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Written By: Cal Kellogg, March 13, 2012
That’s right I’m talking about those thin metal things you place on your fishing line not the Los Angeles Dodgers that everyone here in Norcal loves to hate and everyone in Socal loves to love!
In looking through my personal archive of articles from over the past 10 years or so, I find that I’ve never written an article specifically about dodgers and I would venture to say this is true for many fishing writers. We all talk a great deal about lures and most of us are well aware of just how effective dodgers are at drawing strikes and putting fish in the boat, but apparently we aim to keep that information a secret since we don’t write about them very much.
Well, as you’ve probably guessed I’m going to break the precedent in this piece and I’m going to devote the entire space to talking about dodgers and nothing but dodgers. It’s going to be my dodger trolling manifesto!
Probably the first thing I should clear up for folks that are just getting into the freshwater trolling scene, is the difference between dodgers and flashers. At a glance dodgers and flashers look pretty much the same, but they perform very differently in the water. Dodgers wobble or kick side to side when trolled at the proper speed, while flashers spin a full 360 degrees. In freshwater, dodgers are used a whole lot more than flashers.
Here on the West Coast a lot of freshwater trollers refer to “lake trolls” as flashers, but they are not true flashers. Lake trolls are a series of rotating blades that work on a section of cable. Regardless of what you call them, lake trolls can help you box a bunch of trout, kokanee, kings and macks, but alas lake trolls are another subject for another day.
Back to dodgers...Dodgers basically do three things. They create vibration and flash. And they can impart an erratic surging motion to lures and baits, depending on how far you rig them behind the dodger.
It is thought that the vibration put off by dodgers is similar to those put off by feeding fish. Fish like trout and salmon have a strip of nerves along the lateral line that allow them to pick up and analyze vibrations in the water around them.
When the lateral line picks up vibrations that sound like fish feeding, predatory gamefish, being the opportunists they are home in on the sound hoping to pick up an easy meal. When they move in on the vibrations put out by a dodger and see your lure, they grab it….That’s the plan anyway!
While I think that vibration is the driving factor behind a dodger’s ability to create strikes, you can’t discount the fish attracting value of flash either.
For a long time I used to wonder just how much flash a dodger could possibly produce. One early morning not that long ago, I was heading out to meet my fishing partner hours before dawn for a day of kokanee trolling. I had several pre-rigged rods leaning in the front passengers seat of my truck.
As I approached an intersection where there were a handful of cars moving in different directions there was a sudden bright flash that I swear illuminated the entire cab of the truck. My eyes were adjusted to the dark and it was almost as if a flash bulb had gone off. Looking around I realized that the beam of another vehicle’s headlights had hit the chrome surface of a 4-inch dodger attached to one of the rods. That incident left no doubt in my mind as to the ability of even a small dodger to create flash significant enough to draw fish in from many yards away. Conversely in the wrong situation they can also throw off enough flash to scare fish too, but we’ll get into that a little later.
Dodgers come in a variety of styles and sizes. “Herring Dodgers” are oval shaped on either end, have an upswept edge at either end and a uniform width. A lot of companies market a line of herring style dodgers. Familiar names include Vance’s Tackle, Sep’s Pro Fishing, Luhr Jensen, Worden’s Lures, Mack’s Lures and Gold Star. Some of these models are made out of thicker metal than others. This of course makes them heavier and they run deeper than thinner lighter models.
Another popular style of dodger is the thin or tapered dodger. The Shasta Tackle Sling Blade sets the standard in this type of dodger. Sling Blades are larger at the rear than they are at the front and they have a constant taper throughout their length. These dodgers only have an upswept edge at the rear end.
You should be aware of a third type of dodger that a lot of folks refer to as mini dodgers. Popular examples of these dodgers include the Sep’s Side Kick and Sep’s Strike Master along with the Crystal Basin Wild Thing. These dodgers are basically teardrop shape and cupped at the rear end. The Side Kick is 2 inches long while both the Strike Master and the Wild Thing are 3 inches long.
Herring dodgers can typically be found in 4, 5 6 and 8 inch sizes, while Sling Blades come in 4, 6 and 8-inch version. I’ve caught both salmon and trout while running big 8-inch dodgers, but in most situations you’ll be best served with dodgers in the 4, 5 and 6-inch class. Having said that you should have all three types of dodgers I’ve described including mini dodgers in your tackle assortment to cover all the variables you are likely to encounter out on the water.
