How to Troll for Kokanee Without Downriggers

Using a downrigger is probably the most painless and common way to fish for kokanee salmon, but it’s definitely not the only way to get your bait where the fish are!

In lieu of a downrigger, use a number of different weights, or different styles of “divers” to get your terminal tackle deep enough to catch the attention of kokanee salmon. Paying special attention to line length, troll using the normal set up but instead of letting a downrigger help with depth, use weights and divers.

Of course, it tends to get a little more complicated than that, so read on to learn more.

Divers and Weights are the Keys

If a downrigger is not an option, you need some other way of getting your line to the appropriate depth. This is best accomplished with divers and or weights.


Divers come in a variety of styles and specialties. Attached to your fishing line, they are shaped to pull your line deeper into the water as your boat moves. They have several advantages over simply using lead. Coming in several shapes and multiple bright colors, they can serve as attractors for fish. They also disengage when the fish attaches to your hook, leaving you to fight just the fish, instead of the resistance from the fish and the diver.

Dipsy Divers

Dipsy divers come with a multidirectional feature, allowing you to run multiple divers at once, without fear of getting your lines tangled. This also allows you to cover more water if you have multiple divers deployed, increasing your chances of catching the attention of a kokanee salmon.

Coming in a variety of colors, they double as an attractant for the fish, proving to be extremely multipurpose. If you’re wanting to maximize your spread, and control the area behind your boat where you’re trolling, dipsy divers are the way to go. They will generally come with a depth chart to tell you how to get them down to your desired depth.

Deep Six Divers

Deep Six Divers are an excellent option if you know the depth you’re going to be trying to fish. They come in several different sizes, each size taking your line down to a certain depth. They come with a fantastic trip mechanism that handles currents and a variety of trolling speeds extremely well, while still tripping when hit by a salmon. This enables you to only fight the salmon while relieving the resistance the diver will have been putting on your line.

Additionally coming in a variety of colors, materials, and reflective surfaces, the Deep Six Divers are a great choice if you have your fishing tactics down pat, and you know exactly what you want in depth, color, material, and optional reflective surface. Keep in mind though, each size is meant to go down to a certain depth, without much flexibility.

Jet Diver

Named for the shape and mode of diving they use, Jet Divers are effective, but may not be as useful for fishing for kokanee as other drivers are, though they are great for other fish.

Jet Divers are buoyant and use water pressure against the shape and angle of their “wings” to be pulled down into the water. Being buoyant, when that water pressure is relaxed, the diver will float off course, and back to the surface. Coming in several sizes, each size is meant to diver to a specific depth.

Like the other divers we’ve covered, these too come in multiple colors that would be used to grab the attention of your fish. However, these divers come highly recommended specifically for those fishermen who troll rivers. While they can absolutely be pulled behind a boat, one of the other divers may be better suited to your specific needs.


Weights are another effective way to get your terminal tackle down to the fish. They do, however, come with a few downsides. If you don’t have your line set up specifically to counter this, they can spin, and twist your line, which you definitely don’t want. They won’t release when a fish is attached to your hook, so you’ll be fighting the fish and the weight you used to get your bait down. That being said, many fishermen use weights and swear by them, so don’t rule them out until you’ve given them a try.

Unlike divers, which work with and because of the movement of your boat, movement and speed actually work against weights. You’ll need to take into account the drag that’s happening on your line, and adjust for the rise of your bait to ensure that your tackle is getting down to your desired depth.

Weights, as well as coming in their variety of shapes, do come in a plethora of colors, patterns, and sizes. I’m going to focus on the weights that have been used specifically for trolling.

Keel Weights

Keel weights are named after their shape. Coming with a molded “keel”, these weights are designed to prevent, or at least minimize the twisting of your line. They come attached to a ball style chain as well, so even if your tackle does twist, it won’t have a negative impact on your main fishing line. The ball chain is also said to produce a rattle, which is meant to attract fish.

Snap Weights

Snap weights offer a little more versatility for placement, as well as ease of installation and removal. Snap weights have a reputation for being best utilized by what is commonly known as the “50/50” method.

Whether from your boat or a line board, let out fifty feet of line. Attach the snap weight, and then let out an additional fifty feet. Doing this enables you to remove weight as you reel your line in, taking off some of the resistance you’ll be experiencing as you fight the fish.

Additional Tips

  • Thinner Line
    When you’re fishing with divers and especially when you’re fishing with weights, you need to keep in mind the drag that will be occurring on your line, which reduces the accuracy of the readings you can get from your pole, and also brings your tackle closer to the surface of the water. If you are able, use a thinner line. This will reduce drag and enable a more efficient and effective fishing experience.
  • Slow Down Your Troll Speed
    Slowing down your troll speed is another easy way to get your tackle deeper into the water. Similar to a kite, the faster you, or the water are moving, the more lift you are giving your tackle, specifically if you are using weights. Depending on what you are fishing for, think about slowing down.
  • Know Your Depth and Terrain
    Make sure you know where you’re fishing. Currents, the depth of the body of water you’re fishing, and the terrain at the bottom can have an impact on your tackle. Making sure you’re not snagging on the bottom, or that currents aren’t interfering are several easy ways to improve your fishing experience.

Kokanee and Depth

So why do you need a downrigger, or at the core of the problem, why do you need to get your tackle so far down to catch a kokanee salmon?

Cold Water

Kokanee salmon are an extremely temperature sensitive fish. If they spend too much time around or above about sixty degrees Fahrenheit, they will die. They can occasionally be found at higher temperatures, but only ever for very short periods of time, and only to follow their food to the surface, before they quickly dive back down.

For the fisherman, this means the kokanee are going to be in the deeper areas of the lakes and reservoirs they fish, especially in the summer. Kokanee salmon are typically found suspended in the water column above deep water, generally between thirty to sixty feet down.

Follow the Food!

Kokanee, like the rest of us, can be found wherever their food can be found. Kokanee salmon feed primarily on zooplankton, which is also temperature and light sensitive. The combination of their need to eat, and their need to stay cool dictate the depths at which you will find kokanee salmon. So if you don’t have a downrigger, and you can’t afford a submarine, what are your options for getting down to the fish?

What is a Downrigger?

Downriggers are actually really simple pieces of equipment, and even though you may not want to add this to your arsenal, I just want you to understand what you are missing out on.

Downriggers are a piece of equipment that you attach to your boat. Using a cable and lead “Cannonball”, downriggers take your line and tackle down to where the fish are. For fish like kokanee salmon, which spend their time deep in the water column, having a device or similar setup to take your gear down to the fish is a necessary part of successfully fishing farther down.

Tim Butala

My name is Tim and I have been a fisherman my whole life. My favorite fish to go after is a Striped Bass.

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