Here are a few basics to help you get started with downrigging. The most common lure for Stripers are bucktail jigs with curly tail trailers, however, plugs and live bait also work. Trolling speed will typically vary between 1.8 and 4 mph. Pick the area that you want to start trolling and drop the boat speed to the speed you wish to troll. Let out line from the reel (40-150 feet depending on depth and water clarity), with the reel out of gear and the clicker on, place the rod in the rod holder and attach the line to the release. If you are also using a stacker (allows more than one rod per rigger), drop the downrigger ball 5-10 feet and set up the second rod. Drop the ball to the depth that you want to troll. After the ball is down, put the reel in gear and take up all slack line. Your rod should be doubled over (like you are fighting a fish) when enough line is taken up. The release will not trigger correctly if there is too much slack in the line. Keep in mind that when you are using stackers, the deeper rod should be on the outside (i.e., furthest from the boat) and the shallow rod on the inside (i.e., closest to the boat). If a fish hits the shallow line, you will have to bring it over the deep line at some point. If the deep rod is on the outside, this is much easier. Done the other way will result in more tangled lines.
A couple of factors that you want to keep in mind; as you increase the boat speed or length of cable out, the cannonball will rise some (called fall back) so that the depth shown on the depth meter is not the actual depth of your lure. For example, if the cable is at a 45 degree angle, you can find the actual depth by multiplying the depth shown by 0.7 to determine the actual depth. Also, depending on what lure you are using and the length of line out, your lure will also sink a few feet. At 2 mph, with 20 pound line, 1/2 oz jig will sink appoximately 10 below the ball with 90 feet of line out. Treat the depth of the ball as water surface for calculating the actual depth. If you are using plugs, use shallow runners as it is easier to determine depth. In some cases, your fish finder will mark the downrigger ball. If so, the ball will appear as a solid line on the fish finder.
Striped bass and Hybrids usually hit hard enough to trigger the release; however, short fish will not always trigger the release. In these cases, you may notice your downrigger cable swinging somewhat or dragging further back. The rod may also bounce. You will have to reel up the downrigger to check the line and release the trigger yourself. If the fish releases the trigger, the rod will fly up. Grab the rod and take up the slack line as quickly as possible. The deeper you fish, the more slack line and the greater the chance of losing the fish. You do not need to set the hook. If you feel the need to set the hook, wait until you feel the full weight of the fish first. If the fish does not trigger the release, reel up the downrigger while keeping tension on the rod and trigger the release yourself.
You should always be moving while using the downriggers. When fighting a larger fish, you may need to decrease boat speed, but do not stop. Hanging up a downrigger on the bottom or snagging several lines can take the fun out of things. Also, most downriggers have some type of clutch or brake. Never tighten this the whole way. If you do hang up the ball, you want the cable to give some rather than causing damage to the boat or the rigger. After running the downriggers a couple of times, you’ll get the hang of it. You should also try avoiding tight turns, especially if you have a lot of line out. If you turn too tight, lines will cross and things will get ugly. Make wide turns. You should also try to troll in a S-shaped pattern. This will cause the jigs to speed up and slow down, causes them not trail right behind the boat, and also allows you to cover a little more water. Good luck and tight lines!