When fishing for trout and kokanee I start out with 4-inch dodgers and they usually do the trick. Once in a while I’ll break out a 6-inch dodger when targeting these species. I think that larger dodgers can give you an edge when working deep water. I also use 6-inch dodgers when targeting late season kokanee. Late season ‘kokes like lures with lots of action and 6 inch dodgers impart aggressive movement to kokanee size lures.
For king salmon, I’ve had the best results when running 6-inch dodgers. I attribute this to the fact that kings are usually found in large expanses of open water and as a rule hold deeper than both trout and kokanee. In wide-open deep water a larger dodger puts out more vibration and flash and seems to pull fish from longer distances.
Now that we’ve gone over the basic styles of dodgers available, it’s time to think about dodger color.
Dodger color is confusing to a lot of anglers. Dodgers come in about as many color schemes as lures. Common questions include, what colors are best? How many different colors do I need? And do I need to match lure color with dodger color?
The first question is a sucker’s bet. There is no best color, as it’s the light level, water depth and water clarity that dictate the best color for a given day.
As to how many colors you need, the simple answer is that collecting dodgers gets addictive and you’ll surely end up with a lot more color schemes than you actually need! Dodgers are something you don’t lose too often, so it’s pretty easy to end up with 50 or more of them after a few years of just buying one here and there.
Finally as far as matching lure color to dodger color goes, some guys I know are very careful about doing this while others pay no attention to it at all. I’m in the no attention at all camp.
While I’ve got a bunch of dodgers and certainly catch my share of trout and salmon, I’m no expert. This being the case, I picked up the phone and called up a pair of the most knowledgeable guys I know when it comes to trout and salmon gear and put the color question to them.
My first call was to Vance Staplin of Vance’s Tackle Company. He’s been manufacturing dodgers and guiding for many years, so his observations carry a good deal of weight.
“Color means a lot, but it’s really the conditions that dictate dodger color,” Vance related. “Early in the day when light level is low, you want flash. So chrome is a good choice as are glow models. When the light level increases you’ll typically benefit from toning down on flash. When the sun is high and the water is clear the intense flashing of a chrome dodger can actually scare fish away. You can tone down your spread by swapping your chrome dodgers for copper, brass and painted models.”
“Everyone has colors and color combinations that they have a lot of confidence in. You want to keep an open mind. Make logical color choices, but really let the fish tell you what they want. Having said that, there are colors that really work well for a given species. For example, when I’m targeting rainbows I almost always have something green or chartreuse in the water, simple because that color has proven itself for me so many times,” added Vance.
My next call was to Gary Miralles of the Shasta Tackle Company. Gary like Vance is a tackle manufacturer with a ton of experience and he to is a well respected guide. Gary’s line of Sling Blade dodgers are well known and have put a bunch of big fish in the box over the years including the current world record kokanee.
“For me more than anything else dodger color is about depth and the light level,” Gary related. “When I pick out a dodger I think about the depths I’m fishing and the color spectrum. Colors disappear as you descend in the water column. Up top your reds and oranges show up well. In the middle depths greens work well for me and when I really drop down deep where light penetration is minimized I like blues, glows and of course UV. When I’m fishing for trout up near the surface during stormy weather or anytime the light level is really low, I tend to lean toward darker colored dodgers. I think a darker color creates a more distinct silhouette for trout looking up toward the surface.”
Depth, light level, water clarity, light penetration and on and on. You can think and rethink everything when it comes to fishing and one fact remains constant, fish love to break the rules and seem to get a kick out of driving us anglers crazy! With that in mind I’m going to toss out a few colors that I’ve found to be very consistent producers a lot of the time.
I’ve had great luck running chrome and green, chrome and blue and watermelon colored dodgers for trout, particularly rainbows. To my knowledge I don’t think I’ve encountered a situation where rainbows are put off by excessive flash.
When it comes to kokanee I’ve done very well with chrome and green, watermelon, bright orange, pink and glow models. Kokanee can absolutely be put off by too much flash. For ‘kokes I start off bright early and then as the day goes on switch over to coppers. I’ve caught lots of kokanee on pink, watermelon and UV Sling Blades, chrome/green and copper/pink Vance’s Dodgers and Sep’s dodgers in glow/orange stripe and watermelon.
For kings I’ve had good luck with chromes, pinks, UV and glows. Kings seem to like plain Jane chrome dodgers just as much as they do the wild looking stuff. When it comes to crazy colors and kings, I’ve had a good deal of luck with the Sep’s UV fruit salad color.
