"Really?" Deep Down Rigging Basics
By Daniel Kiazyk

OK as I’ve said elsewhere I’m by no means some guru up on the mountain when it comes to certain kinds of fishing. I gave up on the ivory tower approach to angling quite a few years a go as I saw some pretty well thought out strategies literally go up in smoke or vanish off into the deep. Hubris is a little like that when at one moment you’re hoisting up a catch that’ll make you the MAN and at the next moment have you leaving the lake, or the weekend trip with your tail between your legs going “Poor-fishin eh” all the way home. I’m in a lot more of a receptive mode these days about fishing. In other words there’s a whole lot that I don’t know and am completely open to learning about my second most passionate pursuit (my first of course is having my dear wife let me go as much as I do ;) )

So what’s new Dan? Well this past fall I had a chance to do something that had a precursor almost three years ago. What? Yeah, well imagine being out in a sixteen foot boat out at the mouth of a small river in the fall on Lake Manitoba doing quite well catching gigantic walleye only to hear someone ask….., “So Dan have you got that master splake yet?” The answer of course was a quick and to the point …no not yet, so as to avoid that obvious response…. Really? I’d heard it so many times that I wasn’t ready for what was to come.

The fellow I was fishing with that day was from beautiful British Columbia and had quite a few interesting things to share about fishing for trout and other fish species. His knowledge of the latter came as a result of his exposure to what is “the species” where he lives. Our conversation wasn’t all that surprising what normally happens on the boat most of the time when I fish with someone new. The real surprise, however, about our conversation that day was I didn’t really get the “Really?” response I had grown all to accustomed to hearing. In fact the fellow I was with was willing to share some insights into how to get at a species such as splake with increased regularity and alacrity (a big word saying a little more than being effective but “really” good at something). Whoa…. Here was something I’m not too used to experiencing. Imagine, here I was on the receiving end….

And here’s the nugget of something I had an inkling to be true but had not really taken on as something I should do to get at those splake….. get out those down riggers that have been bought and paid for and are just sitting in some storage location at home just waiting to be used! Yup you heard it here I hadn’t really used my riggers all that much nor felt there any great need to do so. But that was my BC friend’s point…. A lot of folks have them but don’t necessarily use them. Using them is presenting bait to fish that don’t usually see all that much of an offering at the level of the lake they inhabit most of the time….. What an insight! It’s not that down rigging is some revolutionary technique that is going to extract fish where nary a one plies the water. NO. Rather using the rigger and a variety of terminal tackle pulled at different depths is going to present an offering to certain fish that probably rarely if ever see something offered by any fishermen.

Interestingly enough my BC trout fishermen friend has used his down rigger in smaller trout lakes just as a form of homage to their salt water application for the mighty Tyee salmon that are caught that way on the intercostals and costal water of Canada’s Pacific coast. This particular application is not necessarily their favorite for trout in inland trout lakes, nor is it always easy to do…. but it certainly does bring good sized fish up from the depths. This prior point is one that hit home as I reeled in my second master angler splake this last fall in a deep lake that each year produces a considerable proportion of Manitoba’s largest splake. Our conversation carried on that day with me picking his brain about what he’d suggest as an effective strategy to get at these trout in a particular set of lakes I know to hold species (of a master angler status) that to this point have eluded me.

What lakes? Well there are a vast number of deeper mountain lakes in BC that have very good trout populations in them. We too have similar deep lakes here in Manitoba with different types of trout populations. It is of interest that a lot of the tackle suggested to me by my BC friend comes from BC (and of course it is designed to serve the purpose I am now reflecting upon). I can’t say I wasn’t aware of the existence of the tackle he suggested as I had already used most of it. The one difference was that I had used most of it only weighted down with a few lead sinkers.

Of particular interest, in his opinion, was that the season really didn’t seem to be as great a consideration as I thought it would have been. Down rigging it would seem allows the angler to get down to the fish where they are in no matter what season. I was particularly interested in his idea of getting out on the lake in mid summer. This latter situation it would seem even focuses fish activity even more to a particular region in the water column. Generally speaking in these deeper lakes normal tackle and techniques just don’t seem to get down to these summer haunts. Down rigging however provides the pinpoint precision needed to get the terminal tackle down to where the fish are at, at that time….

Now, whether they bite or not is another issue….

