel backing plates on the underside of the cockpit which the chair pedestal bolts into.

And then there’s your boat. You need to consider certain things in selecting a chair, like the size of your boat and the square footage and layout of her cockpit. Are there hatches in the sole or tanks beneath? Is there even room for a fighting chair? Is your boat set up for cruising and fishing, and if so, are you willing to sacrifice the space that a fighting chair requires? Your answer to these questions will largely dictate the size and type of chair you need. After that, says Donahue, it’s just a question of making a CAD drawing of the chair that’s best for you and picking a custom color to blend in with your boat or one that will stand out and be the focal point of the cockpit.

Budget is another consideration, as are the kind of fishing you plan to do and with whom you plan to fish. Cost can vary greatly, from about $3,000 for a lightweight chair with aluminum parts to $19,000 for a stainless steel and teak model complete with rocket launcher. But although materials and mounting techniques can vary, the basic shape and design of the chairs remain the same. “The angler who day fishes out of his home port on weekends with his wife and kids is obviously going to require a different chair than the serious tournament fisherman,” says Murray. Donahue adds that Pompanette works closely with clients to find the most cost-effective chair for their needs, which might end up being smaller although no less capable than what they originally had in mind.

What’s next in fighting chairs? As boats get bigger and beamier, more chairs use offset stanchions and pedestals to help anglers reach the corners. And that’s where the hydraulic chair, the next big thing in fighting chairs, comes in. Both Murray and Pompanette are developing versions which, with the push of a button, can actually do much of the fish-fighting work for you, making it essentially a hands-free operation. And Release just partnered with Applied Concepts to produce what it calls “the war seat,” which will be made of composites and offer enhanced ergonomics to give the angler more leverage on the fish and reduce some of the stress that occurs between the angler and the rod.

A good fighting chair is a financial investment, and to get the right one, you’ll also have to also invest some research. But if you have any doubt whether it’s worth it, think back to your last “one that got away” story, and then ask yourself: Can you afford not to?

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

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