Sure, they’re great tools for fishing lakes in the Dog Days of Summer, when the trout and salmon are holding down deep. They allow you to present your lures at precise depths and then get back to that same section of the water column easily. Handy devices to be sure, but I also think there’s an inherent flaw in the system…
Think about it:
You see some fish on your meter, take note of their depth and then drop your gear down to that zone. Sometimes it’s as easy as that. But other times, you may see fish on the screen all day long and have to scratch and claw for a bite. In those cases, we’ll often blame the moon phase, barometric pressure, wind direction or a combination thereof.
But it may be something completely different. Let’s take a look at what’s really happening down there…
When you drop your rig down to the depth at which the fish are holding, the first thing that gets to the trout is an 8- to 15-pound chunk of lead on a steel cable – your downrigger ball. After that, there’s usually some sort of brightly-colored line release, a dodger or set of flashers and then, finally, your offering.
I think there are times when all that stuff simply turns the fish off. They see the whole aquatic junkyard coming towards them and move off to the side to let it pass. Or worse – they flee in terror. In either case, you’re not getting bit.
So, what to do in those situations? Borrow a little trick from the saltwater guys, of course! Famed Santa Cruz charter skipper Mike Baxter turned me on to this little technique…
When a partyboat chasing rockfish with thirty anglers aboard stops over a school of fish and everybody drops their 1-pound balls to the bottom, it must look like it’s raining lead to the fish. Often, that will scatter the school and the fish never get a chance to see the baits trailing behind the sinkers.
Baxter will set up a drift upstream or upwind of the school, have everybody drop their gear to the desired depth and then let the boat slowly drift into the school. In the current, the baits will swing out ahead of the weights and that’s the first thing that the fish will see. It’s a much less invasive approach and typically results in lots of bites.
You can do the same on your favorite trout lake. If you find the fish are on a skittish type of bite but are concentrated pretty heavily in one area, wait for a little breeze and then get up above them. Set your drift so that you have time to get everything in the water and working properly well before you get to the fish.
Bait is you best ticket here and I’ve had success with a whole host of stuff – nightcrawlers, live minnows and salmon roe to name a few. I also have a buddy who hammers trout on the drift with Power Bait.
Rig up with a ¼ to ½-ounce egg sinker on a sliding rig. You want enough lead to keep your gear as straight down as possible, so bump it up if you start getting an angle in your line as you drift. Add a 4-foot leader and some bait and you’re ready to go. Next, make a mark on your rod 12 inches above the reel and then pull off enough 1-foot pulls to get you into the strike zone. Put the rods in the holders and wait to get bit.
On days when the fish are playing hard to get, this approach is a lot less likely to spook them.