How to fish more effectively with
Dodgers, Cowbells and Rotating Flashers 

Trolling Devices that flash, spin or flop to draw attention to your bait or lure  

Home ] 2011 Events ] Tips and Trix ] Capt. John's Log ] Members Only ]

Attractor Fishing Methods
By Capt. John King

Before I get on with the subject of attractor fishing let me tell you that I'm not an outdoor writer, I'm a fisherman.  In my early career as a Great Lakes angler I subscribed to many magazines and publications in my quest to gain knowledge in techniques to catch more fish and do it consistently.  In most cases, the articles left me wondering about the methods because the material wasn't item specific.  Most outdoor writers have written thousands of words, but I've handled thousands of fish in my 33 years on the Great Lakes.  What knowledge I do have, came from "hands on" experience.

 AugDodgers.JPG (63857 bytes)     Bechholds.JPG (71298 bytes)     Cowbells.JPG (70530 bytes)     Dodgers.JPG (66006 bytes) 
     Bechhold & Grey Ghost                       Bechholds                                 Cowbells                                     Dodgers

The analogy of a farm tractor highly suits the point that I'll try to make here.  Tractors plow along slowly and are very powerful, so the attractor is the vehicle that tows or pulls you bait or lure.  Attractors fall into the categories of cowbells or lake trolls, dodgers and rotating flashers that twist their way through the water in an arching circular motion. 

Now, before you get all excited about the new tools and skills about to be added to your fishing expertise, you'll need to have absolute boat speed control and the ability to troll as slow as one mile an hour.  While most boats suitable for trolling large bodies of water like the Great Lake run in sizes from 18 to 26 feet all have this in common, without assistance they all troll to fast.  Why?  Because 1 mph is beyond the normal use speeds of all vessels.

Keep in mind, attractors will also impart action to your lure in a variety of ways.  Dodgers will cause squid or fly dart in a constant side to side motion while rotating flashers will twist your offering through the water like a cork screw.  Cowbells don't really do anything except drag your lure and churn the water with flash, calling attention to the bait. 

Putting this in simple terms you'd better have your stuff together if you plan on filling your box when attractor fishing.  If it's done right, it's an art form and the critical factor is speed.  Interested in becoming a serious and accomplished attractor fisherman?.............Then read the following topics!  

Speed Control

Here is the entire key of conquering the secrets of attractor trolling.  Many things have been invented to aid in the serious question of maintaining the exact speed.   Trolling plates that restrict the flow of the water from the prop are probably most common, but I'd opt for sea bags pulled off both sides of your vessel.  Sea bags are water parachutes that slow you down in a big way as long as they're the right size for your boat.  As an added benefit the bags will take some of the roll out of your boat from heavy seas.  Run the bags off the sides of your craft attached to what are called spring cleats, those are the cleats in the middle of your boat.  At the end or small part of the sea bags you'll notice a place to attach another line to empty the water out of them when you need to pull the bags.  Attach this line towards the rear of your boat for easy access.  If there's strong head sea it might not be necessary to have the bags or bag in water, on a down wind, it's a must!

Depending on whether you use sea bags or a trolling plate the benefits are immense.  The engine rpm's will stay up providing better oil pressure and a better charge to the electrical system.  Plus let's not forget about the lessened chance of carbon build up and fouled spark plugs.

Large fly bridge boats that I know of such as 31 Silverton's have trolled with one engine in reverse to slow them down to proper speeds.  This I learned from "Sea Joy II" Steve Bradley who I consider the best charter captain in Frankfort, Michigan.  Capt. Steve's nicknames include "Five-O" and Stevie Wonder because of his incredible ability to produce fantastic catches due to maintaining a proper trolling speed in all sea situations.

Contact me at: if you in the market to purchase heavy duty industrial strength trolling sea bags that will last you many seasons.  On the shelf stock ones will last about a year.

Light and Water Disturbance

Awareness of the fact that water bends the light rays and refracts light a prism is helpful in understanding how attractors pull fish into your spread.  Spread is the term for amount of baits you're trolling.  The lateral line of a fish is sensitive to any movement in both a defensive and offensive posture.  As an attractor stirs up the water and can signal to a predatory fish that dinner will soon be served through the sensors in the lateral line.  Turbulence is an often overlooked factor.

Let's not forget about the added flash and light reflection in an otherwise dark environment, oh let's say 70 foot and deeper.  In the depths is where attractors "SHINE" increasing your catch dramatically, once you get it right.  Like anything, there's a learning curve and I'm hoping what you read here will shorten the curve for you.  Remember sometimes you have to walk in the darkness before you'll see the light.  Hopefully, you won't be in the dark for very long.

The truth is that fish can strike something they can't see or feel, always keep this in mind. 

Cowbells or Lake Trolls

Cowbells are a string of large rotating flashing blades.  The average length of a string of lake troll can be from 3 to 5 feet long and can have 3 to 8 attention grabbing spinners.  The main shaft can be made of braided or solid wire.  Modern day trolls are mostly all braided wire shafts now.  Big Jon used to make a 3 blades in the willow leaf design that were, and still are deadly for Lake Trout when used under the proper set of circumstances.   

