Use a Homemade Downrigger
To Get Your Lure Down Deeper

Why bother with a homemade downrigger? Well if you can justify the expense of bought one, indeed why bother? But neither manual or electric downriggers come cheap. You're looking at from $100+ to over $1,000 for the very best.

OK, with a homemade downrigger we're not going to be able to get the same benefits and convenience as we would with an expensive electric one, but to create a means of getting our trolling lure down on its own separate line to a much greater depth than it would otherwise achieve is well within our capability.

The first version involves the butt end of a fishing rod and the second, just a rail-mounted reel.

An even simpler approach is to attach the planer line directly to a cleat at the stern of the boat.

The 'Rod Stub' Version of a Homemade Downrigger

A homemade downrigger is normally the result of an accident involving a rod, which leaves you with the butt end and maybe a couple a feet of the blank ahead of the reel fitting - Perfect!

You now need a reel that can handle wire line and operates below the rod, which rules out both conventional (multiplier) reels and spinning reels.

A drum reel is the answer - one like the Australian Alvey is ideal - and the larger its diameter, the better.

If the butt ring is left on the rod, don't be tempted to use it - the odds are it won't be up to the job. Cut it off and lash a pulley wheel in its place, and once you've wound on around 150ft (50m) of very strong line (ideally wire, but mono is easier to handle) and got yourself a downrigger weight or a planer you're ready to go.

Well almost - you will have to find a spare rodholder to put it in.

The 'Just a Reel' Version

A Penn Senator 12/0Our Penn Senator 12/0 trolling reel bolted to the sternrail.

But you don't have to wait until you've broken a rod before you can make a 'poor mans' downrigger.

I've got a Penn Senator 12/0 reel permanently fixed to the sternrail of my sailboat 'Alacazam' which is primarily there for the quick deployment of a trolling line when I haven't got the rods out.

But I sometimes use this as a 'homemade' downrigger. I've got braided dacron line of the reel, which isn't ideal for a downrigger line as it's large diameter and low density - mono would be much better and single strand wire line best of all - but it works.

With a planer, the line comes off the reel at about 45 degrees, which clears everything on the boat so the short extension that a rod butt-end would provide isn't needed at all.

Similarly, you could use a reel specifically designed for the job, like the one shown here:

Even so, winding up a 12lb trolling weight from the depths would soon become a little tiresome.

Planers, like the Sea Striker Planer shown below, are much better suited for this type of homemade downrigger as they weigh just a few ounces and, once tripped, they're very easy to recover.

There are 6 planer sizes to choose from in increasing operating depths; #1, #2, #3, #4, #5 and #6.

To trip them, just pull in 3ft (1m) or so of line and release it. You may have to do this a few times, as the planer needs to tumble to allow the attachment ring to move to the forward position. Conversely, it can be reset through the same procedure.

A fixed line planer kit on a sailboatThe Seastriker Planer Kit set-up on a sailboat

The 'Just a Planer Line' Version

This version of a homemade downrigger does without the reel too, by using a planer line of a fixed length which is secured directly to a stern mooring cleat!

Using this version on Alacazam it frees up the Penn Senator for trolling duties, enabling me to set two standard trolling lines plus one on the aptly-named Poor Man's Downrigger Planer Kit shown below.

Using this approach together with a deep-diving plug, I reckon I can get the lure down about 50ft (16m) with Alacazam bowling along at 6 to 7 knots.

Who needs an expensive downrigger!

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