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This week's Feature Blog

Downrigger Savvy

By: Mark Romanack

The Great Lakes at dawn is one of the absolute best times to be using downriggers. Salmon are just some of the fish that are routinely taken using the depth control aid of a downrigger.

If you haven’t embraced the downrigger yet, it’s time to take the plunge. When it comes to depth control fishing, the downrigger provides trollers a leg up with a wide variety of lures and presentations. Spoons, diving crankbaits, spinners, stickbaits, rotators, dodgers, trolling flies, meat rigs, rotating plugs or you name it, virtually all fishing lures, live bait and cut bait rigs can be effectively presented using a downrigger.

​ Commonly associated with Great Lakes salmon fishing, the truth is the downrigger is invaluable for catching a wealth of other species including lake trout, browns, steelhead, Cisco, Atlantic salmon and even walleye, pike and striper. Paired up with the right lures and line releases and there is little an angler can’t catch using a downrigger.


​ A downrigger functions by setting a particular lure the desired distance behind the boat then attaching the line to a release affixed to the downrigger weight. When the weight is lowered into the depths, the trailing lure is presented at depth. When a fish strikes and becomes hooked, the line must be tripped from the release to allow the angler to fight the fish.

​ All this is pretty straight forward, unless the release used to hold the line does not function properly. In short, the weakest link in any downrigger fishing system is the line release.

​ It has always baffled me why an angler would invest thousands of dollars into downriggers, only to “cheap out” on the one accessory that makes or breaks any day on the water fishing with downriggers. A quality downrigger deserves to be teamed up with a quality line release that was designed for downrigger fishing, not a planer board release, modified alligator clip or God forbid an ordinary office rubber band!

Off Shore Tackle has been producing quality downrigger line releases for over 30 years. The key word here is “releases” because no single line release works for all downrigger fishing applications.

​ Off Shore Tackle offers the OR1 Medium Tension, the OR4 Light Tension and the OR8 Heavy Tension Downrigger Releases. The OR1 is the work horse of the line up and is commonly used to target salmon, trout and steelhead throughout the Great Lakes. The OR4 is popular with anglers who troll for walleye, spring coho, brown trout and ciscoes. The OR8 comes into play for trolling heavy gear such as rotators, dodgers, cowbells, etc., or for high speed trolling applications for musky and saltwater applications.

​ What sets these downrigger releases apart are the large rubber pads that hold the fishing line securely without damaging the line. With hard use, eventually the rubber pads on Off Shore Tackle releases will wear out and need to be replaced. Replacement pads are inexpensive, carried by most dealers and can be replaced in seconds.

With the help of a “Stacker Release” an angler can run two different rods/lines/lures using just one downrigger. Off Shore Tackle produces two stacker releases including the OR2 commonly used for trout and salmon and the OR7 which is popular with anglers targeting smaller species like walleye, coho, pink salmon and ciscoes.


​ While most anglers fish one line per downrigger, using a line release known as a “Stacker Release” it’s possible to fish to different rods/lines using just one downrigger. Not only does this double down on the number of lures in the water, it allows anglers to fish multiple depths using just one downrigger.

​ Off Shore Tackle produces the OR2 Medium Tension Stacker Release and the OR7 Light Tension Stacker Release. The OR2 is popular with salmon and lake trout fishermen, while the OR7 is widely used by anglers targeting smaller species like walleye, coho, pink salmon and ciscoes.


​ Eventually everyone who uses downriggers must ask themselves do I need an expensive electric downrigger or can I get by using a more affordable manual model? For trolling applications that are limited to water 50 foot deep or shallower, a manual downrigger is only a modest handicap. When targeting fish in deeper water, an electric downrigger is many times more efficient and worth every penny invested.


​ While many Great Lakes charter boats are equipped with three or four downriggers, the average recreational angler is well equipped with two downriggers. At Fishing 411 TV we use downriggers often, but we also never feel handicapped with only using two downriggers on our boats.

​ Downriggers are necessary trolling tools for the big water angler, but there are other viable options including using lead core, stranded copper wire, weighted stainless steel wire, Monel wire not to mention about a half dozen different brands and models of diving planers. All of these things collectively with the use of downriggers allows anglers to cover maximum amounts of water and also saturate the depths with a host of different lures and or baits.

Sub-surface water temperature and trolling speed probes are commonly used with downriggers to pinpoint desirable trolling water and to also insure lures at depth are enjoying the ideal action. The FishHawk X4D pictured here is considered the industry standard.


​ The size of the downrigger weight used depends on how deep an angler is trying to reach. In water up to 50-60 feet a 10 pound weight is adequate. For depths up to 60-80 feet a 12 pound weight works nicely. When fishing deeper than 80 feet it’s a good idea to step up to weights in the 16-20 pound range.


​ Downriggers are often thought of as an expensive luxury for trolling. Actually, for many types of Great Lakes trolling a dependable downrigger is not a luxury, but a necessity.


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