Introduced in the 1960s, downrigging is a trolling method that allows anglers to control their depth. Downriggers feature a cannonball attached to a hand-powered or electric winch to carry the fishing line. They help anglers lower their freshwater or saltwater lures to the specific desired depth. Downrigging becomes extremely effective in the summer months when the target fish starts roaming in deeper water layers where the temperatures are optimal for them.
Learning how to use downrigger opens opportunities to find and catch a wide variety of fish more easily. To help you fine-tune your downrigging technique, we will show you how to work with a downrigger setup.
How to Use Downrigger – Step-by-Step Guide
Using a downrigger is as simple as following the 3 steps outlined below. Before you start, however, you need to make sure that your cannonball is hanging over the edge of your fishing boat, near the surface of the water.
1. Pick the Area You Wish to Fish
Approximately 24.4 meters (80 feet) is an ideal place to start. It is always a good idea to fish in an area featuring a fairly flat bottom, with zero obstructions.
2. Slow Down to a Trolling Speed and Put the Fishing Line in Water
Switch the fishing reel to “free-spin” by releasing the drag clicker – this will allow the reel to spin freely, releasing the fishing line. Put the reel in the water and allow it to feed out to approximately 20 feet. Lock your drag clicker to stop the line and then put the fishing rod in your holder.
3. Clip the Release Clip to the Line
Grab your line (beyond the tip) in one hand and grab the release clip on the other hand. Clip the release clip onto the fishing line and then lower the cannonball into the water.
If you are using a hand-powered setup, you will need to do the following:
- While firmly gripping the handle on your reel, release the brake.
- Lower the cannonball to your preferred depth – for this, use the depth counter available on the spool.
- Lock the brake on your spool to keep the cannonball at the desired depth.
If your setup is motorized, the following steps should work for you:
- Flip the switch that initiates cannonball lowering. Watch the counter and stop the cannonball at the preferred depth by simply flicking the switchback.
- Reel up the slack on the fishing line so that a bow exists on the rod.
- When fish strikes, take the rod from the holder. Give the rod a swift jerk upwards to free your line from the release clip.
- Flip the switch to bring the cannonball up while you focus on fighting the hooked fish.
Tips to Help You Increase the Downrigger Setup Success
1. Choose the Right Downrigger
Downriggers come in a range of different shapes and sizes to reflect personal preference, budget, fishing type, and boat style. An electric downrigger setup is convenient for easy gear retrieval and hands-free operation but requires a wired installation and a reliable source of power. On the other hand, a manual downrigger – generally the more portable and more affordable option – is capable of getting the job done but will require more physical labor.
To select the right downrigger model, you will need to consider the available mounting spots and any other gear already on the fishing boat. Whether you opt for the electric or manual, choose a downrigger that is easy to use and mount it somewhere you can access it easily. Otherwise, you will find reeling in a catch difficult.
2. Get the Right Downrigger Cable
In addition to the fishing line, you will have to get a good downrigger cable, to which the fishing line will be attached via the release chip. The 2 main choices are stainless-steel and synthetic braided line cables. Both options have their drawbacks and merits, and your choice will be dependent on where you fish and your preferences:
In addition to being easier to use than the steel cable, the braided line requires less maintenance. Featuring a thin profile, the braided line cable features much less resistance when trolling. Braid does not kink and the synthetic material used in its manufacture does not carry electrical charges, which can be problematic when fishing in saltwater. Its main drawbacks are that it is likely to break if nicked and is susceptible to damage from grit.
Steel cable features a stiff nature that does not tangle easily and it usually transmits an electrical charge that can attract some fish species. Its main fallbacks are that it produces an annoying hum during trolling. Also, it requires more maintenance to keep it from rusting and has to be replaced every year.
1. Mount the Release Properly
The purpose of the release on a downrigger setup is to hold your braided or monofilament line firmly until the target fish strikes and to create enough resistance to hook the fish. You can mount the release anywhere along your wire or between a weight and a cable.
The ability to attach your release at any location makes it possible for you to fish with more than 1 line on a single downrigger cable. Fishing with multiple lines off one downrigger allows you to fish varying depths and increase the catch.
2. Use the Right Line Length Between the Bait and the Release Clip
A common mistake made by people who are learning how to use downrigger is using the wrong distance between the lure and the release. The greater the distance, the greater the drop back will be after the target fish strikes.
Move the bait further from the release to avoid disturbing the fishing through the boat movement. The distance you run the bait behind the downrigger weight will vary depending on the conditions. Locating the bait or lure at a greater distance behind your weight and cable gives fish more chance to re-enter your troll alley, following the fishing-boat passage.
However, running your lures as close as possible to the downrigger weights can eliminate line stretch when you are trolling mono, making it much easier for a hook to penetrate the target fish. This also makes it easy for the fish to pull your line out of the release, allowing you to know when you have a catch on the fishing hook. Shorter leads work better when you are fishing in waters deeper than 75 feet.
3. Add Weights When Trolling Deep
As you troll faster and deeper, use enough weight to minimize the blowback and to ensure that the downrigger cable stays at a near-vertical angle. For most saltwater applications, 10 pounds should be ideal.
4. Control the Trolling Speed
Understanding how to regulate the trolling speed is a critical part of learning how to use downrigger. The speed determines how the saltwater and freshwater lures act below the surface.
The trolling speed varies depending on the fish species you are targeting, depth fished, and type of lure. Typically, trolling speeds of 1 to 5 knots are ideal for catching fish. Use lower speeds to reach greater depths and also to avoid tearing your hook from the bait.
When you increase the trolling speed, keep in mind that the angle of your downrigger cable also increases. If you are pulling multiple lures, ensure that all the lures work properly at your chosen trolling speed.
5. Keep Tension on the Line
Whether you are fishing for catfish in a lake or you are going after fish in one of your favorite deep-sea fishing spots, the mainline will always balloon out to the rear of the boat when it is moving. To eliminate excessive slack, the key is to ensure that the line stays tight. However, allow enough play to ensure that the line does not release prematurely.
Q: What Is the Purpose of a Downrigger?
Anglers use the downrigger to place their lure or bait at the desired depth. The downrigger is effective when fishing using the trolling method. On a downrigger, a clip (usually called the “release”) attaches the fishing line to a cannonball weight. The lure or bait is attached to the release.
Q: How Do You Use Downrigger Release Clips?
To use a downrigger clip, simply clip it to your fishing line. A mark showing you where to clip it on should be available on the downrigger clip. Next, lower the cannonball into the water and stop when the cannonball reaches your desired depth.
Q: What is Downrigger Blowback?
Blowback refers to the degree from the straight up and down that the downrigger ball tracks while at trolling speed. Optimally, when trolling at approximately 2 mph with a 12# ball, the ideal angle of the downrigger cable should be between 30 and 45 degrees. The more blowback you have, the less accurate depth control will be.
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If you know the depth at which your target fish is hanging out, a downrigger setup can increase your chances of landing the fish. In this article, we have shown you how to use downrigger and some of the tips you can use to increase your chances of success. A combination of practice and using the tips above should turn downrigging into a dependable fishing technique for you.