How to Catch Salmon Without Downriggers?

Fishing for salmon can be challenging because you’re usually dealing with deep water and need specialized equipment that is designed to make angling for salmon easier. To do the best job, many anglers turn to the use of downriggers, devices which, when used while trolling for salmon, can increase the depth of a lure or bait.

But, how to catch salmon without downriggers? There are two main methods to fishing for salmon without using a downrigger; add lead weights or use a diving device. Also, are other things to consider, such as the differences in the type of rod, reel, and other equipment necessary to catch salmon without using a downrigger device.

This article will discuss each method and device with its pros and cons. We’ll be diving into this in-depth, so sit back, relax, and get ready to learn how to catch salmon like a pro. 

Salmon Fishing with Lead Weights 

The least expensive and simplest alternative to a downrigger is the use of lead weights. There is an unlimited range of styles and weights for using lead weights available on the market, plus anglers can make their own weights using lead.

There are many types of lead weights that fishermen use, and below we’ll outline two of them: keel weights and snap weights.

Keel Weights

Lead keel weights tie to the mainline in front of the tackle. They are designed with a keel fin to track straight without spinning while trolling. Keel weights are in-line weights and are usually purchased from 1/4 oz. to 6 oz. However, there are more sizes available. 

The only way to adjust the depth is to tie on a heavier weight, but more lead on the line gives less control and sensitivity. Four to six ounces of lead keel weights can easily reach twenty or thirty feet of water.

These weights are attached to the main line on one end and a leader to the bait on the other. This increases the needed rod length, where using a shorter leader may be desirable to land a fish. However, doing so will make it a challenge to bring fish into the boat when the weight is pulled all the way to the tip of the rod, and there is still a lot of line to reel in. 

Snap Weights

Snap weights work well for fish suspended above the bottom or when the angler is trolling along a flat, smooth lake bottom where snags are less common. 

To gauge how deep the gear is located, anglers use a 50/50 system meaning they let out fifty feet of line and then snap on the weight. They then let out another fifty feet of line. Using this method can reliably target specific depths – which makes using snap weights a more accurate way to fish at specific depths.

The depths obtained using a snap weight is speed-dependent, meaning they are best suited for use depending on where the bait is under the water column. Anglers can use charts to gauge if they are in appropriately deep water traveling at the right speed. 

The best reason to use snap weights is you have the option to remove them while fighting to land a fish. Once the fish is hooked and reeling begins, the weight can be un-clipped easily with one hand as it reaches the rod. 

Although Snap weights are another cheap alternative to using a downrigger, they have two pros and cons. The pros include:

  • Snap weights attach right onto the line
  • Snap weights are not directional

Snap weights attach right onto the line. The angler can use a snap a weight fifty feet up from the crankbait and remove them just as easily. This allows for an angler to not take their hands off the rod in order to snap a weight. 

Snap weights are not directional. Snap weights will follow most directions the boat goes. This is vital when using several lines to keep tangling from occurring.

The cons of using snap weights include the following:

  • Snap weights are very speed-sensitive
  • Snap weights cannot do S turns

Snap weights are very speed-sensitive. They require that the angler be aware at all times of the speed they are trolling to keep snap weights on the line from sinking beyond the depth where the fish are believed to be feeding.

Snap weights cannot do S turns. Snap weights need trolling to be done in straight lines, or they will bottom out, or worse, the weights might snap off.

Salmon Fishing with Divers

Divers are incredibly efficient devices that will get a lure down deep into the water. In some instances, divers can achieve depts beyond ninety feet, and there are several distinctive styles, including:

  • Dipsy divers
  • Jet divers

Here’s an examination of each:

Dipsy Divers 

A dipsy diver is a weighted plastic disc that dives down into the water column while the fisherman is trolling for fish. The dipsy diver diving allows placement of the attached lure into the strike zone of the fish.  

One advantage of using a dipsy diver is that it has a round shape that allows for multi-directional trolling and helps with instant changes in diving capability. Dipsy divers offer an angler two sized divers in one. 

