Downriggers allow anglers to troll with fishing lures and baits up to 400 feet deep. As a charter captain, I have used downriggers to catch salmon, wahoo, king mackerel, halibut, rockfish, lingcod, and sharks. I have used both electric and manual downriggers. In the great lakes, I have used downriggers to catch king salmon, coho salmon, and lake trout. In deep lakes, downriggers are often frequently used to catch walleye. The trolling speed, type of lure, and depth of lines all change base on what fish is being targeted. The concept of how to use a downrigger is the same though, no matter what fish you want to catch.
Sometimes I stack two poles on each downrigger to get more lines set deep. The deepest I have caught salmon at with a downrigger is 240 feet. It is not uncommon for recreational and charter fishermen to catch fish down 300 feet with a downrigger. Commercial fishermen use hydraulic downriggers to set lines to around 600 feet. A lure can be set on commercial fishing downrigger lines every six feet although nine feet is more common.
In this article, I will review the best electric and manual downriggers commonly used for recreational and charter fishing. The first decision you will have to make is whether you want to buy an electric downrigger or a manual downrigger. Then you will need to decide if you want to spool it with wire or braided line. I will also discuss the best downrigger release clips and stacker clips. I have used most of this gear and if this article is read carefully you will get all the equipment needed to catch monster fish in deep water!
There are two dominant companies that make up the majority of the downrigger market. The first is Cannon downriggers. This is a Wisconsin-based company that is right on Lake Michigan. If you fish the great lakes on tge east coast of the United States Cannon downriggers are the most popular brand. Scotty downriggers are based out of British Colombia on the west coast of Canada. If you fish in the Pacific North West in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, or California Scotty downriggers are the most popular. Fishing gear is very region-specific which is actually quite strange. It is actually a good idea to stick with the geographic norms because there are more service shops in the area when things break. Going to a service shop is much easier than mailing a downrigger for routine maintenance or repair.
Here Are The Best Downriggers
1. Scotty High-Performance Downrigger
Estimated Price: $820-$1,124
Scotty High-Performance Downriggers have a 36-60 inch telescoping boom. The ascent speed is 260 feet per minute with a 20-pound weight. The 2106 model comes with 300 feet of 180-pound stainless steel line, while the 2106B comes spooled with 300 feet of 250-pound braided line. These are the same downrigger they just come spooled differently. There is also a Scotty High-Performance 2116 propack model that comes with a base that holds two stainless steel rocket launchers. Which is nice if the boat lacks extra rod holders.
Last season I had a braided line on both of my downriggers. The cable has slightly less resistance going through the water and therefore has less blowback. Blowback is the ball getting pushed behind the boat because of drag. Using heavier weights helps to reduce blowback. I would run 15-pound downrigger weights and had no problem fishing at 240 feet at troll speed around two knots. If you are going to troll faster and deeper running wire is probably the better option.
The reason an electric downrigger is better than a manual is that when a fish is hooked a knob is rotated and weight ascends to the surface. If the line is not brought to the surface the fish will likely get tangled in the downrigger line. Having the downrigger come up on its own allows the angler to focus on catching the fish. If the lines are set 60 feet and above having a manual downrigger works pretty well. Once lines are set deeper than 60 feet it is really nice having an electric downrigger.
The part I like best about Scotty electric downriggers compared to cannon is being able to control the descent speed with the handle and clutch break. This means that I can send it down slow at first and quicker once the gear is at depth. This is especially helpful when a fish is marked and the bait can be adjusted quickly. With the cannon electric downriggers, a button is pushed and there is only one decent speed. The decent speed can be adjusted but not continuously. All manual downriggers have a handle with a clutch brake operation.
This downrigger with the Fish Hawk X4D is exactly what I would buy if I was running a charter fishing company. It is top-of-the-line gear and provides all the information needed to give the anglers the best chance of catching fish.
