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Not all cockpits are created equal; learn what to look for.

Not all cockpits are created equal; learn what to look for.

The Perfect Pit

How to set up your boat’s cockpit for maximum efficiency.

Just as no perfect boat exists, no perfect cockpit does either. Even though personal preference and fishing style will drive individuals to set up their own cockpit as they see fit, most big-game captains will agree on certain basic attributes that a well-designed cockpit should have.

Start with ample, uncluttered space in which to move around. If you plan to tangle with big, powerful fish, you must have a seasoned crew working the pit to support your angler. Whether you use a fighting chair or prefer stand-up gear, the mates need clear paths around the cockpit and to the transom.

This means having adequate storage for loose gear that might get underfoot in the heat of battle and trip somebody up. Buckets, coolers, harnesses, etc. need a dedicated space to live where they won’t get in the way. But you also need to have a place where you can organize and keep gear that you’ll need throughout the day.

This might include leader material, crimpers, pliers, hooks (don’t forget those), floss, and other materials vital to creating terminal tackle. Mates should be able to access these things and more without having to rummage through drawers every time they need something. It’s all about efficiency.

Having a rigging surface where these items can be spread out and organized makes a big difference. A rocket launcher usually serves such a role, often in conjunction with a fighting chair. Launchers that serve as seatbacks do double duty and give you a much-needed place to rig.

Any successful captain will tell you organization is key.

Any successful captain will tell you organization is key.

Other items that may not be needed so frequently can be stored elsewhere, and the development and near ubiquitous presence of mezzanines has made life a lot simpler for serious fishermen. Mezzanines create a wealth of stowage space and can be set up to an owner’s taste. They also provide seating for guests and observers—always a plus.

Fishboxes, freezers, tackle stowage of all sizes and shapes, and even grills now commonly reside within these handy spaces, making the sometimes daunting task of bringing everything along that you need that much simpler.

The bigger your boat, the more space you typically have to work with, of course, and even on smaller boats, you can organize your gear for the best effect based on what species you’re targeting at the time. But a well-planned cockpit goes further than basic organizational features.

Certain aspects of a cockpit can’t be easily changed, so it pays to be aware of these items before you buy a particular boat. For instance, if you’re going to use a fighting chair, make sure the mate has room to pass between the footrest and the transom while an angler fights a fish. The wire or gaff man must be able to move with ease from one side of the pit to the other during the end game.

This can be problematic on boats with fishboxes installed in the center of the transom. Such placement requires the chair to be mounted farther forward in the cockpit to keep those alleys open. And on larger, wide-beam boats, you’ll almost always need an offset stanchion for the chair to make sure you can clear the transom corners with the fishing line when the fish gets close.

The cockpit sole should be low enough so that mates can easily reach the water’s surface, making a release much easier in certain instances. Likewise, the covering boards should be the right height so stand-up anglers or mates can lock their knees beneath the boards for security and safety. This becomes paramount when wiring a powerful fish, or when it’s exceptionally rough.

Other cockpit considerations include the size and accessibility of fishboxes, livewells, and lazarrette access to pumps, rudder tables, and fuel tanks. If you don’t plan to harvest many fish for the table, a huge fishbox might not be a big deal. But when you happen across a trophy yellowfin tuna, it’s nice to have ample space to store it. And having an ice machine to keep it chilled makes a big difference, too.

If you live bait a lot, planning out a functional livewell system becomes a necessity. Above-deck wells have become the norm, especially with South Florida sailfish teams, so you must scout out routes for below-deck plumbing, for both raw-water supply and drainage. A sturdy pump box can help ensure sufficient water flow.

Finally, be sure your cockpit has firm footing when conditions are less than ideal. I can’t tell you how many boats I’ve fished on that lacked this seemingly basic detail. Slippery footing in the heat of battle is unacceptable and can lead to serious injury. Whether a boat has teak or fiberglass decking, it must have an adequate nonskid surface as sure footing at sea should be a given on any boat.

Being aware of certain parameters that a good cockpit should possess will make your fishing more productive and more enjoyable. On top of that, learning to organize your gear for maximum efficiency will help you dial it up at the right time. You’ve got to be organized to catch big fish, and having the right cockpit set up the right way will give you the best chance for success.