In fact, dipsy divers are considered the most advanced trolling sinker available today.  

Dipsy divers have four disadvantages. 

They are cumbersome when using a leader line longer than nine feet long. Since some fishermen prefer to run deep to catch salmon that are in deeper water, this is unhandy. 

Dipsy divers can only be reeled in. That means there is a need to reach fish with a net behind it.

If the boat stops for any reason, the dipsy diver will sink. Because they sink it can make them harder to retrieve.

Dipsy divers pull so hard you need to use a heavier duty trolling rod. Trolling rods are designed to drag bait or lures behind moving boats. Without using a trolling rod, dipsy divers may have too much tension and will not disengage properly from smaller salmon. 

Jet Divers

Jet divers are the original divers that were used for trolling for fish. They are buoyant and float at rest in a planning position. Jet divers won’t dive until pulled through the water and are great for using spoons and minnow baits. Jet divers dive from zero to twenty feet, depending on how deep the salmon are running.

Jet divers are an inexpensive alternative to downriggers, but they are not without their problems. The two disadvantages of using a jet diver are:

  • Jet divers are not directional
  • They don’t pull as hard as a dipsy diver

Jet divers are not directional. The devices do not spread out, so when you stop they float to the surface. 

They don’t pull as hard as a dipsy diver. An angler must buy them at twenty, thirty, and forty feet.

Trolling for Salmon

What is trolling and when should you do it? Trolling is a tactic for targeting fish that are swimming in deep water. Trolling is an excellent method to cover an enormous amount of water to find fish that are actively feeding. To do this, an angler fishes from a boat that is moving or drifting with the currents. 

Trolling can be done in both freshwater and saltwater depending on the species desired by the angler. Of course, what we’re talking about here is salmon.

Using the trolling technique can be as simple as letting out a crankbait with a handheld rod and manually unwinding a reel while counting a few seconds. However, the secret to trolling is being capable of replicating success. There are reels with built-in line counters that make easier judging how much line has been played out during a cast. 

Trolling requires understanding which rods and reels work well together and whether they are capable of handling the demands of fishing on the move without tangling the lines, or worse, breaking under the drag or weight of a fish.  

Depth, speed, line diameter, lure design, and the amount of line that is played out all affect the depth your lure will attain. All these and more considerations are needed to successfully troll for fish. 

Tactics for Fishing Without a Downrigger

A downrigger is a device that places an angler’s bait where they want it, away from other baits or lures. A downrigger drops the bait down into the water column to the depth of the angler’s choice, so when a fish grabs the lure or bait, the fishing line pulls out of a release clip, and the fisherman is left fighting to bring in their fish weight free.

However, there are tactics to using either lead weight or special divers when it seems the line will go deep enough that help gear creep down just a little deeper. These techniques include:

  • Compensating for tackle drag
  • Knowing the depth of the water
  • Trolling with the smallest diameter line possible
  • Slowing down the speed of the boat
  • Making wide turns when trolling
  • Using fewer poles at one time

Let’s examine each tactic in detail.

Compensating for Tackle Drag

Tackle creates additional drag when an angler is trolling for salmon. To compensate, use tackle that does not have as much drag or add additional weight to make the gear go deeper.

Knowing the Depth of the Water

Snagging gear on the bottom can be an expensive mistake, so keeping an eye out for sudden changes in the depth you are trolling is vital. Electronic devices that measure the depth of the water make knowing the depth of the water you are on easier. Contour maps of the location where the angler is trolling are also effective.

Trolling With the Smallest Diameter Line Possible

There are several distinct types of fishing line, each with its own pros and cons. When trying to fish in deep water, the diameter of the line matters. The larger the diameter, the more drag it will create when it is being pulled through the water. This creates a bow in the line that prevents fishing gear from going any deeper.

To minimize this effect, choose the smallest diameter line available and decide which the weight of line that is needed. Monofilament line is for the lowest test line depending on the species. For fishing for salmon, a twelve to twenty-pound test line is sufficient.   

