The Lost Art of Downrigger Fishing –
Now days everybody thinks you have to use leadcore, wire line, drop weights and countless other modern ways to catch salmon and trout. Believe me these are not new ways to catch our great lakes fish. The downrigger was invented (by a fisherman I’ sure) to do away with these methods and make it much easier to catch these fish in a easier and more sporting way. Before I go any further with this story let me assure you I’m am not an English major so I apologize to you for the spelling and grammar now. I can catch fish pretty good but I can’t spell worth a hoot and type with one finger so you may have to guess at some of the words.
If you have read some of my past posts I still have a problem with computer fishermen being experts and I by no means think I am an expert. I used to be on the Cannon Pro staff back when I chartered and went around to different Steelheader’s club and other fishing clubs and taught fishing with downriggers. The method I use is just basic stuff that I have used for over the last 33 years but it works for me and hopefully it well help pick up an extra fish or to.
To start off I try to fish for aggressive feeding fish so this means I’m on the water and set up well before daylight. The key to my style of downrigger fishing starts with the weight itself. I have over the years used all kinds and colors of weights and what works best for me is a weight I make my self and I paint it white. I started experimenting with weight shapes and colors years ago. As far as how I settled on color before we all started using silver spoons no matter what your favorite color spoon was rather it was green, chartreuse, blue or any other shade the back side was white. I have yet to find a color that works better. As for as shape its kind of fish silhouette and the weight has all rounded edges makes them crank up easier, track better, and they have a bendable tail that I tune (will cover more on this later).
The second part of my system, lead length, comes from watching my graph. If you have ever seen a school of bait fish with salmon feeding on them they ball the bait up and the kings come from all sides and feed on them. So I NEVER FISH MORE THAN 15ft. BEHIND THE WEIGHT. Usually I fish seven feet but sometimes in spring when I fish 10 ft. of water I will drop back to 15 if my props are throwing sand. The weight is easier to see, feel, and hear through their lateral line than the lure. The fish will hear, see your weight and if the lure is way back they are gone before the lure gets there. As long as we’re talking leader length the further away from the weight the less action the lure has and if the currents are running real hard they may have to much or no action at all. Ever wonder why your lures get all balled up and you didn’t make any sharp turns? That’s good sign strong currents are running. Another reason to run short leads is that you can turn short to chase fish, get back on a way point quicker and dodge boat wrecks with out a tangled mess.
The third part of the system, I always use the V pattern with the weights deepest in rear and alternate them 5ft. from side to side. Again I’m trying to create my own school of bait (lures) with six downrigger weights, six lures close behind and six more lures 5ft. above the lures. I have quite a school of bait to attract fish. Usually you fish your weights above where your marking the fish. They swim up to see the lowest weight and lure and it may not be what they want but they have quite a selection to choose from.
The only exception to the V pattern is there is a sharp drop off (bank). I will get on the bank and put downriggers in a angle to match depth and angle of bank that the fish are suspending off of it shallow to deep.
I have tried all different kinds and types of releases, Walker, Cannon, Big Jon, Off shore, rubber bands and even pinch pads and what works the best for me is Blacks outrigger releases on the down riggers. I can adjust them loose enough to use Flutter spoons for walleye and tighten them up to use a big flasher with a J-Plug as an add a line. I have used with as light as 8lb. test line and as heavy as 30lb. test and never had a line break our chaffing problem.
Above is a picture of the weight I use and the Black outrigger release. It also shows the way I think is best to rig and add lines. Half hitch the rubber band on line then put swivel over the knot and through the loop in the band (again 5ft. above the weight). I use Inter core rods and can’t use this method because a piece of rubber band can jam in rod.
You can see the tail on the weight was bent so it makes the weight track to the outside and pull lure with it. Then I troll, S-ing the boat and it makes the weight swing out and it reaches as far as it can. The weight will dart back as I turn speeding up the outside lures and slowing the inside lures (triggers flowing fish).
Now that the water has cleared up from Zebra muscles, the trend in charter boats is to run fewer downriggers and more lead core, wire line, and dipsies, but the last time I looked at Cannon Digitrolls they were over a Grand a piece and you can buy a lot of lead core line for that. With downriggers repeatability is easier (catching another fish with the same lure at the same depth and speed) than with the other methods and much easier for the beginner in heavy boat traffic. Since the advent of Zebra muscles, I don’t bounce bottom any more but have a weight rigged up with a heavy wire (I think its a #9 stainless wire) two foot long to rub bottom to stir up laker when things get real bad.