I used two of these downriggers that were a few years old and only had one break during the 5-month season in Alaska. It broke after hanging up on the bottom. These do have a built-in circuit breaker that will stop the downrigger from working if the downrigger is hung up on the bottom or is lifting heavy weeds or kelp. The internal circuit breaker resets after 15 seconds. The downrigger should also be wired on an external circuit breaker with a 30 amp fuse. The fuse tripping is not uncommon as catching the bottom or lots of weeds is bound to happen from time to time when fishing.
For charter operations, we always have a backup downrigger on the boat though. These downriggers are not perfect but are the best electric downriggers that I have used. Scotty downriggers also come with a limited lifetime warranty. It is always good to have backup weights, cable, and release clips on the boat also in-case a line breaks.
Here is a video I made on how to use downriggers.
2. Cannon Optimum Downrigger
Estimated Price: $1750
This is the top-of-the-line downrigger from Cannon. If money was not a factor and the boat had space for large downriggers this would be the ultimate setup. This downrigger has an ascent speed of 250 feet per minute with a 20-pound weight. This downrigger has a 24-53 inch telescopic boom. The line depth and other data are displayed on a 3.5-inch LCD display. This downrigger comes pre-spooled with 400 feet of 150-pound stainless steel cable. This cannon downrigger does come with a limited lifetime warranty.
Advanced features include the One-Boat Network. This wireless network allows up to 4 downriggers to communicate and share data which can all be transmitted to a smartphone or tablet. It also allows for data to be shared with the Fish Hawk system. Data can also be shared with newer hummingbird fish finders. However, I do not think having my downrigger data on the fish finder would be enough to make the switch to a hummingbird fishfinder.
My favorite feature of this downrigger is bottom tracking. I talked to a guy fishing a super fancy boat and he loved it. The wireless technology allows the data to be sent to his iPad where he controlled his downriggers. He said he had his chrome flashers just scraping the gravel and that was the key to catching more fish. You still have to pay attention to what is going on, especially when the lines come up with auto-tracking because the slack needs to reel in on the line. The drag can be set fairly loose to allow the line to be pulled out when the downrigger goes deeper.
Bottom tracking only works if the additional Cannon transducer is installed. With the transducer installed it will track the bottom based on the depth given by the sonar. This depth value will often be negative or below the ground to get the downrigger weight close to the bottom. This is because the line counter depth shows how much line has been let out which does not account for blowback. The most accurate way to bottom track is to additionally get the Fish Hawk system which will give the true depth of the ball.
The last feature I will talk about is positive ion control. There are plenty of people that swear by adding a positive voltage to their downrigger cable. Usually between .45 and .75 volts. This downrigger has this feature built-in and is fully adjustable. This is similar to the Scotty black box positive voltage control system. These systems only work with wire cables, not a braided line. Some people use a downrigger with snubbers to connect the weight to remove most electrical noise traveling down the wire. All boats have some type of electrical output into the water. Some are actually favorable and some are not. These details are overlooked by many fishermen. If you stopped catching fish near the boat there could actually be a battery or grounding issue on the boat.
3. Cannon Uni Troll Manual Downriggers
Estimated Price: $314-$380
The Uni Troll Series manual downriggers by Cannon are very popular and well-built downriggers. This telescoping Uni Troll model has a stainless steel boom that extends from 24 to 53 inches. It comes with a swivel base which is actually a $70 option on other models. This downrigger comes pre-spooled with 200 feet of 150-pound steel cable and can be used with up to 20-pound downrigger weights. The depth is displayed with a three-digit analog display. The retrieval speed is two to one which means that one turn of the handle moves the spool to revolutions which brings up two feet of line. The weight descends by pulling back on the handle which released the clutch mechanism.
The advantage of using a manual downrigger is that a power source is not required. The design is also simpler and there are fewer parts to break which makes their downriggers very sturdy. The extendable boom is mostly useful to keep the downrigger line from hitting the boat or motor prop when making a turn.
In general, extending the boom is a pain because it makes it t is more difficult to put the fishing line on the release clips. There are downrigger weight retrievers available that are used to pull the weight close to the boat. Sometimes in strong currents, if the boom is not extended turns are not possible and gear needs to be reset for each drift. This can even happen with extendable booms. Most days I do not extend the booms on my downriggers but if I see the line is getting near the boat or prop is great to have the option to extend the boom.
