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Big Jon downriggers Cannon downriggers Scotty Downriggers
The use of a downrigger is called trolling and it is one of the most
effective ways to catch fish. Trolling gives you many advantages, since the bait
is at the precise depth of the fish and modern technology such as fish counters
combine to give you a no-fail fishing method. A downrigger is a braided wire
hung off the end of your boat, and a heavy weight is hung off the end. The
downrigger can be lowered to a certain depth, and a fishing line is hooked to a
release mechanism. When a fish bites, the line is released and you are set to
reel in your catch. More expensive downriggers are equipped with precise
counters to see at what depth the weight is.
The trick to using a downrigger is to have the right amount of tension on the line. As you release the downrigger behind your boat, the line will tend to balloon slightly. Although this is normal, you don't want it to be excessive. The key is to have enough slack to avoid the tension pulling the line from the release prematurely, but having enough tension to realize it when you get a bite; this will take some practice.
Since the line balloons while trolling, when a fish bites there is momentary
slack in the line. This can be compensated for by using a very light rod, and
making a bend in it while the line is attached to the release. When there is a
bite, the rod springs up, and you know right away that you've caught something.
A Scotty release system is helpful when down rigging. When attached, and tension
is placed on the line as just mentioned, the release snap is pointed upwards,
but when released it points down and causes the rod tip to wiggle. This is also
helpful if a small fish not strong enough to trigger the release mechanism is
caught on your line.
You want your leader line close enough to the weight so that when it passes the fish, they don't lose interest by the time your lure gets there. A good rule of thumb is not to fish more then 15 ft. behind your weight.
Six to eight pounds for the weight is typical for freshwater fishing with moderate depth, while a ten pound weight on the downrigger is used for saltwater fishing. Although this weight may look impressive, you must remember that there is never any weight on the actual rod, so don't be afraid to use a larger weight to get you down to the depth you want. When picking out a weight, there are several types and shapes. Lead or cast iron is the most popular material, and there are shapes ranging from simple round weights to fish shaped and torpedo shaped with fins. If you are attaching the line to the release mechanism built into the wire downrigger, get a weight with fins so it will not spin and tangle your line.
The use of downriggers allows the use of very light rods and lines. Light lines make sense so that ballooning out and drag is minimized. High-retrieve reels are preferable for downriggers, and get your lure up fast even when it is deep. A high-speed reel can keep up with a downrigger without a lot of drag and tangling.
Electronic fish-finders allow you to pinpoint the location of schools of fish, and some even differentiate between baitfish and game fish. Some monitors show temperature differences in the water, and where there is an increase it is shown as a line on the screen. Baitfish is usually found on either side of this, and where there are baitfishes there are game fish. Another method is to set the transducer to continuously show the downrigger on your screen, but when using a lot of equipment, this can become cumbersome and you won't be able to view your lure.
When it comes to actually shopping for your downrigger, you have to cater to the size of your boat. Smaller boats will be better off with a downrigger with an arm length of 20 to 24 inches, while larger boats will require 30 to 48 inches. If you can afford it, there are also electrical downriggers available, which is nice when you only have to push one button to bring up your weight. However, these can be a nuisance on smaller boats, so you might have to go with a manual one if you don't have the space. Mounting position also has a lot to do with the downrigger you should purchase. If you can mount the downrigger on the stern or on the side, close enough to the stern, 24 to 30 inches should be perfect. If mounted on the side more then a few feet away from the stern, you might want to consider a downrigger with an arm length of up to 48 inches. This is so that when the boat turns, the wire doesn't scrape the side or the front of the boat, as a short-arm downrigger mounted near the front will do.
If you are just starting out with downriggers, you might want to try going out on a charter boat and seeing first-hand how it's all done. Don't be afraid to ask questions, and then go out and catch your own!