The blades come in many styles and the best known are willow leaf, Indiana and Colorado.  The shape of the blade dictates the speed of the bells and their angle from the main shaft.  Willow leafs are the most forgiving when it comes to speed and can be trolled the fastest at speed in at and around 2.2 mph.  

Colorado style blades are the slowest because of the large oval shape of their design.  J & N used to make them in silver and gold plating and are still are deadly for Brown Trout when trolled at 1.5 mph or slower.  Getting your hands on these might be impossible because their out of production.

Indiana blades hit the middle ground as far as speed goes and various shapes of the bell can be seen at: .  Cowbells have many monikers and have been called ford fenders, beer cans, odd balls and jack-o-diamonds just to name a few.

Important Tip:  All speed indicators are slightly different and I have 3 of them on my lake boat and the variance is a about a half mph.  So, you're better off going by downrigger cable angle.  Straight down is about 1 to 1.5 mph and that's my trolling speed for sewn minnows and cowbells for Brown Trout.


Dodgers came from the commercial and sport west coast ocean salmon fishery.  I don't know who first invented them, but I'm glad somebody did.  Why?  The answer is very simple, they catch fish deep when most other offerings are being ignored.  Dodgers not only cause light flash and deflection they impart action to what ever you're towing behind it.  Fact is; that dodgers come into their own after 70 feet, although I've produced heavy boxes from as shallow as 20 feet down.

I got lucky when it came to the proper techniques when it came to fishing dodgers when I met both George Richey from Richey's Custom Flies and Big Jon Emery (Big Jon Downriggers) in the late 70's.  I received a crash courses from both of these experts in the field of correct speeds and presentation.
Back then I was fishing out of Frankfort, known for it's excellent Coho Fishery.   42 inches was claimed by many to be the proper distance from the release or cannonball and about 14 to 16 inches on the leader length of the fly or squid.  

In the 70's dodgers in the key-lime, fluorescent red and chartreuse were the big time weapons when it came to pounding out 5 fish limits of Coho in less time then you'd think.  The Alee Fly, Jon's squid, Kitsie fly and the Michigan Squid accounted for most of the fish taken out of East and West Platte Bays.  Phenomenal is the word that describes the catching when the Cohos showed up in the mid part of August and the fishery lasted well into October.

The correct speed on dodgers is the one the fish want!  No set rules here to go by, but it's often been said that the dodger should flop, flop, flop, flop and then roll over completely.
  Modern day fishing is different from the past for me, mainly because I now fish out of Manistee and Kings or Chinooks are the "big deal."  Adult Kings are spooky after the initial "tear 'em up" first light bite.  As the sun gets higher Kings get much more wary and a good deal more selective.  Now-a-days, my leads from the cannon ball can be as much as a 100 feet, but I'd say 10 to 20 feet is what I'll use most.  If you do lengthen the distance from the ball, you can carry more speed and make spoons kick more efficiently.  Watch out here, because too fast and dodgers will just spin, losing their effectiveness.

Sizes on dodgers in use today are the size 0  and 00 are probably the most common in use today.  The double "'0" lets you pull more speed because of it's smaller size and are deadly when fished in combo with a diver.  For more info on diver fishing click here  The Streak folks have came out with a new product called a Flodger which can tolerate higher trolling speeds without constantly spinning.  While I used them some in 2000, but my experience is limited with them.

Rotating Flashers

Simple way to attach a leader loop to a Bechhold Flasher 

Kelp cutters, Alaska Eagle, Abe and Al's and the Bechhold's all fall into the board category called  Rotating flashers.  Put in simple terms these products roll with the flow.  Rather than snapping back and forth like a dodger these flashers do their damage to the fish population in a wide circular motion, actually like a giant cork screwing action.

A spinning bait fish must look like an easy meal to a Salmon, because last year the word got out on these amazing pieces of plastic.  They soon became a mainstay in my arsenal of fish catching weapons.  They caught on because they're a new way to catch fish, although I used similar products back in the mid-80's to limited success. 

Always keep in mind the leader length should be longer when using the twisters, when compared to dodgers.  As with dodgers the deeper you fish flashers the more productive they'll be.

I found my best success last season (2000) with leads on Bechholds from 12 to 20 feet.  They works at 20 to 30 feet also.  I ran the longer lead, because I'll tend to carry more boat speed than most if fishing is slow.  That way, your spoons or plugs kick more efficiently.  In the 2000 season the summer fish were deeper than 80 feet for the better part of August and the twister flashers filled my fish boxes many days when the dodgers just weren't working.

According to Jerry Bechhold the water disturbance from his product causes otherwise dormant fish to strike.  This I'll tend to believe because of the fantastic results I had with his rotating flasher.
The proofs in the pudding, so Click here to see the August 2000 photo gallery

Lures and Bait

"I love it when a plan comes together".....heard this one before?   Well, this is exactly what happens after much planning a fish, succumbs enticement of the magical excitement the attractor you've been trolling with.  This is the business end of this type fishing.  This is where everything comes together and the hooking up is accomplished if you've done everything just right.