The swivel base is a must so the downrigger can stay mounted on the boat all the time. Some bases are fixed and the downrigger needs to be removed when docking. A swivel base can also help get the weight out of the way when netting a fish. The better way to get the weight out of the way when netting fish is with a downrigger weight retriever. The weight retriever prevents the weights from swinging and hitting the side of the boat.
In this picture, my Dad is holding a small king salmon. We are fishing with two Cannon Uni Troll manual downriggers and stacking two lines on the starboard side downrigger. This is an 18-feet boat and on calm days we could still get out there and catch as many fish as the big boats. This is actually fall fishing in Lake Ontario New York for king salmon, coho salmon, steelhead, and lake trout.
4. Scotty Manual Downrigger
Estimated Price: $218
This Scotty 1060 manual downrigger has a 23-3/4 inch stainless steel boom. Scotty does make a similar 1050 depth master but the retrieval rate is 1 foot per turn while this 1060 model retrieval rate is 2 feet per turn. This downrigger comes pre-spooled with 200 feet of 15o pound test stainless steel cable. The boom has an adjustable rodmaster II rod holder. Pulling back on the clutch handle released the large clutch brake and descends the line. There is also a Scotty Strongarm 1085 which has a 30-inch boom
Crank handles on Scotty manual downriggers are horizontal. Cannon downriggers have verticle crank handles. I prefer and vertical handle but both work well. Some charter boats use this manual downrigger. Electric downriggers are definitely better for people who fish every day. Manual downriggers are great for people who fish for fun and have other people on the boat that can help run the equipment.
5. Scotty 1106 Electric Downrigger
Estimated Price: $647-$675
The Scotty 1106 has a 36-60 inch telescopic boom. This is a time-proven sturdy downrigger that actually has some advantages to its high-performance rival. The 1106 model has a retrieve speed of 203 feet per minute with a 15-pound weight. This is less than the 295 feet per minute of the high performance but the 1106 model uses 1/3 the battery draw. The weight limit for this downrigger is 15-pounds. When fishing above 240 feet 15-pound is all the weight that should be needed. There is an 1116 model which is this same downrigger but with two built-in rod holders. The 1106B is the same downrigger but comes pre-spooled with 300 feet of 200-pound braided line. All the Scotty downriggers come with a limited lifetime warranty.
I have used this downrigger for charters in Alaska. It gets the job done and is the best option for most recreation anglers in my opinion. It is the most purchased and therefore the most popular Scotty downrigger. This has the lowest amperage draw of any electric downrigger on the market which is great for when electric power availability is an issue. It comes with a 360-degree swivel base that locks in 12 positions.
I am stacking two poles in the picture using a Scotty high-performance electric downrigger. The deep fishing rod is in the downrigger rod holder. The shallow rod is in the holder toward the stern of the boat. Typically I stack lines 30 feet apart on the port side of the boat and track bottom on the starboard side of the boat.
6. Scotty 1101 Electric Downrigger
Estimated Price: $558
The Scotty 1101 model is basically the 1106 model but has a 30 inch fixed boon rather than a telescopic boom. It is nice to have the option of a telescopic boom but as said before I rarely extend the boom. A 30-inch boom gets the line pretty far away from the boat. This is a good option if the downrigger will be mounted in a way that the line will not be near the props or able to rub on the side of the boat. The lower the boat sits in the water the less likely the line is to rub on the boat or hit the prop.
7. Cannon Magnum STX Tournament Series Electric Downrigger
Estimated Price: $800
Cannon Magnum Series downriggers are very large and have a telescopic boom that extends from 24 to 53 inches. The spool comes pre-rigged with 250 feet of 150-pound stainless steel cable. When a 20 pound weight is used the retrieval speed is 250 feet per minute. This downrigger might be cheaper using the link for Mangum serries downriggers below.
As discussed in detail with the cannon optimum this has positive ion control which sends a small voltage down the downrigger wire which helps attract fish. This downrigger also has a shortstop feature that retrieves the ball to the waterline with the push of a button. The downrigger is set to stop when the line counter goes to zero feet and downrigger beads are not needed like they are with Scotty downriggers. Pre-set stop points can also be set. This is nice because downrigger balls do get lost when the bead does not work or slides on the line which can happen with Scotty electric downriggers.
