Downrigging 101

Downrigging 101

Downrigging 101

When fishing a big body of water, you often feel intimidated and somewhat afraid, don’t feel bad, those were my emotions too! The mistake most people do is look at a map of the whole lake and start planning the spots you want to hit, there is nothing wrong with that at all, in fact that’s what we should all do, but in reality, most of us try to do too much at once. Instead of looking at the whole lake, cut it into pieces, just like a pie! Concentrate on a certain area, learn it, fish it and master it!

Downrigging can be scary for some, and for others, they call it “the lazy man fishing” I call it “Strategic Fishing”! Why is downrigging so fun? I’m glad you asked! All thru the summer I spend time trolling Lake Simcoe in search of big lake trout, but what I am also doing is using this time to find unmarked shoals, humps and potential jigging areas for summer and winter. As much as we think the lakes are well mapped and we can see every shoal or hump from a smartphone sitting on the couch eating pie, you can always find unmarked areas, trust me, I have found a few in my days and they still produce fish to this day! As much as we like to think we know the lakes like the back of our hand, there will always be that one spot that you found that no one knows about, or at least no one else talks about, in that case, it’s still your secret spot!



The gear:

In today’s market, we have options, and plenty of them. No need to go out and break the bank on downrigging equipment, there are plenty of cost effective ways to get set up which I will share with you. Till this day, I still run a couple of manual downriggers on my boat, that’s right, the old hand crank ones! Of course I would love some electric ones but it’s not in my budget at the moment and besides, electric downriggers do not catch more fish, trust me! Make sure when you find your downriggers that you check the cable for any frays or kinks, if you find any, replace the cable right away. What you will need next are some downrigger weights, the ball that attaches to the downrigger to get your lures to the desired depths you are fishing. The weight of the balls depend on the depths you are fishing, I fish between 50 and 100 feet of water so I don’t use anything less than an 8 pound weight, I do have 10 and 12 pound ones for those windy days but getting yourself an 8 pound ball will work for you in most conditions and lakes!


At the end of your downrigging weight, you will have a release clip, this is where you will attach your main fishing line too. Now, here’s where some people get confused and the most common question I get. How much lead, or line do you put out before attaching your line to the release clip? I have no right or wrong answer for you because that all depends on the day, fish species you are targeting and lure that you are using. Some days I let out 10 feet of line and other days I will let out 40 feet of line, it’s a big difference, I know, but a general rule, start around 10-15 feet and then experiment different lengths as the day goes by.

Once you find your desired length, put your rod on free spool or loosen the drag to allow your line to be let out freely as you lower the downrigger. Once you have reached your depth, reel up any slack line and set your drag. I like my drag to be tight enough that your line won’t get let out as you troll. As far as what rod to use, obviously downrigging rods are the way to go but if you don’t have any it’s ok! Doesn’t mean you can’t go fishing. A medium heavy rod will work just as good, even a spinning reel will work for you. Bait casting or open face reel is ideal for downrigging.

Trolling speeds also vary based on your target specie, if you are fishing for lake trout, I troll at speeds from 1.5 to 2.0 mph, if I am fishing for salmon, I will troll anywhere from 2.5 to 3.5 mph. Always check your bait beside your boat before attaching it to the downrigger to make sure it is running properly.


A quick tip for you as you troll around, drive in an S pattern, this will allow your baits to speed up and slow down depending on your turn, always pay attention when a fish hits, if you got a fish on a turn, then most likely you need to fine tune your speed to a little faster or slower depending on the direction of your turn. Every little detail matters when you are downrigging. Observe, pay attention and repeat!

As you experience downrigging, you will notice that it’s actually pretty fun, especially when success finds you! Don’t be afraid to give it a go, they make downriggers for any size boat big or small.



My 2 biggest tips I give to anglers getting into downrigging are, remember your line lead, that’s the amount of line you let out behind the ball. And for my second tip, it’s speed, don’t be afraid to speed up and slow down, you will be shocked at the amount of fish you will get by doing this! And pay attention to the small details, ok that was 3 tips! Get out there and give downrigging a go, you won’t be disappointed!


Exist To Fish Canada Writer Justin Girard

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