September 27, 2023
Inland stripers can be found in some form or fashion in 42 states. In those states they exist in waters that are cool enough that the striped bass can survive, typically somewhere in the low 70s. When the water temperature gets above that, the fish start to get uncomfortable.
In deep lakes with cool water and ample dissolved oxygen there’s a thermocline that sets up, typically between 25 and 40 feet from the surface. That lends itself perfectly for trolling methods utilizing downriggers.
The ideal striper trolling bite generally spans the last six to eight weeks of the summer. It may last longer, but it’s all regulated weather. As the nights cool and the days begin to shorten, lake will begin to “turnover”. During this period areas that had oxygen are now depleted.
But it doesn’t happen on the entire lake at the same time. Turnover generally happens first on northern portions of lakes, which causes stripers to spread out but also migrate back to the northern part of the lake which they earlier had vacated when the temperature and dissolved oxygen wasn’t ideal.
When the fish are located close to the thermocline the action can be incredible—the perfect time for trolling with downriggers.
I talked with Field Marketing Manager for the Johnson Outdoors Fishing Group, Bill Carson, to learn more about trolling for inland striped bass. We think you’ll find what he has to say compelling and informative.
What Is Your Typical Striper Trolling Method?
CARSON: “When I’m trolling for striped bass in the summer with two or three people in the boat, I’m fishing five lines. I’m fishing two downriggers and three leadcore lines. I will typically have a big planer board on the port side and a big planer board on the starboard side and instead of using the clips that will break away when a fish hits, I use the clip that you lock into place, so the planer board stays in place on the lead core line. Let’s say I want to target above that thermocline which might be in the low 20s depths. I’ll use an ounce-and-half jig eight to nine colors back or approximately 270 feet. I’ll go out 270 feet, I’ll clip the planer board, and I’ll run one on the port side and one on the starboard side. And then I’ll run one shotgun straight down the middle and put it out like 320 or so feet and put a lighter jig on it so it can’t get tangled in the lines that are out on the port and starboard side. Then I’ll go down on the Cannon Optimum Downriggers and I’ll put something down 25 or 26 feet, which is basically the same as what I have out the back of the boat but I put them back only 30 to 40 feet as a general rule and I’ll troll big spoons. I’ve had a lot of success with the Ben Parker Spoon, the six and a half inch and the Magnum spoon. I’ve also had good success with bucktail jigs with swimbaits on them. I’ve found that glow-in-the-dark baits tend to work really well, specifically D.O.A. makes a glow-in-the-dark swimbait with a chartreuse tail that I have gotten phenomenal success off of and so have many others that I’ve turned it on to. That’s the way I typically troll.”
CARSON: “There are other ways to fish downriggers, too, for striped bass. I could put two or three baits down off each downrigger by utilizing baits that react differently. I could put a bait at the very bottom of the stack on a stacker clip—something like a deep-diving lure, like a Stretch 15 or some kind of trolling plug that emulates a blueback herring or gizzard shad that is typical forage for inland stripers. I could put that on the downrigger first, drop it down five feet, put on another bait that’s not going to go as deep like a 1/2-ounce bucktail jig and drop it back another ten feet farther than what I did the plug that’s going to dive, and then put on a swimbait and drop it down five feet. So now the first bait is down ten feet plus the fifteen feet it’s going to dive. So, I can put two or three baits on each downrigger and stack them like that and troll. The advantage of having leadcore lines in addition, too, is the fact that I made my footprint four, five, or six times bigger because I’m able to use the planer boards to get the leadcore lines out past the footprint of the boat. Because the farther I am behind the boat the closer together any lines I put out of the boat go. Just like air going over an airplane’s wing. I can utilize the boards to get a good spread in addition to my downriggers.”
How Do You Determine Where To Fish?