Slowing Down the Speed of the Boat

Slowing down the speed one is trolling at will create less drag and allow divers or keel weights to sink lower in the water. One needs to find a balance between the trolling speeds that causes fish to strike more and allowing the lure or bait to reach the depth of the fish. 

Finding the correct trolling speed is no easy task but is even more vital than choosing the correct depth to put down lines. 

Making wide turns when trolling

If the angler is fishing with multiple lines, they need to avoid sharp turns so that their gear doesn’t get tangled. A really sharp turn can put an angler’s lines in the propeller of the boat, so it is necessary to make as wide of turns as possible when trolling for salmon.

Using Fewer Poles at One Time

The more poles being used, the greater the danger of the lines tangling together. Even when using dipsy divers that spreads the lines away from each other can become hopelessly entwined if there are too many in the water at the same time. Tangling because of too many poles in the water is more likely to happen when the angler is fighting to reel in a large fish or when the boat is making a turn.  

Other Considerations When Fishing Without a Downrigger

So far, we’ve talked about ways to get the lure or bait of an angler deeper into the water and some tactics to make using them more efficient. However there are other considerations to take when fishing for salmon without a downrigger. 

These considerations include which rod and reel to choose that are best for fishing without a downrigger.

The Best Rods for Fishing for Salmon Without a Downrigger

Almost any type of rod and reel combination will work when an angler is trolling for salmon if it is matched to the weight of line you are using. However, graphite rods have become more popular in recent years for their light weight and flexibility.

There are literally hundreds of options when choosing which rod is right for an angler’s style in trolling for salmon. The only considerations to consider are how well the rod acts as a shock absorber and how well the combination avoids snagging through repetitive bouncing motions. This can be measured by how durable the rod and reel combination are in relation to their use.

Since sensitivity is not particularly important, trolling rods for salmon should not cost a large amount. However, there are some requirements to watch for including:

  • Moderate action
  • Nice sturdy reel seat
  • Medium to medium-heavyweight
  • 7’6” to 9’ length
  • A long handle for leverage

A rod and reel that meets these requirements should work fine for trolling on a lake or deep stream for salmon. Now let’s take a look at rods and reels separately.

The Best Reels for Fishing for Salmon Without a Downrigger

The correct reel can make or break a fishing trip when fishing for salmon without a downrigger. There are several distinct types of reels available on the market today. There are three vital things to take into consideration that are highly recommended when choosing a reel. These considerations include: 

  • Choosing a level-wind reels with a built-in line counter
  • Choosing the correct size of the spool
  • Choosing the correct drag system

Choosing a level-wind reel with a built-in line counter. A reel with a line counter ensures that the angler can replicate their success by making certain that they have a repeatable way to cast out just the right amount of line. 

Choosing the correct size of the spool. When trolling without a downrigger, anglers need to let out more line to get to the fish that are deeper in the water. Having a reel that holds a sufficient amount of quality line is vital when fighting feisty fish.

Choosing the correct drag system. The drag system of a reel is vital, and the first thing to shop for when selecting a reel is the sensitivity of the drag. The drag should allow line to smoothly peel off the reel without locking up.

Choosing a Fishing Line

The type of fishing line an angler chooses when trolling for salmon can mean the difference between a successful day fishing or one full of snags and frustration. There are many types of line depending on the specific fishing conditions, and the various lines have varying results depending on the water being fished.

The various types of line are manufactured using different construction materials, and they include:

  • Lead Core Fishing Line 
  • Monofilament line
  • Fluorocarbon line
  • Super lines
  • Wire lines

Each type of line has its own special abilities.

Lead Core Fishing Line

Lead core line is a fishing line with lead in its core that adds enough weight to keep fishing lures deep in the water while trolling for fish. Lead core line is a simple method of fishing for deepwater fish such as salmon. Lead core line is marked with ten colors, each measuring ten yards long.

The advantage of using lead core lines is its cost. They are much cheaper than many other forms of fishing, including using a downrigger. Lead core lines are easier to run especially when the fish are in shallower water and get the lure away from the boat where the fish bite.   