Downrigger Tip: The image above shows the setup I would always run on the starboard side of the boat to track the bottom with. A 15-pound downrigger weight is attached to the downrigger line. There is a metal chrome flasher tied two feet behind the ball. About two feet above the ball I would connect a commercial-style stacking clip. These work with braided or steel cables. The bait which is a herring is placed about 6 feet back from the release clip. This setup helps attract fish with a flasher and gives the best action to the bait.
8. Cannon Magnum Series Electric Downriggers
Estimated Price: $470 – $900
The Magnum 10 STX with Rod Holders: This downrigger has very similar specs to the tournament series magnum described above. It additionally this downrigger has two aluminum adjustable rod holders. These rod holders are mounted between the swivel base and mounting bracket. The entire rod holder fixture can be removed if the rod holders are not needed. The Downrigger has a 24-53 telescopic boom, positive ion control, a 250 feet per minute retrieval rate and is rated for up to 20 pounds of weight.
The Magnum 10 STX: This is the same downrigger but does not has one build-it rod holder rather than two custom rod holders.
The Magnum 5: This is the same downrigger but has a 24-inch fixed boom rather than a large telescoping boom. If the telescoping boom is not needed this is a great value for a powerful electric downrigger.
The picture above shows a Cannon Mag20DT. This is the older model of downrigger but gives a good representation of the size of the magnum downriggers mounted on a boat. The Mag20DT also had the 24-53 telescopic boom with a similar size profile. Interestingly this downrigger is set up with a downrigger weight snubber which would likely reduce the positive ions near the bait.
9. Cannon Digi Troll 10 Electric Downrigger
Estimated Price: $1,200-$1,970
The Cannon Digi Troll 10 has very similar features to the cannon optimum with the exception of wireless integration. This downrigger can incorporate the Cannon Intelli Troll system which can provide temperature, depth, and speed ratings at the ball. Fish Hawk described previously is a similar system but this is the canon version and does not have a wireless option.
This downrigger comes with 400 feet of 150-pound stainless steel cable. The telescopic boom extends from 24 to 53 inches. When a 20-pound weight is used the line retrieve speed is 250 feet per minute.
Advanced features include a bottom track, soft stop, positive ion control, and two dual-axis rod holders. The bottom track requires an additional transducer that is sold separately. This downrigger is compatible with the Cannon Link Fishing system which is also sold separately and allows control of the downrigger from Humminbird fish finders.
There is a Digi Troll 10 tournament series option available with a stainless steel spool painted white.
10. Cannon Digi Troll 5 Electric Downrigger
Estimated Price: $800-$1,550
The Digi Troll 5 downrigger is similar to the Digi-Troll 10 except it does not have a depth cycle, bottom track, and adjustable speeds. The big one here is not having bottom track. If you are not planning to get the additional transducer and Inteli troll system this would be a lower-cost option compared to The Digi Troll 10.
This downrigger does have a soft stop feature and positive ion control. The telescoping boom extends from 24-53 inches. This comes pre-spooled with 400 feet of 150-pound test stainless steel cable. The weight capacity is 20 pounds and the retrieval speed is 250 feet per minute.
11. Seahorse Manual Downrigger
Estimated Price: 460-$635
The Seahorse Manual Downriver is actually quite popular on offshore fishing boats in Florida and the Caribbean. Cannon and Scotty dominate the market on the Great Lakes and Pacific Northwest. However down in Florida, you will see lots of seahorse downriggers. This is likely because the company is based out of Florida. Also, this is a sturdy downrigger that is a good alternative to planers as lines can be set much deeper.
This downrigger gimbals mount allows it to be used on the boat with mounting or drilling holes. It can be found at a lower price if the mount does not swivel or if the gimbal mount is not included. Typically it is spooled with 200 feet of multi-strand cable but a braided line can also be used.