Ok my BC friend would be proven right more than two years later when another chance incident took me from my normal fall migration to the province’s rivers doing my normal study (hah for lack of a better expression) of the Province’s famous greenback run. A former colleague at work serendipitously invited me out on an expedition to fish one of Manitoba’s better splake water. He too had met with considerable fishing success in the lake we were visiting when he decided to (by chance) to put down a cannon ball and selection of terminal tackle. I was nothing short of plunged down into “deja-vu” to a conversation I had had two years earlier. Wow… there are patterns and ways to get at those elusive splake and in this case down rigging was the ticket.

Our day started out early, leaving our hometown by meandering through the hilly country that resides to the north. We would talk about our fishing experiences that we had had that past summer and would carry on to include a variety of piscatorial insights that such a pursuit can entail.

After a considerable drive, bolstered by a good cup of “Timmies”, we arrived at the lake and set about our mission for the day… down rig for trout. It was interesting that we had two different means of delivering our terminal tackle. I had brought along a portable unit with a built in counter that we attached on the stern as far away from the motor as was possible and my colleague had a mid sized hand powered rig mounted on the gunwale of his boat. Both rigs allowed us to set our rods in rod holders and literally sit back and enjoy the absolutely beautiful fall day.

Our best luck that day was achieved by using almost any combination of terminal tackle with an added scent of a gulp minnow worm. Colour was important and the numbers of fish we would in the end bring to the boat was definitely related to a particular colour that the fish appeared to want. It was interesting to note that in comparison to other anglers who were out on the water that day we would out-fish everyone by at least five times! I don’t think I’ve ever caught as many trout in a day (other than in the lake I once stocked but is now stocked by the province) and was amazed at the variety of fish that came to the boat

Once the day was over (and I’d say we fished a good eight hours) there were three experiences that I was able to glean as being interesting and significant.

Firstly there was the shear number of bites that either did or did not end up in a fish being caught. I was completely amazed at how often a rod would “go off” with yet another bite. Interestingly enough it was “where” the rod would go off that would give us a clue as where we would catch the greatest number of fish that day. In many instances the were was not only a geographical location but also a specific depth. Not only did we go back to these spots but we also would mark these spots on the on-board GPS. This strategy allowed us to look for other areas that had similar characteristics and would in most instances result in fish biting what we had to offer

Secondly we noticed that we had a large number of “hit and run” incidents earlier on in the day. One of us decided to increase the size of our hook that we had attached to our bait. It almost seemed as though the fish were hitting the smaller hooks with so much speed and force that the hooks weren’t big enough to hold on to such aggressive fish. By going up one size we seemed to hook into what may have been may been some of the smaller fish or aggressively biting fish that we had to that point been missing. A smaller hook may not have allowed the hook to penetrate into the trout’s bony mouth.

Finally there was a definite preference with regards to the bait we were using. In particular a shorter naturally coloured bait was what proved most effective. The good thing learned about the particular gulp baits we were using, given the shear number of bites and the regular activity we saw, was that these baits last a long time. OK when you look at the sticker price for a bag of these baits you might be a bit taken aback, but given the amount of punishment that they can take makes them really one of the best buys with regards to bait. Now having said the prior does not mean we still didn’t put on a little live bait…. on the contrary. What we found was putting on a little chunk of crawler would change the species of fish that would snap at our bait.

Unrelated to the latter three insights but related to being able to fish with the prior mentioned techniques was where and how we set up our riggers. We decided to put the portable model at the back of the boat. all the while watching to see where the wire would travel. The rod for this rigger was set into a rod holder that was set about half way up towards the front of the boat. Given the two forces, the ball being pulled out from the back of the boat and the rod pulling the ball out away from the boat made the use of the portable rigging unit quite effective. Another key insight related to the use of the downrigger was that the size of ball also allowed us to get the ball down to a very specific level while keeping the wire quite close to the boat. A smaller ball would allow the ball to move out away from the boat (but would decrease the ability to know exactly at what level the ball was traveling) and seemed to focus on a particular species of trout. Did the prior method not spook the trout as much and suggest a pattern that could be repeated to focus on that species??? I guess only further research will tell (hah more fishing to do!)

Down riggers do have a place once in a while when fishing in specific areas for particular species. Now I wouldn’t be the first person to say go out and pick up one of these units without at least seeing them in use prior to purchase. But I guess having seen them work so effectively in a specific context has made me a bit of a believer. So much so that I have quite a few down rigging units ready to go down “really” deep the next time I head out to those trout lakes.