Catch more fish with a Downrigger system

Nick  Haralambakis, manufacturer of Magnum Down riggers explains how a down rigger can vastly improve your catch rate as well as your fishing enjoyment.

Much has been written about Down rigging over the past few years and a lot of it, although very useful at later stages of the game, has probably scared more people away from Downriggers than has made them run out and buy one. Essentially, a Downrigger is a device which stores a length of stainless steel cable to the end of which is attached to a heavy lead weight or a "bomb". After your lure or bait has been dropped back the required distance behind the boat, your line is attached to a release clip and the whole lot is then lowered to the depth where the fish are. Simple isn't it? Once a fish takes your offering, your line releases from the "clip" and you fight the fish without any additional devices like lead-core line, paravanes or trolling sinkers hindering the fight with the fish. Because of this, light lines of 2.4 kg can be used with Downriggers whereas you would be asking for trouble trying this with the other devices mentioned.

People will still use lead-core and paravanes and the like, and they will still catch fish, however, you can catch more fish and have a lot more fun with a Downrigger. The beauty of Downrigger fishing is that you can accurately control the depth of your trolled lures or baits, putting them right in front of fish regardless of depth. With other methods such as lead-core, paravanes or trolling sinkers, you are only guessing how deep you are fishing. When Down rigging, in conjunction with a good sounder, you know how deep the water is, how deep the fish are, where your Downrigger bomb id and where your lures are. You can keep your lures within the strike zone constantly and that means that your catches will improve.

Let's look at it this way: Suppose the fish are down at 30 feet, your chances of getting a strike are pretty slim. That's how it is with "on-line" trolling devices, you just don't know exactly what depth you are at. Suppose however you have a Downrigger and you know that your lure dives to five feet. All you have to do then is lower your Downrigger down to 30-35 feet and you are placing your lure within 5 feet of the fish's window of vision. There is a saying that 90% of the fish are found in 10% of the water. You can give yourself that 90% advantage by using a Downrigger intelligently. Another bonus with Downriggers is that when fishing in deep water with floating or suspended weed, your Downrigger cable and bomb will catch a lot of the weed before it gets to your lure and so your lure is working longer in more productive water. One of the most asked questions are why do fish go deep? There are many reasons and some get quite complicated. The main ones affecting Australian fish are:


All fish have "comfort zones". These are areas either horizontally or vertically in the water column where that parameter suits the fish. Oxygen is one such parameter. For example, the comfort zone for brown trout is 13-20 degrees Celsius, for Rainbow Trout it's about 10-18 degrees Celsius and for Chinook Salmon it's about 8-16 degrees Celsius. Temperature comfort zones also apply to native fish and many saltwater fish. The following table can be used as a handy guide as to where to start looking for trout.

Surface Temperature

Comfortable Depth























All fish need oxygen to breathe. Oxygen is put into the water by wave action and air at the surface by plants during photosynthesis under the surface. The amount of oxygen the water can carry on the oxygen "solubility" depends on the temperature and the barometric pressure. Oxygen solubility decreases as the temperature increases as the barometric pressure increases. Oxygen availability also decreases as the water depth increases. In the middle of Summer, many big lakes stratify whereby you get an upper layer or warmer more oxygenated water known as the epilimnion and the lower cooler less oxygenated water known as the hypolimnion. The band in the middle known as the thermocline is an area where there is rapid temperature transition and this is the area around which fish congregate when lakes stratify. 

Boat Traffic

In many heavily fished water, fish will often go deep as the boat traffic increases even though other conditions on the surface might be quite acceptable. 


Most fish will come to shore at night and move out, and deeper, when the sun comes up. This is why fish will often be found deeper on a bright sunny day and compared to a dull cloudy day even though temperature, oxygen are the same. 

Food supply and cover

As fish need to eat, they will go deep to catch baitfish, crustaceans etc. Even if conditions at that depth are not ideal; whilst at that depth where the forage is, they will actively feed and then return to another depth where other conditions might be better.

Many fish, fresh and salt water, have an affinity for cover so this is where they will be most of the time and this is where you should concentrate your efforts. Likely places are: submerged trees, weed beds, rocks, gutters and channels on the bottom and old creek and river beds"¦.

OK so you've dedicated to buy a Downrigger, what next?

Firstly you have to mount it on your boat. The first location most people think about is out the back over the transom. This is alright, however, it is not the best place. The ideal location for mounting your Downrigger is out the side of the boat. By mounting your downrigger this way, you can see what is happening, you can track your bomb much better on your sounder as it doesn't "blow-back" outside the transducer cone, your lines and Downrigger cable are further from your prop. And if you mount a downrigger on each side, your lines and cables are further apart almost eliminating tangles. Another advantage is that it is much easier to set your clips and retrieve the bombs over the side than it is hanging over the transom. Magnum offer several options for side mounting their Downriggers including gunnel plates, rail clamps, gunnel g-clamps and rowlock adaptors. Once you've mounted your Downrigger, the next step is the bomb. For Downriggers down to 20 feet, a weight of 3-5 pounds is adequate, 20-40 feet requires a 5-8 pound and deeper than 40 feet requires weights from 8-12 pounds. The heavier the weight is, the better the release are from your clip and you also get less blow-back (this is when your bomb drifts back due to water drag.) There are basically two types of bombs. The ball type roll over snags easier but are prone to spinning causing tangles and also drag more through the water. Torpedo and fish shaped bombs track better, have less water drag and spook fish less.

