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by cb
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Picture Of The Month

Rockfish on the fly with Drifter2007

Kayak downrigger fishing.. Now put those two words together and youíd swear that youíve misread it. But the truth of it all is that downrigger fishing can be downright deadly with the right equipment and techniques. But whyíd you even want to use a downrigger on a kayak anyways? Well, truth be told itís a great way to get any fish that lays in the depths. Whether that be salmon, trout, kokanee, lakers etc. the downrigger can get you right to where they are and fish almost as effectively as all the big boats out there.

So where do you start now that youíve decided that you want to fish deep? Well to be downright truthful, undertaking downrigger fishing isnít without itís risks. Weíre on narrow watercraft and downriggers use a lot of weight so with a perfect storm of occurrences it can get downright ugly fast. So the next sections are all about how to dodge 99% of those out there.

Kayak selection
Now Iíd like to say that kayak downrigger fishing will work on any kayak out there. I know of a few people whoíve actually mounted downriggers on kayaks that were no more than 22Ē wide. While they have pulled off an amazing feat I donít think itís really efficient or safe enough to grant it as a smart platform for kayak downrigger fishing. What weíre looking for is a sit on top kayak that has a width of at least 27Ē. Why the width? Well the downrigger is going to be pulling down on one side of the kayak. If you have to fight the forces of that pull by leaning to the other side then you canít focus on fishing. Youíll also want a kayak thatís in the 13í-16í range and preferably with a rudder. The length is important because you need to be able to maintain your forward momentum once youíve gotten underway so glide is king. You could do it with a shorter kayak but since itíll be harder to paddle/pedal youíll probably spend less time on the water fishing. The rudder is essentially there to keep you going straight and avoiding having to paddle on one side of the kayak for an extended period of time. Another great selection is a Hobie Mirage Drive kayak. The Revolution and Adventure both have the length and width weíre looking for but also a pedal powered drive so that we can keep both hands on the downrigger and rod while deploying.

Downrigger Selection
When it comes to which downrigger to use thereís a few that fit our needs really well. The best fit of all for kayak fishing is the Scotty Laketroller. While it is on the small side and doesnít have a braking system other than a knob, it is very easy to mount and the right size for most applications. One nice development that has come along is Iíve been using a Scotty Depthmaster for deep water trolling. Itís pretty difficult to handle at first but makes salmon trolling a lot easier as I can use a six pound ball. Another great thing is it has a large handle and a nice braking system so you can crank up with one hand . Lastly, As other kayak fisherman have done, you can fabricate your own downrigger. Just make sure that your local regulations donít somehow label it as a second rod if the regulations restrict one.

Downrigger mounting & modification
Now downrigger kayak fishing has a very special set of obstacles to overcome to make them efficient on a kayak, mainly drag and side pull. But if we mount the downrigger on the right place of the kayak these forces can be greatly minimized.

If you think of the kayak as your fishing rod standing up and with the rod tip as the bow, youíll see that if you pull the tip to the side it easily bends. If you try to do the same thing a little further down from the tip itís a little harder and if you go all the way down near the butt itís all but impossible to bend. So using the same analogy if you were to mount the downrigger at the bow it would be pulled to the side easily but the further back you mounted it the less side pull it would have. So whereís the best spot? The stern. At the stern thereís no side pull whatsoever but then the problem of how to access the downrigger comes in. Iíve found that mounting the downrigger directly behind your seat on the rail can be the best spot. If you donít have a flat spot there to mount it then you can also alternately use a Scotty gimbal mount placed inside a flush mount rod holder. If you are mounting the downrigger directly to your hull then itís important to reinforce that section of the kayak. A good thing to do is make a plate to fit on the inside so that it can sandwich the hullís wall. Thereís going to be pounds of weight hanging off of the downrigger and also drag pulling so itís a good idea to strengthen that area up.

Final Rigging
No downrigger can really do anything without a good fishfinder so it's essential we get that set up also. The downrigger is essentially giving us the most exact way of getting our gear to the correct depth and the fish finder is our link to find out exactly how deep we need to put our gear. So pretty much one wonít work without the other. Another very important thing to remember is that a lot of the fish weíre after may just be near the bottom. If we donít know that thereís a sunken tree or other snaggy obstacle our gear will not only be stuck down there but it may also flip you over if thereís other forces like current or wind pulling you in the other direction.

