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.
Operation of a downrigger
Downriggers consist of four major components, the weight, cable, pole or boom, 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-twenty-pound mass of lead which is connected to the stainless steel cable. The spool is brought up either by a manual crank or via an electric motor.
In addition to attaching a lure to the fishing line, an oval piece of metal or plastic(often hammered or curved for reflective purposes) called a dodger or flasher is often used to attract fish from greater distances. The types of lures used to troll with using dowriggers range from metal "spoons" that are often decorated using color tape or paint, plastic or rubber "squids", tinsel beaded flies, or painted plastic J-plugs. These all come in a variety of colors, finishes, and glow patterns for various fishing conditions.
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 salmon this 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.
The speed at which the lure is pulled through the water has a great impact on success or failure. For this reason fishermen use devices that accurately track speed. Typically, trolling from one to five knots is the range that allows for fish to be caught. This varies from specie to specie as Chinook Salmon may prefer higher speeds while the more docile Lake Trout 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.
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 is useful determining this depth.
Using a downrigger may be hazardous. Many 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 a lighter boat to capsize. It is therefore prudent to carry wire cutters to avoid this potentially lethal scenario.
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 were 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 such as the Great Lakes. They are now used all over the world and catch a large variety of fish.
In the Great Lakes, downriggers are used to catch a variety of species including chinook salmon, atlantic salmon, lake trout, brown trout, steelhead (rainbow trout are commonly referred to as steelhead). Walleye and Muskellunge are also frequently fished using outriggers as it is more helpful to have fishing lines extended to either side of the boat for these more jittery fish.
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