Best Downrigger Rods for Salmon Fishing
Downrigger Rods for Salmon Fishing
There are many ways to catch a salmon, although if you ask most seasoned open-water salmon anglers, their top-performing method will be downrigger trolling. Downriggers allow you to quickly and accurately target salmon holding at any depth without requiring excessive amounts of weight. A well tuned downrigger with a accurate fishfinder will give you an incredible competitive edge while salmon trolling.
The requirements of a downrigger trolling rod are much different from other types of fishing rods. In fact, in many ways they are the complete opposite of what you would be shopping for if you were looking for a rod for casting or jigging.
Let's first take a look at the function and requirements of a effective salmon downrigger rod.
Chinook Salmon on a Downrigger
What Will Work as a Downrigger Rod
While some fishing rods are outright labeled as downrigger rods, any rod will work well if it meets the following requirements.
Since you'll be using a trolling reel, you'll need a casting/trolling style rod. I don't want to see anyone setting up a spinning rod or spinning reel on a downrigger. Just don't do it, you're going to have a bad time.
The quickest way to tell a casting or trolling rod apart from a spinning rod is to check the eyelets.
- Spinning rods have larger eyelets near the handle.
- Casting and trolling rods have similarly sized eyelets along their entire length.
(If you also happen to be in the market for a new salmon trolling reel, check out my top recommended models here: Best Salmon Trolling Reels.)
Material: Fiberglass or Fiberglass/Graphite Blend
While most fishing rod manufacturers have transitioned from fiberglass to graphite, the best downrigger trolling rods are still made out of either pure fiberglass or a fiberglass-graphite blend. There are a number of reasons for this.
Rod Loading on a Downrigger
When loading your rig onto the downrigger, the downrigger rod is ideally bent in a very severe curve. Simple put, fiberglass is more forgiving than graphite at being held in a full bend for hours of consistent trolling. Graphite rods, with their typically much faster action, cannot achieve a full downrigger bend without breaking.
Line Pick-up and Hook Set
One of the primary reasons for selecting a fiberglass rod which can achieve a full bend is to assist in the initial hook set. Since your rod will be in a rod holder when the salmon strikes, you will not be able to manually set the hook immediately after the strike. Rather, if you have a full bend loaded in the rod as it is set on the downrigger, the rod achieves a preliminary hook set as it whips back on the clip release, increasing the chances that the salmon will still be on the line once you have the rod in your hand.
This one is only anecdotal from my years spent at the fishing shop, and talking to salmon fisherman around town. I've heard stories of graphite rods breaking when releasing off a downrigger. Chances are these fisherman were trying to place a graphite rod in too heavy of a bend while trolling, causing initial damage, which led to the rod breaking on the release. While I've never witnessed a rod break on a clip release, I have certainly seen many salmon fisherman snap a graphite rod while loading it on to a downrigger.
Fast action graphite rods, like the type you would use for casting, do not belong loaded onto a downrigger.
So again, select an all-fiberglass or graphite-fiberglass blend construction fishing rod.
You'll want to select a downrigger rod that is at least 8'6" in length. Longer rods allow faster line pick-up when the clip releases, aiding hookset. Anywhere in the 8'6" to 10'6" seems to be a pretty popular sweet spot for downrigger trolling for salmon.
One exception to this rule is if you happen to be trolling from a very small boat or kayak, which I often do. From experience, rods over 9' make it incredibly hard to get the fish close enough to the kayak while trying to slip a landing net under the fish. When trolling from a kayak I use an 8' rod.
There are plenty of specialty downrigger rods for species other than salmon, so we should probably discuss rod power briefly. Head out salmon fishing with a trout or kokanee downrigger rod and you're going to have a hell of a time wrestling a fish in.
Look for a rod in the medium-heavy to heavy power range, or, in terms of line weight, look at rods starting in the 15 - 30lb line test range. If you are trolling for big deep water Kings, consider sizing up to a stiffer rod. For smaller more acrobatic Coho, a slightly softer rod will be more forgiving and keep the hook pinned throughout the battle.
The Author with a Coho Salmon
Eyelet Count on Downrigger Rods
This is a nice-to-have more than a requirement.
If possible, select a downrigger trolling rod with as many eyelets as possible. When casting, excessive eyelets can add to drag, but we're not going to be casting with this rod, so the more eyelets the better.
Why, you ask? The more eyelets on the rod the more evenly the rod will load up in a full bend. Rods with fewer eyelets concentrate the stress in the rod to fewer discrete locations, which can lead to rod breakage. With more eyelets, the line loads the applied stress evenly over the entire length of the rod, allowing you to load the rod with a greater bend with no fear of the rod breaking.
Be aware that most downrigger rods will have stainless steel eyes, as monofilament is the vastly preferred line type when trolling on downriggers. If for whatever reason you decide to troll with braided line—which I certainly don't recommend—the braided line may scar the inside of the stainless steel eyes over the course of the rod's lifetime.
