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July 05, 2011

Go Deep with Downriggers

Fishing with downriggers adds dimension to your trolling spread

Trolling allows anglers to cover large areas in hopes of locating fish. Even when using diving plugs, however, typical trolling efforts barely scratch the surface. Imagine how many more strikes you could draw by putting baits in front of fish rather than dragging your offerings far above them. Get a downrigger (or two) and take an in-depth approach to fishing.

Some downriggers feature adjustable booms (arms); others have fixed-length booms. “The boom must be long enough to hold the weight a safe distance from the gunwale so it won’t swing and damage the boat,” says Dave Maryanov, senior product manager for Cannon downriggers. “Most Cannon downriggers come with booms that you can adjust from 24 to 53 inches. When running multiple downriggers, it’s helpful to extend the boom length to create more spacing in the spread.”

Electric Advantages
While manually operated downriggers work well for fishing depths to 100 feet or so, Randy Ford, president of Walker Downriggers, says there’s really no question regarding the choice of manual or electric: “I recommend manual models only when 12-volt power isn’t available on your boat. Downriggers draw very little power and for a short duration. Any battery consumption is fully recharged by most boats within a few seconds after use.”

Electric downriggers offer a safety advantage when fishing alone or with just one companion. “While one angler fights a fish, it’s risky for the other to leave the helm to crank up the downrigger cable, because the boat might turn or drift. This could allow the cable to become entangled in the prop and disable the boat or damage the finish,” Ford says. “A lone angler can set the hook and simply hit the ‘up’ switch on an electric downrigger, and let it take care of itself.”

One-touch, worry-free cable retrieval comes with Cannon, Scotty and Walker models in the form of auto-stop functions that halt the weight’s ascent at a predetermined point — usually at the waterline, which keeps the ball from swinging around.

The “cycle” function on Cannon Digi-Troll downriggers raises and lowers the weight between two selected depths at regular intervals, which can prompt strikes by imitating fleeing baitfish. The CannonLink system integrates Cannon DigiTroll ­downriggers with compatible Humminbird fish finders. That way, for example, anglers targeting grouper along reefs can use the “bottom track” feature to keep lures a specific distance above changing bottom contours. Note that when using this feature, the angler should closely monitor the rod to pay out or reel up line as the downrigger adjusts to different depths.

The spools on electric down­riggers turn via belt- or direct-drive mechanics. Belt-drive advantages include simplicity (fewer moving parts, easier service/maintenance) and less amp draw than a direct-drive system. “Although the difference is not significant and really doesn’t translate into extended battery life,” Maryanov says.

Maryanov recommends direct-drive as a durable, reliable system. “Belts tend to wear out or jump off the track and need to be replaced,” he says. “Cannon riggers employ a direct-drive system with solid-brass gears. The gear teeth are counteraligned to ensure a positive start and stop — no slipping.”

Ford points out that all Walker ­electric models rely on gear drive, which gives anglers the option to “power down” the weight. “Belt drives must be manually lowered by loosening the clutch knob,” he says. “Sometimes the lack of precise control lets the weight drop too quickly. Lures can helicopter and tangle on the cable, leaving fouled lines.”

What’s Going On Down there?

Downrigger weights, also called cannonballs, typically range from 3 to 12 pounds. As you let out more cable to fish deeper, “blowback” forces the weight farther behind the boat and robs you of some depth.

“A rule of thumb says the deeper you fish, the heavier the weight,” Maryanov explains. “Heavier weights minimize blowback and keep your cable as vertical as possible. An 8- to 10-pound weight is sufficient for fishing down to 100 feet; below 100, a 12-pound ball is more effective; and in certain applications, like very deep reefs, a 15- to 20-pound weight is used.”

Wouldn’t Spectra line’s thin ­diameter reduce blowback? “No,” says Maryanov. “There’s less blowback with stainless steel, because the cable’s weight creates a more vertical drop. Spectra also tends to dig in and bind on the spool. I recommend it only for fishing extreme depths, when increased line capacity becomes a factor.”

Another advantage to cable: Stainless steel conducts electrical signals, which allow features such as auto stop and positive-ion control to function.

Today’s downriggers do more than take baits to desired depths; they can send valuable info back to anglers above. The Walker Temp Pak (compatible only with Walker downriggers) relays bait-level readings to ensure your offerings stay at the thermocline or in your target species’ preferred temperature zone.

Who needs onboard satellite TV when you can get Walker Strike Vision? This underwater-camera system lets anglers monitor downrigger baits rather than simply watch rod tips.

Keep an Ion the Ball

The theory behind positive-ion control says a boat’s motor emits negative ions, which travel through the downrigger cable and repel fish. “PIC emits positive ions to counteract the negative field. In certain situations, such as salmon trolling in the Pacific Northwest, PIC has been shown to trigger strikes,” Maryanov says. “In some other conditions it doesn’t seem to trigger strikes. It’s somewhat of a voodoo science, but when nothing else is working, it can be an effective tool.”

Cannon Digi-Troll downriggers feature adjustable PIC that ranges from 0.2 to 1.2 volts, while Magnum models have a fixed PIC (0.6 volts). “All Walker Downriggers are manufactured to generate positive ions in a range known to attract fish,” Ford says. Anglers who use manual downriggers or electric models that don’t offer ion control can achieve this effect by attaching a Scotty Black Box device to their cables.

Downriggers, like other gear, should receive a freshwater rinse after a day of fishing. To ensure smooth functioning, Ford suggests checking the cable for frays and kinks, and then spraying it and the boom’s end pulley with a corrosion inhibitor.