Deciding On a Downrigger

Posted by  Tuesday, April 30 2013 7:00 am
Published in News & Tips > On the Water > Boating
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DecidingOnADownrigger Cannon
Downriggers allow you to present your lure at a precise depth while trolling.

In order to be a successful angler, one must present his or her lure at the precise depth that a fish resides in. Sounds simple enough, but it can be a difficult task to achieve once you are out on the water, casting away to your heart's content.

This is where the technology of the downrigger steps in. With this nifty invention, you now have the ability to get your lure down to the magical "strike zone" and having it stay putt, ultimately resulting in more fish to fight. The only problem with this scenario is making the decision on which one to buy. A tough task for the beginner, but a piece of cake for those that willing to learn a little bit about the product before entering the store.  

What is a Downrigger?  

A downrigger is a piece of equipment that consists of an arm and a rod holder base, all attached to a spool of wire line that is then lowered into the water. On the end of this wire is a heavy lead weight, which allows your lure, which is connected by a cable release, to run at the appropriate depth. Long winded, I know, but hopefully the prose has painted you a basic picture of what this item is.      

The options for running a downrigger are virtually endless — from freshwater lakes and rivers to the saltwater stretches of the ocean. Wherever game fish can be found, chances are a downrigger will help you fish for them more effectively and efficiently.  

Arm Length  

When deciding on a downrigger for your boat, the options and model types can be quite confusing to say the least. Much of the guesswork of choosing a downrigger can be done away with when basing your purchase on the size of the boat you plan to install it on.      

Short Arm — For those that are running boats less than 15 feet in length, a short arm downrigger is definitely the route to take. With a craft this size, a compact downrigger design with an arm length that falls between 20 and 24 inches will do the job nicely. 

A set up of this type will allow an angler access to the downrigger arm from a sitting position, alleviating the need for standing up during rough weather. (This is also the most common posture for trolling when out in a small boat.) 

Reaching over to change a weight or alter the release is very easy and simple when dealing with a short arm, something that is not always feasible when working with a boom that is more than 24 inches in length.      

Long Arm — For boats that are greater than 22 feet in length, choosing a long arm downrigger model is mandatory. The size of the boom can vary, but the standard length will fall somewhere between 30 and 48 inches. If you plan on running riggers both out to the side and from the stern, make sure to choose the 48-inch booms for each side. (This extra "clearance" will allow lures to remain untangled during the operation of the boat during trolling runs.) For single downrigger placement, any size within the spectrum should get the job done. 

If your boat has a high freeboard, a longer arm will also be necessary. In this situation, the extra length will ensure that the swinging weight will not bang the side of the boat when it is brought up to the surface.      

DecidingOnADownrigger FinnedDownrigger
Winching a heavy downrigger weight can be quite tiresome for deep-water anglers.

For boats that fall between 16 and 21 feet in length, going short arm or long will all depend on the number of riggers you plan to run, the mounting locations and your particular style of fishing. The variables can be great, but for the most part, either of the two models will work under most conditions.  

Manual vs. Electric

Luxury certainly comes with a price, and if you choose to go the electric route, be prepared to spend the extra cash to do so. That being said, for many anglers, choosing an electric downrigger is a necessity, and here are the reasons why.      

Electric — An electric downrigger allows an angler to raise and lower the cable and weight through the simple art of flicking a switch. Unlike the manual downrigger, where "muscle" power is required, the electric variety can be operated effortlessly and with speed, allowing you more time to actually spend fishing.      

Having an electric downrigger is certainly a matter of convenience for most, but there are certain variables that require one. The first consideration is the depth of the water you fish. If you are consistently working in water that is greater than 75 feet deep, an electric downrigger will become invaluable for your day-to-day trolling runs. (Winching and lowering a heavy weight by hand can become quite tiresome after a while!)      

Running multiple downriggers off your boat can also be simplified by turning to electric, as manually operating upwards of six or eight downriggers is almost impossible for most. Also, if the boat you are fishing from is on the large size, electric riggers will almost always get the nod for the ease that they provide.      

Electric downriggers also come with many other perks, (depending on which you choose,) as some can be plugged into sonar units for automatic raising and lowering of the weight, or automatic stopping power when the weight reaches the surface. This feature can be extremely useful for putting an end to the occurrence of banging cannon balls. Some even have internal sonar units that can be "linked" to other downriggers, in order for them to work in tandem as a team.

Manual — Manual downriggers come standard with a hand winch, allowing the user to turn a handle in order to raise or lower the cable and weight. Although not as fancy or spectacular as the electric versions, they still get the job done, and for some anglers, they really are the best choice.      

DecidingOnADownrigger Scotty1099
Small boat owners will find that a compact manual rigger will get the job done more than adequately.

Small boat owners will find that a compact manual rigger will get the job done more than adequately. For the most part, small boats will be fishing small water; therefore the "deep water" factor will not come into play. The manual models for small boats are also more compact and portable, allowing for easy mounting (non-permanent) for fly-in trips or rental boats.      

And lastly, money comes into the picture. For those on a budget, a manual downrigger will always be the hands-down winner.  

Portable or Permanent?  

When it comes to downriggers, the angler has two different options for mounting — portable or permanent. A portable downrigger utilizes clamps that are tightened to the gunnels of the boat, allowing quick and easy attaching and removal. This option works great for those that like to rent boats, or for the angler that likes to adjust the positioning of the mount periodically. They are especially good for the small boat owner. 

It goes without saying that clamp mounts are not as rigid as a permanent mounting brackets and may slip or move if the proper tension is not applied. 

Permanent downriggers rely on mounting plates that are screwed onto the boat itself, or to a makeshift platform that is fitted to the top of the gunnels. These mounts work best for large boats, and especially those that are running more than one downrigger. They provide a sturdy and trusting fit for your rigger, and are the ultimate design for tackling the big water. Before drilling commences, make sure that the clearance and measurements are correct and accurate.  

Rod Holders  

A rod holder is part and parcel of your downrigger purchase, but not all holders are created the same. Make sure that the rigger you buy comes with a fully adjustable rod holder, one that can be tilted into varying positions for the most efficient placement of the rod. Sturdy is the way to go, so ensure that the housing is tough and resistant to scrapes and bangs. The last step to look at is how easy it is to remove the rod. You should be able to pull the rod up and out in one fluid motion, allowing for quick and easy hook sets. If you struggle to release the rod from the holder, the seconds that elapse will most certainly be costly to hooking that fish that just hit.      

As you can see, downriggers can go a long way towards improving your fishing success. By helping you stay with the fish, your chances of connecting are greater...and that is the number one objective we have every time the boat hits the water.

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Last modified on Thursday, May 02 2013 10:31 am
Justin Hoffman
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Justin Hoffman is a freelance outdoor writer and photographer, with a fishing specialty, based in Ottawa Ontario, Canada. A graduate of the North American School of Outdoor Writing and currently a field editor with Ontario OUT OF DOORS magazine, outdoor pursuits with a journalistic approach keep him returning to the field week after week. A well-established freelance writer since 1999, Justin has publishing credits in many North American magazines and web sites. His photographic stock work also appears regularly. In addition to his writing and photography work, Justin is also a Pro Staffer for TUFF-Line and National Pro Staff. For more information visit www.JustinHoffmanOutdoors.com.

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