Downrigger Dos and Don'ts
Certainly, downriggers are not tools most blue-water anglers would want to use all the time.
For starters, I've found that it never pays to fish a downrigger first thing in the morning for marlin and tuna because we simply have too many other things going on. Our priorities include catching fresh bait, then switching out tackle to fish the live bait we've just caught. More importantly, we often capitalize on flurries of action that come immediately after gray light. Sometimes nothing beats that morning surface bite! I prefer to wait until the initial sunrise blitz has tapered off before breaking out the downrigger.
Common sense dictates that if the most straightforward, basic methods produce hookups, you have no reason to complicate that simple approach. Don't pile on unnecessary chores by using gear that requires special attention. Setting up the downrigger and deploying baits take extra time; downrigger cables represent a potential hazard that captain and crew must deal with.
Once the morning's surface activity settles down, I start checking the sonar. Where are the meter marks? Where's the bait? Are predators and prey hanging out together, or are the baitfish holding at one level and the marlin and tuna slightly deeper?
Let the answers to these important questions help define your strategy. For example, if you pull a livey through the middle of suspended baitballs all day while the big boys stay below that level to pick off stragglers, you've successfully hidden your bait within the schools, giving your little buddy down there plenty of time to make friends.
To get bites, you have to put the bait in front of your quarry, and at times marlin and tuna feed surprisingly deep. We've caught plenty of marlin and tuna by running live skipjacks at depths of 300 feet or greater.
Not gathering enough info from the electronics to make a call? Then pay close attention to the weather and natural signs. Do you like staring up at the midday sun with no sunglasses? Bright, clear conditions tell me to send a live bait into the depths - for marlin and tuna, that often means 150 feet or more. Conversely, I've noted that fish tend to stay higher in the water column on overcast days. Even after devising and implementing a strategy, consult your electronics constantly throughout the day and cross-reference the information with your observations of weather and water conditions.
When you finally hook that first fish on a deep bait, don't let the excitement, whooping and hollering cloud your thinking. Remember to pull the downrigger up and out of the water! We generally start pulling up the rigger even as we're feeding the bait at the strike. Once we've given the game fish sufficient time to engulf the bait, we lock up the drag and I hammer the throttles to ensure the hook proper purchase.
Over the years, we've caught countless giant tuna and big marlin and won several tournaments thanks solely to the fact that we took the time and effort to deploy a downrigger bait. Welcoming the downrigger into your offshore fishing repertoire means you'll have another viable option to utilize in your pursuit of our world's great game fish.
About the author: Capt. Josh Temple (www.primetimeadv.com) skippers the 57-foot Maximo (a brand-new custom Dean Johnson), chartering out of Riviera Nayarit, Mexico, consistently catching big fish and winning tournaments. Be sure to check out Temple's entertaining forum at www.sportfishermen.com/board/f276.
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