12. Scotty 1060 Compact Manual Downrigger
Estimated Price: $220
This Scotty Compact downrigger has a clamp-on bracket that can be used to clamp directly onto the boat. The traditional Scotty mounting bracket does also work for this downrigger. It is called the master pack when it comes with the mounting clamp. The downrigger comes with 200 feet of 150-pound stainless steel cable. The line is retrieved at a rate of one foot per turn. The boom length is 23 inches and it comes with a boom-mounted rod holder. When you do not want to install a permanent mount for a downrigger this is a great option. John-boats, cannons, and kayaks are the typical vessels this downrigger is used with. A limited lifetime warranty comes with this downrigger.
13. Cannon Mini Troll Manual Downrigger
Estimated Price: $100-$112
The Cannon mini troll downrigger comes pre-spooled with 100 feet of 120-pound test stainless steel cable. It has a 2 1/2 inc C-clamp base. This downrigger has a weight capacity of 4 pounds. That is not much in terms of downriggers but is way more weight than you would want to reel up on a fishing pole. This is a common downrigger used for canoes, kayaks, and john-boats.
When fish are being targeted in less than 100 feet of water from small watercraft this is a great option. Even though it is small this is still a great way to consistently get baits set down deep. This is a cannon downrigger but has a horizontal reel/brake setup similar to Scotty manual downriggers. The horizontal reel makes the downrigger more compact and portable. The depth counter is connected to a pulley wheel on the end of the boom and has a similar appearance to a compass gauge.
14. Walker Mini Lake Manual Downrigger
Estimated Price: $120
The Walker Mini Laker downrigger has a 12-inch anodized boom. It retrieves the line at a rate of 1 foot for each turn of the handle. The weight capacity for the downrigger is 6 pounds. The cable that is included is 100 feet long and 195-pound test. Also included is a terminal release clip.
This downrigger is set up with a threaded clamp that fits on gunnels or brackets up to 2-2/4 inches. A rod holder is mounted to the downrigger. There is a one-year manufacturer warranty from the date of purchase.
15. Cannon Lake Troll Manual Downrigger
Estimated Price: $160
The lake troll downrigger has an 18-inch polymer boom. It comes pre-spooled with 10 feet of 135-pound stainless steel cable. It has a verticle clutch breaking system and crank handle. The base is a quick-mount tab-lock fixture. The downrigger is meant to be portable and taken off the mount before docking at the end of the fishing trip. This has an analog depth gauge at the end of the boom. This downrigger comes with a limited lifetime warranty. This downrigger is rated for an 8-pound weight. If you are fishing in under 100 feet of water at slow troll speeds this downrigger will get the job done.
16. Cannon Uni Troll STX Tournament Series Manual Downrigger
Estimated Price: $400-$625
This is the same Uni Troll downrigger model shown in option 3. The Uni Troll tournament series is painted white and has a stainless steel spool. The steel spool is said to allow for monofilament use. I do not know when monofilament would be the best line option unless it was being used as a commercial fishing reel. This downrigger comes pre-spooled with 200 feet of 150-pound stainless steel cable.
17. Cannon Uni Troll 5 Manual Downrigger
Estimated Price: $287
This is the same as the other Uni Troll Models with two exceptions. The Uni Troll 5 has a fixed 20-inches boom length. Also, it has a base that does not swivel. The low-profile swivel base would cost an additional $70 and is sold separately. In the picture below I am using this same style downrigger to catch salmon in Lake Ontario.
Cannon Downrigger Ball Weights
These vinyl-coated downrigger weights are awesome. They come in weights from 4 pounds to 16 pounds. The most common downrigger weight is probably 12 pounds. This works well for troll speeds under 4 knots and depths under 120 feet. When fishing deeper than 120 feet I would recommend getting the 16-pound downrigger weight as long as the downrigger being used is rated for that much weight. I have regularly caught salmon at 240 feet on the line counter using down using a 15-pound downrigger ball. The bait was probably at 220 feet after accounting for blowback of the line.
