WHAT IS DOWNRIGGIN'?
A downrigger is a device used while fishing using the trolling method, which places a lure at the desired depth. A downrigger consists of a three to six-foot horizontal pole which supports a cannonball (large weight) by a steel cable (generally stainless steel). A clip, also known as a "release" attaches a fishing line to the cannonball weight. The bait or lure is attached to the release so the lure can be presented at the precise depth that Beaver Lake Striped Bass are feeding.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF DOWNRIGGIN'
Using a downrigger began in the early 1900s in effort to increase productivity of fishing in larger bodies of water. One of the more popular models of downriggers is called the "Scotty set up". It was developed by two Canadian west coast fishing innovators named Charlie White and Blayney Scott. They developed this model in the 1970s that used a ten pound weight. It was described as "a good model for finding the right depth at which fish like Beaver Lake Striped Bass are feeding." Downriggers are used to troll and maintain the lure's depth in accordance with the thermocline at which the fish species being sought normally feeds. People began using downriggers in oceans, while others later developed smaller downrigger systems, which are good for smaller bodies of water like Beaver Lake in order to pursue the trophy Striped Bass lurking in their depths. They are now used all over the world and catch a large variety of fish including Beaver Lake striped bass.
Tho the Great Lakes do not support Striped Bass the downriggers are used to catch a variety of other species including chinook salmon, atlantic salmon, lake trout, brown trout, steelhead (rainbow trout are commonly referred to as steelhead). Beaver Lake Walleye are also frequently fished for using downriggers as well as the Great Lakes Walleye population.
OPERATION OF A DOWNRIGGER
Downriggers consist of four major components, the weight, cable or braided line, pole, and the spool. A fishing line is attached to the downrigger cable by means of a "line release." The weight is normally a five-to-ten-pound mass of lead which is connected to the stainless steel cable or braided line. The spool is brought up either by a manual crank or via an electric motor.
Downriggers come in many brands but are basically the same mechanically. I use Penn brand for pursuing Beaver Lake Striped Bass but whatever brand you choose make sure that you buy the swivel mount plate too - they help you in swinging your downrigger into the boat and out of the boat when hooking you line to the clip. Cannon and Penn are the two more popular downrigger brands. I personally have two Penn downriggers, both with 24" booms That I use for striper and walleye. The shorter booms are easier to use, but I have the longer 48" arms for use if I need them so if you want, you can use 48" booms on your boat to persue Beaver Lake Striped Bass and walleye.
You will want to mount your downriggers at the very back corners of your boat in order to pursue Beaver Lake Striped Bass and Walleye. When you mount them, use backing plates and stainless steel bolts. I have even coated my bolts with marine sealant to keep them water tight and sealed.
You still need to spool your downrigger, get a downrigger ball, and a release clip to be complete. Typically you want to spool your downrigger with either cable or braided line. Choose at least 200 yards of 200lb test line. You rather have too much than too little. Next, you need a downrigger ball, the heavy metal ball that serves as the weight to keep your baits down in the water. I suggest using an 8 to 10lb ball - any color for pursuing Beaver Lake Trophy Striped Bass or Walleye.
In addition to attaching a lure to the fishing line, an oval piece of metal(often hammered or curved for reflective purposes) called a dodger is often used to attract walleye and striper from greater distances. The types of lures used to troll with using dowriggers range from metal "spoons" that are often decorated using color tape, to plastic or rubber "squids" that also vary in color.
The length of fishing line between the downrigger release and the lure is known as the "lead" and this varies in length depending on how far behind the boat the fisherman would like to lure to trail. This fishing line is typically between ten and twenty pound test. When fishing for Beaver Lake Striped Bass and Walleye the lead is often quite lengthy in order to avoid the fish being frightened by the noise of the boat's trolling motor. When many boats are trolling in a small area this often results in crossed lines and tangles which are a detriment to the fishing experience so you will have to keep your head in the game when fishing for striper and walleye on Beaver Lake.
The speed at which the lure is pulled through the water has a great impact on wether or not Beaver Lake Striped Bass and Walleye will strike. For this reason when chasing Beaver Lake Striped Bass and Walleye I use LOWRANCE HDS 10 GEN 2 electronics that accurately track speed and contour. Typically, trolling from one to five knots is the range that allows for fish to be caught. This varies from specie to specie as Striped Bass that may prefer higher speeds while the more docile Walleye may prefer a much slower-moving lure. Trolling motors are used to calibrate this speed more accurately than large outboard motors. Trolling plates may be used with larger motors to slow the boat to the desired speed, although some anglers experience mixed results using plates.
DEPTH FOR DOWNRIGGIN'
The downrigger should be set at the depth the target fish are schooling. Different species of fish school at different depths, and those depths also change at different times of year. A fish finder like the LOWRANCE HDS 10 GEN 2 is useful determining this depth.
Using a downrigger may be hazardous. Beaver Lake like many other manmade reservoirs mask submerged trees and other structure beneath the surface. A downrigger's weight may foul on such objects. When such a snag occurs in conjunction with high winds, it may cause smaller boats to capsize. It is therefore prudent to carry a cutting device for severing your line in order to avoid this potentially lethal scenario.
