Trolling in the Deep? Best Downriggers Explained and Our Favorites Reviewed

A downrigger is the best way to troll, whether you like the thrill of deep-running walleyes, summer lake trout excitement, or the adrenaline rush from monster kokanee. Downriggers were originally designed for commercial fishing. They are now popular among saltwater anglers and sport fishermen who fish large deep lakes in the north and south of the United States.

It’s not easy to find the best downrigger. We’ll help you understand the basics of outrigger fishing and draw the outline to help you choose the right one. We will also be looking at some of our favourite outriggers and assessing their strengths.

Here’s a quick look at the top manual and electric downriggers.

ImageDownriggerTypeArm LengthMount
The Runabout (Clamp-On)Big Jon Sports the RunaboutManual24Clamp
Cannon 1901200 Mini-Troll Manual DownriggerCannon Mini-TrollManualN/AClamp
Cannon Uni-Troll Manual Downrigger, 10 STXCannon Uni-Troll 10 STXManualTelescoping available 24″-53″.Fixed
Scotty #1050 Depthmaster Manual Downrigger, Display Packed w/ Rod Holder, BLACK, 23'#1050 Depthmaster ScottyManual23Fixed/Quick-Slide
Scotty #1106 Depthpower Electric Downrigger w/ 60-Inch Telescopic Boom & Swivel Base, Rod HolderScotty #1106 DepthpowerElectricTelescoping available in 36″-60″.Fixed
Captain's PakBig Jon Sports Captain’s PakElectricSectional sizes 24″, 36″, and 48 inchesFixed
Cannon 1902305 Magnum 10 Electric DownriggerCannon Magnum 10 STXElectricTelescoping available 24″-53″.Fixed

Best Manual Downrigger Reviewed

Big Jon Sports The RunaboutOur Choice!

The Runabout (Clamp-On)

Type:Manual
Arm length24
Mount:Clamp

Big Jon Sports calls The Runabout an “entry-level” downrigger. It’s a great downrigger, with excellent performance. Anglers who have used it are generally very happy.

The Runabout’s spool drives by arm-power. If you troll below 75 feet it may not be the best option. This model can crank weights from the bottom and is built like an army tank. The brake and clutch system are excellent for controlling descent.

You don’t have to worry about your boat being smashed by a higher weight with a 24-inch arm. All you need is to worry about the fish on the line.

The Runabout can be mounted directly on smaller craft’s gunwales. It was specifically designed for transom mounting for anglers who fish alone. The quality clamps can fit transoms up 2 inches thick.

This package is completed by an arm-mounted rod holder. We are impressed.

Pros

  • Amazing crank
  • Excellent clutch/braking system
  • A strong arm
  • Amazing mount
  • Good rod holder

Cons

  • Relatively costly

Cannon Mini-Troll

Cannon 1901200 Mini-Troll Manual Downrigger

Type: Manual
Arm length N/A
Mount: 2 1/2″ clamp

Cannon understands that not everyone can afford a boat. Their Mini-Troll is a great choice if you have a small boat like a jon boat or canoe.

The Mini-Troll is compact and lightweight. It features a one-piece design and a short, fixed arm. It’s okay! A small boat doesn’t require much length. It’s rated for a weight of four pounds, so it’s strong enough for the job. You won’t want more weight to troll in such a small boat.

It is quite useful at shallow depths. The tip of the arm has a depth counter. This is a feature that we love and hope you enjoy.

The ‘rigger attaches directly to your boat’s gunwale using a large bolt. This must be seated correctly and securely fastened. Otherwise, it can become loose in heavy waves or swells.

An aftermarket kit will be required to make a rod holder. It will include a line release and a weight. It’s expensive.

This small downrigger is capable and you can use it as a clamp-mounting guide.

Pros

  • Good crank
  • It comes with a depth counter
  • Excellent clamp-mounting system

Cons

  • Only available with aftermarket kits

Cannon Uni-Troll 10 STX

Cannon Uni-Troll Manual Downrigger, 10 STX

Type: Manual
Arm length Telescoping available 24″-53″.
Mount: Fixed

If we had a bigger boat and wanted a manual downrigger, the Uni-Troll 10 STX by Cannon is the model that we would choose. Its simplicity ensures a strong, durable performance and is a bit cheaper than electric alternatives.

The Uni-Troll 10STX’s 2:2 gearing provides plenty of power for retrieval. However, we recommend an electric if you troll more than 75 feet. The clutch and braking system are superb, and the enclosed arm tip allows for line jumping. Its performance will impress you.

This swiveling base mounts via the same system as Cannon’s electric downriggers. It is not tilting, but you can expect good results. It will still give you plenty of options, including the ability to lift the arm off the docking surface.