I’ll just cover a little on lures (everybody has their own favorites). In spring I use a lot of gold and copper colored blanks until the water settles or clears and I use mostly magnums until June. All bait fish this time of year are adults and the young of year haven’t hatched yet. From June on I always start out before light with black/raspberry, double black/glo, and N.K.28 double green/glo (the double glos have been my best bait last three years, I make them myself they don’t sell them) and double glo/chartruse charged up with my flash camera. Then I let the fish tell me what color to use. I have never ever caught a fish on a fish catcher but I do run a lot of dogger and fly/gloquid off Dypsy and lead core when I have enough people to on the boat to use extra rods. This year I’m gonna add wire dypsy for the same reason I fish downriggers,…. the noise and the bubbles the wire makes.
This basically is my system. I call it divine madness when it’s working the fish can drive you mad keeping up with them. I often hear people say they have never caught a double or even had one on. Well when your spread is all helter skelter you won’t. The best I’ve done was 10 fish on at once and landed 49 fish in 90 minutes (posted picture and story earlier) with this system. Now that I don’t charter and fish with mainly three people, my average fish per trip is the lowest it has been in years. When I chartered, I averaged 25 fish per trip,….last year I only averaged 7 fish fish per trip. So far this year my average has gone up. First trip this year I got skunked (everybody takes a turn in the barrel if you fish long enough), second trip three kings, and last Saturday we got 15 kings and 11 lake trout. Three trips, 29 fish, that’s 9 fish per trip. I hope to get better as the water warms.
If you are a beginner and just starting out, the very best advice I can give you is to go out with a charter and see how it’s done, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. I fished a year and never took a fish (my parents caught a few lakers) so we went out on a charter and saw we were fishing too slow and other things we were doing wrong. Try some of our sponsors like Coldwater Charter’s on Lake Michigan or DreamCatcher on Lakes Erie and Michigan.
Summer Fishing Lake Trout
Should you have access to a lake that contains Lake trout and a mud or gravel bottom try dragging bottom. You must have down riggers, preferably electric, as you need to fish in 80 to 120 feet of water. I use a 10-pound ball, as that will keep your cable straighter under the boat. I also add vertical blades between the cable and the ball. A set of blades attached directly to your lure finishes off this setup. Run your lure just a couple of feet behind the blades to get the full benefit of all your blades. The lures that I find work best fishing in this deep water are Glow Belly Hotshots. These lures light up in the sun or with a flashlight. I try to go no faster then 1.5 miles an hour with this setup and even slower when possible. I run a 3-foot drift sock on each side of the boat to help slow it down. Remember to keep your clutches loose on your down riggers as your ball may get hung up on something. Some of the biggest lake trout of the year are caught using this system.
I have an update for all of you boat anglers who frequent Lake Champlain and are looking forward to another trolling season. In a recent conversation with Eric Palmer, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department Director of Fisheries, many issues of interest to all of you were covered. Eric, like most of us, is very pleased with the recent success of the Lamprey Control program as evidenced in greatly reduced “wounding rates” on all species in the lake. There have been many rumors circulating about the transfer of the Lamprey Program from Vermont to the Federal Government. It is always good to squash nasty rumors with facts and Eric was happy to provide us with the facts in this issue. First of all, the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Cooperative has for years now been implementing the Lamprey Program as a joint venture between NY, VT, and the US F&W service. Canada has also joined, but on a much limited basis since they only have the Pike River to deal with, and have started to use removable barriers on Morpion Stream to quell the spring spawning of adult Lamprey. The potential transfer of administrative responsibility from VT to the US F&W is being pursued primarily to model itself after the successful similar program used by the Fisheries Commission in the Great Lakes. It also has the advantage of avoiding potential conflicts in the permitting process for TFM introduction to the streams, since the VT F&W is now applying for the permit, and the Agency of Natural Resources is responsible for screening it and approving it—-which is essentially the same department. Since the US F&W would have jurisdiction under the proposed change, and has very definable parameters and a track record of results in the Great Lakes, it would seem both reasonable and practical to transfer the permitting process to the Feds. The change, if approved, would not, in any way, affect the actual cooperative agreement between NY, VT, and the US F&W. Another of the practical benefits is that NY has experienced drastic cuts in all their budgets due to defecits and this new arrangement should help to alleviate potential manpower shortages to get the actual treatments done on the NY side.
Senator Leahy has been actively involved for years now in securing separate Lamprey Control monies and, at least for the next two years, we have the funds for the treatments. About a half million of these funds is used each year for the chemicals, and the state provides the personnel and equipment in cooperation with NY and the Feds to complete the treatment. The state figures that it provides about $150,000 in personnel costs to these efforts.
The dramatic improvement in both the quality and quantity of Lakers and Salmon, as well as Steelhead in lake Champlain is attributed to the consistent and systematic application of TFM to the Lamprey spawning headwaters. Though many of us have felt that the introduction of the Alewife as a forage fish had a lot to do with the increasing size of the game fish in the lake, Eric pointed out that the same spike in quality occurred back in the early days of Lamprey Control, when they first started applying it to the streams. At that time, there were NO Alewives in the lake, which gives some baseline information that would seem to rule out the Alewife as a major factor in improvement.
