Downriggers help anglers who go deep

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to fish for walleye and sauger at Lake of the Woods, a rather large body of water located where Minnesota and Canada come together. While there, I learned just how tasty walleye and sauger can be and had my first introduction to the use of downriggers.

The lodge where I stayed employed several fishing guides, among whom lodge clients were distributed through some unknown process designed to keep things fair for the guides. My guide was a bearded fellow in his late 30s or early 40s who grew up on Lake of the Woods.

As I followed him down the dock, I couldn’t help but notice that each boat was outfitted with what I recognized as downriggers. Not because I knew anything about them, but because I had seen pictures of downriggers in the pages of my favorite outdoor catalogs. All I knew going in was that somehow people used them for fishing.

We began our day by fishing on the bottom with nightcrawlers or minnows on what the guide called a Lindy Rig. There were six of us anglers on the boat, and we each caught fish. When the action slowed, we headed to deeper water, and that is where the downriggers came into play.

A downrigger looks and functions like a mini-crane. It is mounted to the boat and has a boom or pole, a winch or spool, and cable with a lead ball on the end. This contraption is used to troll bait or a lure at a specified depth. An angler uses it by casting his lure behind the boat and then clipping the line to the cable. Once that is done, he winches the lead ball down to a specified depth and trolls until he catches a fish, feels the need to change his lure or gets tired and calls it a day.

When a fish hits the lure, the fishing line is pulled free of the clip that holds it to the cable. With the line free, the angler then can play the fish and experience the adrenaline rush that comes with feeling the tug on the end of the line.

Once we reached our destination, the guide quickly went about his business and soon had six outriggers running at one time. Connected to each one was a fishing rod rigged with a different colored crankbait. Within minutes, we were catching fish again. At times we had as many as three fish on. Let’s just say the guide earned his tips that day.

Since that time, I have learned that downriggers also can be a good option when fishing deep for striped bass at Lake Mead or Lake Mohave. My friend Roger has a pair of downriggers for his boat. Though not quite as imposing as six mounted across the transom of a guide’s boat, they are effective, nonetheless.

During the past few years, Roger and I have trolled with everything from trout imitations to crankbaits and Super Flukes. We have had success with them all. The key is finding the depth at which the fish are holding and then putting the bait where they can get to it. However, there are challenges that come with fishing downriggers at Lakes Mead and Mohave and they stem from their underwater topography.

Since the two reservoirs were created by flooding steep, rugged canyons with water, the topography can change rather quickly and sometimes unexpectedly. Water that is 90 feet deep one second might be only 30 feet the next. This means anglers who use downriggers need to keep an eye on the depth-finder and make adjustments as necessary. From experience, I can say that failure to do so can quickly cost you a lure.

Like most anglers, I prefer to fish with a rod in my hand so I can feel the fish bite, but if you have to go deep, downriggers can be a big help.

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at

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