The Uni-Troll 10 STX has a telescoping stainless-steel arm that can be adjusted from 24 to 53 inches. This allows for plenty of space between your swinging weight and your boat’s freeboard.

It also features a depth counter like the other Cannon downriggers that we reviewed. This feature is something we love. It also has a rear-mounted adjustable rod holder.

Overall, this downrigger is quite impressive.

Pros

  • Good crank
  • Good clutch/braking system
  • A strong arm
  • Amazing mounts
  • Good rod holder
  • It comes with a depth counter

Cons

  • Base doesn’t tilt

#1050 Depthmaster Scotty

Scotty #1050 Depthmaster Manual Downrigger, Display Packed w/ Rod Holder, BLACK, 23'

Type: Manual
Arm length 23
Mount: Fixed/Quick-Slide

Scotty doesn’t forget about anglers who like a smaller, more manual downrigger. Their #1050 Depthmaster is an excellent choice, especially if they don’t use heavy weights.

The gearing of the #1050 provides one foot of retrieval for each crank. This is sufficient if you don’t fish deeper than 75 feet. The descent control system works well and is solid.

The Scotty model includes a Quick-Slide Deck mounting bracket for the 1010 and all hardware needed to attach it. Be aware that if your boat’s gunwale or transom is not thick enough, the Scotty #1015 Right Angle Side Mounting Bracket may be required. This is not a big deal as it’s very affordable.

The #1050 has a 23-inch stainless steel arm. This is enough for small boats, where the downrigger can be found a home. With the Quick-Slide mounting systems, docking will not be a problem. The side-mounting system is available for purchase if you need it.

The arm has a Scotty 355 Rodmaster 2 Rod Holder.

This ‘rigger may be simple, but it is very effective and doesn’t cost a lot.

Pros

  • Good crank
  • Good clutch/braking system
  • A strong arm
  • Amazing mounts
  • Great rod holder

Cons

  • To fit thin transoms or gunwales, a fixed side mounting bracket may be required

Best Electric Downrigger Reviews

Scotty #1106 DepthpowerOur Choice!

Scotty #1106 Depthpower Electric Downrigger w/ 60-Inch Telescopic Boom & Swivel Base, Rod Holder

Type: Electric
Arm length Telescoping available in 36″-60″.
Mount: Fixed

Scotty’s #1106 downrigger is “big boat” and has all the features that anglers will love. It’s also a top-of-the-line downrigger, as ‘rigger enthusiasts will tell you.

This ‘rigger’ has a powerful motor at its heart that can lift a 7-pound weight at approximately four feet per second, or a 15-pound load at slightly more than three feet per minute. It doesn’t make a huge difference, but you will be amazed at the power that the #1106 can produce, especially when trolling deep.

The motor comes with a fully adjustable clutch that allows you to adjust your descent speed.

It also comes with 1008 Stopper Beads. This is a great accessory if you are a sole downrigger operator. It allows you to concentrate on your rod and not your ‘rigger.

Scotty’s #1106 has a telescoping arm. It can be collapsed to 36 inches, or extended to 60 inches for boats with high freeboards. A Scotty 358 Rodmaster 2 Rod Holder is attached directly to the stainless steel arm.

The #1106 includes a 16-position fixed pivot mount as well as all hardware needed to attach it. You have full 360 degree versatility. This makes it simple to use and pull inboard. The tilting bracket can be combined with this to give you a wide range of positions.

Pros

  • High retrieval speed and powerful motor
  • Great clutch system
  • Telescoping arm with strong, powerful capabilities
  • Amazing mounts
  • Great rod holder

Cons

  • No depth counter

Big Jon Sports Captain’s Pak

Captain's Pak

Type: Electric
Arm length Sectional sizes 24″, 36″, and 48 inches
Mount: Fixed

Big Jon’s Captain Pak is a legend. However, it is one of the most expensive downriggers available. This option is great if you don’t mind paying a lot and have a large boat.

The Captain’s pak engine can pull a 12-pound load at more than 2 feet per second. This is impressive in any way, but it comes second to Scotty #1106 in this department. You can rely on the brake and clutch to control descent season after season.

Big Jon also offers a three-piece sectional boom. This gives you the choice of 24, 36 or 42 inches. This is enough for most people, but you can get a longer arm with the Scotty #1106 or the Cannon Magnum 10 STX.

Mounting the Captain’s Pak is done via a four-by-4 inch bracket. It also comes with all hardware needed to attach it to your gunwale. It swivels to give you 360 degree versatility and eight positions for docking or fishing.

It doesn’t tilt like Scotty #1106. This is not a problem for us and we don’t think it will be a dealbreaker for you.

Two adjustable rod holders are also found in ball cradles. They’re easy to adjust and of excellent quality. Like the Cannon models this Big Jon also features a depth counter.

