What is a track system?
A track system is a flexible fishing installation for your boat based around metal tracks that mount on the boat. The tracks allow you to easily attach a variety of different fishing accessories, slide the accessories along the tracks to reposition them as needed, and remove the accessories completely (leaving only the tracks) for storage, security or non-fishing days on the water. Most track systems use an extruded aluminum track to hold their accessories. These tracks are available in different lengths and can be adapted to fit just about any boat, using several different mounting methods.
Why a track system?
A track system is all about flexibility and versatility; put what you want where you want it…or quickly reconfigure for different types of fishing or boat use. You can have your boat set up for big-lake salmon and steelhead trolling, and then quickly reconfigure it for walleye fishing, muskie fishing or river fishing. You can remove your track accessories for trailering, or for storage. It’s a good way to keep your valuable fishing equipment safe and secure by removing it from the boat when not in use. Or you can quickly convert your boat from a fishing machine to a family fun platform by removing everything from the tracks and inserting a filler panel. This gives you a nice, clean appearance, gets the fishing gear out of the picture, while clearing the way for tubing, skiing or swimming. Another advantage to a track system is fewer holes in your boat. Once you mount the track securely, all the other accessories just slide in and clamp down. Want a rodholder over here? Put one in place and there you have it. After fishing with it for a while, did you decide that it would work better if the rodholder were placed 3” to the left? Go ahead and move it over. A track system let’s you reconfigure things on the fly, or tweak them until it is just the way you want it.
Choosing a track system
While many track systems appear similar, there are big differences in materials, construction and finishes between manufacturers. When evaluating a track system, look for the best quality (and heaviest gauge) materials possible, tight tolerances in manufacturing and assembly, use of stainless steel in critical locations, good quality control, a finish that won’t be damaged by hard use or the elements, and of course, a wide variety of accessories that fit the system. Also pay attention to the little things…are the thumbscrews or mounting hardware easy to adjust and tighten, are the hole patterns drilled and tapped for your brand of downrigger, do the rodholders adjust in all the directions that you want? While some manufacturers’ tracks are similar and their accessories can be interchanged, many are not compatible with others, so make sure you consider what you will need for your boat and what’s available for a particular system when making your decision.
How do I configure tracks on my boat?
A typical installation would have tracks mounted down the gunwales of the boat, or across the transom. In many cases, several short lengths of track can be installed in various locations for maximum flexibility. A good rule of thumb is to install the longest track that will fit in the space available. It is not unusual to decide that you want to mount more items on your track then you originally planned…after all, what fisherman doesn’t need more stuff? Tracks can be directly mounted to the boat, mounted using gimbal mounts inserted into flush mount rod holders, or mounted using rail mounts. They can even be raised above the gunwales using risers. This is a good way to make a low-gunwaled boat more comfortable to fish. It may help you to make some cardboard templates and move them around to different positions until you get them laid out the way you like them, or take some measurements and then sketch your boat layout on a piece of graph paper to get the scale right. Your installation is only limited by your boat layout and style, your imagination and your budget. Often, manufacturers and dealers of track systems will help you come up with a design that will maximize the capabilities of your boat, so don’t be afraid to ask for input and advice. Having good photos of your boat will allow them to evaluate the possibilities and help you get the best installation for your situation. And other fishermen can be a great resource too. If you see a boat rigged out with a sweet track system at the launch ramp, start asking questions. Most guys will be glad to tell you why they made the rigging decisions they did.
What can I mount on my tracks?
A track system can accommodate all kinds of accessories. Typical items would be adjustable rodholders, fixed angle rodholders, downrigger bars across the transom, fixed risers or swivel bases for downriggers and rod “trees” with multiple rodholders. But rodholders and downriggers are only part of the track system story. Many manufacturers of track systems offer all kinds of other useful accessories; things like handlining brackets, specialty rigs for specific regional fishing styles, line cleats, tool holders, drink holders, cannonball caddies, net holders, and more.
Installing a track system
Once you’ve designed your track system, the installation is pretty straightforward. Lay the tracks along the gunwale, mark the locations of the mounting holes, drill the holes, and attach the tracks. Make sure that you reinforce the track by using either backing plates or large washers underneath the gunwales. This is especially important with short lengths of track….longer tracks spread the load over a wider area. If your boat is fiberglass, always make sure you widen out the top 1/16” of the hole with a chamfer bit. This will keep your gelcoat from cracking when you start to tighten screws in the holes. And, filling holes with 3M 4200 or Marine Silicone Sealant is always a good idea. You may also want to run a bead of silicone along the track edge just to keep water and dirt from getting underneath.
If you can’t bolt your tracks directly to the gunwales or transom, you have a couple of options. First, you can use gimbal mounts. Gimbal mounts drop into existing flush-mounted rodholders in the gunwales. Make sure that these rodholders can take the strain of the track system, and have backing plates or washers. Gimbal mounts can make your track system removable…great for storage or boats that are multipurpose. With narrow gunwales, you can install 90º gimbal mounts (straight up and down) to mount your tracks on. When mounting a track across two gimbal mounts, make sure your flush mounted rodholders are in a straight line to the gunwale (not rotated at an angle). This will make installation of the tracks go smoothly. If they are not positioned in a straight line, you will probably have to reposition at least one of the flush mount rodholders until they line up.
If you can’t use gimbal mounts, but have handrails (like many multi-species boats) or surrounding railings (like on a pontoon boat), or a radar arch or hardtop, then rail mounts are the answer. A variety of rail mounts will allow you to accommodate different diameter rails or even square rails. Mount the rail mounts on the rails, bolt the tracks to the rail mounts, install your accessories, and you are ready to roll.
Solving special mounting situations
Tracks can also help you solve unusual mounting problems. Need a way to mount some instruments that can be easily removed for security? A piece of track on the dash of the boat with adapter plates for mounting the instruments fits the bill. How about some extra rod storage? Tracks mounted on your hardtop, T-top, radar arch, handrails, center console, or bow gunwales can give some much needed additional rod storage…especially on smaller boats. Need a place to store a net? Mount some track and a net holder in a convenient location. Look your boat over carefully, and don’t be afraid to try some unconventional ideas…you might just solve that little storage or rigging problem that’s been bugging you.
Some final words of wisdom
Always make sure all your accessories are really tightened down well in the tracks. Vibration from being on the water (or going down the road) can loosen things up in a hurry. Track end caps are a really good investment…they keep your valuable track accessories from accidentally sliding out the ends of the tracks. And they are easily removable for times when you do want to slide things out. And don’t make the mistake of installing tracks that are just the length you need right now, because you will want more track-mounted gear in the future…guaranteed! It’s a lot cheaper in the long run to buy the longest tracks that will fit and install them from day one.
A track system can make your boat a flexible and powerful fishing machine. It can let you adapt to changing conditions, different fishing styles, and different needs. Maximize your boat’s fishing potential this season with a well-thought out and carefully installed track system.