Magnum offer their fish-bombs in custom-painted brown and rainbow trout patterns, spawning-orange, deep chartreuse and black. The next thing to consider is how far do you drop your lure back behind the boat before attaching it to the release clip? The following is a guide:

Long drop back 30-50 metres or 100 - 170":clear water, bright sun, calm water, shallow water and shallow down rigging.

Short drop back of 5-30 metres or 15-100":stained water, dull day, choppy water, deep water and deep down rigging.


Another handy rule of thumb is when you add the depth of your lure to the drop back it should equal about 100 feet. For example if your lure is down 10 feet, make your drop back at least 90 feet. If you are down 60 feet, make your drop back 40 feet. Obviously the above are guides only and you will have to experiment in different waters for best results.

Another thing to keep in mind is that lures have more action near the bomb and less action further from the bomb. This means that "touchy" lures can spin-out if they are too close to the bomb and so should be set further back.

Once you've determined your drop back, you then place your line in the release clip and lower your lure or bait to the depth you want to fish. There are essentially two types of release clips: the off the bomb clip and the stacker clip which mounts anywhere on the wire above the bomb. There are several brands of release clips, Magnum offer the button type and the plastic peg type with rubber pad jaws. The peg type is by far the easer clip to use as you simply pinch the line between the rubber pads and then lower the bombs. As more people are starting to use braided lines, a few little tricks have evolved as these slippery lines can occasionally false release out of the clip. The first is to place the line between the jaws of the clip then take a loop over one half and back through the pads of the clip. This essentially means that the clip clamps down on two stands of the braided line. The second trick is to tie a monofilament loop on the braid and then attach this to the clip. This loop should be tied as a sliding knot so that you can slide it along the braid in order to be able to adjust the drop-back.

It's a good idea to have a lead of about 18 inches between the release clip and the attaching snap. This enables you to see bites on the rod after you have loaded the rod in a good working curve. It also allows you to detect small fish which are hooked but haven't released from the clip.

When you're ready to lower your lure and bomb, place your rod in a rod holder, back off the reel drag (threadlines) or put the ratchet on the reel in free spool (overheads) and the lower the downrigger slowly. When the right depth has been reached, tighten the drag knob on the downrigger, then tighten the drag on your reel and retrieve line until the rod is loaded in to a good curve. Be sure not to load the rod too much as this might cause a false release. The main reason for loading the rod is to take out some of the slack line when you get a release. Ideally, Downrigger rods should be 6 ½ - 8 feet long with a moderate action. If there is one other accessory which is almost essential for Downrigger fishing it is the depth sounder. Because Downrigging is such a precise method of trolling whereby you can target specific fish or groups of fish, you really do need the best sounder you can afford as you have to be able to rely on what the sounder is showing as being what is actually down there. Low power/low pixel count units rarely show you the full picture. I personally have a Lowrance computer graph X-16 which I use as my underwater eyes. I also run a Lowrance x-25which I mainly use for surface speed and temperature monitoring and also for high speed scanning.

When eventually you fit it all together, work the water and the conditions by intelligent, boat manoeuvring and lure selection. Don't troll for hours in a straight line or at the same speed. Zig-zag the boat, speed up and slow down so your lures sink (or float) and the dart forward at a different place. If you are running multiple lure patterns, make sure the lures are speed matched one lure out of the pattern spinning out madly can doom the success of the whole pattern. If the temperature is too cold or too hot, slow down - fish will not waste a loss of energy chasing lures when they are stressed.

If the water is dirty consider using scents, fluoro colours and rattling lures. When the temperature is right and the water is clear, stick to natural colours. Try to match the colour and profile of the lure to the prevalent bait fish in the water.

Consider using auxiliary motors, trolling baffles, electric motors or sea anchors/buckets if you have a bigger boat which trolls too fast. If you  still aren't catching fish, play around with lure colours, use dodgers or cowbells in front of your lures, try trolling bait, try a different part of the lake, troll with the wind, against the wind across the wind. Sometimes after prolonged windy periods, underwater currents can set up in big lakes and although your lure might seem to be working fine on the surface, it might be hanging limp or spinning out at depth depending on which direction you are trolling.
Always look at the big picture and you will catch more fish! Finally, a word on a few misconceptions about Downrigging.

Downrigging is not for any particular size boat. You can use Downriggers from canoes and small tinnies right up to full sized game boats chasing marlin.

Downrigging is not a summer thing only"¦ can be down deep when the surface temperature gets too cold in the middle of winter and can be at various depths throughout the year. Downrigging is not only for deep takes. You might be fishing a lake which is only 15 feet deep and the fish are on the bottom. If your lures go down 4 feet, set a Downrigger to 6-9 feet and hold on!

Downrigging is not only for trolling lures. A lot of the time when fish are not co-operating, try trolling mudeyes, worms live or dead minnows/glassies/white-bait (fish as bait are illegal in freshwater and can only be used in salt or estuarine water) and you will get a pleasant surprise, or two or more!

Down rigging is not only for trout and salmon or for freshwater. In the last couple of seasons, many marlin have fallen to down rigged baits off the east coast of NSW. The technique would also be deadly on deep kingfish and yellowfin. Down rigging is not only for moving boats. There is nothing to stop you from anchoring in flowing water and putting down lures or baits on the Downrigger and letting them work in the current. Whether you are targeting big brown trout, atlantic salmon, big snapper, kingfish or striped trumpeter the method is equally effective.

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