Fishing with Divers for More Salmon and Trout

Bill Hilts, Jr.

Fishing with Divers for More Salmon and Trout

A “diver” is a term that can be taken any number of ways. It could make reference to a sky diver leaping out of a (perfectly good) plane; a scuba diver in search of sunken treasure or pearls; a type of duck for all you waterfowlers out there … or, in the world of fishing, it can be a tool to put more fish in the boat – a poor man’s downrigger of sorts. However, even if you do have downriggers, the use of any type of diver can help to put you into the fish zone, move your baits away from your boat and ultimately put more fish in the cooler if that is your intent.

It started with the Dipsy Diver, a Luhr Jensen multi-directional trolling sinker that allowed anglers the opportunity to adjust depths and direction as far as how far away from the boat to either side and behind. This was the tool that started it all.

“Dipsy divers, slide divers or DW’s new deeper divers are invaluable whether you are running a charter, you are a tournament fisherman or you are a recreational angler in a smaller boat looking to simply catch more fish,” says Capt. Vince Pierleoni of Newfane, NY, operating Thrillseeker II out of the port of Olcott on Lake Ontario 585-615-1197. “The trick is knowing where and when to run them and when they will be most effective.”

“Experience is critical,” says Pierleoni, a salmon tournament fanatic that lives for the competition. “The more time on the water, the better you will be able to understand what diver will work best under any given circumstance or situation. You have to know where the fish are in the water column. Water color and clarity make a huge difference, too. The conditions lead to further questions that need to be answered. There are so many interchangeable factors.

“Will fish be attracted by the diver or will they be spooked? If the fish are high, they could be spooked if the water is clear. However, if there is good color in the water, they might not be wary. I might use more subdued colors or switch from a dipsy diver to a slide diver to get the lure away from the diver if the water is clear.”

“If the fish are deep, the color of the diver might serve as more of an attractor for the fish, which is why you see divers in so many different colors.  In my experience, Coho salmon, steelhead, lake trout and brown trout seem to be attracted by diver colors. Trial and error is the way to go in figuring out what the fish want on any given day, but experience on the water helps to figure that out a little quicker.”
“There are safe choices like greens, clears or straight black, but your buddy could be lighting them up a mile or two away using some new color.” Again, there is no shortcut to on the water experience. Divers will put more fish into the boat, bottom line. And not just salmon and trout either. Pierleoni also uses divers on walleye in Lake Erie when the opportunity presents itself for customers.

In the summer months of June, July and August, the number of divers you run will depend on what species you are targeting, where in the water the fish are and how clear the water is. “You can get away with four divers on most days, but there are some days when less is more for sure,” says Pierleoni. “Again, there are so many factors that can come into play. You can have a crazy diver bite one day and go right back out there and struggle the next day. It might be the amount of sun or the barometric pressure. How much boat pressure is there? If the fish are spooked, will it help to run slide divers with longer leads? I go through a series of questions like this in my mind to try and figure out what will work on any given day.”

One thing to consider (that Pierleoni firmly believes) is that all divers – the old school dipsy, the slide divers, the newer DW deeper divers or whatever is new on the market – all have a place in your fishing arsenal.

Slide divers are more commonly used with braid and monofilament. “They’ve recently come out with kits that allow you to dive deeper, converting standard slide divers to a deeper diving tool,” says Pierleoni.  “The new Deeper Diver from Dreamweaver comes in different sizes to allow you to attack different parts of the water column. 

With the Dipsy Diver, your lead could be anywhere from four to 10 feet from the diver to the bait. It’s a fixed distance and you have to determine if the salmon and trout are attracted to the diver, the diver is a non-factor or the diver is repelling fish from hitting.

“Sometimes you might want the lift of monofilament to get the lure away from the boat and up higher in the water column,” says Pierleoni. “If you need depth, wire might be the way to go to give you maximum depth. I run a lot of spoons like DW Super Slims. I also like to run a Spin Doctor and an A-Tom-Mik fly combination.

If fish are shying away from the diver presentation, the Slide Diver is a must. “They run very well with spoons,” says Pierleoni. “They also work very well for walleye fishing up on Lake Erie. Quite often I will run body baits like Live Targets or worm harnesses to get the baits into the zone.

As far as the equipment, Pierleoni is a big fan of a 10 foot rod for divers – especially a rod with a soft action. “I like the Okuma Blue Diamond. It’s a longer rod that gets the diver and the bait out away from the outside downriggers. I have plenty of room on the back of my 35-foot Viking and I love the soft, slow parabolic action throughout the rod but with enough butt to be able to handle a fish with the diver on it.
“I don’t run snubbers. I feel that it’s a detriment when clearing debris off the line. I don’t want that variable in the equation. Having a softer rod and a proper drag setting takes care of the snubber characteristics. However, snubbers can be beneficial with angler error for beginners if you don’t have the right rod.”
“It’s important to note for beginning anglers that every day is different out there. Sometimes you just can’t get to the rods fast enough. Changing lures can make a difference on occasion; sometimes it’s a reaction strike versus having a salmon or trout stalking the bait. It can make a difference on how well the fish are hooked up.” Again, it’s all about time on the water, developing confidence with a particular program and knowing what might work best for you in any given situation … and how you can adapt accordingly. Some days you might be able to run four divers in your set. Other days it works better with two. Having the different pieces to the puzzle helps you complete the picture.

A Better Mouse Trap?

Necessity is the Mother of Invention … or so the saying goes. Capt. Andy Chornobil, who was born in the Ukraine, started his fishing pursuits on Seneca Lake. He didn’t want to put downriggers on the boat but he wanted to fish for lake trout in water that had turned much too clear from zebra mussels. He didn’t like the quality of the divers that were available on the market so he put his ingenuity to work and made his own Chinook Diver Trolling Sinker – made out of a durable stainless steel. Not only did it work on Seneca Lake, it was also perfect for Lake Ontario. He’s been using them himself for nearly two decades, but it wasn’t until recently that they went into commercial production. The Chinook Diver ( comes in five different sizes and five different colors. To show off their capabilities, we headed out of his home port at the Genesee River for a morning run last July. Our first hit, appropriately on his diver, came 70 feet down. The wire line was only 140 feet back – a 2 to 1 ratio. “With the different sizes I can cover from the surface down to 120 feet of water. Different settings on the divers allow for different depths. Other variables such as current and boat speed also come into play. It’s not an exact science, but we can get pretty close,” says Chornobil. We caught a bunch of fish on this particular day. If you are looking for another tool to help put more fish in the boat, check these divers out. And, they are made right here in New York! It is possible to make a better mouse trap …

Bill Hilts, Jr. is Niagara County Sportfishing Promotions Manager and outdoor Sports Specialist for the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation. He is currently president of the Lake Ontario Sportfishing Council and the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. He is an active member and past president of the New York State Outdoor Writers’ Association and the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Contact him at

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