Keep tension on your line

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.

Slack when 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.

Watching the rod tip for hits

The Scotty snapper release system with its extended cord allows you to see nibbles and hits by watching the rod tip. When tension is placed on your line as just described, the Scotty release snap will be tilted upward on its cord. A strike will pull the release downward and will cause the rod tip to wiggle. This rod tip action is also very helpful if you catch a small fish that is not strong enough to trigger the release. You will see your rod tip bouncing signalling a small fish hooked on your lure.

Tracking the bottom

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.

Weight Sizes

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. I like heavier weights because I fish three downriggers on my boat and I like my lines as straight down as possible. My counters read more accurately and I avoid tangles in cross-winds or when I am turning. Six to eight pounds is typical for most moderate depth freshwater applications and ten pounds is typical for saltwater. (see Weight Table).

Speed, Depth 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.

Weight Types and Hookups

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. My preference is an elongated weight but I generally advise fishermen to pick up whatever is least expensive. The shape is not of major importance. 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.

Rods, Reels & Lines

Downriggers allow 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).

Drop Back Leader Lengths

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

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 downrigger weight.

Downriggers and Electronic Fish Finders

Probably the most deadly tolling 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.

Some fishermen 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.

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 Downrigger Techniques
 Buying a Downrigger

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