To Set Up and Use Downriggers
Bernie Roell, A-Lure Walleye Fishing Charters, (440)
the most effective way to catch many species of fish.
A moving bait or lure in the water trolled at the depth
where fish are present is the best way to ensure a
hookup. The use of modern downrigger technology further
improves trolling results. A downrigger is a spool
of wire mounted on your boat. A heavy weight (Cannonball)
is hung on the end of the braided downrigger wire.
A downrigger release is hooked to the wire and your
fishing line is hooked into the release. The downrigger
can then be lowered to precisely the fish depth. When
a fish hits, your line is released and you fight the
fish on your rod and reel free of heavy lines and weights.
is a method of trolling that uses a manually powered
or electric winch and weight to carry your fishing
line and lure to a specific depth, where feeding fish
are to be found. While downrigging is commonly thought
of as a deep water fishing technique, it is more accurately
understood as a method of "controlled depth fishing".
By using downriggers
to control the depth of your lure presentation, you
can place your lures at any depth from just below the
surface to 200 feet deep and keep them running consistently
at that depth. So once you've determined which depth
the fish are feeding at, you can keep your lures in
that "feeding zone".
are a valuable piece of equipment for use in both inshore
and offshore fishing. Downriggers are used
for trolling at a prescribed depth just like you troll
baits along the surface. Water is made up of
many layers of different temperature water. These
are called thermoclines. Game fish will hold
in the thermocline that they like best. Maybe
the water at the surface is a little too warm for them
and the water at the bottom is a little to cold. When you
are trolling and you see fish suspended in a narrow
band chances are there sitting just below the thermocline. Depending
on the sensitivity of your Sonar or Fish Finder you
will see an indication of the thermocline by wavy
line just above the fish. A downrigger will allow
you to put the Crankbait, Spoon or Bait at the exact
level the fish are suspended. So lets set up
and use a set of downriggers.
When you begin
to shop for a downrigger it can be very confusing. There
are many different types and sizes of downriggers on
the market. Do you need a longarm or a shortarm model?
Manual or electric? I see some fishermen purchase a much
bigger downrigger than they could ever use on their boat.
Here are some general guidelines.
(15 feet and under) are generally better off with
a small compact downrigger with an arm length of
20 to 24 inches.
(22 feet and up) are generally better off with longer
arm downriggers with booms reaching from 30 inches
to 48 inches or more.
size boats (16 to 21 feet) can go shortarm or longarm
depending on the type of fishing you are doing, the
location where you will mount the downriggers, and
the number of downriggers you want to run on your
In the small
boat, you are generally sitting down to operate the downrigger.
Consequently you want a shortarm unit that you can easily
rig by reaching over the side of the boat. If you go
with too long an arm you will have difficulty hooking
your weights and setting your release. Long arms on small
boats can also present a significant safety hazard if
the downrigger weight hangs up on the bottom when the
boat is being pushed by a strong wind or tidal current.
In severe cases a longarm downrigger could tip a boat
over in these circumstances.
With larger boats
you have a choice of arm length. If you want to fish
two or more downriggers on the boat you probably will
want 30 to 48 inch arms out each side of the boat and
one or more other downriggers straight over the stern.
The longer arms out the side minimize the risk of lure
tangles during turns. They also provide more fishing
coverage. With two 48 inch downriggers out the sides
of a boat with an eight foot beam, the downrigger wires
will be 16 feet apart. This provides a good fishing spread.
Large boats with
high freeboard also need longer arm downriggers to keep
weights from banging against the side of the boat. As
soon as the lead weight breaks the water surface it begins
swinging particularly in rough conditions. A long arm
adds a factor of safety.
with the bigger boat is how you will operate the downrigger.
On larger boats you will undoubtedly operate the downrigger
standing up. Some downriggers are laid out in a way that
makes them very hard to operate from one side or the
other or with your left hand. You should think about
to an electric downrigger vs. a manual there are two
primary considerations. The first is simply convenience.
If you can afford it, its nice to be able to push one
button and bring up your downrigger. However, don't make
the mistake of putting a large electric on a small boat.
You should consider the same size and arm length factors
as stated earlier. In my mind the real justification
for an electric comes if you are consistently fishing
deep. By deep I mean more than 100 feet down all day
long. In these circumstances an electric will take a
great burden out of your fishing particularly when you
consider the heavy weights needed to get to these depths.
or Penn are good examples of quality manual downriggers. They
are both easy to use and durable enough to standup
to use. Better downriggers are equipped with counters
so you know exactly how deep you are. A fish finder
and a downrigger are a deadly combination. The fish
finder shows you where the fish are and the downrigger
takes you exactly to them.