There is a big problem with the Alewife as a newly introduced species to Lake Champlain. The Alewife has an enzyme which causes Thiamine (B-1) to break down and thus causes a deficiency in the predator fish that eat the Alewives. This deficiency causes the fish to become sterile and thus non –reproductive. When the species are gathered in the hatchery (Ed Weed) they must be placed in a Thiamine bath to restore their productivity prior to fertilization.
As far as size of the fish is concerned, the Steelhead and Salmon are a relatively short lived species and are affected greatly by the size of the body of water that they live in. Bigger the lake—-more forage fish to feast upon—bigger size and growth rates. So do not, under most circumstances, expect to see either of these species grow to the size they do in Lake Ontario. But, with lamprey under more control, they will get larger than they are now. The Steelhead presently being stocked into Lake Champlain come from the Altmar Hatchery in NY, the same hatchery that provides Lake Ontario Steelhead. They are gathered right there at Beaver Brook and are of the original “Chambers Creek” Steelies, first used in NY on all the tribs there. This strain has been stocked in Lake Champlain for some 10 years now.
Lastly, I will be brief in saying that there are agreements presently under discussion to both improve the Boating Access at Crown Point (THE BRIDGE), and also possibly use the present access to the Ferry as well. I do not want to jinx either myself or the plans, but all we can do is hope that level and reasonable heads prevail, but there definitely is the intention there to IMPROVE BOTH THE ACCESS—THE LAUNCH POINT—AND THE DOCKING FACILITIES as part of the total bridge project.
And finally——-The ROCK SNOT banning of FELT SOLED BOOTS was NOT the Vermont Fish and Wildlife’s idea. It was a LEGISLATIVE issue, brought up by well intentioned legislators who obviously reacted in a “knee jerk” manner to the problem. Like most legislation introduced in this manner, it was NOT well thought out and obviously needs “tweeking” to make it more palatable, as well as more responsive to the actual problem—and I will just leave it at that.
To all of you who VOTED, I thank you. In our democracy the only way you have to express your views responsibly is to use the power you have to vote—-a power given to us through the blood of our ancestors, and preserved today by our valiant forces——all heroes. Until next week, good sports.
Cormorant Control on Lake Champlain
Posted February 3, 2011 – 12:34pm by LCIscientist
Plans Being Made to Control Cormorants on Lake Champlain
The Lake Champlain Cormorants Communication Committee met at Grand Isle on January 24th to discuss details of a new management plan for control and management of Lake Champlain’s cormorant population. Management of double crested cormorants is a policy being incorporated into a new comprehensive Colonial Waterbird Management Plan being drafted for Lake Champlain. The new plan is being prepared by USDA APHIS in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, VT Department of Fish and Wildlife, NY DEC and other experts. Once the plan is complete, it will be available for public comment part as part of the standard federal NEPA process for environmental assessments. Implementation of the final Cormorant Management Plan depends upon approval of the Lake Champlain Management Cooperative which has three voting members: Patrick Berry (Commissioner, VT Department of Fish and Wildlife); Patricia Rexinger (Director, Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources, NY, DEC) and Marvin Moriarty (Director, USFWS, Region 5). The plan is expected to be on the agenda for approval by the Cooperative at its’ summer meeting this June-July.
Double crested cormorants are large, black, fish-eating birds that weight about 6 pounds. They are native to North America but were not known to occur on Lake Champlain until the 1930’s. In 1972, the double crested cormorant was added to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act’s protected bird list. Thereafter, numbers of cormorants began to increase. They established a significant breeding population on Lake Champlain during the 1980s followed by a period of explosive population growth during the 1990s.
The population inhabiting Lake Champlain is now estimated to be between 12,000 and 20,000 birds. The birds spend about 212 days per year on Lake Champlain, mid-March through mid-October, migrating south in the fall, along the Atlantic coast and Mississippi River drainage to overwinter in the southeastern states and Gulf of Mexico. Cormorants eat about one pound of fish per day. Using these numbers, a simple calculation reveals that cormorants consume between 2.5 and 4.25 million pounds of fish per year from Lake Champlain.
Impacts that cormorants are having on Lake Champlain fisheries have not been determined because costs and labor have limited monitoring and research efforts. However, consumption of millions of pounds of fish each year by cormorants is, understandably, alarming to anglers and raises concern among fisheries biologists. Concerns have grown as reports out of the eastern basin of Lake Ontario have concluded that cormorants have a significant predatory impact on smallmouth bass, a native and economically important species as well as other species. Great Lakes research suggests that cormorants can impact fish populations when their numbers exceed 2 to 4 per square kilometer of lake surface area. Lake Champlain has a surface area of about 1,080 square kilometers.