  • There are several disadvantages to using lead core line, including:
  • The line can’t get deeper than approximately thirty feet unless one adds more weight
  • Lead core lines are difficult to use when there is a crowd on the water
  • Wider turns are needed 
  • If one is using a downrigger along with the lead core line tangling can occur

Lead core lines are best for fishing in the spring when the fish are in shallower water.

Monofilament Line. This type of line has always been and continues to be the most popular choice of line for anglers fishing for salmon without a downloader. The reason it remains so popular is that it costs less and is not difficult to manufacture. 

Fluorocarbon Line. This kind of line is stronger than nylon monofilament and has a complex structure. Most of all, this type of line is important to salmon anglers because fluorocarbon reflects light the same way as water and is therefore much more difficult for salmon to see. 

Super lines. These lines are specialties made from various materials and combinations of materials. Super lines are designed for strength and are made by braiding the strands of materials through thermal fusion. Popular for their amazing strength, super lines are wonderful for knot tying.

Super lines are also ideal for trolling for salmon as the line is a fraction of a monofilament line in thickness and allows for quick and deep descent when trolling.

There are a few drawbacks to using super lines. They do not make the best leader material as they have a texture and lack smoothness meaning it can fray and snap the eyelets of a rod.

Wire lines. This kind of line make effective leaders when fishing in fast, muddy water. The teeth on spawning salmon are gently enhanced, and the wire will prevent them from scraping the line.

Line Capacity; A Vital Consideration 

Line capacity is an important consideration when fishing for a fish species that has the ability to strip a spool. This comes to play when fishing for salmon in deep water, where the line needs to be played out long. If the line capacity is wrong, one could find themselves short on room. There are some important things to consider including:

  • The species being targeted
  • What lures are being used at what depths
  • Whether the type of line to be used is monofilament or a braided lead line

Of these three considerations, perhaps the most vital is whether one is using a monofilament or braided lead line.

Braided lead lines have smaller diameters and create less drag in the water, ensuring a deeper lure with less line used. Braided lines also enable a greater load and greater lengths than the traditional monofilament line of the same test weight.

Line Counters

Line counters enable anglers to play out line at a set rate to ensure they can do it the same length all the time for repetitive success. This is important because anglers need to know how long of a line they have cast out to reach the optimal depth where the fish are located.

There are two basic types of line counters: Manual and electric.

Manual Line Counters

Line counters that are attached to the reel are known as manual line counters. Various designs measure the line and compensate for the downward spiral of a spool’s diameter, which affects the measurement. Most manual line counters record the number of revolutions made by the spool. An angler presets calibrations to compensate for variations in spool diameters as the line is paid out, using a twelve-pound line as the standard.

Electric Line Counters

These line counters are more sophisticated than manual counters and offer the convenience of calibrating the exact size of line needed. The settings can also be quite tedious to implement. However, they are quite accurate once achieved. However, since batteries are needed for this type of line counter, one is susceptible to battery failure. This type of line counter also has an LCD screen and sophisticated electronics that can also fail. 

On the good side, electric line counters require only a small amount of maintenance and are highly dependable. 

Motor Mooching

We’ve mentioned many methods of fishing for salmon without using a downrigger, but one form we haven’t talked about yet is motor mooching.

Motor mooching is trolling for salmon using a banana-shaped weight and a fish plug for bait while allowing the boat to drift slowly with the tide or currents on top of the water. Motor mooching is a form of fishing anglers use that sometimes involves alternately turning their motor into and out of gear to change depth and speed or to put on a different bait.

Motor mooching is the simplest form of trolling and is used by folks that want to minimize the amount of gear needed and to further enjoy the fish they catch.

Nearly any type of rod or reel will work with motor mooching so long as one is careful about the weight of test line being used. The weight of the line needs to match the rod and reel, or it will be ineffective in catching salmon because it will either break, snag, or tangle.

Clearly, fishing without a downrigger isn’t only possible. This method is the preferred way chosen by millions of anglers every year. Care in choosing the equipment such as lines, rods, reels, lures, and weights makes an enormous difference in how successful any angler will be especially those who opt not to use a downrigger.

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