CONDITIONS FOR DOWNRIGGIN'
Downriggers are a valuable tool to use on Beaver Lake when striper fishing. Downriggers are used for trolling baits down in the water column that are layered in different temperatures. It may be 80 degrees on the surface, 70 degrees a few feet down, and 50 degrees on the bottom. Themiddle layers where the temperature drasically changes over a 10 foot span is called a thermocline. All fish will relate to the thermocline especially in winter and summer. in summer they are looking for the cooler temps for refuge from the heat that contanins good oxygen levels, in the winter they are looking for warmer water and refuge from bitter cold. Each species will use different depths within the thermocline depending on what that species likes best. For the prefered temps and oxygen levels Beaver Lake species prefer click here: Thermocline and game fish on Beaver Lake.
These downriggers come in handy when you want to get down to those Beaver Lake Striper or Walleye.
A FEW TIPS
One 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 a striper or walleye strikes, 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. With most downrigger releases, the leader length can be extended simply by letting out more monofilament before it is seated in the release clip. Longer drop back leaders are frequently the secret to more fish particularly in very clear water. I normally pull out 10 or 20 feet of leader but in clear water will frequently use 30 to 75 feet or more. Be careful of twisting with long leaders if you are using lures that spin and very light line. Sometimes even the best swivels will not prevent line twisting.
Six to eight pounds for the weight is typical for fishing Beaver Lakes moderate depth, while a ten pound weight on the downrigger is used for hitting the depths. 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 on the downrigger weight make sure you 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, such as the LOWRANCE HDS GEN 2 Fish Finder, allow you to pinpoint the location of schools of fish, and will even help differentiate between baitfish and game fish. it will show temperature differences in the water, and where the thermocline is, it will be 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 want to spend the money there are also electrical downriggers available that are handy since 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.
Cannon and Penn are really trusted downrigger brands. If you're looking into purchasing your first downrigger than I would definitely recommend you not brake the bank by ordering the most expensive unless you are sure that you will really get the use out of them, the pricey ones do not catch fish better than the reasonably priced ones...your success rate really all boils down to you the angler.
If you are just starting out with downriggers, you might want to try going out on a charter fishing 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!
Trolling is the most effective way to catch many species of fish. A moving bait or lure in the water trolled at the depth where fish are present is the best way to ensure a hookup. The use of modern downrigger technology further improves trolling results. A downrigger is a spool of wire mounted on your boat. A heavy weight is hung on the end of the braided downrigger wire. A downrigger release is hooked to the wire and your fishing line is hooked into the release. The downrigger can then be lowered to precisely the fish depth. When a fish hits, your line is released and you fight the fish on your rod and reel free of heavy lines and weights.
Most downriggers are equipped with counters so you know exactly how deep you are. A fish finder and a downrigger are a deadly combination. The fish finder shows you where the fish are and the downrigger takes you exactly to them.
With the use of an electronic depth sounder you can easily track the contours of the bottom with your downrigger. Set a light clutch brake and wind the downrigger up or down as you change contours. Keep a close eye on your downrigger pulley. If you are hitting bottom you will see your pulley bouncing. A couple of turns of the wheel will usually bring you clear again. If you snag the bottom, stop your boat and backup until you are directly over the downrigger weight. You can usually pull it free.
As you let the downrigger out with the boat moving, you will note your fishing line tends to balloon out to the rear. This is normal, but you don't want it excessive. I like to put a very light drag on my reel to avoid excessive ballooning. I let the downrigger pull out my monofilament as it goes down. The trick is to keep the tension just right to minimize ballooning but avoiding a premature line release from the clip. This takes a little practice.
Most new downrigger fishermen are reluctant to put enough weight on their downrigger. When you have never fished with more than a few ounces, a ten pound weight looks formidable. Remember, regardless of the downrigger weight used, there is never any weight on your rod and reel. I like heavier weights because I fish three downriggers on my boat and I like my lines as straight down as possible. My counters read more accurately and I avoid tangles in cross-winds or when I am turning. Six to eight pounds is typical for most moderate depth freshwater applications and ten pounds is typical for saltwater.
The amount of weight needed on a downrigger is a function of the speed you are trolling and the depth you are fishing. The deeper and faster you go, the more weight you need to keep the downrigger wire at a near vertical angle. I like to keep my wire angle not more than twenty to thirty degrees from the vertical. The tables in the section "Downrigger Weight Recommendations" give our weight suggestions under different trolling conditions. Of all the variables, speed is the most important. Sometimes you will have to slow down in order to reach several hundred feet down.
There are several types of downrigger weights on the market. Most are lead or cast iron. Some are round, some are torpedo shaped and others are fish shaped or round with a fin cast on. My preference is an elongated weight but I generally advise fishermen to pick up whatever is least expensive. The shape is not of major importance. Either lead or cast iron, will ride about the same. If you use release clips which are built into the wire downrigger line or those that pinch onto it, you should probably use weights with fins on them so they will not spin. I prefer a weight with a fin so it won't roll around in my boat. I also recommend hanging the weight by the end and not the eye in the middle. If you drag the bottom you will lose far fewer weights because the weight will generally ride up and over a log or a rock. Hung by the center you are very likely to dig in and lose the weight.
I hope these tips help you in your pursuit of Beaver Lake Trophies be it that big Striper of a lifetime or a mess of Walleye for the table. TIGHT LINES!
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