Downrigging is best defined as controlled-depth trolling. The use of downriggers enables the fisherman to place the lure at precisely the depth desired .
Downriggers come in all makes, models and price ranges to suit the needs of just about any fisherman. They consist of a winch, either manual or electric, a boom and a weight and usually 150ft. of stainless steel wire. The weight is attached to a release device which holds the fishing line.
The lure of choice is cast 50-100ft behind the boat and then the line is placed in the release mechanism. The weight is then lowered to the desired depth. The rod and reel is placed in the rod-holder and the majority of the slack is then taken out of the line. Once a fish hits the lure, the line releases from the downrigger and the fight is on.
Downrigging for stripers is especially deadly in the summer months when these fish roam the deeper waters searching for schools of baitfish and trying to hold in desirable water temperatures. While downrigging can be effective year around it is usually more productive during these times.
Downrigging has definite advantages over live-bait fishing at times. It enables you to cover a lot of territory and different depth ranges until a pattern can be established,and you don't have to worry with trying to catch bait and keeping them alive . In high wind situations downrigging can be the way to go rather than rockin and rollin at anchor in high waves or trying to control your drift speed if you are drift-fishing. While downrigging is certainly not the best way to fish for stripers all the time, it definitely is a great weapon to have in your arsenal. I know several Guides who do not use downriggers and I'm puzzled why not. I'm not sure if they don't want the added expense or they don't want to burn the gasoline needed to troll. Whatever their reasons, so be it, but in my opinion they are definately missing the boat. I've seen times when live-bait fishing was really slow, and I would start downrigging and limit out shortly. Vice-versa, downrigging is not always the answer either.
There are many excellent makes on the market today. I prefer CANNON electric downriggers. I have used CANNON downriggers for 12 years now and I've been really satisfied with their performance. While manual downriggers may fit in your budget easier, I recommend purchasing electrics for several reasons. Most manual downriggers require 1 revolution of the crank for each foot of retreival. This can really turn into work in a hurry when you are fishing 20-30 feet deep. Also when a line releases and a fish is on, it is much easier to play the fish while the weight is being retreived by 12 volts than one of your hands (it is a good idea to get your cable up out of the water in case you have a large fish on and he is running around the boat; if he hits the cable with the line he is history). Also if you come up on a sudden rise in the bottom contour and you are running your baits close to the bottom, you can flip the switches on your units and get your weights and cable up in a hurry so as not to snag something and risk losing valuable components of the system.
My personal preference in weight is 8lbs. They are easier to retreive than larger ones and are heavy enough to hold your depths at normal trolling speeds. I have found that the most desirable trolling speeds is usually at 2-4mph. If you do not have the capability to register slow speeds, then usually about 700-800rpm on the outboard will be close enough.
In downrigging for stripers look for changes in the bottom no matter how slight. Sometimes just an old road-bed, gully, ditch or just a small rise or dip in the bottom can be enough to hold fish. Edges of river channels, underwater points and humps, ridges and drop-offs sooner or later will hold stripers. At times the stripers will move out over deep-water (50-100ft) and suspend. Sometimes downrigging can prove really productive on these fish.
A powerful electronic graph is essential to striper fishing. I used the Lowrance X-16 paper graph for years and it is still one of the best available. Paper-graphs have their drawbacks however in that they have a lot of moving mechanics and they have a heavy appetite for expensive paper. I now use Lowrance liquid crystal graphs (X-85) and find these units to be comparable to the detail of the paper graphs with many other benefits such as high speed operation, added capabilities such as GPS, water temp, speed and distance, etc. Whatever your preference in manufacturers, don't skimp on power. If you are about to purchase a unit, go for the top of the line or the one just below. Stay away from the really inexpensive models; they won't do the job needed for deep water fishing.
Once you locate stripers on the graph, run the baits about 3-10 feet above the fish. I prefer 1/2 oz. horse-head jigs with a striper trailer tail. On Lake Whitney, white, chartreuse, and yellow are your primary colors. I will mix up the colors; white/white, chartreuse/white, chartreuse/chartreuse, yellow/yellow, yellow/white, etc. until I know what the order of the day is . Sometimes you will need to experiment a while to see what that is and run your baits at different depths until you find the combination. A floating marker is really a valuable peice of equipment too. Once you locate stripers holding in a school or in a particular area, throw the marker near the area (not right on top of the fish or you will hang your marker) then troll back and forth thru the fish. You will be suprised just how quickly you can get quite a distance from that area once you have marked it. Once you have a fish on, raise the downrigger weight if possible and turn the boat in the direction of the fish and circle him trying to keep him away from the other downriggers if possible and especially if it is a big fish. Some small fish can be brought in without turning the boat.
Other lures can be trolled effectively for stripers. I use Bomber Long A's in different colors sometimes. These lures are especially effective at night where a jig won't cut the mustard and in the cold months. Other lures that have proven effective are spoons, rattle-traps, etc.
Whatever your preference for fish , at times they can be caught downrigging, I have caught Red-drum, Gaspergou, channel-cat, yellow-cat, blue-cat, white-bass, black-bass, sma llmouth-bass, gar, and crappie on downriggers. While downrigging is not the answer everytime, it is certainly effective and can be a really relaxing way of fishing too. Give it a try.
If I can ever be of help to answer any questions regarding downrigging or striper fishing on Lake Whitney, Texas, drop me a line or give me a call.
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