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Dipsy Divers Made Simple

Dipsy Divers Made Simple Dipsy Divers Made Simple

The sun was just starting to break the horizon as I motored out of my marina, and I knew it was going to be one of those typical, hot, late July days. This is my favorite time of year for fishing. The water temperature is now in the mid-70’s and the walleye and steelhead trout have moved offshore into the deep cooler waters to feed on smelt and gizzard shad.

Earlier in the year, fishing with shallow running lures can produce limit catches, but now is when you must change your tactics or return to the dock with only a cooler of ice.

Planer boards, dipsy divers, wire line and downriggers are the order of the day. Probably the most productive weapon is the dipsy diver. If you have avoided fishing with dipsy divers, then you are missing out on a lot of good fishing. The dipsy diver enables you to get your lures into the strike zone, by allowing you to go deep and it works as a side planer enabling you to run lures off to the sides of the boat, thus locating fish that have spooked away because of the boat shadow and motor noise.

Another advantage of fishing with dipsy divers is that when you compare the price of a downrigger which can cost several hundreds of dollars, to the dipsy which is priced around ten dollars, it is a real bargain. One thing to keep in mind when fishing with dipsy divers is that you will probably have to purchase heavier tackle. Your favorite 6 to 6-1/2 foot walleye rod with 8-10# test line will not do. I prefer to fish with a dipsy diver rod, which is made specifically for dipsy divers. The rod length can be from 7 to 10-1/2 feet. I stay closer to the 8 foot size because the rod is a lot easier to handle, especially if you have a young fisherman on board.

If you are fishing with several dipsy divers off the same side, it is best to fish with different rod lengths so that the rod tips are separated. Using a downrigger rod will also work but sometimes they are a little too stiff, the rod should have flexibility to it.

Your favorite open-faced spinning reel will have to go also. A good level wind reel, one that has a line capacity of at least 200 yards of 20# test line, with a capable drag system will be needed. The level line reel with its line guide will allow you to know just how much line is played out, which is important.

There are line counter reels on the market which do the counting for you, but learning the “rap” on your reel is just as accurate. By counting the line raps, you can determine the amount of line that was let out. The amount of line out will affect just how deep the diver will be running. Regular monofilament in the 17# test range will do the job, but I highly recommend using a braided no stretch line. A couple of nice things about the new braided lines is that they possess great line strength, yet have a small diameter which is important for enabling the divers to get deep into the water.

Use the braided line as your main line to the dipsy but from the diver to the lure, use a leader made of regular mono line (20#) or a snubber if you are using lighter leader line. When the fish hits the lure, you want a little stretch or “give” so that the sudden shock doesn’t break the line and you won’t have to watch a nice trophy fish swim away with your favorite lure.

Now that we have the proper set up as far as rod, reel and line, let’s take a look at the dipsy diver itself. It is called a directional diver because it is not only designed to dive downward, but also off either the right or left side of the boat. Remember though, the more it runs off to the side, the less it will dive. At the top of the diver is an adjustable release rod, where the main line is attached. Proper adjustment of this rod is very important. If the adjustment is too tight, it will not release and if too loose, it will release prematurely. The easiest way to adjust it is to set the diver into the water, move at your normal trolling speed, let out 30-50 feet of line, then try releasing the diver by pulling the fishing rod with a fast jerk. If it releases properly and does not release just by the water drag while trolling, it should be fine.

There are a variety of lures that can be run off the dipsy, but spoons are probably the most widely used. I like to use small body baits at certain times and also worm harnesses. Because the dipsy is designed to stay in the water by water pressure on the face of it, deep running crankbaits or other baits with large diving bills will tend to make the dipsy slide out of the water. Remember to restrict your stick baits to ones that have a smaller diving bill with capabilities under 8 feet. There are charts that tell you how deep a dipsy is running in relationship to the amount of line is let out. If you have a line counter reel, it is easy to look and see, and reset the rod again after you have landed a fish. If you do not have a line counter reel, a simple way to keep track of this measurement is to clinch a #8 rubber band on the line after the initial rap count. If one rap lets out 5 feet of line, let’s say, then to have 150 feet of line out, I will have to count 30 raps. Now I cinch the rubber band onto the line. When you hook fish, the rubber band will wind into the reel and when you let the line out again, stop when you get to the rubber band, and you will know that you are at the same depth as the original setting. By using the rubber band trick, you don’t have to keep counting the raps.

Most dipsy divers will take your lures down to about 50 feet. My favorite lures are spoons. I fish the Central Basin in Lake Erie and in my area, “Stinger” by Advanced Tackle out of Michigan is probably the all-time favorite. I also like the Luhr Jensen “Diamond King” spoon. Popular colors vary from black and purple, blue and silver, and fire tigers. There isn’t a set policy with the fish as to what color they prefer, just be willing to switch colors and lure sizes several times during the day. The last few years, worm harnesses have also been accounting for a lot of large walleye and steelhead trout.

I like to set out a variety of presentations including worm harnesses, spoons and small stick baits. Once you determine what the fish are feeding on, you can start to “force feed” using basically the same type of lures and colors. Colors are very important and they can change from morning to afternoon. Make sure you carry a variety of lures in different colors and sizes.

I like to tie my own worm harnesses, using a changeable clevice. You can carry a multitude of different blades (Colorado, Indiana, and Willow) in a variety of colors, without using up a lot of storage space. This will allow you to do a lot of switching without ever changing the harness. When tying your own worm harness, I use three treble hooks, two small and one larger. Hook the worm by the front two hooks, and just let the worm dangle naturally around the last treble. If you want to really tempt the fish, it is very easy to put on two or even three worms.

Since we are on the subject of worms, a little trick that worked with spoons is to put a piece of worm on the spoon as a scent attractor. Remember not to use too large a piece- this could change the action of the spoon.

A few other things to remember about fishing with dipsy divers is that letting more line out will not necessarily make it diver deeper. The water resistance against the line will tend to make the dipsy rise after about 175 feet. There can be an advantage in letting out a lot of line, even though it may make the dipsy rise. You are getting further away from the shadow and noise of the boat, and sometimes this will catch fish that are suspended higher. A trick I use on days that the fish are extremely spooky is to put an inline weight at the head of the dipsy. This will give you depth even after a lot of line is out. The one disadvantage with this setup is that the weight may tend to make the dipsy run erratic. The best thing to do in these situations is to run the dipsy off of wire line. Wire line will sink with the dipsy, and you can run it into the mud if you want.

Another little trick to getting more action out of your lure is to zigzag the boat in sharp turns. This allows the dipsy divers on the inside or slow side to sink, thus going almost to the bottom and the outside dipsy or fast side will tend to speed up and rise. The sudden change of direction and speed can trigger even the pickiest of fish into striking. By doing this, you can fish different depths without making any setup changes. I have caught many a fish using this method.

With all the methods and technical equipment at our disposal, it would seem that we should be able to catch fish at will, but remember – “fish are in schools all their lives, so they can be pretty smart”. Good luck and good fishing!

For more Lake Erie fishing information, visit

Captain Andy Emrisko

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harryguy | Posted: May 20, 2002

I always had trouble fishing dipsys, this article explained a lot of my problems.