Cormorants also have non-fishery impacts. Most of the cormorant population growth has occurred on the Four Brothers Islands, on the New York side of the lake, and Young Island in Vermont. As the population has grown and expanded on Lake Champlain, cormorants have forced other colonial nesting birds such as black-crowned night heron, blue heron and the endangered common tern from their nesting colonies. Cormorants have nested on more than 16 different islands on the lake at one time or another. A special concern also exists when competition for nesting sites jeopardizes reproductive success of rare, threatened, or endangered plant and animal species. Nesting cormorants use sticks and twigs from nearby trees and shrubs for nest materials leaving trees and shrubs stripped. Nesting and roosting Cormorants also deposit large quantities of guano. Guano builds up with time and eventually kills island vegetation and prevents new vegetation from growing.
Denuded islands also impact other human uses such as hiking, beach going, picnicking and swimming. Strong odors from the presence of large quantities of guano other aesthetic reasons cause people to object to seeing islands overtaken by Cormorants.
Double-crested Cormorants have been managed under federal permits by the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife and New York DEC with the assistance of USDA APHIS. However, these efforts have been limited and not designed to manage towards a lake-wide cormorant population goal.
The Lake Champlain Colonial Waterbird Management Plan is being written to comprehensively deal with the issues of managing all colonial waterbirds on Lake Champlain. A sound numerical goal for the cormorant population is critical to the plan. Even more critical will be the ability and willingness to effectively take action and meet time-lines that will truly reduce the cormorant population and protect fisheries, colonial waterbirds and habitat.
8 Year Turkey
I’m writing this for all you new turkey hunters out there that may not have bagged your first turkey yet. I have to say turkey hunting isn’t quite as difficult these days in Vermont as it was back in the seventies.
I had just been discharged from the Army and was looking for some new adventures when I read an article that Vermont was going to offer its first ever turkey season in the spring of 1973. Little did I realize what I was getting into. Eight years later I was still looking to bag my first turkey. After purchasing every call ever made and attending any seminar I could find within 100 miles, the wild turkey still outwitted me.
Pawlet and Rupert Vermont were the only places where turkeys existed in any numbers in those days and that’s where we hunted. I can still remember that first day of turkey season like it was yesterday. Camouflage wasn’t in fashion yet so I wore whatever I happened to have on at the time. I told my father I was going turkey hunting and he decided he would ride up with me, drop me off and fish the Mettowee River while I was turkey hunting.
Scouting was still something that happened in the Boy Scouts so I had no clue where to go that first morning. We picked a likely looking spot on Mountain Road between Rupert and Pawlet. Dad dropped me off and away I went, embarking on my first spring hunt for turkeys. I had seen pictures of turkeys but never having seen a live bird in the flesh wasn’t sure what to expect. As I recall around 7:00am I heard something up on a ledge above me making sounds I’d never heard in the woods. Sounded like some chirping, spitting and drumming. When you’ve never heard a wild turkey gobble you don’t have a clue what it might sound like in the woods. I don’t think I’d ever even heard a domestic turkey gobble. About all I’d ever done with turkeys was eat them at Mom’s on Thanksgiving. After hearing this noise and thinking I’d better be on the look out, I went into sneak mode. I was in a notch between two ledges when I heard something on top of the ledge and to my right take off. The noise was so loud that it didn’t even occur to me that it might be a turkey. Sounded like a flock of 4 or 5 partridges had just flushed! Looking in the direction where I had heard this racket, a bird so large, that it startled me flew directly over my head and out of visibility onto the other ledge. I could have shot this turkey on the wing as he passed over my head at about 20 yards but even after seeing this huge bird I still wasn’t sure what I’d seen. After he landed he proceeded to gobble up a storm so I sat down with my box call and gave him a couple of calls, which he totally ignored. I didn’t know enough to try to get above him so I continued to call while the bird was almost directly above me on the ledge. He must have eventually seen me standing there like the rookie I was, as he stopped gobbling and disappeared.
After the tom left I set down on a stump and started running everything though my mind as to what had happened, was it really a wild tom turkey, my imagination or some other creature of the forest I’d never seen before. Yep, it had a red head and there was a beard about 8 or 9 inches hanging off its breast as it flew over my head. Yes, it was a Wild Tom Turkey and man was I excited. My first day hunting and I’d already had one close enough to almost get a shot.
Well that first season of 1973 went by and seven more before I finally called in my first turkey and packed him out over my shoulder. Back then I would take a week off for Spring Turkey season and if I heard 1 or 2 bird’s gobble it would be a great week. Since that first hunt I’ve taught many new turkey hunters the tricks the wild turkey has taught me over the years. Eight years of trying to outwit the wild turkey taught me a lot about the wily bird. 38 years of hunting this magnificent bird and my adrenaline still gets as pumped now as it did for that first bird.