Diverology 101
Capt. John's diver tips

the below photos are thumbnails, click on for full size

Dipsys.JPG (70803 bytes)
   SlideDivers.JPG (74865 bytes)   DeepSixes.JPG (69872 bytes)  DiverDisks.JPG (76019 bytes)
Dipsys                     Slide Divers                       Deep Sixes                 Diver Disks

The Basics
By Capt. John King         January 15, 2000 

Let's start with the principles of how divers work and what a tremendous tool they've become in Salmon fishing.  First of all, a diver is a mechanism that attains depth by water pressure forcing it down.  You can fish divers to 100 feet plus and it's often been referred to as the 'poor man's downrigger'.  The modern day divers, like the Slide Diver and the Dipsy Diver, will also dive out and away from the boat, depending on how much line you let out.  This happens because of their saucer shape along with a adjustable lead keel (in most cases).  Once you've mastered the simple techniques when using these remarkable pieces of plastic, you'll soon come to rely on them, ...as much as I do.  

Why are divers so highly effective?  Because in most cases they fish out and away from the boat, increasing your trolling path by 100 feet or more.  As I've said many times, the big lake trolling fishery is like a farmer plowing a field and, in simple terms, a 4 bottom plow is more efficient that a 2 bottom plow. Also, they cover areas in a stealthy, silent mode out where those spooky fish are going to go to avoid boat noise/pressure.

Diver History on the Great lakes

The first diving apparatus I used in 1969 was called a Pink Lady.  This "Hot Setup" was a heavy duty industrial grade diver that was supposed to be able to be tripped and reset by a hard jerk of the rod.  What was supposed to happen and what actually did were two different things! The tripping mechanism on the Pink Lady was a joke and you were faced with a long hard tow back to the boat.  Of course in the 60's the standard Salmon rod had the action of a stout broomstick equipped with a roller tip and after lots of hard pulling you'd eventually be able to retrieve it.  Personally I didn't care about the poor design. I cared about the fact that they caught fish and everybody had Salmon Fever back then, so we didn't seem to mind the extra work.


Dipsy Divers were a product manufactured by Luhr Jensen and Sons in Hood River Oregon.  Luhr Jensen sold their company to Normark, the Rapala folks who, in turn promptly moved Dipsy production to China.  The Dipsys are probably the most widely used divers on Lake Michigan and will dive straight down and out to the side of your trolling pattern, depending on what number you dial it on.  It comes in 4 sizes with rings that are added for extra depth.  These things do catch fish and by mastering the Dipsys you'll be adding many more fish to your yearly catch.

Divers are widely effected by line diameter and type of line used (mono, Spectra or wire). This is going to be a hard one for me to explain exactly where the divers are fishing.  This is a seat of the pants feel you'll have to develop on your own, but I do have some basic guidelines that can be applied.

There is a well defined science to using diving planers and I've yet to master it myself after over 30 years of trying, but I'll try to explain to you what I've learned.  Most importantly, short leaders behind the divers have never really produced well for me.  What I mean is leaders 6 feet or shorter.  If I'm using a 10 foot rod, a 10 foot leader is required for best results.  A snubber is a necessity when using the non-stretch Spectra type fishing lines (i.e. Spider Wire, Gorilla Braid and Rip Cord).  The snubbers can be purchased anyplace selling the Dipsys (see above photo).  Dipsys come in many colors but I don't have a color preference most of the time.  

Here's a worthwhile tip: take an older beat up Dipsy and paint it flat black with spray paint. When the fish are reel choosy in the middle of the day, that one that will probably go.  If you stretch the snubber out, you can paint that when spraying the diver.

Snubbers, or Shock Absorbers

Snubbers are a device sold by Luhr Jensen and Sons that come in 2 sizes, 8 and 6 inches.  Don't waste your money on the 6 inch ones. Buy only the 8 inch ones that will stretch out to about 18 inches under stress.  The snubbers are made out of brightly colored surgical tubing with a piece of about 80 test Dacron line on the inside as a safety, in case the tubing breaks.  The snubber works as a shock absorber, so the fish can't use the weight and mass of the diver against you.  Also, the snubber helps provide constant, even tension on the lure.
     This product is a must if you're using the new space age Spectra type lines that have no stretch, plus the fact that most diver rods are about 10 feet long and don't have a forgiving action to them because of the hard pull that the diver exerts.
      Snubbers are only optional if you're using mono as the main line (there's enough stretch in the mono), and can slow down or inhibit the action of a hard pulling lure like a number 4 or 5 J-plug in case you're on harbor patrol around river mouths emptying into the great lakes or ocean.

