August 23, 2012
Commercial salmon fishermen have depended on attractors, especially dodgers, for half a century or more and continue to depend on them today. Les Davis, inventor of the famous Herring Dodger, observed long ago: "The Herring Dodger imparts action to the lure or bait and at the same time acts as a powerful attractor to pull fish into the bait." Thump, flash, and imparted action make dodgers a triple threat.
Captain John Oravec, longtime contributor to In-Fisherman, claimed back in the 1980s that the "illusion" created by a pack of dodgers defined yet another key to their effectiveness. "When you group several dodger rigs, it imitates a wolf pack of salmonids crashing through a school of baitfish, leaving twisted, mangled prey behind."
The lakes have changed some since then. Captain Dan Keating, author of the new book, Keating on Kings, says he often spreads dodgers wide to either side of the boat with Dipsy Divers, running only a pair of spoons off his downriggers. "I run a fairly thin spread, especially in cold water or when the fish seem negative," Keating says, implying that too much flash can put the fish down in the ultraclear environs of today's Great Lakes.
Dodgers and flashers are main components of a successful overall approach to Great Lakes salmon and trout. The best bites reported to us over the past few years tend to involve flashers and flies, dodgers and cutbait, or some other attractor ahead of something new or different. Which implies the versatility of dodgers and flashers. Attractors come in a variety of sizes, colors, and styles which can be teamed with a potpourri of tail-gunners. Light trolling spoons, tinsel flies, "hootchies" (plastic squid), floating minnow imitations, tubes, and cutbait are just some of the options. Even a bare, colored hook with a few beads on the leader can regularly take salmon behind a dodger.
But weekend warriors express reluctance about pulling attractors. Common complaints: Too much rigging, the information gap, and too many options to choose from. Don't worry. A day filled with fire drills caused by hooked salmon solves everything. And everything you need to know about getting started with attractors is right here.
A dodger is made of metal. In bygone days, the term "flasher" was used to describe another metal attractor, also called "cow bells," a series of spinning blades placed in front of a lure or cutbait rig. Today, when a charter captain says "flasher," he's talking about the plastic equivalent of a dodger, like the Luhr Jensen Coyote. Dodgers and flashers are designed to attract attention and impart action to an attached lure.
Flashers exist in two standard sizes: 8 and 11 inches. Steel dodgers appear in sizes 0 (11"), 00 (8"), and 000 (5"). Small stuff is for cohos, browns, steelhead, and early-spring kings. An 8" attractor is the norm for use throughout the year. Cutbaiters and commercial fishermen use size 0 dodgers exclusively, because of the weight of the bait being pulled (cut herring, alewives, or smelt). The size of the flasher or dodger has nothing to do with the size of the fish you're after, but instead with how much action and flash you want to impart.
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Dodgers and flashers can be presented on downriggers or with leadcore lines. They can run behind Dipsy Divers, boards, or outriggers. Tackle is determined by method. Use rods and reels appropriate to the rigging when deploying attractors. Specialty downrigger rods, Dipsy rods, and others work fine with dodgers and flashers, provided the appropriate lines are used.
Charter captain Tim Dawidiuk has provided In-Fisherman with video, television, and print input for many years now. He's uniquely situated, as emperor of the Howie Fly manufacturing business, to comment on dodger-flasher specifics. "I think it's critical to use monofilament ahead of dodgers and flashers," Dawidiuk says. "Superlines have a place, but mono leaders ahead of a flasher or dodger produce more fish. Superlines are fine, but splice in at least 20 to 30 feet of mono ahead of the attractor. I don't know if it's a visibility thing, a resistance thing, or a harmonic thing — can't say. I do know I catch more fish when I have at least 20 feet of 17- to 25-pound Ande Premium mono ahead of the attractor when using leadcore or copper lines. Mono offers more resistance, and you want resistance, at times. Some people say the thinner the better, but that's not always true."
"On a downrigger, 20- to 25-pound-test mono is sufficient," Dawidiuk adds. "On Dipsy and wire-line rigs, length of the mono leader is determined by length of the rod, and I use 40-pound test with those options for added resistance. At the end of the leader I tie on a quality 60- to 80-pound-test ball-bearing swivel. Most attractors come with a quality swivel on the front, but adding a swivel further reduces line twist while making it easier to switch attractors for a color or style change. Clip on an attractor and you're ready to put something behind it."
Standard Setback Lengths
Dawidiuk ties loop knots at the end of his standard 50-pound-test leaders when packaging Howie Flies for a quick, easy hookup onto the clip on the tail end of the attractor. "The standard setback for a fly is 18 to 24 inches," Dawidiuk says. "Some people play with leader length, but you lose control outside that range. Stiffness is the key, thus the 50-pound leaders. It increases the action. A 40-pound mono leader, by comparison, eats a lot of the action with give and flex. Fluorocarbon is stiffer than mono and makes a better leader for that reason. So I use Ande 50- and 60-pound-test fluorocarbon leaders.
"With cutbait, run a 60-inch leader behind 11-inch flashers. Run floating minnowbaits, small J-Plugs, and spoons 24 to 48 inches behind the attractor, longer than with a fly because the dodger is just an attractor with these baits — not a tool for moving the lure. Of these lures, light flutterspoons have historically performed best behind attractors — but you never know, so experiment. Casting spoons don't do anything — too much weight. Theory says match the hatch, but 31„2- to 41„2-inch lures work best about 90 percent of the time.
