Features October 2006 Issue

Rod Holders

If you’re like most sailors we know, you’re likely also an angler—not necessarily to the extent of the Bassmasters crowd, but at least trolling a line and a lure for some tasty dinner. So if you’re looking to graduate from that bit of PVC lashed to your stern pulpit, check out these rail-mounted rod holders. The clamp-ons are easier to install than flush-mount rod holders and are less expensive than welded-on ones.

For anyone interested in fishing who hasn’t yet read it, we recommend Cruisers Handbook of Fishing by Scott and Wendy Bannerot.



The Lee’s Tackle RA5002SL and RA5205GL, above left, performed flawlessly in the stress test. The West Marine 3737871 and 3737897, above right, cover all the bases at a reasonable price.

We tested 11 clamp-on rod holders ranging in price from $27 to $100. As we did in our last clamp-on rod holder test (PS April 15, 2003), we selected rod holders we thought would be capable of trolling medium-duty tackle.

We rated each rod holder for ease of installation and usability. The usability rating included how well it held a rod and whether it had a gimbal pin designed to fit most trolling tackle. The fit and finish rating is based on the quality and precision of construction, and the fit of the holder to the rail.

We also subjected each rod holder to a stress test. After mounting the holder to our test rail, a rod was placed in the holder. A tester pulled on the line coming off the rod tip with a maximum of 30 pounds of pressure to simulate the force applied by a large fish hitting a lure while trolling with heavy tackle. Rod holders were tested at an angle that would not spin the holder on the rail. Flexing, distortion, permanent damage, and breakage were noted. To test for corrosion, we placed all the holders outside and sprayed them with salt water regularly. After two weeks, we rinsed them with fresh water and rated them.

The Attwood 5002-7 is a side-mount holder designed to bolt to a vertical surface. However, with the optional rail-mount adapter kit, it can be fitted to the stern pulpit railing. We tested it using the rail-mount kit.

The plastic Attwood has an open design holder tube, unlike most of the other holders tested. It has a rod-lock-ing collar at the top, no gimbal pin to hold the rod in place, and it swivels vertically. It locks in several positions, and can be rotated and locked into its base.

We noted severe flexing during our stress test, but the unit did not break. It had no corrosion on its mostly plastic parts and only a speck was found on a stainless bolt. 

Bottom Line: In our opinion, this holder is not appropriate for big-water fishing, but it should do the job in the freshwater arena where lighter tackle is the norm.

The RA5002SL and RA5205GL from Lee’s Tackle feature a moderate flare over the bottom of the rod tube and a bracket with high-quality welds.

Installation was easy: There’s nothing to adjust other than rotating the holder to the desired position. Four stainless steel Allen head bolts lock it in place. Lee’s has redesigned its gimbal pin: Instead of a stainless steel pin held in place with nylon bushings, there is now a piece of square alu-minum welded into the holder base. This should cut down on corrosion. A protective plastic insert runs through about two-thirds of the rod tube.

Dissimilar metal corrosion can occur where steel and aluminum come in contact with each other. On these rod holders, that happens where the stainless attachment bolts touch the aluminum. We noted a minute amount of corrosion here. To prevent this corrosion, the mounting bolts should be coated with grease or an anti-seize compound prior to installation. Washing and rinsing after exposure to salt water also is recommended.

The Lee’s holders performed flawlessly in the stress test.

Bottom Line: Good looks and qual-ity construction make the Lee’s rod holders our top pick for aluminum.

The Smith 53600GA, 53660GA, and 53650GA rod holders have identical rod tubes; all have an aggressive taper in the lower third of the tube, a prominently flared lip at the top, a white plastic liner, and a heavily constructed gimbal pin.

All fit our test rails well, and they seemed impervious to stress testing, hardly flexing at all. Corrosion testing resulted in minor surface rust. The stains could be easily removed with a wash and wax.

Bottom Line: Good looking rod holders with performance that matched, the Smiths are the top pick in the stainless steel category.

The F16-2650POL-1 and F31-2620BXY-1 from Taco are designed to be mounted on a specific size rail. A supplied insert is used when mounting to the smaller diameter pipe.

Both are adjustable: A bolt located on the inner portion of the mounting bracket must be loosened to rotate the rod tube. Once the rod tube is locked in place, the holder can be mounted. Tightening four Allen head bolts secures the holder to the rail. The F16 has a drop-down feature that swivels the tube to 35 degrees. Pushing the rod tube back up locks it in its original position.

Mounting the Taco holders was a snap: With inserts removed, the F31 fit our test pipe perfectly; the F16 was shipped with a rubber insert, allowing testers to rotate the holder on the test pipe even with the bolts tightened to their maximum.

Both Taco rod holders sustained permanent damage during stress testing. On the F16, a failure in the drop-down mechanism caused the rod tube to loosen and move around when it should have been locked. When we pulled on the F31, the threads on the center bolt that allow the rod tube to swivel pulled out, resulting in a complete failure.

Taco holders we tested for our 2003 report also failed the stress test.

Bottom Line: Easy to install, but they failed our stress test.

The 373787 and 3737897 from West Marines—made in China and supplied by Tigress Outriggers and Gear—look nearly identical to the Lee’s Tackle; however, the Wests have a more aggressive taper and round rather than square aluminum gimbal pins. The welding and machining is clearly a step below the Lee’s holders in quality, in our opinion.

Rotating the holder to the proper position on the rail is the only adjustment needed. Both holders fit the test pipe well and were not susceptible to inadvertent rotation. Only minor flexing and dissimilar metal corrosion were noted on both rod holders. 

Bottom Line: They get the job done for substantially less money than the Lee’s. That’s why we’ve made them the PS Budget Buy.

The flareless Whitecap has a gimbal pin fitted at its base but no internal liner; it is topped with a white rubber protective cap that extends down both inside and outside the tube.

The two-step mounting procedure—tighten the center hex head bolt with the holder in the desired position, then install and tighten the four stainless nuts and bolts that secure the mounting bracket to the rail or pipe—is tedious. During stress testing, this holder flexed a bit but did not sustain any damage. Little corrosion was noted.

Bottom Line: A good rod holder for the money. 

Before you select a rail-mounted rod holder, decide where you intend to mount it and what size pipe will hold it—doing this will help you determine the best mounting bracket for your application. We prefer vertical mounts because previous testing has shown that most verticals can handle higher loads than comparable horizontals, plus they don’t rotate on the rail when under strain to a position that could cause a fishing rod to go overboard.

If you’re installing on an aluminum rail, use an aluminum rod holder, both for looks and consistency in corrosion resistance. If you’re installing on stainless, go with a stainless steel holder for the same reasons.

In aluminum, the Lee rod holder is our Best Choice; the Smiths get our vote for stainless. Our Budget Buy is the all-aluminum West Marine.









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