Dipsy Pro-Tips

  1. Use a Big Jon Jettison Release above the diver when using mono and you'll be able to add a line above the diver so you can offer two lures instead of one.  This is a deadly tournament tactic you'll only hear here.

  2. When the fish are in the top 40 feet, use mono for additional distance away from the boat.  I use 20 pound test for mono divers. Steelhead love mono divers and will usually avoid the Spectra ones like the plague.

  3. Warm water is much less dense than colder water and will effect how much water and depth the diver will be able to attain.

  4. Use 1/16 minute turns when setting the tension on the release mechanism or you'll over tighten and the fish won't be able to trip the diver into "free."

  5. The larger ring made by the Slide Diver folks is a godsend when you have to get the Dipsy to 100 feet or more.  This depth can be attained by using 30 pound test Spectra Braid which is 10 pound test in monofilament fishing lines. 

  6. Dialed on 3 setting, a diver with no ring will crawl out to the side at about the rate of 4 to 1 ,as far as depth goes, from my experience.  Hence, a diver out 80 feet will be down in the 20 to 25 foot range depending on the density of the water.

  7. The above mentioned Jettison Release can be used with a 1 pound lead ball set up in a dropper configuration to gain depth with mono up to 100 feet or so.

  8. I never developed a certain color preference other than the port divers are generally red colored and something in green means starboard.  This is a handy way to keep you spread from getting tangled in a big mess.  Hey, at 5 o'clock in the morning it's hard to grab the right rod.  Also, magic marker the high and low diver to keep things straight.

  9. You can run a high and a low diver for a total of 4 divers off the sides of your boat ( two port, two starboard ).  If divers are "reel hot", a tail gunner should be added, dialed on "0", straight off the back of your vessel. They call that sending one down the chute.

  10. You can let the high diver over the low diver by letting out at least 50 of line on a light free spool over the top of the low diver without tangling up ........most of the time.  Start as far away from the rod as possible on the opposite side of the boat.

Slide Divers

This is a tremendous product and I met Randy Even, the savvy designer of the Slide Diver, at the Grand Rapids Sport and Fishing Show in 1997.  This is a premier solution for skittish fish that get spooked by the diver because it's adjustable, as far as the leader length goes (you can run 10 to 100 foot leads) by a piece of surgical tubing.  The tubing pinches down on the line without damaging the mono.  This product slides down to an inline barrel swivel once a fish strikes and will also slide up the line if a fish is a reel screamer, so the fish can't use it against you like a Dipsy. 

Randy makes the "best add on ring" in the market for both his product and the Jensen Dipsy Diver.  The ears, or tabs, don't break off and the largest size he makes will co-reference the Dipsy to a depths of 100 feet or more.  I'll use the slide diver mostly for spring Salmon and June Steelhead fishing but this is a versatile diver that can be used anytime.

This diver comes in 2 sizes and they're the same size as the Jensen Dipsy Diver, so depths are the same when using either product.  I've never used the Slide Diver with Spectra type lines because of the slippage I've encountered by not clamping down hard enough to hold the line.  The Slide Diver is one super product!  Here's the web address: www.slidediver.com Try this product and you'll probably like it as much as me.

2001 Update: The slide diver can now be used with the spectra type braided lines by turning the rubber piece of surgical tubing once.  I'll be trying this in 2001 myself.
Also, they've improved the diver with a add on spring recently.
Click here to meet with Capt. Randy and the info page I've done on his product.

Deep Sixes

Deep Sixes are the leader when it comes to getting deep in a hurry.  This diver comes in 3 sizes and has a cupped or bent shape to grab the water better.  The tripping mechanism is the easiest to set on the market. This is my secret weapon when it comes to deep fish below 100 feet.   It dives at a depth ratio of almost 2 to 1 on the "Size 2." 

I use the largest size made with 30 pound test braided stainless steel wire to plow to depths of 100 feet or more.  The largest size has a 40% larger area to catch water with.  This setup has put my guests into fish since 1988 when I picked it up from Captain Mel Wantz in Frankfort, Michigan.  The wire setup requires a rod with a roller or Twilly Tip to keep the wire from crystallizing and breaking.  I've used all 3 sizes and have done extremely well with them.  Keep in mind the Deep Six does not have the option to dive out to the side and will only track straight behind in your trolling pattern.  The midsize Deep Six will dive to depths approximately the same as a Dipsy or Slide diver. 

While it's not as popular as the Dipsy it will out perform them when the fish you're seeking are very deep.  Don't overlook this product! 

Wire Line (stainless braid) with the large Deep Six is a submarine that heads towards the bottom in a big hurry and if I want to fish let's say a dodger-Fly combo at a 100 feet, 220 of wire out is likely to get you in the neighborhood.  The only drawback to wire is the fact there is no stretch, which causes the loss of many fish even with 8 inch snubbers.

