How to Select the Perfect Downrigging Boat

Sponsored by Princecraft

Downrigging is one of the most effective and efficient ways to catch fish in open water. However, it can also be one of the most intimidating. With the clunky equipment, heavy rods, and the often extreme depths at which they are fished – the world of downrigging certainly isn’t the most inviting to the everyday angler.

This, however, does not have to be the case. In fact, many of the difficulties associated with downrigging come from the boat they are being fished on, not the equipment itself. While we are well aware that smaller, more basic boats can be decked out as perfectly suitable downrigging machines (perhaps the subject of a future article), this article is for those in the buyers market who are looking to get the most out of their new boat when the big water comes calling.

So without further ado, here are the key features to look for in your new downrigging boat.

Size

Princecraft boat suited for downrigging
The 18′ 7″ long, 80″ wide Princecraft Kapture® 187

In the world of downrigging, size does matter. Not only does this hold true for the fish that you are out there chasing, but also for the boat itself.

For us, 18.5 feet is the sweet spot for downrigging boats, providing us with enough space to fish effectively while still remaining small enough to trailer into some of the more remote back lakes. For those looking to go a bit smaller, 16 and 17-foot boats are perfectly suitable for smaller lakes (yes, there are lots of opportunities to downrig in small lakes), however, windy days will likely be off-limits if you’re heading out on the big waters of Huron, Superior, or Ontario.

In addition to length, width should also be considered when selecting a downrigging boat. This is just as much for stability as it is comfort, as the hectic nature of downrigging can be multiplied exponentially by a narrow boat. To avoid tripping over your fishing buddy and to enjoy doubleheaders (rather than dread them) opt for a boat wider than 70″ at minimum, or bump up to 80″ beam width for total comfort and stability.

Shape

Boat hull shapes
Boat hull shapes courtesy of BoatSafe.com

Shape is the next thing to consider when selecting your downrigging boat. While the perfect size of a downrigging boat may still be up for debate, the perfect shape is much less subjective. When it comes to big water and heavy equipment, the Deep Vee is the shape you’re after.

Deep Vee boats are designed for comfort in big water, cutting through waves and providing a smooth and stable ride in even the roughest of conditions. This ability is essential when downrigging, as the big water that many of us fish can not only lead some to motion sickness but can also damage gear when rocking becomes too severe. This is especially true when fishing for bottom-dwelling species such as Lake Trout, where rocking boats can send downrigger balls into lake bottoms, leading to spooked fish, broken cables, and lost downrigger balls.

Vee-shaped boats also hold another less frequently discussed advantage, in that they tend to cruise slightly slower than other boat shapes. Though this may keep fast-paced tournament anglers away from these models, the slower cruising speeds are perfect for downrigging and allow anglers to troll at the slower speeds many of our big sportfish require.

Lake Trout, for example, like their food presented at around 1.5 mph and Brown Trout will rarely chase anything swimming faster than 2.5 mph. These speeds are simply not achievable in flatter boats without the use of trolling socks and kicker motors, making the Vees much more desirable for those who enjoy slow-trolling. If faster boats are your preference, Vee-shaped boats are still capable of those tournament speeds, they just require a bit more power to get there.

Storage

Princecraft boat decked out with rod holders and downriggers
Rod holders, rod compartments, and downrigger ball storage on the Princecraft Kapture® 187

The last thing an angler wants to deal with when rods are bobbing and reels are screaming is a maze of gear and clutter to navigate through on the way to the back of the boat. This makes adequate storage a necessity of a good downrigging boat, giving the angler room to retrieve fish, take pictures, set the rigger depth, and everything else that goes into a successful and enjoyable day on the water. Here are a few of the storage features you should look for when selecting a new boat:

Rods

Rods are not only some of the most valuable tools you have in your boat, they are also the most cumbersome. This is especially true when it comes to downrigging rods as the majority of your setups will be 8+ feet in length and will be equipped with large line-counter reels. Getting these out of harm’s way is essential to avoiding broken tips and spoiled outings, so be sure your boat is equipped with adequate rod storage. Many Princecraft boats come standard with in-floor rod storage that is great for keeping rods out of your way during travel. For the rods you want on deck, keep them safe by storing them in rod holders along the back of your Princecraft or in high-quality mounts installed along the side rails.

Gear

Tackle and other gear are more things that can quickly pile up and make getting to your rods much more difficult than necessary. Avoid this problem by selecting a boat with plenty of storage compartments. Large compartments up the center of the boat are excellent for storing larger items such as life jackets and rope while smaller compartments on the deck are great for all your tackle.

Some Princecraft boats, such as the Kapture 187, even come with side compartments designed specifically for downrigger balls that eliminate the fear of one of those 10lb cannonballs falling from a standard side panel storage compartment.

Conclusion

Downrigging is one of the more intimidating methods of catching fish on big water, but many of the hassles associated with it can be avoided before you ever leave the launch. If you’re in the market for a new boat this fall, avoid the stress and consider these features in your ultimate downrigging boat!

See you on the water!

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