They were mainly used for trolling larger, deeper lakes, but fishermen realized how effective downriggers are and started using them in both shallow and salt waters. The benefits of owning a downrigger depend largely on how you use it, and much of that comes down to practice. Here are some basic downrigging tips to help you get the advantage over powerful, stubborn fish!
Control Your Speed
Fishing isn’t the America’s Cup, so don’t treat it like a race.
Speeding prevents your downrigger cable from hanging vertically, and thus raises the depth of your lines. It also affects how lures behave, and slowing down your trolling speed helps keep your gear working at its best. Water resistance against the fishing lines and downrigger weight also cause them to rise up, otherwise known as “blowback.” So the faster you go, the higher the blowback.
For example, a 100-foot cable with a 10-pound weight might rise from 90ft to 70ft deep just by increasing your speed from 4 knots to 6 knots. Using a heavier downrigger weight, thinner lines, or just plain slowing down counters blowback.
Monitor Rods and Lines
Always keep an eye on your downrigger, and the rods and lines attached to it.
Downriggers are designed to keep the line under tension with the rod bent, and ready to snap back when they release, but you should still keep an eye on the rod for signs that you’re about to get a bite. Keeping a small degree of tension on your lines prevents them from drifting upward due to blowback. However, putting too much tension on them triggers the downrigger’s releases. Pull your lines up once or twice every half-hour to check for obstructions that could affect the lure’s movement or the downrigger’s release.
NOTE: You can run several lines on a downrigger, but what’s the point if you can’t handle them all at once? Use two lines at most per person.
Manage Downrigger Weights
If you want to fish deeper, you’ll need a heavier weight, especially in salt water.
Downrigger weights come in various shapes, and are usually made of iron or lead. The shape and material it’s made of doesn’t make much of a difference on how the weight performs. However, choosing a weight with a protective vinyl coating helps reduce the chances of damaging your boat. Store your weights in a safe place so they can’t roll around and cause damage while onboard.
NOTE: Be aware that if you have to cut loose a snagged weight, the downrigger’s boom will be under tension and may kick up violently when the weight is released.
Experiment with Configurations
A downrigger enables you to sink certain lures deeper than you’d otherwise be able to without it.
Try experimenting with some new lure-depth combinations to see what works best. Adding accessories to your downrigger is also a good way to experiment with some new methods of effectiveness. For example, a stacker release is an accessory that allows you to run multiple lines at the same time, while an electronic fishfinder improves downrigging accuracy, especially when fishing near the bottom. Consider getting a dedicated downrigger mounting bracket for your boat as well.
Know Your Fish
Learn as much as you can about your intended prey before you head out to catch it.
Research what type of catch you’re fishing for, and learn where they like to shoal and what the best methods are to lure them in. Knowing the habits of a particular type of fish enables you to set your downrigging system more accurately and enjoy even more success. And if you do catch “the big one”, make resetting the downrigger and recasting the line your first priority before you take your “fish selfies” with your latest prize. Preparing your downrigger for the next catch before posing with your new trophy maximizes the time you have active lines in the water.
Like any piece of mechanical equipment, downriggers need a bit of TLC to last longer.
Mounting downriggers on the transom or as close to the stern as possible decreases the chances of lines getting tangled in the prop as you move forward. Make sure the downrigger is mounted to a robust part of your boat capable of supporting the considerable combined weight of the blowback from the downrigger and rod lines, plus the downrigger weight-ball. As for downrigger maintenance, the owner’s manual provides the instructions, but at the very least expect to clean and inspect cables, and lubricate moving parts after every use.