CARSON: “Using the Lakemaster chart I can see where the old creek channel was—I can see it in the contour lines—and typically you’re going to have standing timber somewhere along the edge of it. Even if before the lake was impounded there were trees standing on the riverbank, there typically was a field before the riverbank where someone was growing corn or cotton. So, I follow the edges of the trees. The other thing I’m doing is deploying the FishHawk on one line. I’ll drop the FishHawk down to 27 feet. That FishHawk sends the temperature at 27 feet back to my Humminbird unit and I can actually display it on my Humminbird screen because I have my Cannon Optimum downrigger connected to my FishHawk and my Cannon downrigger connected to my Humminbird unit. I can pass that data from the FishHawk to the Humminbird Solix unit and see the temperature at depth on the probe that’s on my downrigger ball. I’ll drop it down to different depths—40 feet, 60 feet, 80 feet, when there are no trees and I’ll look at the temperature is at those different depths which helps me key in on where the thermocline is happening.”
What Is Unique About The Functionality Of Your Cannon Optimum Downriggers?
CARSON: “Cannon Optimum Downriggers have the ability to cycle, they have the ability to auto-up which comes in handy when something gets bit or I have to clear lines all I have to do is hit the auto-up button and the units are going to come up. Cannon Optimum downriggers also have the ability to Bluetooth connect to Humminbird units and I can totally control those units from my downriggers and vice versa. As an example, I will pair my downriggers to my. Solix units I have two Solix units in the dash of my boat and one above on a bracket. What I’ll do is I can pick one, pick both, or the port or starboard side unit on the user interface. I’ll have the unit that’s on the port side of my boat affecting the operation of the port side downrigger and the starboard Solix unit running the starboard downrigger. So, I don’t have to switch back between number one and number two in the user interface on the screen. The UI on the port side is connected to the port side downrigger; the UI on the starboard side is connected to the starboard downrigger. I can take my hand off the steering wheel and hit up or cycle on both units and affect both downriggers simultaneously. If I see a tree I’m about to get caught in and can tell from Side Imaging that the tree is on the starboard side of the boat, I can simply push a button to bring the bait up five feet without yelling a command to someone else who’s fishing with me on the boat. I can totally control everything on those downriggers except for reeling in fish while I’m standing at the console.”
What Are The Benefits To Using Three Humminbird Solix Units At The Dash Of Your Boat?
CARSON: “Imagine having two Humminbird Solix units right next to each other in the console. I can set the left unit to be downrigger ball #1 and the one on the right to be the user interface for downrigger ball #2. I can then simply reach up and hit the auto up to get out of the way of a tree. So, I actually use three Solix units at the dash of my boat. A lot of people will say, ‘I don’t need but one unit. I can see everything I need on one unit.’ But the truth is, you really can’t see everything and effectively operate your troll by splitting your screen four ways. What I do with the two units in the console of my boat is I will run the unit that’s on the left side with a chart view that’s split with a larger view and a zoomed in view and on the right side I’ll run sonar and down imaging. On the bracket above I’ll keep side imaging in view to assist me in watching for trees and to follow the creek channel more accurately, too. My 2D transducer is drilled through directly below the console. My side imaging and down imaging are coming off the stern of the boat which is probably 15 feet away. So, 15 feet separates what my 2D sonar is seeing and what my side- and down imaging is seeing. My down imaging and side imaging trail my 2D sonar so when I see a fish on my 2D I know it’s right under the front of the console. When I pick them up on the down imaging just a couple milliseconds later, I know the stern just passed over it. And I can look up at the top of the console to my side imaging view and I can tell if those fish are on the port side or the starboard side of the boat. can zig and zag my trolling utilizing these multiple views. That’s really the value of having multiple units.”
If you want to learn more about downriggers and see if they’re right for you, see the resources below.
Downrigger Basics - Controlled depth fishing, downrigger anatomy, manual vs electric, and accessories.
Downrigger Buying Guide - Select the right one for your boat.
Downrigger Videos - A series of application, educational and product videos.
Cannon Downrigger Technology - Learn more about the technologies that make Cannon the most advanced downriggers on the water.
FAQs - Check out our frequently asked questions library.