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Downrigging Lake Erie

Downrigging Lake Erie Downrigging Lake Erie
By Dave Adams

"Variety, excellent fishing for all fish - you never know what you may catch," said respected charter boat captain Ed Concilla, of Walleye Wizard Charters, while interviewing him for PA Fishing and Hunting News. We were discussing fishing the deeper waters near the North East Marina.

When fishing the eastern basin of Lake Erie at North East, boat anglers have easy access to a variety of water depths. On any given day, and when using downriggers, your catch could include steelhead, walleye, coho, or king salmon. Most important, the downrigger offers the advantage of precise lure to depth presentation. Tactics vary slightly, but for all around action - the downrigger can provide an interesting and exciting day.

Favorite lures include: the Michigan Stinger Scorpion spoon (blueberry muffin or watermelon), NK 28 (green or blue stripe is best), or try the new SOF-spoon. Steelhead, in search of baitfish, are known to move up and down the water column. A good downrigger setting to start with is the "20 - 40" rule. Set the spoon 20 feet off the downrigger and the cannonball 40 feet down. This setting works well during June and the early part of July. Later in the summer, when the thermocline develops, keep the ball just under the thermocline (by late July and August, this will be 45 to 55 feet down). The best area to try is just over the mountain - in the 80 to 110 foot depths. Steelhead generally hang around here the entire summer. Occasionally they will move farther north, but boat rides are still within seven miles.

Again, the area around the mountain is best. It's hard to say if any one presentation is best. I have caught walleye, off the downrigger, on NK28 spoons, Michigan Stingers, and harnesses. Also, they have been caught as high as 25 feet to as deep as 85 feet. But if I were to choose one tactic for walleye, it would be the harness. Keep the harness 100 to 150 feet off the downrigger ball, and vary depths during the day - 35 feet in the morning to 55 feet in the afternoon.

Of course, the deeper waters of North East offer a chance to catch king salmon. Last year, we did well on the NK Magnum spoon (green or blue stripe). Your best opportunity for one of these tackle busters is after the thermocline develops (July and August). Set the spoon 25 to 40 feet off the cannonball and keep the ball just under thermocline. Work the 110 to 140 foot depths. I'm not sure if these fish will make an appearance this year; but, per chance, I will keep at least one downrigger equipped with a magnum spoon.

Although not often targeted, lake trout in the 20-pound range roam the waters of North East. Once found, these fish are fun to catch - each fight can last as long as 45 minutes. Capt. Jim Armstrong, of Fishing Magician Charters, offers his insight in to landing one of these monsters. "Lakers are usually caught at or near the bottom. On the eastern basin, some will be caught as deep as 150 feet. The use of downriggers is a must and the spoon is the preferred lure. During early summer, concentrate in the depths of 70 to 100 feet. A popular spoon is the 'NK-28' (silver with blue or green stripe). As summer progresses the larger 'NK-Magnum' in the same colors works well, but move to depths over 100 feet. Conventional leads off the downrigger do not work for lake trout. Keep the spoon as close as two feet from the ball and do not exceed six foot. Trolling speeds, which are different than most anglers are used too, should be between 2.5 and 3.0 mph."

While trolling for walleye, steelhead, king salmon or lake trout, I have found that the best ball weight is 10 pounds. Use a quality release and keep a few extra releases on board. Trolling speeds can change with conditions. For walleye, slow trolling speeds - 0.9 to 1.4 MPH - seem to be best. Steelhead and salmon prefer higher speeds, 1.9 to 2.7 MPH. When discussing the subject of fishing line, one thing is certain, everybody has their favorite brand or test. My line of choice is Berkley 20-pound XT. I have used this brand for years and it has never failed me.

On a final note, fish can't read my writing and don't always follow the rules - vary depth, trolling speed, and presentation - the fish will do the rest.

Good Fishing,
Capt. Dave Adams

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Jeff E | Posted: August 28, 2008

Thanks a million! I do not get up to Erie much and forget most of what I know between trips, (which isn't much to begin with). I truly appreciate the information in your article and will try a few of these things as I have a trip planned for Labor Day Weekend. Thanks again