Downrigger Terminal Kit
This is a terminal kit with crimps for a 150-pound stainless steel cable. The rubber stop and swivel will still work if the braided line is used. I like to add two ore more rubber stops before the swivel. The stops allow some give if the downrigger weight comes all the way up and hits the downrigger. Without the rubber stops the line will likely break and the downrigger ball will be lost. This could also damage the internal and external parts of the downrigger.
Downrigger Weight Snubber
The rubber snubber is placed between the downrigger line and the weight. This helps absorb shock and provides electrical insulation near the bait. The electrical insulation would not be good if the downrigger is providing positive ions from the downrigger or the Scotty black box system. Braided lines and steel cables are not stretchy materials. Adding the snubber allows some much-needed give to the system if the weight gets snagged on the bottom.
Downrigger Release Clips
This is the downrigger release that I would recommend using. This is a Scotty downrigger release and the swivel connects to the downrigger ball and the line gets placed in the yellow end of the clip. The further the line gets placed in the clip the more tension it takes to pull the line out of the clip. There is also a back-slider piece that when pushed back increased the tension of the clip.
Cannon makes a black release clip and a red release clip. The red clip offers quite a bit of tension and the black one is a very light tension release clip. I would not recommend using the black clip. If that is the only one available the tension can be increased by doubling up the line and twisting it before putting it in the clip. If lots of tension is needed there are outrigger-style release clips that have a knob to adjust the tension. These clips can be tightened so much the line will not even release.
Downrigger Stacker Clips
The stacker clips shown above are the ones I had on my boat this year. The black clips are too light and I do not recommend buying them. The red cannon clip with the Scotty release is one I made and worked well. The easiest way to stack a second line is the Scotty release with the commercial clip. The commercial clip goes on the downrigger line and the fishing line goes in the downrigger release. The second stacker line is typically clipped 20 or more feet above the ball. For salmon fishing, I always stack the second line 30 feet above the downrigger ball. This covers different depths of water and helps prevent the lines from getting tangled.
Scotty Downrigger Stacker Clips
This is the same downrigger stacker clip I showed in the picture above. This clip comes with an 18-inch line but I make it so the line is about 6-inches long. The 18-inch length would be fine when stacking but I also use this to set the bottom line when a flasher is used on the downrigger ball. I show a demonstration of that in the, how to use downriggers video shown previously. The commercial-style clip works on a wire or braided downrigger line. There is now a Scotty mini PowerGrip plus release clip with smaller clips for a slimmer profile.
Downrigger Stopper Beads
These downrigger stopper beads are used with Scotty electric downriggers. When the bead goes through the mechanical slide the downrigger stops. The downrigger ball should just barely be out of the water when the downrigger stops. These can also be used at mid-depth points to stop the downrigger when two lines are stacked on a single downrigger.
Downrigger Weight Retriever
Downrigger weight retrieval systems help pull the downrigger line close to the side of the boat. This is helpful when placing lures in the clips, placing stacking clips on the line, cleaning the line, and retrieving the downrigger ball to bring it back into the boat. Having a weight retrieval system is important when using an extended downrigger boom. Having an extended booms allows for further lure separation but most importantly allows for the downrigger line to not rub on the boat when making turns or when fishing in a strong current. Also using the retriever makes it so you are not leaning over the side of the boat where you could possibly fall overboard.
The downside to using the weight retriever is that the downrigger line is always running through the yellow disk. I think this would be annoying so I do not personally use them. You can leave the yellow disk near the ball when not using them. Then if there are adverse conditions just clip the line onto the yellow disk attachment and use them. The alternative is to extend the booms each time they are used. Also, a swivel mount allows the line to be brought close if the downrigger line is hard to reach. That being said I rarely extend the downrigger booms and just lean over the side of the boat when setting the downrigger.
Gimbal Rod Holder Downrigger Mount
The Scotty gimbal rod holder downrigger mount holds a downrigger using the rod holder of the boat. Many anglers do not want to drill holes in the boat to mount a downrigger. Especially if it is only used occasionally. These mounts allow a downrigger to be quickly added and removed from a boat. There are two size options. The 1028 mount is a 9 -inch version with a 1-1/2 inch tube. A larger 1029 mount is a 12-inch version with a 1-3/4 inch tube. This works with Scotty downriggers and Bass Pro Shops has the Cannon downrigger rod holder mounts.