The correct color and distance from the type of attractor come into play here, big time.  The dodger leader lengths are said to be 2 1/2 time the size of the dodger for your fly or squid.  So, on a size "0" dodger which is 8 inches long, 20 inches will put you in the ball park.  Size "00" are 6 inches long 15 inches is supposed to be right.  But, I'll disagree with both figures, because I prefer 24 inch leaders to score consistently on big Kings.  Plus, I'll run a 24 inch leader on a "00" to boot.

Fly or squid leader lengths on Rotators like the large Bechhold Fish Catcher I'll use leaders no shorter than 3 feet and sometimes as long as 5 feet.  The smaller Bechhold and Alaskan Eagle 24 inches seems just fine.

Cowbell leader lengths can vary, but not much.  I found 24 inch figure to be just about right if Brown Trout or Lakers are on the menu.  For extreme action on Lakers a strip of sucker meat cut from the belly should be a long triangular shape (1 x 4 to 6 inches).  Just hook the sucker meat in the 1 inch end and you're in business.  Spin-n-Glo's are Laker chow deluxe also.

Sewn minnows behind cowbells or lake trolls are deadly on Brown trout once the water warms a little in the later part of April.  Use spot tail shiners if the available, but any minnow from 4 to 6 inches log will work.  To fish with sewn minnows you'll need a 6 in sewing needle, a number 4 treble hook and 14 pound test leader material.  It's easier for me to show you how to rig the minnow with photos rather that trying to put it into words and I'll be posting the rigging photos soon.

Bait holder rigs and bait fish from the west coast will be available this season in most Salmon Ports.
I don't have enough experience to elaborate on the yet, so hold off here, because I still think they're a gimmick to get in your wallet every time you go fishing.

Let's cover the squids and fly choices to wrap up this part of the article.  There are no squid in the great lakes, the squids we use mimic bait fish....that's all.  Squids, I've always opted for the one's with a tinsel inserts, because of the added flash I've come to rely on.  Go with the glow is a good rule of thumb when purchasing squids and you won't be wasting your money, any green glow is good to go.  The flies that generate my best outcome are all tinsel based, some shade green being the color, with the exception of the clear or crystal original Sparkle Fly made by Richey's Custom Flies, located in Honor, Michigan.  Flies will actually pulse and are super deadly tools to catch fish with.

The Line

When towing or trolling attractors special consideration come into view because of the added drag of the device.  Use nothing less than 20 pound test and 25 to 30 pound goat rope is even better.  Lighter lines can and will work, but you'd better own a tackle shop to keep yourself supplied.  Not to mention the deep pockets you'll need to pay for the stuff.

Dodgers present a special problem because for the sideways turn and floppy roll.  When a large King takes the snap out of a dodger I've seen 20 pound test break at the release from the force of the hit.   Heavy line is needed handle the heavy hitters, like Kings.


(1.)  When trolling any type attractor stiffen up the down rigger releases because of the added drag and you'll hook up on more fish.

(2.)  Keep a tight line at all costs, once a salmon starts free towing a dodger the chatter will roll the hook right out of it's mouth...........reel fact!

(3.)  00 dodgers off the divers are deadly if adult Kings are your quarry. 
                                     For more info on diver fishing click here

(4.)  Kings as a rule prefer a longer lead length of 18 inches or more behind a size 0 dodger, Cohos like a faster fly on a shorter leader.

(5.)  A double overhand loop is the knot you tie to attach the fly, squid or bait to a dodger, cowbell or flasher.  Double the line, then tie a double granny knot and your there.

(6.)  The best color combinations for Lake Michigan here in Manistee County are the Pearl, Grey Ghost and Fire Dot (see above dodger photo).  White and Chartreuse (banana) and Hammered Chrome finishes will produce at times also.

(7.)  Use a good quality leader on your flies or squids.  40 pound test, at least should be used.  Buy a quarter pound spool just for re-rigging your baits and you'll be dollars and cents ahead.

(8.)  Keep your glow squids out of the light when not in use, because sunlight burns them out.  Also by careful where you store them, because they can melt certain plastics.

(9.)  Use a powerful light or flash from a 35 mm camera to charge up the squids and glow inserts on dodger or flashers for incredible first light action.  Go with the Glow!....and you'll be in the know.

(10.)  Pay extra careful attention to the state of your hooks, big kings have a hard bone structure that can completely destroy a hooks sharp point.  Keep an eye on the leader for frays also.

(11.)  A fixed slider (I'll use a spoon) 3 to 5 feet above a dodger or a flasher will mean extra fish in the box you might not otherwise see.  Don't try it with cowbells or you'll have a spun up, knotted mess.  3/27/01 

Do not copy or reproduce material of any kind in this site without permission from
3/25/01 MichiganSportsman Copyrightę2001.
If you do you'd better have a good attorney that works cheap!