Here in Victoria 2010 saw serious, consistent rain extend from winter well into the early months of summer. Angling options were seriously effected by the deluge and as much as I enjoy my trout and deep water bream fishing, I was getting a little over it and looking for something different. My two young sons had been at me to go fishing. Now I would have usually taken them for a bit of a vibe session on the local bream. But the fish that had been showing on the sounder had been very slow to bite on deep techniques such as vibing or fishing plastics on light line. It certainly wasn’t going to be productive enough fishing to keep two young boys interested. Trolling had often been a way of getting them onto some fish in the past, but with the fish holding in the deep water away from the fresh water on the surface and margins, our usual trolling runs weren’t going to provide much joy. However I decided to put the Downriggers, still on the boat from a trout session earlier in the week, to use in the hope that we could get lures down to where the bream were holding. We headed to the area of the river where we had been sounding up plenty of fish, but struggling to catch any, on previous trips. Sure enough the fish began showing on the Humminbird in the same area that I’d marked them previously so the Downriggers were deployed. We had only traveled a short distance when I noticed line had unclipped from one of the Downriggers and was angling off to the side of the boat. Estuary Perch often angle off to the side when hooked and this seemed like a smallish specimen so I told my eldest son to get the rod. As he did though the fish woke up and began peeling, line suggesting something far larger than a small perch. The 41cm bream that was soon sliding into the net was the first of many bream we managed that trip and over then next few weeks, on down rigged hard body lures.
How do you catch a bream on a Downrigger?
So how do you go about trying to catch a bream on a downrigger. As mentioned earlier it is a good technique for catching fish holding in deep water say from 5-9m deep. Finding these schooled up fish using your sounder is the first step. A quality sounder is essential so you reliably locate fish and thus give you the confidence to put your time into that area. Even though you cover the ground quicker than if you were using other luring methods you are still travelling fairly slowly under electric power. Because you won’t be too maneuverable, look for fish holding in areas where you can get a decent trolling run in, with out having to worry about too many snags. Fortunately bream are well known to come off structure and school heavily in deep, flat bottomed areas at this time of year.
The benefit of using a Downrigger for bream is the ability to be able to present a hardbodied style lure at a depth that it usually wouldn’t be able to achieve by itself. The benefit of this is that bream will often hit a harbody for two reasons. The obvious reason is they think it’s a prey item and want to eat it. Bream though that are shut down and not interested in feeding are still partial to hitting a hardbody out of aggression, even if they are not interested in eating it. This reaction bite is not as obtainable if you were using say for example a deep fished soft plastic.
Even though you may be looking for a reaction type of bite, I’m sure a bream isn’t going to react towards a downrigger bomb in the way a trout might. When trout trolling quite often it can be advantageous to fish your lure close to the bomb, or the bomb with a trolling attractor attached, as the curious trout are often attracted to this first, then hit the lure or bait trailing close behind. When down rigging for bream however you need to fish your lure on a far longer backdrop from the bomb than that. The reason to do this is to give plenty of line to allow the lure to dive to its maximum depth, keeping it out of the path of the bomb and diving into the fish schooled below. Once again a quality sounder and knowing how deep your lure dives are important factors here. The lures I have been using are all rated to dive to around 1.8-2m. If the fish are holding in say six meters of water having that lure attached to your bomb in about 3 to 3.5m of water should have it running close enough to the bottom to arouse the fish’s interest without it being too close to the bottom that it constantly picks up weed. It is important that you continually check the lure to see that it hasn’t picked up any weed or algae as it will not only effect the lures action, but fish usually don’t hit a lure that has any weed on it anyway.
As stated earlier it is important to fish the lure well back off the bomb so the first cast your lure out a full cast behind the boat. Then attach the line to the downrigger clip. The clip needs to be one with a fairly light tension; the same clip that you would use trout fishing would be fine. Make sure you have backed the drag off enough so that the line will stay in the clip as you lower the bomb. Then slowly lower the bomb to the required depth using the counter on your downrigger or watching the bomb on the sounder which will show up as a very distinctive line at the depth you are fishing it. Re-tighten the drag and wind the rod tip down so that it is under some tension. (see photo) This helps take up any slack line when a fish hits and assists in setting the hook efficiently. It sounds simple but can be a bit of chore if you are also trying to also manage the boat position at the same time as putting one, then a second downrigger out. My new Minn Kota I-Pilot electric motor is a wonderful piece of technology to assist you in this situation. With the remote on a lanyard around your neck it is always easily accessible should you need to alter course or speed whilst attending to the downriggers. If you do find a stretch of river holding fish that are biting then the “record a track feature” can be employed. This feature uses GPS technology to allow you to automatically retrace that path keeping your concentration free to attend to the downriggers and more fun things like pulling in fish!
As stated earlier you need to be looking for deeper diving style lures that are able to get down away from the tracking depth of the bomb. Another important factor is choosing quality well balanced lures that track well without tangling. Even though you will be trolling at a slow speed behind the electric the lures will be working harder than in a normal cast and retrieve scenario. This is particularly evident as you are lowering the bomb. A lure that ‘hangs up” on itself, tangling the line at this time would be particularly annoying. I have found elongated minnow style lures like the Daiwa double clutch and the Zipbait Rigge F56 deep to work well behind the downrigger as well as being attractive (or annoying enough) to elicit a strike.
Standard bream tackle is fine for down rigging. The convenience of a shorter rod say a 6’ 6 to 6’8” model is beneficial when setting the Downrigger. I have been using the Daiwa interline 6’6” model and have found that the lack of guides also helps greatly when down rigging. There is no chance of any line wrapping around a guide (particularly the tip guide) which can result in the line pulling from the clip as you try to deploy the bomb. Seeing you are fishing at depth you can get away with using 6-8lb leader. This slightly heavier than the 4-5lb leader often favored for bream luring is important for a few reasons. As there is a fair bit of line out the angles are working in favor of a big bream being able to find a snag. The extra bargaining power of the heavier leader can help in getting a good fish coming your way. Also seeing you are trying to run your lures close to the bottom even the most vigilant sounder watcher is going to get snagged at some time. The heavier leader at least gives you a better chance of getting your lure back. A tackle back can also be an invaluable bit of equipment.
The benefits of downrigging
Ok so catching bream on a Downrigger may not be as fun as pink grubbing them off the surface or casting to snags, but its all about adaptability and fishing techniques to suit conditions encountered. I’d rather catch fish deep trolling than catch no fish at all. As much as I love slight fishing or casting to structure when breaming it’s not always for everyone. The young, the elderly or the inexperienced may find it difficult to catch bream using techniques favored by experienced lure anglers. However if you are taking any of the aforementioned fishing you can put them onto fish by trolling.
Another way downrigging can be employed is by anglers sounding for fish. Many anglers drive slowly along looking for fish or structure on their sounders but don’t fish whilst doing it. Having a lure out the back on a Downrigger might help in seeing whether that school you’ve just located on your sounder is an actively feeding school or a shut down one.
Whilst a Downrigger can be an expensive item just to target bream it is also a valuable tool in many other angling scenarios. Adding the flexibility of a Downrigger to your angling arsenal may help but more fish in the boat during difficult times.