If you want the best rail-mounted rod holder, get the Lee's RA5001 or Lee's RA5201. Save a few bucks with the Whitecap S7004C and still come away with a durable home for your fishing pole.
Almost every well-traveled tropical water sailor we've ever met has been a fisherman, with specific fishing techniques tailored to the particular nature of sailboats. Nearly all like to troll, usually with two lines, using heavy tackle and plastic lures for food fish while underway. Trolling the heavy tackle allows them to winch fish to the boat without stopping, and using plastic lures keep things simple and clean.
Since no sailboat (that we know of) comes equipped to fish, owners have to properly prepare the boat on their own. Flush-mount rod holders favored by the powerboat crowd don't really do well on sailboats; most boats just don't have the layout or the room for such devices. Welding rod holders to aft-mounted rail stanchions is an option, but can be very pricey. This leads nearly all sailboat-owning anglers to install rail-mounted rod holders as the easy and inexpensive solution.
What We Tested
We tested 10 rail-mount rod holders ranging from $30 to $70. Lee's Tackle supplied two aluminum rod holders. One mounts vertically and the other horizontally. Tigress Trading sent a pair of stainless steel holders, again, one vertical and one horizontal. Perko contributed its stainless steel and zinc-plated model, the 1215 DP CHR. The West Marine unit we tested is identical to the Perko rod holder—Perko makes it for West. Whitecap joined our group with an all stainless steel holder. Taco Metals provided a pair of its aluminum rail-mounts, one vertical and one horizontal. A plastic rod holder from G-LOX Products finished out our field.
The Perko, West, Whitecap, and G-LOX rod holders are adjustable to numerous angles and can be mounted either on vertical or horizontal rails. Lee's, Tigress, and Taco models are designed specifically to be attached either vertically or horizontally on a specified pipe size.
The Lee's are available in five standard sizes, and with optional bushings available from the factory that can be fitted to 13 sizes ranging from 3/4" rail to 2" pipe. Lee's color options include silver, gold and black.
The Tacos are also available in the same five sizes. The stainless steel Tigress holders are available in three sizes from 3/4" to 1-1/4" rail. Both Taco and Tigress are available in silver and gold.
How We Tested
Ease of installation is often a key part of our evaluations. We were able to mount two of the 10 units on the horizontal T-top rail and four on the horizontal leaning post rail of a 25' Contender center console test boat. We used them during a day of fishing off Key Largo, FL. These mounting locations would equate to similar sites on the horizontal or vertical rails of a stern pulpit.
The six mounted units represented at least one product from each manufacturer, except the G-LOX, which didn't fit any pipe on the boat. The G-LOX and the remaining three units were affixed to piping in our workshop for the stress test. The piping (with rod holders attached) was stored outside and doused with salt water, just like the boat-mounted holders.
Each unit was also rated for usability, which includes how securely it held a rod and whether it had a "pin" to hold a gimbal butt, as is common on most saltwater trolling tackle. We put several different size rods into each holder to check for fit and security.
The strain of trolling locks a rod into this type of holder. But how well do they do their jobs when they're not under stress? Answering this question was also a priority.
Fit and Finish ratings are based on how the unit looks when installed on a rail, the quality and precision of construction, and the fit of the holder to the pipe or rail.
We subjected each rod holder to stress and saltwater tests. For the stress test, we placed a rod in the holder and pulled on the holder at an angle that would not cause the holder to spin on the pipe. Rod holders that were capable of being mounted either vertically or horizontally were tested in the horizontal position. We then pulled 20' of line off the reel, attached our trusty drag scale to the end, and manually applied 30 pounds of pressure to the rod, as if we had hooked a large fish while trolling with heavy tackle. We checked for any flexing, distortion, permanent damage, or breakage. For the corrosion test, we gave each unit a saltwater dunking every third day for two weeks without any cleaning or rinsing.
The all-plastic G-LOX can be mounted on either a vertical or horizontal rail. It's adjustable to various angles via its center "tooth"-and-lock bolt. This is the only rod holder tested that does not have a "pin" at the bottom to lock gimbal butt rods.
The installation of the G-LOX is a two-step process. First, the center screw must be locked at the desired position, then the rod holder is clamped to the rail by tightening two Phillips head screws.
This rod holder literally exploded during stress testing, sending our test rod and reel crashing to the floor.
Bottom Line: This model failed our stress test so we can't recommend it. In our opinion, it's also overpriced at nearly $30.
Lee's Tackle RA5001 and RA5201
Both are aluminum, with aggressively flared bottoms using stainless steel pins and stainless steel mounting bolts. Installation of either of these holders is a snap. On the stress test, the Lee's did nothing more than flex slightly.
Corrosion on an aluminum rod holder such as this begins where the steel and aluminum come in contact. On both Lee's models, the only place steel and aluminum touch is at the mounting bolts. (There was indeed a trace of corrosion here.) But Lee's makes an effort to make sure the SS "pin" never touches the aluminum holder, which is installed with nylon bushings.