Pros

  • Strong motor with high retrieval speed
  • Great clutch system
  • Strong sectional arm
  • Amazing mounts
  • Amazing dual rod holders
  • It comes with a depth counter

Cons

  • Mount doesn’t tilt

Cannon Magnum 10 STX

Cannon 1902305 Magnum 10 Electric Downrigger

Type: Electric
Arm length Telescoping available 24″-53″.
Mount: Fixed

Cannon is a trusted brand in downriggers and the Magnum series helps to explain why. We love the 10 STX and think it’s a great option to the Scotty #1106.

Cannon claims it has the fastest and most powerful motors in industry. Their product information states that their retrieval speed is a little over four feet per sec. This motor will please, although we don’t know the weight they used for this calculation. It will quickly raise a 12-pound body weight from the depths. Expect to be amazed.

The Magnum 10 STX has an auto-stop feature that ensures the weight is always at the waterline.

The base is fixed and swivel, and comes with all hardware needed to attach it. This allows for plenty of trolling options and makes it easy to swing the ‘rigger intoboard. The Scotty has a slightly lower adjustability, as it doesn’t tilt. It will all depend on your requirements, but we don’t think it’s too much.

The Cannon has a telescoping stainless-steel arm. It can be collapsed to 24 inches, or extended to 53 inches depending on your needs. As you would expect, behind the motor is an adjustable rod holder.

The Magnum 10 STX also has a depth counter. Although the cable angle can have an effect on actual depth, it is still useful and something that most downrigger fishermen will appreciate.

Pros

  • Amazing retrieval speed and powerful motor
  • Great clutch system
  • Telescoping arm with strong, powerful capabilities
  • Amazing mounts
  • It comes with a depth counter

Cons

  • Base doesn’t tilt

What you need to know about Downrigger basics

What is a Downrigger?

Downriggers can be very simple. It’s a way to raise and lower a weight in the water. This allows trolling to use lures at specific depths, and allow you to go deeper than the lead core.

They are attached to your boat’s gunwale and consist of a spool of cable, a cranking mechanism to control descent, an arm, and a cable. Attaching a weight to the end a braided or stainless steel cable creates a long, strong line that you can use to clip your fishing line or lure.

If they are set up properly, they can be used to fish large water bodies, increasing productivity, especially in areas where fish may be very deep.

How can you use a downrigger?

Attach a weight to the cable’s end after you have secured a downrigger to the gunwale. The cable will hang higher if it is heavier than the rest.

The more vertical your downrigger cables are, the less blowback you will experience. Blowback refers to how far your downrigger cable is pulled by drag when you troll. It is an angle that reduces the depth of your downrigger.

After determining the weight, speed, depth and desired weight of your ‘rigger, attach your fishing line to your cable. Line releases let you know when a fish grabs your lure. These should be chosen carefully to ensure that the line releases release when a fish bites the lure, but not when it is pulled through water.

Below is a diagram. Notice how heavier weights have less blowback and run deeper than the cable your downrigger releases.

The details are what really matter. From weight to cable material to tide and current to boat speeds, weight shape and lure design, it is important to understand how to use your downrigger to its full potential. These details are not covered here but experienced ‘rigger anglers will know what we mean.

How to use a downrigger

How to use a downrigger to catch lake trout

What are the best places to use a downrigger?

Saltwater anglers who fish deep-water are familiar with downriggers. They are also popular on the Great Lakes and Lake of the Woods as well as Lake Simcoe and other deep-water lakes. You can actually find downriggers wherever anglers fish large basins for deep-water fish.

What is the best time to use a downrigger?

Saltwater anglers have a year-round solution.

Downriggers are a summer favorite for freshwater fishermen. Cold-water species such as walleye will move into the depths to find cooler water after the spring spawn. Lake trout and kokanee species spend their entire summer deep in the ocean.

These fish are usually found below the depth of a crankbait or lead core, which is why they’re so common throughout the year. A downrigger is the best tool for trolling deep. It will ensure that your lures are at the right depth.

How to Choose the Best Downrigger

It can be difficult to choose the right downrigger that suits your needs. These are some things that will help you make an informed decision.

Long vs. Short Arm

Your downrigger arm will be shorter if your boat is smaller.

  • 15 feet and smallerWe recommend that a downrigger arm be between 20 and 24 inches for smaller boats. A long arm is not necessary and it’s not a disadvantage. The length of the arm should be long enough to reach the sides of the boat without allowing the weight to smash into it.
  • 22 feet or moreLarger boats require longer downrigger arms. If you fish from a boat that is longer than 22 feet, we recommend downriggers of between 30 and 48 inches. To prevent your boat’s side from being impacted by your weight, we recommend that your freeboard be as high as possible.

