It’s no secret that if you’re trolling the surface you’re only showing your bait to a small percentage of the potential customers your boat passes over in the course of a day’s fishing.
Even back in the “good ol’ days” of the ’60s it was easy to tell which charterboats were trolling deep–they were the ones unloading the biggest kingfish and amberjack at the end of the day.
Today, of course, experienced anglers all have deep-trolling techniques in their arsenals. There’s scarcely a boat that makes a regular run offshore that doesn’t sport at least one downrigger mount on the transom, and even smaller, occasional trollers routinely break out a planer to get baits deep.
Convenient as these methods have grown to be, there are still plenty of us who love the faster 4- to 6-knot pace for pulling ballyhoo, strips and mullet. This creates some special problems with downriggers: When you increase trolling speed from less than one knot, up to four or five, the added friction of the cable running through the water carries a standard 10-pound lead ball back and up, frustrating your deep-trolling efforts.
My observations are that if you let out 20 feet of cable with a 10-pound ball at a speed of six knots, you’re only getting about six or eight feet down. Let out an additional 75 feet and your bait doesn’t get much deeper.
In fact, I have watched my bait swim at least 100 feet behind the boat while it was attached to 120 feet of cable with a 10-pound ball. I’d be willing to bet you a case of ballyhoo that bait was at best 15 feet down.
My initial response to such a problem was to attach a big Z-wing or planer to my downrigger. At six knots, the pressure created by this rig is enough to snap a downrigger boom. I learned the hard way to eliminate the boom and the ball. The ideal tether is 80 feet of 400-pound mono.
Store this line on a handline spool. After deployment, wrap the line to a stern cleat and you’re ready to go.
This takes care of speed and depth–but planers and especially Z-wings are notoriously troublesome to re-rig once you’ve popped a line or need to check your baits.
Traditionally, you attach your fishing line to a downrigger clip fastened to the rear of the planer, then feed line out as the planer dives. The problem is as soon as you get the darn rig out, a kingfish comes along and misses the hook. That means stopping the boat, winding the whole thing in and re-rigging.
I have to give credit to C&H Lures’ Brian Dufek for introducing me to something as simple as a shower curtain ring and a rubber band that lets you re-rig a Z-wing or planer without winding it in all the way to the transom and starting over.
The rig is super simple. Get a couple of 10-packs of cheap shower curtain rings and some No. 32 rubber bands. Toss your planer or Z-wing overboard without attaching your fishing line and get it running where you want it.
Next, drop your bait or lure back about 100 feet behind the boat on a 25- to 40-pound trolling outfit. Then wrap the rubber band five times around the line, pull it tight, and loop both ends of the rubber band onto the shower curtain ring. Next, clip the shower curtain ring around the planer tether and let the forward motion of the boat pull the ring down the tether as you keep light pressure on the reel spool. Let it slide down the planer line until you feel the ring stop.
Be careful, though–if the rubber band is wrapped with too few turns, the line will slip through it, causing the bait to come in too close to the planer. If the rubber band is wrapped with too many turns, the line can break before it cuts through the rubber band.
Of course you’ll need to fine-tune the procedure for your boat and your way of fishing. Some skippers have moved up to 50-pound test on the rig, and have gone to using heavier rubber bands. That can result in a higher hookup ratio, as a No. 64 rubber band will generally set a hook pretty solid before the fish takes off.
The best part about the rig is you can troll deep at four to six knots and slide curtain rings down the tether all day without ever having to bring up the planer. It’s fast and efficient.
That quicker deployment of baits means more hours with your bait in the water. And that of course means more fish in the box.