Fish Hawk X4D Downrigger System
Estimated Price: $750
The Fish Hawk X4D system is the best system on the market to determine the temperature, depth, and speed at the downrigger ball. The transmitter wirelessly sends sonar signals to the transducer that is mounted to the back of the boat. The transmitter is powered with 4 AA batteries which last for about 100 hours of use. The device is water activated so there is no worry about turning the device on or off. The transducer also provides the surface temperature of the water.
The transducer in the FishHawk X4D is mounted to the bottom of the boat which is different than the Fish Hawk X2 which has a slip connection that placed a small wireless transducer onto the downrigger line. Both have advantages and disadvantages but the FishHawk X4D is easier to use once setup. The X4D also sends the data over BlueTooth to other devices which can be very helpful. This signal provides a more accurate depth reading which can be incorporated into the bottom track features of downriggers.
If you never had this data before you do not know what you are missing out on. Once people have this data it makes fishing without it seems like luck, not strategy and skill. This Fish Hawk system will work with any downrigger and can be used with steel cable or braided line. To integrate with the cannon optimum I initially thought you could just buy the transmitter. However, you do need the systems transducer mounted on the boat and the X4D display module to transmit the signals over Bluetooth to the downrigger wireless network.
Fish Hawk X2 Downrigger Sensor
Estimated Price: $800
Ther Fish Hawk X2 is the easiest way to get an accurate temperature, depth, and speed at the downrigger ball. There is a Fish Hawk X4 that is more advanced but requires mounting the receiver on the back of the boat. I actually like how this system works because the integration is so simple. I will review the Fish Hawk X4 in more detail later in this article.
This device helps catch more fish for three many reasons in my opinion. First, it allows the temperature of the water to be determined at different depths. Figuring out what temperatures fish are at helps establish what depth of water to target. If fish are biting or are not biting it gives greater insight into why this might be the case. Second, it allows for the exact troll speed of the lure to be determined, even in strong currents. The old fashion way to do this is to look at the angle of the downrigger line behind the boat as an estimate of the speed of the downrigger ball. This angle varies based on line depth and currents so knowing the exact speed is awesome.
The third and probably the most important is that this device shows the true depth which allows for the exact distance from the bottom to be determined. For many fish, like king salmon, the best depth for baits is a few feet from the bottom. The old fashion way of achieving this is to set the counter on the downrigger 10-20 feet deeper than the depth on the fish finder to account for blowback. The fish hawk allows for the bait to be kept a few feet off the bottom which definitely helps catch more fish.
One common concern is if the downrigger ball gets caught on the bottom the line will break and the transmitter will be lost. This is a valid concern as buying a new transmitter cost about $300. This system comes with a safety clip for the device that makes a second connection to the downrigger line. I would also recommend connecting the downrigger weight to the Fish Hawk transmitter with a line that is 50 pounds less strong than the mainline. This way if the ball gets hung up only the weight will be lost. Most of the time when a downrigger line breaks it is near the ball not in the middle of the wire. That being said I am sure many of these transmitters have been lost so taking extra precautions to prevent this is a good idea.
Manual vs. Electric Downriggers
Electric downriggers are definitely nice to have when a fish bites because at a press of a button the downrigger weight can be sent to the surface. This gets the downrigger line out of the way with little effort and allows more time to be spent driving the boat or fighting the fish. The fishing line will likely get tangled around the downrigger line if it is not brought to the surface. Having multiple good fishermen on the boat makes using manual downriggers less of a disadvantage and is just a little more work. When fishing in depths under 100 feet using manual downriggers is not too much extra work. Once the target depths start becoming more than 10o feet quite a bit of effort goes into reeling up the downriggers. If only one downrigger is being used a manual downrigger can usually get the job done.
In order to use an electric downrigger, power has to be available. Most marine deep cycle batteries can provide enough power assuming they are being charged regularly by the motors. It is not advised to run two downriggers off one battery. If outlets for the downriggers are not on the boat custom outlets would need to be installed. The outlets are setup near where the downrigger will be used and run to the batteries. The downrigger then plugs into the outlet. This way it is easy to remove the downriggers without messing with the battery connections.