To further decrease the drag that our downrigger is putting out weíre going to replace the downrigger wire with a braided line. My personal favorite is Power Pro; and 60-80# should do the trick. The idea behind this is the steel cable has a large diameter while the braid has a very thin one. It may seem strange to think that a change in the diameter of the downrigger line would have so much effect but if you think about 100+ feet of that line in the water all connected to your kayak you can see that all the drag does add up. I also recommend to use braid on your rod as well. You can use mono but the increased diameter will increase drag and side pull. On my trolling rods I run Power Pro and give it 25' or so of a mono/fluorocarbon leader.

Downrigger strategy
Once weíve got our downrigger mounted weíre pretty much ready for the water. Since the effects of the downriggerís weight can be a little awkward I suggest that you start out with a downrigger ball of about 1.5#ís in the beginning. Once you feel confident with that weight you can then move up until you reach the optimum 4#ís for the Scotty Laketroller and 6#'s for the Scotty depthmaster.

So where do we start? Well, hopefully weíve done our homework and know exactly where we want to be trolling. Once we find our spot weíll pull somewhere around 10 pulls of line off the reel. Once thatís out weíll clip the line to the downrigger clip and get ready to deploy. Now build up some good speed then start to let your downrigger out. Once your rod has a good bend in it, loosen up the drag so itís just peeling off. You should see a mark from your downrigger ball on the fishfinder and keep letting line out until it shows the right depth on the fishfinder. Then tighten up the drag and the downrigger and you're fishing!

Now what do you do if you canít see the dowrigger ball on the fishfinder because itís being swept behind you due to the current? Don't fret, thereís a solution. If I'm going to be trolling near bottom I'll get to the depth I like, paddle on the slow side and drop the ball down until it hits bottom. Right then I'll hit the gas and the blowback will take it up a few feet. That's the easy way. But what if you want troll 60' in 120' of water? Calibration.

First I set up the ball w/ flasher and no lure. Head in the direction I want to troll and the depth I want to troll. I'll let out the downrigger counting turns. Once it hits the bottom I'll know that for today's conditions (for example) it takes 100 turns to get to the bottom. So if I want to troll in 60í of water then I know that 50 turns will get me there.

Now if youíve done everything right and itís your day thereís going to be a fish popping your line off the downrigger and the real fun begins. If I was trolling near the bottom Iíll quickly crank 5-10 times to get the ball clear of any obstructions. Itís tough because you want to focus on landing the fish but those few cranks can save you from snagging up all your gear. After those initial turns you can leave it out and fight your fish. Let your fish run early on and try to take the wind out of itís sails. If we do it right the fish will be tired out and weíll lessen our risk of it getting caught up in the downrigger line.

The final word
This is a pretty big undertaking and it takes a while to get used to it all. But put in some practice, take your time to slowly work up to heavier dowrigger balls and then on to saltwater and youíll be able to add another way to kayak fish to your arsenal. And hopefully some big fish too.

Comments *

1) Re: Kayak Downrigger Fishing 101
Written by DSamurai on June 05, 2013, 08:24:50 AM
Thanks for the info
2) Re: Kayak Downrigger Fishing 101
Written by CatchMo on March 12, 2014, 12:32:41 PM
Great info and details. Thanks.
3) Re: Kayak Downrigger Fishing 101
Written by Great Bass 2 on June 12, 2014, 06:41:04 AM
Very nice article. Thanks! I built my own downrigger and can run a stacker on it. http://www.norcalkayakanglers.com/index.php?topic=55253.0
4) Re: Kayak Downrigger Fishing 101
Written by albertan-yaker on July 22, 2016, 12:20:40 PM
great article.
5) Re: Kayak Downrigger Fishing 101
Written by Trident 13 on August 10, 2016, 11:16:37 AM
Just fabricated a light plywood mount to fit in the back of a trident 13.  Hoping it does the trick w/o having to poke holes in the kayak. 
6) Re: Kayak Downrigger Fishing 101
Written by Murt81910 on March 13, 2021, 08:34:38 PM
Really helpful, thanks.
7) Re: Kayak Downrigger Fishing 101
Written by JohnMckroid on October 26, 2022, 09:10:18 AM
Nice write up.  Many of my best catches were taken on the downrigger.
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