Fishing in 3D
Written by Capt. Gregory Houtteman   
Wednesday, 31 January 2007 09:41

Visualizing your spread in 3D is a key component to increased success and repeatability each time you’re on the water.  However, this is not the type of article that is going to tell you to put A here and B there and you’ll catch more fish, it is an attempt to compel you to think in all three dimensions.  How many times have you been on the troll and heard “blue dolphin down 100 feet” and you try it to no avail?  Everyone has fished the radio at one time or another which varied levels of success, the problem often is that fishing a bait as an individual entity has little to no value.

Now, if you get an angler to broadcast their entire spread over the radio and tell you what direction and speed they’re trolling you might stand a chance of recreating a productive program.  What you really need to do is start, with your next trip, thinking about your trolling spread as an entire system.  The cornerstone of developing an effective system, or program, is visualizing the spatial relationships between all your baits.   I know, using those twenty dollar words again.  Spatial relationships are simply where a lure is in the water compared to other lures.

When you’re talking with your buddies at the dock after a day of fishing everyone generally describes their successes in two dimensions.  “My most productive rod was a magnum caramel dolphin down 75 feet and 20 feet behind the ball.”  Well that describes how deep the bait was running and how far back it was running which covers two dimensions.

To have an effective discussion about 3D it’s important to establish some common terms.

Separation:  this is the linear distance between baits.

Set Back: this is the absolute distance that the bait is back, generally measured from the transom.

Depth:  this is measured from the surface down to where the bait is.

Separation is often the forgotten dimension.  If you’re not telling your buddy where that caramel dolphin was running in your spread compared to the other baits then he’s only getting a part of the story.  Let’s agree upfront that it is more difficult to describe your entire spread but that’s the barrier you need to hurdle to fully embrace fishing in 3D.  If you can describe what you were running and how you were running it that means that you’re visualizing your spread when it’s in the water.

ImageLet’s start easy and tackle thinking about 3D in relation to running multiple downriggers, in this case we’ll take two riggers and a boat that is eight feet wide at the transom.  We will assume that the two downriggers are mounted on the corners and therefore there is roughly an eight foot separation between the riggers.  Given this situation when we put two spoons down off of those riggers the baits will have eight feet of separation in the water, assuming the use of a standard straight running downrigger weight. 

Have you ever noticed that you rigger bite is going hot then it shuts off and some of your other more stealthy baits start firing.  Perhaps your cores light up or your outside divers are going hot; this could be an indication that more separation and setback could revive your stagnant downriggers.  There are several ways to increase separation in your downriggers, if you have swivel bases you may rotate them out to the side adding the length of two booms.  Alternatively you might use a pancake style downrigger weight that you have modified the fin on to make it swim off to the side.  By increasing the separation between your riggers by a couple of feet this may be just what the doctored ordered.

When the rigger’s bite shuts off and your stealthier baits are working you may also want to couple increasing your downrigger separation with increased set back to get those baits farther away from the boat.  But this is only part of the puzzle because we certainly aren’t going to fish with just our riggers; we need to think about how our riggers interact with the divers we might be running next to them.

Image Let’s go back to our original premise that we are running the downriggers at eight feet of separation and we have two divers per side set outside of those rigger baits.  We need to visualize how we want the riggers and the divers to align with each other in that 3D space.  For that morning bite when the riggers were hot it may make sense to have that inside diver as close to the rigger spread as possible.  In this case we may run a magnum diver so that we can get the diver deeper without having to have as much set back as a regular diver.

We want to make sure it is set back farther then the rigger and perhaps at about the same depth or perhaps a little higher.   What we are trying to do is place this bait in a position to mimic the action of a wounded bait fish.  When a fish comes into the rigger spread but doesn’t see anything tasty it breaks off its pursuit, on the way out of the spread it notices this lone bait fluttering out behind the others.  Sometimes this is all that is necessary to produce a reaction strike from a top-level predator that is genetically built to take advantage of situations of opportunity.  Can you visualize what I’m describing here?  If you can you are seeing your spread in 3D.

More importantly you’re seeing that the rigger spread while not triggering the bite was an integral part of a whole program designed to maximize catching opportunities.  I repeat that this is not a do this and do that type of article it is simply written to open your mind to thinking about the interaction and relationship that your baits have with each other and how they may change your effectiveness.

Once you begin thinking this way and apply it to your fishing every time you’re out on the water you will start to find productive patterns.  These patterns may include lure combinations, positional combinations, and overall strategies for productive fishing using an approach that utilizes the entire spread. Logging what your doing can be a big help for those of us who’s memory isn’t as sharp as it once was. 

Start your visualization from the first line you put in the water and try to keep that mental image as you adjust and change your spread over the day.  Play with separation by bringing things tighter or spreading them out more, see when that works and when it doesn’t.  Apply varying set back distances and see what works under what conditions and combine those with different separations, use successful combinations to start building a body of experience.  The more you apply 3D to your fishing the faster you’ll be thinking this way as a natural course of fishing. 

If this produces one or two more fish per trip is it worth it?  If 3D fishing eliminates a couple of skunks a year is it worth it?  Give the 3D mindset a try, it’s really not as difficult as it was to try to write this article, it will make a positive difference in your fishing

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