Make sure that
you buy the swivel plate that goes with a down rigger. The
swivel plate will allow you to turn the downriggers in
what ever direction you wish. This is a nice feature
so that you can turn them in when pulling up to the dock
and turn them out when in use.
Where you mount
a downrigger on your boat also has a bearing on the downrigger
you should buy. If you can mount over the stern of the
boat or on the side within a foot or two of the stern
a short arm downrigger (24 to 30 inch boom) will usually
do. If you have a swim platform you will need a longer
boom to clear it. If you mount over the side of the boat
more than a few feet forward of the stern you will want
to consider a longer boom such as 48 inches. The reason
is that as your boat turns a short boom downrigger mounted
forward likely will have the wire scraping the side of
the boat or worse yet near your prop. In this instance
a longer boom will work much better.
Select a location
on the outside corners of the transom (marked in red
below). This will allow room so that we can
use them easily without tangling lines or interfere with
tremendous force on the area that they are attached to
the boat. Make sure when you attach them that you
use backing plates and thru bolt them with good stainless
steel bolts. Also make sure that you use the swivel mounts
that are made for the downrigger that you chose. The
swivel mounts make the downrigger and you will be sorry
if you don't bite the bullet and buy them too.
ball and the release clip. The downrigger ball
is a heavy metal ball with a couple of attachment points
on it. Balls that have fins built into them will
make the ball track straighter.
Most new downrigger
fishermen are reluctant to put enough weight on their
downrigger. When you have never fished with more than
a few ounces, a ten pound weight looks formidable. Remember,
regardless of the downrigger weight used, there is never
any weight on your rod and reel. Heavier weights will
allow lines to run as straight down as possible. Counters
read more accurately and you avoid tangles in cross-winds
or when turning. Eight to ten pounds is typical for most
moderate depth freshwater applications and ten pounds
is typical for saltwater.
and Weight Needed
The amount of
weight needed on a downrigger is a function of the speed
you are trolling and the depth you are fishing. The deeper
and faster you go, the more weight you need to keep the
downrigger wire at a near vertical angle. I like to keep
my wire angle not more than twenty to thirty degrees
from the vertical. The tables in the section "Downrigger
Weight Recommendations" give our weight suggestions
under different trolling conditions. Of all the variables,
speed is the most important. Sometimes you will have
to slow down in order to reach several hundred feet down.
There are several
types of downrigger weights on the market. Most are lead
or cast iron. Some are round, some are torpedo shaped
and others are fish shaped or round with a fin cast on.
Either lead or cast iron, will ride about the same. If
you use release clips which are built into the wire downrigger
line or those that pinch onto it, you should probably
use weights with fins on them so they will not spin.
I prefer a weight with a fin so it won't roll around
in my boat. I also recommend hanging the weight by the
end and not the eye in the middle. If you drag the bottom
you will lose far fewer weights because the weight will
generally ride up and over a log or a rock. Hung by the
center you are very likely to dig in and lose the weight.
The release clip
is a pressure clip that is squeezed onto the line from
the pole. I take the line and pull a piece about
4 inches long and turn it to form a loop. Then
twist the loop 2 or 3 times and put the end of the twisted
loop in the jaws of the pressure clip and set the clip. There
is a set screw on most of the clips that you can use
to adjust the pressure on the line. More pressure
makes it harder to pull out. It is something you
will have to play with a few times to get it set so that
is does not come out every time you sent it down but
comes lose easily when a fish strikes. So now we
have our downrigger mounted and it has wire already on
it, we have a ball and release clip. It's time
to go fishing.