Note: if at any point you break an eyelet on a downrigger rod—in the car door, by stepping on it, etc.—replace the eyelet immediately. A downrigger rod loaded onto a downrigger with fewer eyes than it was originally designed with is a sure-fire way to break a rod. I've witnessed this multiple times.
What do you think?
Do you ever troll with a graphite rod on a downrigger?
Downrigger Rod Selection Summary
So to re-cap, here's what to look for:
- Casting or trolling rod style rod
- Fiberglass or fiberglass-graphite blend
- 8'6" - 10' 6"
- Medium-heavy to heavy power
- High eyelet count
If a fishing rod meets the above descriptions, it will be a very effective downrigger rod.
So with that, here are some of the top performing models in a range of prices.
Another Trophy Chinook Salmon
Best Entry-Level Salmon Downrigger Rod–Okuma Classic Pro
Year after year, this was the top selling downrigger rod at the fishing shop during salmon seasons. We would order them by the truck load and still sell out. They were a consistent favorite of entry level and experienced salmon fishermen alike.
The truth is, fiberglass rods are pretty cheap to manufacture, so don't feel like you need to spend an arm and a leg on every one. You can find solid performing rods at an affordable price.
The Classic Glass is a prime example. Two-piece, durable E-Glass construction, titanium-oxide-coated eyelets, and a stainless-steel rod seat make this a quality purchase for the price. I've caught many salmon on these rods.
Now, thats not to say that the Okuma Classic Glass isn't without flaws. I've seen plenty of them come back into the shop broken or needing repairs. They're a little short. They have no warranty to speak of.
So why do we sell so many? Well, for under $30 the rod is an incredible value. We had charter captains fill their boat with a whole fleet of these, fish the hell out of them, and buy a new set the next year. If it breaks, it was only $30, just buy another. You won't be heartbroken if it breaks, you won't hesitate to hand it to your kids or friends, and it'll put a lot of salmon in the boat over its lifetime.
If you're on a budget, this is your rod, end of discussion.
Budget Friendly– Okuma Classic Pro GLT
No frills, worry-free salmon-catching value.
Best Salmon Downrigger Rod Around $100– Lamiglas Classic Glass
The other rod we couldn't keep enough of on the shelves was the Lamiglas Classic Glass.
Designed in Woodland, WA, these rods were created specifically with salmon fishermen in mind. If you want to hit all the check boxes for a great salmon downrigger rod without spending any more than you need to, these rods are the perfect compromise.
Grippy cork handles, full fiberglass construction, incredibly smooth moderate action, solid power, and durable construction make for a rod perfectly designed for downrigger fishing. Oh, and they'll throw in a generous warranty with each rod purchase.
If you get on a boat and see Classic Glass rods in the holders, you know the captain means business. These rods are a staple of Northwest salmon fishing, and the workhorse of the downrigger fishing rod market.
And if you're a kayak angler, the slightly shorter 8'6" model is a go-to favorite of mine for landing fish solo. The forgiving moderate action helps keep salmon pinned even with barbless hooks, giving me more time and more chances to get the fish in the net.
If you're looking for the best combination of top end performance and value, it doesn't get any better than the Lamiglas Classic Glass.
A Northwest Salmon Fishing Legend– Lamiglas Classic Glass
"Everything you could want in a downrigger rod without putting a hole in your wallet. For this price, you won't find another rod at this exceptional quality."
Best-of-the-Best Downrigger Salmon Rod: Lamiglas XCC Kwik Series
I'll be honest, we didn't sell nearly as many of these rods as the two previous mentions. For a downrigger rod, these things are definitely expensive, and that turned away a lot of anglers. Nevertheless, if you want the absolute highest level of performance out of your downrigger rods, these are as good as it gets.
The XCC Kwik series takes many of the attributes of their Classic Glass rods, and revs them up to create the highest-performing downrigger rod around. With a primarily fiberglass blank you'll still get the same smooth moderate action of an all-glass rod. However, Lamiglas has also added graphite reinforcement to these rods, increasing their power for deeper hook sets and more leverage and control when fighting fish. This hybrid construction also allows the rods to be more versatile, meaning you can also cast, drift, troll planers or divers, the list goes on. You'll be hard pressed to find another rod that functions so perfectly on a downrigger and can still multitask for other fishing presentations.
Troll or drift plug-cut herring at first light, then switch to spoons on a downrigger after sunrise without needing to switch rods. The 12'6" models can provide needed additional separation when surface trolling multiple rigs.
They come in sizes ranging for 8' to 12'6", and powers from light to extra-heavy, so whatever your style, the XCC series has you covered. For salmon though, I would suggest the XCC 1064 GH.
If you're looking for a downrigger rod that makes no concessions in quality and performance, the Lamiglas Kwik Series is at the top of the game. You won't find a better 'rigger rod.
Absolute Top of the Line Performance and Quality– Lamiglas XCC Kwik Series
"Northwest salmon fishing craftsmanship and design at its absolute finest."
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