If you’re an offshore angler looking to enhance your presence throughout the water column then you should become familiar with downriggers. Although there are several other methods that effectively place your offerings well below the surface—such as planers and trolling weights—they are accompanied with lots of guesswork in regards to the exact depth of deployment. Downriggers are precise and also enable anglers to fish with light tackle outfits. While in no way a new concept, modified rigging techniques have advanced downrigger presentation to a new level. While professional SKA (Southern Kingfish Association) anglers wouldn’t dare leave the dock without one (or two), casual recreational anglers can greatly benefit by going deep, too. When used in conjunction with a high-performance sounder such as Cannon’s Digi-Troll® system, downriggers allow you to present baits with surgeon-like precision.
Offshore anglers who put in their time are well aware that during the course of any given day, game fish routinely feed at various levels in the water column. This is especially true during summertime patterns. Other scenarios when deep baits are valuable include when the wind and seas are up and live offerings fished on the surface may be lost in the turbulent wave action. On the other end of the spectrum when calm conditions prevail and the afternoon sun produces a strong glare, your surface swimming baits can be hard for game fish to key in on against the harsh contrast. No matter what the conditions, you should always cover all of the bases by presenting offerings deeper in the water column.
When it comes to downrigger selection you can choose from either manual or electric variations. While manual downriggers certainly get the job done, electric versions do have their benefits. Ultimately, your final purchasing decision should be dictated by your budget and fishing style. If you routinely fish with a limited crew it may be in your favor to opt for the electric style, as the simple flick of a switch is all that’s required to retrieve and deploy your downrigger ball.
Rig It Right
Most downriggers are sold pre-spooled with stainless steel cable, although the audible humming and vibration associated with the steel line can spook wary game fish…particularly smoker kingfish. Because of this many choose to spool with 150lb. test monofilament or braided line. While braid is extremely abrasion resistant, most SKA professionals avoid these super-lines because they can easily slice through monofilament main lines when a hooked fish races through the spread. With a monofilament top shot on your downrigger the lighter line connected to your fish will almost always slice through the heavier mono. While this act will potentially result in the sacrifice of a downrigger ball and associated terminal gear, the fish and possible tournament win will be saved.
While monofilament is much more user friendly, it does have more blowback—the angle of line scoped out to your bait. Another thing you must be aware of is that monofilament stretches when under load and contracts when it is wound back on the spool. This can actually crack a plastic downrigger spool, however due to the popularity of anglers spooling their downriggers with monofilament manufacturers now offer stainless steel downrigger spools.
Like outrigger clips there are several types and styles of downrigger release clips, but they all serve the same purpose—to release the line when a fish strikes. Most downriggers are sold with pad release clips, although many choose to use traditional release clips. The reason being is that with a pad release the amount of tension on your line is not exact.
When talking placement, you can rig your release clip to the downrigger ball or just above the ball. If you place your release clip on the main line you will reduce blowback. Remember that with traditional release clips you must create a loop and twist your fishing line about eight times before placing it in the clip. This will prevent your bait from sliding back any further than where you initially set it.
While fishing a single offering off your downrigger will effectively get the job done, you can increase your odds by fishing multiple baits off the same downrigger. While pre-fishing kingfish tournaments, competitors often stack downrigger clips to see what depth the fish are most aggressively feeding in. Because tournament regulations often limit the number of lines you can fish at once, ‘stackers’ are usually eliminated once it’s game time. There are several ways to stack release clips, but we’ve found the easiest is with a single release pad and longline clip. This technique will only work with a monofilament top shot, as the longline clip will slide on thin diameter braided line.
When stacking clips you want to start by sending out your first offering 50-feet behind the boat. This will be the deepest bait fished off a pad or traditional release clip coming from the ball. Once the bait is rigged to the clip, lower the downrigger ball to about half the depth you plan on targeting. Place your stacker clip on the line and deploy your second bait 40-feet back. Place the second line in the stacker clip and lower the downrigger ball to the desired depth. Remember to keep both outfits in free-spool while deploying.
With numerous ways to rig a downrigger, the bottom line is that this essential tool is crucial to capitalizing on a deep bite. Covering a large portion of the water column is a key to success—just remember that the prevailing conditions, species in your crosshairs and target depth may require adjustments in your rigging techniques.