line to the downrigger
time to go fishing. Once you've located
fish on your fish finder and decided on a depth to
set the downrigger take the downrigger ball and attach
it to the wire from the downrigger. Swivel the
downrigger so that it is at a 45 degree angle to the
boat hull. Attach the pressure clip to the ball. Now
rig your lure or bait on the rod that you will be using
for the downrigger. Let the lure or bait out
anywhere from 25-100 feet. Now take the line
and double it over to form a loop. Twist the
loop 2 or 3 times and put the tip on the loop in the
jaws of the pressure clip. Now this takes a little
coordination to do by yourself and it is easier if
someone else holds the pole. Now at the same
time release the wire on the downrigger while the reel
on the pole is in free spool with your thumb on the
reel to prevent back lashes. Let them both out
at about the same rate. It will take a couple
try's to get this right so don't feel bad if things
don't go right the first time. Just try again. You'll
get the hang of it. Trolling speed will effect
the actual depth of the ball. So if I want the
lure or bait at 45 feet you may have to let out 60
feet of wire. That's what the number gauge on
the downrigger is for. You can check the depth
on your fish finder by slowing down and if your transducer
in on the stern will be able to see the ball on the
fish finder. When the bait has reached the desired
depth lock the downrigger in position and set the drag
on the reel. As you let the downrigger out
with the boat moving, you will note your fishing line
tends to balloon out to the rear. This is normal, but
you don't want it excessive. I like to put a very light
drag on my reel to avoid excessive ballooning. I let
the downrigger pull out my monofilament as it goes
down. The trick is to keep the tension just right to
minimize ballooning but avoiding a premature line release
from the clip. This takes a little practice.
a fish hits
Because the fishing
line tends to balloon while trolling, when a fish hits
and pops the release there is a momentary period of slack
in the line. I like to compensate for this by using a
light, long rod (I use 8' to 9' light fiberglass rods
for salmon) and pulling a good bend in the rod tip. When
a fish hits, the rod tip springs upward and helps to
take out the slack.
Grab the pole
and fight the fish but you have to pull the
downrigger up before he gets close to the boat.. If
you do not pull the downrigger when you get the fish
close ,he will wrap himself around the wire and cut the
line so the downrigger must come up.
With the use
of an electronic depth sounder you can easily track the
contours of the bottom with your downrigger. Set a light
clutch brake and wind the downrigger up or down as you
change contours. Keep a close eye on your downrigger
pulley. If you are hitting bottom you will see your pulley
bouncing. A couple of turns of the wheel will usually
bring you clear again. If you snag the bottom, stop your
boat and backup until you are directly over the downrigger
weight. You can usually pull it free.
Rods, Reels & Lines
the use of very light rods, reels and lines. This adds
considerably to the sport of fighting and landing a fish.
Light lines in particular make sense because they minimize
the drag and ballooning of your line behind the downrigger.
For salmon I use 8 to 9 foot light fiberglass rods with
trolling reel seats. I use high-retrieve ratio reels
(3.5 up to 5.0 to 1) and 20 pound test monofilament.
High-retrieve reels are particularly useful with downriggers.
A downrigger gets your lure up fast even when you are
deep. I find it very convenient to have a high-speed
reel that can keep up with the downrigger without a lot
of line slack (and tangles).
With most downrigger
releases, the leader length can be extended simply by
letting out more monofilament before it is seated in
the release clip. Longer drop back leaders are frequently
the secret to more fish particularly in very clear water.
I normally pull out 10 or 20 feet of leader but in clear
water will frequently use 30 to 75 feet or more. Be careful
of twisting with long leaders if you are using lures
that spin and very light line. Sometimes even the best
swivels will not prevent line twisting.
Dodgers and flashers
can be used very successfully with downriggers however
more release pressure is needed to keep the flasher from
tripping the release. One of my favorite techniques is
to use a flasher hooked to my downrigger weight without
a lure behind it. I then set a conventional lure above
the flasher and approximately the same distance back
(see diagram). Some manufacturers are now producing special
attractors designed specifically to be hooked to the
and Electronic Fish Finders
most deadly trolling strategy to develop in the last
several years has been the combination of downriggers
with electronic fish finders. A modern depthsounder will
pinpoint the location of fish and many will even discriminate
between schools of small baitfish and different species
of larger game fish. Once gamefish have been located
the downrigger allows the fisherman to take his lure
or bait to the exact depth where the fish are feeding.
Even when the gamefish cannot be seen on the sounder
the fisherman still has a great advantage. He can see
the bottom structure and often can see a thermocline
or change in temperature as a line across his screen.
A temperature change will often concentrate baitfish
on one side or the other and where there are baitfish
concentrations there will be gamefish after them.
set their transducer so that they can continuously see
their downrigger weights on the fish finder screen. Others,
like me, prefer to mount the transducer tilted slightly
forward so that the cannonballs do not show on the screen.
I prefer this later method because when I fish multiple
downriggers with multiple dodgers and lures I can get
my screen so clobbered with hardware that I can't get
a clear reading of the fish.
Downriggers and Boatered.com (Captain
David T. Tilley)