Rigging Your Downrigger E-mail
Written by Peter Dayton   
Tuesday, 17 June 2014 00:00

When you are kayak fishing, have you ever seen fish deep in the water on your fish finder, but had difficulty presenting a lure to those fish? If you have, then you should consider mounting a downrigger on your kayak. Downrigger trolling from a kayak is a great way to get your lure in front of fish that are far below the surface. So add a downrigger to your kayak. If you mount it well it’ll be easy to use, and will provide you with an effective and precise way to troll for fish.

A downrigger uses a weight attached to a cable to pull your fishing line and lure deep into the water below your boat.

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Mount the downrigger and its fishing rod where they will be easy to operate. When using a downrigger, you need to be able to raise and lower both the downrigger weight and your fishing line quickly and easily simultaneously while continuing to glide or pedal forward. I find that the most convenient location for a downrigger is next to my thigh, where both the crank and the downrigger weight are readily accessible.

Mount the fishing rod where it will be easy to monitor. When trolling with a downrigger, you need to constantly monitor the tip of your rod for strikes. I like to mount my rod in a rod holder, which is near my calf, sticking out at right angles to my kayak, so I barely need to turn my head to watch the tip of my rod. I mount my fish finder on the same side of my kayak as the tip of my rod, so I can watch both of them at the same time.

Minimize interference with paddling and pedaling. There are a lot of places where you can mount a large downrigger on a pedal kayak where it won’t interfere with pedaling at all. It’s a lot harder to mount a downrigger on a paddle kayak, because the paddle and your arms sweep through a large area above the kayak with every stroke.

Check your kayak for mounting options. Before you start shopping for a downrigger, look for places on your kayak where the base for a downrigger could be installed, where the downrigger would be easy to operate, and won't interfere with paddling or pedaling the kayak.

Downrigger options. Some downriggers are small and light, and the cable reel is braked and released by tightening and loosening a handscrew. The Scotty Laketroller, the Cannon Mini-Troll, the Attwood Mini-Rigger, and the Walker Mini Laker are examples of this kind of downrigger. Other manual downriggers are larger, and have a brake or clutch that makes it easier to release and stop the downrigger weight with one hand. The Scotty Depthmaster, the Cannon Lake-Troll, the Walker Lake Ranger, and the Walker Kingfisher are some examples.  

Minimize interference with getting in and out of the kayak. Try to mount your downrigger where it will interfere as little as possible with getting in and out of your kayak, and with sitting sideways in your kayak.

Make the downrigger easy to mount and dismount. Try to develop a mount for your downrigger that allows you to mount or dismount the downrigger quickly, with a minimum of loose parts.

Fish finder. You need a fish finder in order to use a downrigger effectively and safely, because you need to be able to see where your downrigger weight is located with respect to the bottom and other obstacles and suspended fish. A simple sonar-only fish finder is all you need, but I find GPS features and maps to be very useful when down rigger trolling.

There are other ways to get a lure deep in the water when trolling, including leaded line, diving devices, and heavy sinkers. However, all three of those techniques have disadvantages. You will have only an approximate idea of how deep your lure is running because you won’t be able to see the lure on your fish finder, and the depth at which your lure is running changes as your kayak speeds up or slows down. Diving devices and heavy sinkers also interfere with playing the fish.

When trolling with a downrigger, you can usually see the downrigger weight on your fish finder, and consequently can position your lure precisely with respect to suspended fish or the bottom. Furthermore, a downrigger can get your lure much deeper in the water than leaded line or diving devices, making it a more effective way to troll for fish deep in the water column.

Shown below are some pictures of downriggers mounted on kayaks. Each of these downriggers is mounted where a kayaker can easily operate its crank and brake without changing position in the kayak seat. The rod associated with each downrigger is mounted where the kayaker can monitor its tip without craning his or her neck or turning around and looking backwards, and where its reel can be operated without too much stretching forward. In fact, the kayaker can crank up the downrigger weight and the fishing line at the same time. The downrigger pulley is positioned so the cable is only an inch or so from the side of the kayak to minimize the effect of the downrigger’s cable and weight on the steering and stability of the kayak. And finally, the boom of all but one of these downriggers has been shortened as much as possible to minimize any stress that the downrigger may place on its mount or the hull of the kayak.

I prefer to mount downriggers next to one of my thighs, but a downrigger mounted behind your hip can be operated without turning sideways in your seat, and without too much contortion or stress on your shoulder. I mount my rod in a rod holder located next to one of my calves  at right angles to my kayak, so the tip of the rod is in front of me, where I can easily see it.

The picture below shows a Scotty Laketroller downrigger on my Ocean Kayak Trident 13. The base of the Scotty Laketroller fits a Scotty rod holder deck or flush mount, which are easy to install on a kayak. The rod holder mounts have notches every thirty degrees, so the downrigger can be positioned pointing either forwards or backwards at a thirty-degree angle, to position the pulley next to the side of the kayak.

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I mounted a Scotty Depthmaster on my Hobie Revolution using a tapered plug, which fits in the water bottle holder to stabilize the mount.

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Depthmaster downriggers have a 23-inch long boom, which I shortened down to 8.5 inches. The next picture shows the bracket I made to raise the pulley so it would feed the cable into the center of the cable reel. My Depthmaster downrigger, my fish finder, and my rod are all easy to see and operate.

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The next three pictures show how I mounted a Cannon Lake-Troll downrigger on my Revolution. It’s real easy to shorten the boom of downriggers, which have a vertical reel like this Cannon, because it isn’t necessary to modify the pulley in order to keep the cable feeding into the center of the cable reel. The mount for this downrigger also uses the Revolution’s water bottle holder to stabilize the base of the downrigger. This mount is lighter and easier to make than the mount I made for my Scotty Depthmaster.

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Here is an example of the Scotty Depthmaster mounted on a Hobie Outback by Gordon Drake. Rather than raising the pulley, this angler used the cable guide, which comes with the downrigger to guide the cable into the center of the cable reel. 

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This is a “boomless” mount for a Scotty Depthmaster. Positioning the downrigger reel slightly overboard of the gunnel allows for boomless usage.

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If the downrigger’s pulley and cable are located only an inch or so from the side of my kayak, the drag of the cable and weight don’t interfere at all with steering the kayak. In my 13’ Trident, which doesn’t have a rudder, I don’t need to paddle harder on the side on which the downrigger is mounted in order to keep the kayak going in a straight line.

Because I use braided line, I use a Blacks or Chamberlain clip-style release clipped on top of my weight, rather than a pinch-style release. To attach my line to the release, I make a loop in the line, twist the loop 6 or 8 times, and clip the wire clip in the release through the loop. Then I set the weight into the water next to my kayak and paddle or pedal forward to keep my fishing line and lure streamed out behind my kayak. Next, I engage the clicker and release the spool on my fishing reel, so fishing line will feed out of my fishing reel as I lower the weight, but won’t free-spool out. Then I release the brake or clutch on the downrigger’s cable reel to slowly lower the weight, while continuing to paddle or pedal forward.   When I get a strike, the tip of my rod will start to bounce, or it may spring straight if the strike releases my line from the release.  If the line doesn’t release, I jerk up on it to release it.  Then I can set the hook and play in the fish without any interference from the downrigger weight. 

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