To prevent dissimilar metal corrosion from getting started, the mounting bolts should be coated with grease or a corrosion inhibitor.
The Lee's holders come with a protective coating. As an added measure, washing and rinsing after exposure to saltwater is highly recommended for all rod holders—or any other fishing tackle for that matter.
Bottom Line: If you want good looks and quality construction, these are the rod holders for you. We wouldn't hesitate to use these rod holders for trolling with our most expensive tackle.
Perko 1215 DP CHR and West Marine 413180
This holder uses a constant diameter stainless steel cylinder (no flare) to hold the rod and a zinc-plated metal bracket to mount the rail and allow for angle adjustments. It has a stainless steel pin and a plastic bottom. In our opinion, the plastic bottom reduces the effectiveness of the pin by not allowing certain size rods to fully seat on the pin. These rod holders have a center Allen head bolt for locking the holder to various angles.
Mounting is a two-step process requiring the tightening of the center bolt with the rod holder at the correct angle followed by the tightening of two stainless steel hex head bolts once the clamp is positioned on the pipe.
Both rod holders showed some corrosion beginning around the bolt holes. Both performed the same in stress testing, with severe flexing, minor permanent damage, and some damage to the rail.
Bottom Line: The Perko and West are both average rod holders. We think other choices make better sense.
The two holders from Taco are aluminum, with a moderate flare and a welded aluminum pin.
Installation of the Taco rod holders is very easy. Both Tacos showed a bit of corrosion. The tips concerning corrosion, installation, and care mentioned for the Lee's rod holders apply to the Tacos as well, since they too are made of aluminum and stainless.
The stress test is where things went awry for the Taco horizontal. It was literally ripped apart when a weld failed. We told Taco what happened. Product manager Donna Wilson said, "We have never had one complaint or failure on these rod holders. These rod holders have been through testing at Sea Ray, Boston Whaler, Grady-White, and have had excellent results. TACO has been making these blades (the piece you claimed bent) for boat manufacturers for over 25 years…This completely shocks us."
The Taco vertical performed flawlessly, with only minor flexing.
Bottom Line: We don't doubt Donna Wilson's word—this failure may have been an aberration. Still, it's hard to recommend a product to others when you see one come apart under a reasonable stress load.
We do like the Taco vertical's styling; it may be the best-looking rod holders in the evaluation.
These stainless steel holders have an aggressive flare and a stainless steel "pin."
The clamshell on these rod holders does not fit the pipe as well as the Lee's or the Taco holders, and we even had a problem installing one of the rod holders because the clamshell plate was not machined properly: The mounting holes did not line up correctly, resulting in the crooked installation of one screw. Installation was a real pain because of this lack of quality control.
Surface rust stains were evident at the attachment bolts.
The Tigress vertical took the stress test with only minor flexing. The horizontal did not fare as well. It flexed moderately and took on a permanent twist of about 15 degrees.
Bottom Line: The Tigress, in our opinion, is basically a Lee's knockoff, made from steel rather than aluminum. We don't think it justifies its price.
The Whitecap, made of stainless steel, uses a constant-diameter cylinder, a "pin" to hold the rod, and a bracket to mount on the rail and allow for angle adjustments. This rod holder has a center hex-head bolt for locking the holder to various angles. Mounting is a two-step procedure accomplished by tightening the center bolt with the holder in the desired position and installing four stainless steel nuts and bolts (a tedious process, in our view). It has a white rubber cap to protect the rod from the top of the holder.
The Whitecap showed a minimal amount of corrosion. During stress testing it flexed slightly and sustained an almost imperceptible amount of damage.
Bottom Line: In its price range this is a top rod holder.
Our testing indicates that vertical-mounted holders are generally stronger than comparable horizontals. We tried the three verticals (the Lee's, the Taco, and the Tigress) with a drag pressure as high as 50 pounds, and none did more than flex a bit.
There are really two distinct price points in this group of rod holders, the $65 to $70 range, and the $30 to $37 range. The Lee's vertical and the Lee's horizontal rod holders are the hands-down winners in the upper price range. You can't go wrong with either. They're easy to install, quite corrosion-resistant, and can take a beating.
In the lower price range, we can recommend the Whitecap. Even though it was tedious to install, we think its finish and strength warrant a superior rating over other equally priced units.
Also With This Article
Click here to view "Value Guide: Fishing Rod Holders."
G-LOX Products, 713/228-8944
Lee’s Tackle Inc., 305/599-9324, www.leetackle.com
Perko, Inc., 305/621-7525, www.perko.com
TACO Metals, Inc., 800/653-8564; www.tacometals.com
Tigress Trading Company, 954/462-0917, 954/524-0441
West Marine, 800/BOATING, www.westmarine.com
Whitecap Industries, Inc., 732/819-4666, 732-819-3559