One last thing I should touch on before turning my attention to rigs is trolling speed. When you are trolling with dodgers you want to be moving fast enough to cause the dodger to dance back and forth, but not so fast as to make the dodger flip over and spin. Of course the best way to determine the best speed for a given dodger is to put it in the water right beside the boat and match the boat speed to the best action of the dodger.
Herring style dodgers offer aggressive action at low speeds. As a general rule most small herring dodgers will start spinning at around 1.8 miles per hour. On the other hand slim Sling Blade style dodgers don’t offer real aggressive action at low speed. They typically perform best from 1.8 to 2.5 or even 3 miles per hour.
Mini dodger behave much like herring dodgers in that slow is the way to go. Much more speed than 1.7 or 1.8 and they start to roll. Okay some dodgers work better fast while other perform well at slow speeds. There are a couple tricks you can employ to make Sling Blade style dodgers work better at low speeds and to keep herring style dodgers from spinning when trolled faster than 1.8.
If you take a Sling Blade out of the package and put it in the water at 1.5 mph it will have a pretty subtle back and forth wobble. To make it really kick at this sluggish speed, take the blade in your hands with the face side up. Pushing upward with your thumbs work your way up and down the blade and bend a slight arch into it. The more arch you bend into the blade the more active it will have. Use careful measured pressure and test the dodger to see how the action of the blade changes. When it comes time to use the blade for fast trolling again, you can simply bend it back to its original shape.
Split shot is the remedy for a herring dodger that rolls when trolled too fast. While observing a blade working beside the boat figure out the speed where it wants to spin. Pull the blade out of the water and place a split shot on the leader immediately behind the snap on the rear of the dodger. The additional weigh will help to tame the rear of the dodger and in will maintain it’s kicking motion rather than rolling. The more weight you add the faster you can go to a point. You won’t extend the speed range a great deal, but you should be able to break the 2 mph barrier.
When you find yourself out on the water and it’s time to rig up, there are only two types of lures to chose from, lures with built in action like spoons, spinners and plugs and lures that produce no action of their own like hoochies, flies and kokanee bugs.
Lures with no action need to be rigged closed enough to the dodger such that the dodger imparts a surging dart ahead motion to them. As a basic rule you want to position these types of lures two to three dodger lengths behind the blade. If you are using a 4-inch dodger and fishing a kokanee bug behind it, the bug should be on a leader that is 8 to 12 inches long.
Lures that have action give you more latitude. Some guys say that you want spoons and spinners 4 to 5 dodger lengths behind the blade, but other guys use much longer leaders than that. When targeting trout with Hum Dingers and Cripplures trolled behind Sling Blades Gary Miralles often runs leaders in the 30 to 36 inch range and catches plenty of fish.
The type of lures you are using plays a part in the type of leader material you use. With lures that have action 8-pound test fluorocarbon is about right. 8 pound has enough strength to deal with big strong trout, but it is flexible enough to allow lures to work well.
When using lures without action you want to use heavier stiffer leader line in the 10 to 12 pound range, because stiffer line will transmit more of the action from the dodger to the lure. As a general rule remember that it’s trout that can be leader shy. Kings and kokanee tend not to be. A lot of the successful tournament kokanee guys I know run 10 and 12-pound line on their gear.
In closing I’ll toss out one particular rig that will put a bunch of trout in the boat for you over the course of a year. I knew about this combination for a long time, but it was Monte Smith of Gold Country Guide Service that really illustrated to me how effective it can be.
Monte spends a lot of time fishing at Don Pedro. Don Pedro is home to kings, kokanee and trout. Most of the time when Monte takes you out on Pedro the focus is on catching salmon. Monte typically rolls shad deep for kings and runs a couple lines armed with kokanee lures shallower.
This approach covers you for kings and ‘kokes, but hanging out above the kokanee, often not far beneath the surface, are the rainbows. Too hook them Monte rigs up a threaded night crawler and trolls it 18 inches to two feet behind a mini dodger. When I first met Monte his dodger of choice for this work was a Sep’s Side Kick, but these days he uses the new Sep’s Strike Master quite a bit.
I fished with Monte this spring and we caught a bunch of fish on all kinds of different gear. We hooked a pair of rainbows on his Strike Master and worm combo and both of them were dandies. One escaped right behind the boat and the other one ended up in the box comparing notes with a collection of kings and kokanee.
When the going gets tough for trout no matter where you’re fishing break out the mini dodgers and worms. This combination will often catch trout when nothing else will.
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