An angler that has a basic grasp of trolling tactics both with and without downriggers will catch plenty of trout and salmon throughout the course of the season, yet there are advanced tactics and tricks that can help elevate your success rate to a whole new level, sometimes!
Many new trollers don’t realize that more than one line can be trolled off a downrigger using a method known as “stacking”…as in stacking multiple lines on a single downrigger cable. On the other hand some veteran trollers are aware of the stacking approach, but don’t incorporate it into their repertoire because they view it as complicated and fear tangled lines. With a little practice stacking can be a simple and efficient way to hook more trout.
There are a couple different approaches to stacking lines. One way is to use wire clips, known as stackers. These clips are teamed with releases and connected to the downrigger cable at various points as it is lowered into the water. Most anglers fish no more than two fishing lines off a single cable, but if you have multiple people on your boat it is possible to use three or more stackers on each downrigger, trolling a line off each of them.
As a general rule the stackers should be placed no closer than 10 feet apart and the lines trolled off them should be no more than 25 feet long. Obviously, stacking is most useful when the fish are holding in deep water. In the extreme you could cover a 60 foot span of the water column by spreading out a total of six lines using two downriggers.
Now while you might think that fishing six lines is sure to result in tangles when a fish strikes that is usually not the case. You see when a trout grabs a lure, gets hooked and pulls the line from its release the fish tends to fall straight back initially because of the forward momentum of the boat. Provided you keep your lines short, a hooked fish will quickly swing out behind and above the other lines.
The biggest drawback to using wire stackers is that they must be removed one at a time when you bring the downrigger up and attached one at a time on the way down. This can be a lot of work in situations where you need to raise and lower the downrigger often.
There is another method of probing different depths with only a single rod. I refer to this as using a cheater, it works like this. Let’s say you’re fishing a dodger and spoon 60 feet deep off a downrigger. A cheater or dropper is a 36 inch fluorocarbon leader with a spoon tied at one end and a snap swivel at the other. Once your downrigger has been lowered and the rod is in the holder, simply reach out and snap the spoon tipped leader to the line on the rod and drop it into the water. The pressure of the water pulling against the fishing line causes it to arch out behind the boat. The cheater leader will slide down the line to the center of the arch. If your primary rig is working at 60 feet the cheater will descend down to about the 30 foot level and stay there.
You can always count on the cheater stopping at the halfway point between the surface and the primary rig. Since the cheater is essentially only working from 6 to 10 feet behind the boat, depending on how large the bow in the main line is this tactic only works well when the primary rig is being pulled in moderately deep to deep water, otherwise the cheater will be too close to the boat for good results.
In general, for me to employ a cheater my primary rig has to be working in 40 feet of water or deeper. It is important to keep a close eye on your rod when using a cheater, since when a fish is hooked, it will almost never cause the line to pop off the downrigger. Instead you’ll see the fight of the trout telegraphed to the rod. At this point you need to grab the rod, pop it out of the downrigger and quickly reel until you feel the weight of the trout. If you don’t move fast the trout will often shake the hook because it is essentially fighting on a slack line.
While the cheater will often pick up trout as you troll it will also pick up the occasional bonus fish. Undoubtedly you’ve been reeling in a trout only to look down in the water and see another fish swimming along with it. In that situation the second trout hears the struggle of the hooked fish, assumes it is feeding and moves in hoping for an easy meal. At times when a fish is hooked on the primary rig and the line pulls out of the clip the cheater will slide down the line until it reaches the primary rig’s dodger. If there is a second trout following the hooked fish it will often grab the cheater and you’ll have a double header on your hands. Typically, you’ll be fighting your fish and suddenly the fight will become sluggish and be replaced by heavy weight as the two hooked trout fight against both your rod and each other.
Most of the time small low drag spoons like Needlefish, Excels, Sep’s Pro Secrets and Dick Nites are used on cheater leaders, but there are other options. Apex style lures work well as do Wiggle Hoochies.
If you are really daring you can employ both a lure and dodger on a cheater. I’ve seen it done and I’ve seen it catch fish, but all in all it seems like a lot of work. In reality if it takes a full blown dodger and lure combination to draw strikes you’ll be best served shelving the cheater concept and just working your main line at the depth indicated.
Side planers are a highly effective tool for presenting lures to fish holding near the surface without spooking them. While they are used extensively by anglers in the Midwest and east, most west coast anglers never give them a try. Almost every serious west coast trout troller you meet has downriggers, but I’d be surprised if one in ten of them had side planers. I’ve experimented with side planers enough to know that if we used them more we’d find ourselves putting more trout in the boat.
The uninitiated are probably asking, “What is a side planer and how does it work?” A side planer is a piece of wood, plastic or foam that when attached to a line, travels away from a moving boat based on its shape. These devices skim along the surface and track along from 50 to 100 feet beside the boat with 20 to 100 feet of line tipped with a lure or bait tailing out behind them. This enables the angler to present the lure to trout without moving through the area where the trout are holding with the boat.
For the beginning planer angler, there are small inline models that are efficient, inexpensive and easy to use. Sep’s Pro Fishing offers the Pro Side Planer. This inline plainer can be adjusted to track either to the port or starboard.
To employ this type of plainer you let your offering out the desired distance behind the boat, attach the main line to the plainer and then free spool the planer out the desired distance to the side of the boat. When a trout is hooked the plainer partially disconnects allowing the fish to be fought with minimal resistance.
Since these planers are small there are some limiting factors that have to be considered such as the size of the lure you are using, the diameter of the line, the amount of line behind the plainer and wind will all reduce the distance from the boat that the plainer can be pulled.