“Stationary Downrigging” Affords a Calculated Deep-Water Angling Edge

I covered this topic in an issue of Salt Water Sportsman last fall, and have gotten enough requests for the info that it arguably merits another look.
The subject?
A handy little technique that I simply call “stationary downrigging.”
Most fishermen, understandably, equate downriggers with trolling. “Controlled-depth fishing” is the name of the game, but unknown to many, it works just as well with the placement of stationary bait.
 Downriggers are invaluable to light-tackle enthusiasts who otherwise would have to use heavy-duty gear to take baits deep into jetty channels and other current-prone locales. Simply clip the line (or, depending upon its length, the forward end of the leader), ahead of the bait, to the downrigger clip on the unit’s “cannonball” weight. It’s than a matter of just lowering the combo to the preferred depth and waiting for the strike.
 When that strike finally comes, and the bait pops free of the retainer clip, the angler can enjoy all the advantages of heavyweight tackle but still manage to experience the thrill of tackling large, deep-water species on considerably lighter rod-and-reel combos.Stationary Downrigger
 It’s not uncommon to have to use 8 ounces of lead to hold a bait in place during periods of heavy tidal flow while fishing off the generally-deep waters of a channel adjacent to a jetty. One of my favorite spots, an oft-proven place where I regularly go to affirm the fish-catching propensity of live offshore-size Black Salty baitfish via great-big bull reds, large speckled trout and other species, is a deep hole on the ship channel side of the North Galveston Jetty.
 At this particular locale, there is a bedroom-sized hole between the rocks only 30 or 40 feet off of the jetty. The water around the hole is roughly 40 feet deep, but inside the hole it slightly … but significantly … drops to 43 or 44 feet. Baitfish take advantage of that hole, since it affords much-needed relief from the overwhelming power of currents in which the forage species have to fight to stay in place, or simply get washed offshore, making them easy prey for waiting, opportunistic predators like redfish, trout, black drum and other species that typically roam the length of the water column in search of forage.
 Until the advent of stationary downrigging (again, my own pet name for the technique), we used heavy boat rods, heavy reels and heavy line with heavyweight leads (usually, rigged “Nassau”-style) to get the wiggling Black Salty or other live bait down into the sweet spot. It works, but it takes an exhausting toll on the angler (think deep-water snapper fishing, but on a slightly lesser scale, nonetheless involving the cranking of mucho-heavy lead off of the bottom).
 Be forewarned: It takes experience and effort to get this just right in terms of placement, both with the boat and the line.
 First of all, you find the hole off of the rocks via a depthfinder readout (and the spot I describe here is only one of many more much like it situated on the ship channel side of the North Galveston Jetty). Then, you have to motor up-current, taking the wind/boat swing factor into account, and drop the anchor far enough ahead to allow for accurate above-hole placement when you finally cleat the anchor rope tight off the bow (IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTE: Never attach an anchor rope to a transom cleat … it’s an invitation to a ship-wake-induced over-the-transom flooding disaster that will fill your boat like a saltwater bathtub in seconds flat.)
 Before using downriggers, we had to allow for the angle of fall when dropping baits into the bottom break, even when using heavy weights. The magnitude of the angle was, and is, contingent on the intensity of the tidal flow. Using the super-heavy “cannonball” weight on the downrigger, now we can count on the extremely heavy downrigger weight … and the bait it carries via a clip on the line or (preferably, fluorocarbon) leader … to drop straight down into the hole.
 It’s a big-time payback when a gamefish hits the baitfish, pops the line/leader clear of the downrigger weight clip and commences to fight, allowing the angler to fight only the gamefish as opposed to both the struggling fish and a half-pound of bouncing lead to boot.
 You still have to use stout, medium-heavy to heavy-action rods when doing this style of fishing, as 40-inch-plus bull reds do not cut you any slack (Fish of this caliber are the norm when jetty fishing with big live baits like the Black Salty … for details on the pond-raised, Federal Express-shippped live baits, go to www.blacksalty.com. For a video explanation of the three different Black Salty baitfish sizes, search YouTube for “Black Salty”). Large reds will mangle lightweight trout rods. However, utilizing the stationary downrigging technique, you can get away with not using the short, winch-grade boat rods that were previously the requisite.
 Some anglers use electric downriggers, and they are indeed more convenient. Unfortunately, they are also much more prone to corrosion.
 A manual Penn FathomMaster or Scotty downrigger is as reliable as it gets (the latter can be affixed via a rod holder adaptor, and like most all downrigger mounts, allows the user to place the rod inside an incorporated rod holder). The downrigger also presents a calibrated footage meter that gives the user a super-accurate measurement of bait depth presentation.
 This is a really neat trick … one that can also be used when presenting baits to deep-water species at the bases of offshore production platforms and over blue-water rocks and wrecks as well.
 Give it a try, and I am sure you will agree … stationary downrigging adds an invaluable element to a long-used (mostly in the Great Lakes region) boat accessory that has long been considered a trolling-only tool.
 Like so many things we encounter in the fishing world, it’s so obvious that it is easy to overlook. But it is nonetheless one of the little things that can, and often will, quite literally make a huge difference in what you catch.
 When that first 44-inch bull redfish surfaces you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
 Just be sure to handle that fish carefully, and release it so it can fight again tomorrow.

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