Diver Disks

The Big Jon Diver Disk is a mini inline diver that was most effective in Lake Huron for me.  This product comes in 2 sizes and will add depth or an out to the side option if used in conjunction with a downrigger.  These things do not trip and will add a heavy drag on your line when it comes time to switch lures or pull lines to call it quits.  The larger of the 2 sizes is a major pain in the butt to retrieve. 

My best days with the Diver Disk has been using standard dual planer boards when the fish have been in the 18 to 15 foot range and wouldn't move up to hit a lure.  Because of the hard retrieve, they've never became a favorite with me. 

Different Kinds of Line

The kind of line used will effect on how a diver performs in a major way.  Monofilament has the most water resistance and therefore will not be first choice if you're after fish down at 100 feet unless you're willing to tag a 1 pound of lead ball on a Jettison Release which I consider to be cumbersome and time consuming.  Mono is best used on spring and early summer fish when depth is not the greatest concern.  Mono has a forgiving shock absorbing stretch that will help land fish that would pull the hook on wire or Spectra type lines.  20 pound test Ande is what I use because of the fact it's a hard to damage line, it wears like iron and doesn't cost an arm and a leg. 

Reachable Depths

This is the hardest part of all to get right because  boat speed, current, water density, diameter of the fishing line and what type of line will all effect just how deep you'll be able to get.  Not to mention that with turns there can be a rise and fall of your divers by as much as 10 feet.  Plus, let's throw in the additional water resistance caused by debris such as weeds and the sea fleas or biothropidhies cedermies.  So, there is no way I'm going to get this exactly right.  While I haven't talked about it yet, the kind of lure you're towing will also cause the depth to be different.  Case in point; a size "0" dodger that has a fairly good pull or water resistance will change the angle of the diver as it digs to achieve depth.   Measured line also changes with the type of the reel and how full the spool is, so be ready for lots of variables. The following guidelines are what have worked for me.

Here's a rough chart you could keep in your head to keep track of how deep your Dipsy's running with said amount of line out, so here it is. Dialed on 1 with ring: 30 lb. test Spectra type line is roughly a 2 to 1 count until you get past the 50' depth. Hence 100' of line out you'll be plus or minus at or near the 50' mark at a medium to slow trolling speed. Dialed on 2 with ring: 30 lb. test Spectra type line is about a 2 1/2 to 1 ratio depending on lure and speed. Dialed on 3 with ring: This is real close to a 3 1/2 or 4 to 1 ratio or count. So let's say with 120' of Spectra braid type line you'll be at or close to 30' as long as you're pulling spoons. Lure type effects the above formula, especially the size 0 dodgers, so add a little more line in this case.

Take the time when fishing is slow to sneak into shallower water and hit bottom with the divers you're using and record depths and dial settings with rings and no rings for best placement.

Diver Rods and Reels

There are a multitude of tackle manufacturers constructing fishing rods for diver fishing that are usually 9 or 10 feet long and only the last 5 feet of the rod actually has any give or bend to it.  These rods require massive backbone to leverage the pressure of heavy pulling divers.  While you can run divers off a regular downrigger rod, I don't recommend it.  Buy the right tool for the job and invest in at least a couple of diver rods....you'll be happy you did, I'm sure!
    When purchasing reels for your diver rods I recommend spending as much money as your budget allows and getting line counter reels.  Penn, Diawa and Ocuma all make diver reels that are within a reasonable price range.  The Diawa 47LC has fallen in price from over $100 down to the $60 range and will do an acceptable job in most circumstances.  
     Because of my heavy usage I opted for the Penn 895LC which cost about $150  each.  I've had extremely good luck with the 895's which have an electronic counter (no gear driven moving parts) and its larger size makes winding in the divers a tolerable affair.  Where this reel shines is when you have to control a large King because it has an ultra smooth drag and a powerful retrieve rate.  In the 3 years that I've had them I've yet to experience any problems with 895's.
    Now, if you just don't have it in the budget, any large capacity level wind reel will work and you can still keep track of the distance of line out to your diver.  This can be accomplished by measuring the amount of line per travel on the level wind or pass across the reel.  This method requires math to keep track of the line out.   This method was used before the Diawa 47LC was ever used.  As a note, the first line counter reel that I saw was an Olympic reel in about 1975 used for monel wire line for Lake Trout with no level wind mechanism.   The 47LC Diawa came on the scene in the late 80's and the Ocuma has just been around for a couple of years.

Michigan Sportsman & Capt. John King Copyrightę2000