When downrigger fishing, do you really know exactly how deep you are fishing?
Despite the fact that downrigging is called “controlled depth fishing,” there’s some room for error here.
Say you’re out on some large reservoir chasing kokanee. You’re dragging a chartreuse Needlefish behind a 4/0 dodger. The whole rig’s running 35 feet behind the downrigger ball. On your graph, you notice a school of fish at 50 feet and you drop your weight down to 48 feet so you’ll be just above the fish and in their collective window of vision.
After several passes through the school, you haven’t had a grab and figure the fish just aren’t on the bite.
What’s really happening, however, is you’re fishing too deep. Though your downrigger ball is in the right zone, (you can see it on your graph), your lure is below the fish.
When trolled 1 to 2 mph, standard kokanee dodgers usually swim about 10 feet deeper than your weight. You can compensate for this by running your rig closer to the ball or positioning the weight 10 feet shallower than you normally would. The other option is to fish with a different style of attractor blade. Small strings of ultralight flashers or Sep’s Sidekick-style dodgers don’t sink much and seem to attract just as many fish.
Another scenario that happens all the time: You’re in your little 12-foot aluminum with the clamp-on, hand crank downrigger. You see fish on the screen at 75 feet, so you count off 75 cranks (most of these units have a 1-foot per crank retrieve ratio). But are you really 75 feet down? Probably not. First off, you may only have 100 feet of cable on the spool to begin with. A revolution of that spool when it’s full may equal 1 foot of cable, but when you get down towards the end of the spool, you can’t rely that measurement anymore.
Furthermore, tiny downriggers use light weights – usually about 2 pounds. With even slight increases in trolling speed, the force of the water is going to cause the weight to ride higher in the water column. So, you may think you’re down 55 feet, but it may be more like 50 or 52, depending on how fast you’re going.
One remedy is to use the heaviest weight possible. Another option to look into is the new Power Pro braided downrigger line. Braided line has a much more thin diameter than traditional cable and cuts the water better – thus staying deeper.
The angle of your fish finder’s transducer may also cause you problems. Many late-model fish finders come with kick-up transducer brackets that help to protect the transducer when you hit something in the water. The downside is your transducer’s angle can get knocked back a few degrees after hitting something and you may not immediately notice it. My first clue this has happened is I’ll hit bottom with my downrigger balls when I’m sure they’re a good 5 or 10 feet above the rocks.
Of course, if your graph is sending you incorrect data because the transducer’s not pointed in the right direction, you’re not going to get an accurate read on where the fish are holding. Simply reach over the transom (carefully) and check the transducer’s angle with your hand. If it’s nose is pointing anywhere but horizontal to the water’s surface, adjust it.
Try these little pointers out next time you’re out trolling. In this game, a foot or two outside the hot zone can make all the difference.