Manual vs. Electric

Both have their advantages and disadvantages. You will need to consider how deep you can troll, what you want to spend, and how willing to lift that weight each time you catch fish or re-tie a bait.

However, electric downriggers are recommended for fishing below 75 feet. This is because it’s often the case offshore and in deep lakes. It’s a tedious task to manually retrieve a lot of cable, and can slow you down.

A manual downrigger is a great choice if you troll at depths between 40 and 50 feet. You won’t have to do much to get that weight up and you’ll be able save a lot of cash.

Electric

The usual 12V power supply is used for electric downriggers. This is the same as trolling motors, outboard engines, and fish finders. These downriggers allow for effortless retrieval which is a huge advantage when trolling deep.

Pros

  • It is easy to use alone, especially when equipped with an auto stop
  • Quick

Cons

  • More expensive
  • Maintenance: More
  • Your marine batteries will draw more power

Manual

To retrieve the cable, manual downriggers use a crank. They’re great for trolling deeper than 75 feet, but they can also give you Popeye’s forearms.

Pros

  • Simple to maintain
  • Relatively affordable

Cons

  • If you are deep-sea fishing, it will take a lot of work.
  • Use is slower

Mounting systems

There are three types of mounting system for downriggers. It is partly dependent on your boat which mounting system is best for you. Your willingness to attach a mount to the gunwale and drill a hole in it may influence your decision.

  • Clamps Clamps can be used to secure smaller downriggers on your boat’s gunwale. This allows for easy removal and stability. These systems are great for small boats or rentals.
  • Gimbal mounts You can use a flush-mounted rod holder to serve as a base, by simply sliding a bottom-mountedrod into place. These rod holders are easy to take off for docking and provide a lot of strength. Make sure you get the right mount for your downrigger.
  • Fixed mounts These are the strongest and best option for large boats. They require drilling and permanent mounting. However, they are the strongest and most secure way of attaching a downrigger and allow it to swivel insideboard during docking. You’ll need to make sure that you choose the right model for your downrigger, just like gimbal mounts.

Braid vs. Stainless Steel Cable

While stainless steel cables were once the best choice for downriggers (and still are), a new breed synthetic cable gives you the option to braid. There are many opinions on which is the best, and many people have different opinions.

It is worth noting that fishermen swear by the electrical pulse produced by a properly grounded steel cable, while others believe that the hum actually attracts fish. Although we haven’t seen any evidence to support either of these claims, it’s not impossible to ignore them.

Others like that the braid is easy to tie and low-drag. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each.

Steel

Stainless steel cable is the best choice for downrigger anglers. Scotty’s is a great choice if you choose to use steel cable.

Pros

  • Strong
  • Abrasion resistant
  • Relatively affordable

Cons

  • You can be tough on your hands
  • Conducts electricity, must be grounded to avoid any dangerous complications
  • Can you cut the fishing line?
  • A crimping tool is required
  • This creates more drag, and therefore more blowback
  • Can you hum and be loud at trolling speed?

Braid

The advancements in synthetic materials have given ‘rigger anglers an option to use synthetic braided cables. There are many braided ‘rigger cable options, but many anglers prefer a heavier-weight fishing line such as Power Pro. Scotty’s braid is the best choice if you are looking for purpose-built gear.

Pros

  • Can be stronger than stainless steel in tensile strength
  • Quiet
  • Low drag and less blowback
  • It’s easy to tie
  • Because of its smaller size, a spool will generally yield more.

Cons

  • You may need additional equipment, such as beads, to make your auto stop work properly
  • Water fleas can stick to braids
  • You still have a lot to do
  • The knot strength of braided cable is lower than its tensile force
  • Relatively costly

Our Picks: Big Jon Sports the Runabout and Scotty #1106 Depthpower

There is no “best” downrigger. It’s only the one that works for you and your boat. When choosing the right downrigger, consider your arm length, depth, mounting options, and whether steel or braided cables are preferred.

There are some differences between models and there are some features that make them stand out. We recommend Big Jon’s The Runabout if you are leaning towards a manual downrigger.

The Runabout, a manual ‘rigger built for years of water abuse, is unsurpassed. It is easy to mount or attach to the transom or gunwale of small boats. This product is highly recommended, even though it is not the most expensive.

The Scotty #1106 is a great choice if you are looking for an electric downrigger. It’s powerful and simple to use, thanks to its strong motor. The telescoping arm offers many options and the mounting system is our favorite. The only thing that is lacking is the absence of the depth counter, which you will find on the Big Jon and Cannon.

These are all highly respected products that offer outstanding performance and will be of great use out on the water.

Leave a comment to let us know your thoughts about our choices.

Lewis
Lewis Mark is a vastly experienced fly fisher. His encyclopedic knowledge of fly tying has led to start blog on fishing. He also review Fishing equipment based on his knowledge and experience.