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"With tubes, squid, and other light plastics, the standard setback is about 20 to 26 inches. But standards are meant to be played with. No matter what kind of lure or bait you run behind an attractor, setback ultimately has to do with how they're striking. When they get hooked on the head or back, the leader is too short. When they strike and miss a lot, the leader is too long."
Dodgers are heavier, being made of steel or brass. The typical action is side-to-side with an occasional roll. Flashers, on the other hand, can be broken down into three categories, including spinners and rotators. Flashers are made of plastic and the action is inherently different. "The back of a flasher spins on its axis and creates a larger circle than the front," Dawidiuk explains. "The flasher kicks itself out of this rotation from time to time, and that's the key to its effectiveness. It's a built-in triggering mechanism. It took me a while to learn to run flashers over dodgers. This is a speed-sensitive program. Dodgers and flashers do not operate within the same speed range. The effective range of flashers begins 1/4 to 1/2 mile per hour beyond the effective range of dodgers. If you go 1/4 mile per hour faster or slower than the optimum range for dodgers, you don't get bit."
Dawidiuk starts trolling dodgers at 2.2 to 2.5 mph and flashers at 2.8 to 3.2 mph. "You really have to run flashers and dodgers side by side next to the boat and watch," he says. "That's how I came up with 1/4 to 1/2 mile faster speeds for flashers.
"And I still prefer wire line as my speed indicator," he says. "The tip action of a rod rigged with wire line is a better indicator than GPS — not that you shouldn't pay attention to speed-over-ground or speed indicators on the sonar unit. But those can be rendered inaccurate because of underwater currents. Wire has no stretch, and a dodger running correctly makes that rod tip thump constantly. A flasher has a much more subtle thump. GPS can lie to you, but the rod tip on a wire rod can't. Pay attention to it, know what the rod tip is doing at all times, and you begin to piece together an effective program."
Many new styles of flashers exist. "The hookup is off-center on these new flashers," Dawidiuk points out. "Some have adjustable fins [Legendary Products, Church Tackle] for creating different actions. In theory, you can call them rotators because the hook-up point is midline on the flasher. Flashers that hook up off-center, we call swimmers [Hootchie Mama, Fish Catchers, Dream Weaver Spin Doctor] because they have a corkscrew swimming action. So you have traditional flashers [Luhr Jensen Coyote, Hot Spot, Pro-Troll, Little Shooter], swimmers [off-center hook-up], and hybrids with adjustable fins.
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"I believe the Hootchie Mama was the first swimmer out there. Because it's got fins, it imparts more action at slower speeds that allow you to run it in a mix of other attractors and presentations," he says. "Guys like to run different things at the same time, and these new flashers are highly speed-tolerant. Most can run from 2 to 3.6 mph, and that's why gimmick flashers have became successful. True flasher-dodger guys decide which is going to be most effective based on conditions or time of year, and run a homogeneous spread of all dodgers or all flashers.
"In rough conditions, with the boat going up and down a lot, speeding and slowing, pros say the hybrids are less effective — speed changes coming too fast for them to handle. I'll be honest — I don't use hybrids and swimmers simply because I've spent years learning to run normal flashers and dodgers, and new versions are throwing too much information into the system for me to handle. Anybody just getting started running these programs should concentrate on the nuts-and-bolts of standard rigging with standard attractors, then branch out and experiment from there.
"Same goes for doctoring flashers with tape, bending dodgers, painting, and other tricks," Dawidiuk says. "All these things make the equation too hard. Learn how to run a system and become confident with it before doctoring things up. Out of all the color options out there, four basic colors continue to catch salmon every day — white, chartreuse, green, or silver [chrome]. Glow is a good idea, too, even during the day, because it's an off-color white. And at night it has obvious advantages."
When people contact In-Fisherman for salmon info, most are looking for the current "magic bait." Perhaps the question should be: What's the magic attractor, and how is it being deployed? Most days, the rigging option has as much to do with how many fish come in the boat as anything else. Four years ago, it was hard to beat a dodger behind a 1-pound ball on wire. Two years ago, flashers behind boards and leadcore lines boated 80 percent of our fish. Get the delivery right and you're halfway home. Get the speed right — game, set, match.
Find a hot bite for salmon, steelhead, browns, or lake trout; get the delivery right, and take the lure off the hottest rig. Slip 3 or 4 green plastic beads onto a 20-inch 50-pound fluorocarbon leader with a loop knot at one end and a plain 2/0 Siwash hook on the other. Clip the loop onto the tail of a speed-tolerant #0 (8") flasher, drop it down, and just hang out right there, on the threshold of discovery — where nobody can beat you to that rod when it snaps to life. The true power of attraction is about to hit home.
Dawidiuk told me not to report that. This blatant (but hardly surprising) attempt to censor the press can be attributed to his new place among the power brokers of capitalism. I doubt the meteoric rise of the Howie Fly will be interrupted by the miraculous success of bare hooks. (But I wouldn't give up my spot by that rod, either.)
Tim Dawidiuk, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, is a Lake Michigan charter captain and owner of Howie Tackle (920/746-9916).