How to Use a Downrigger
Downriggers are mounted onto the boat using mounting brackets. The downrigger arm hangs off the side of the boat where a large weight is placed on the downrigger line. Attached to the weight is a downrigger release clip which is where the fishing line from a fishing pole with a lure is attached. With the boat moving forward at a slow speed the weight it lowered with the downrigger and the line is let out on the fishing pole. The downrigger can be stopped at any depth up to 300 feet. Once a depth has been selected the boat moves around trying to find fish. If a fish bites the lure the line is released from the clip and is reeled in with the fishing pole. The weight is reeled in with the downrigger and this process is repeated.
Frequently Asked Questions
What type of fish are caught with downriggers?
The most common fish caught using downriggers are salmon, walleye, and king mackerel. I have used downriggers to catch salmon, wahoo, king mackerel, halibut, rockfish, lingcod, and sharks. Halibut, rockfish, and lingcod are not targeted with a downrigger but frequently get caught when trolling baits near the bottom. Other fish people frequently target with downriggers include steelhead, brown trout, and striped bass.
What is the best size weight to use for downriggers?
The proper weight size mostly depends on the maximum target depth being fished. Typically weights used range from 4-pound to 20-pounds. When fishing shallow 4-12 pound weights are typically used. Setting lines deeper than 120 feet typically requires a 15+ pound downrigger weight. If the boat is trolling fast a larger downrigger weight is going to help keep the line deeper. The downrigger line will always have some blowback but the downriggers should never be at an angle greater than 60 degrees. The goal of the downrigger is to set the line deep not behind the boat.
What happens if you hit the bottom with the downrigger ball?
Many fish are near the bottom so downriggers weights are going to spend some time near the bottom and yes unintentionally hit the bottom from time to time. This is not typically a problem. If it is a sand, gravel, or mud bottom there will be some jerks on the line and the line can typically be raised without an issue. If the depth gets shallow quickly and the bottom is rocky the downrigger ball might get stuck on the bottom. The tension on the clutch should be set so the line pulls out when this happens. The boat should be taken out of gear immediately and all the fishing lines brought in.
Most of the time backing over the area where the snag occurred will free the downrigger ball. Other times the line breaks. Never pull the line by hand. Even electric downriggers have a backup manual way to pull up the line. If all else fails cutting the line may be needed. Even if the ball gets stuck it should not damage the downrigger unless the boat was traveling at a high rate of speed. The line is typically 100 pounds to 200 pounds which is very strong so be very careful when retrieving stuck downrigger balls.
What is downrigger blowback?
Downrigger blowback is the downrigger ball moving behind the boat due to drag as the boat moves forward. The further the downrigger line is angled back the more blowback is present. This can be reduced by slowing down using a heavier downrigger weight or fishing at a shallower depth. Having some blowback is perfectly normal but realize that the true depth of the line is shallower than what the counter depth on the downrigger says. Typical blowback makes the line about 10 feet shallower per 100 feet when trolling around 3 knots with a 15-pound weight.
How fast can you troll with a downrigger?
This really depends on the downrigger being used, the amount of weight, and type of lure. I have used a manual cannon downrigger with a 12-pound weight to troll for wahoo at about 9-knots. The downrigger clips were the outrigger-style release clips that can be adjusted to handle the drag of the lure. The lure was skirted ballyhoo. If you are not careful it is possible to damage the boat and break the downrigger. A better option for high-speed trolling is using planers or heavy trolling weights on large heavy-duty fishing poles.
Captain Cody has worked on charter fishing boats in the Florida Keys, Virgin Islands, and Alaska. Growing up in Pennsylvania Cody has also done extensive freshwater fishing including bass fishing tournaments. Cody strives to provide detailed information about the best fishing gear and tactics to help both novice and experienced anglers have a more productive and enjoyable time on the water. Cody also has a background in aerospace engineering and neuroscience but really only takes pride in being good at one thing and that is fishing!