Can You Put Downriggers on a Pontoon Boat

There seems to be a growing number of anglers fishing out of pontoon boats, and for good reason.  Whether you fish for panfish, bass, trout, kokanee or stripers, pontoon boats are amazingly comfortable to fish from.  

So, it’s no surprise that more anglers are outfitting their pontoon boats to be fishing machines.  Everything from trolling motors, fish finders and rod holders are fair game.  But what about downriggers?  

It is possible to mount downriggers on a pontoon boat.  Clamp style rail mounts are the easiest way to outfit your pontoon with a downrigger.  You can also have custom mounts welded in place or bolt a tall pedestal mount on the floor for added strength.  Moderately sized downriggers work best on pontoon boats for targeting trout, kokanee and stripers.

Trolling with downriggers gives anglers an edge when it comes to catching more trout and kokanee in deep water.  Ready to level up your pontoon trolling skills?  Then read on for the best way to outfit your pontoon boat with a downrigger.

Rail mounted downriggers for pontoon boats

More than likely, your pontoon boat has some sort of railing surrounding the boat deck which makes mounting a downrigger pretty easy.  Assuming the rail is relatively sturdy, it will provide enough strength for most fishing situations.  

The two main producers of downriggers, Scotty and Cannon, both make a downrigger mount specifically designed to mount on standard sized 1.5 inch boat rails.  If you already have a downrigger or prefer one brand over the other, make sure you get the right mount.  They are generally not interchangeable between brands.  

Scotty makes excellent downriggers and their rail mount system is super strong.  The Scotty Stanchion No. 2027 Mount is designed to lock on where a floor stanchion joins the horizontal rail.  This gives loads of extra support for long boom downriggers running 6-12 pound weights.  This is our recommended mounting method for most pontoon boats running Scotty downriggers.

You can also get the Scotty No. 1027 Rail Mount that locks on anywhere along the rail.  We feel this mount is better suited for pontoons with square or oval rails.  While it is advertised for use on round rails, it ends up twisting from the torque exerted on it by the downrigger.  

For you Cannon fans out there, the Cannon Rail Mount clamps on tight anywhere along a pontoon boat rail but it is perfectly suited for stanchion mounting just like the Scotty.  This aluminum mount is exceptionally secure and fits all Cannon downriggers except the Mini-Troll.  

Some pontoon boats have wide rectangular rails or solid aluminum sides.  In that case, the Cannon Clamp-On Downrigger Mount might be your best bet.  They are reasonably strong but be sure to check the tightness every once in a while.

Custom made downrigger mounts

Not every pontoon boat will have the ideal design for universal clamp-on downrigger mounts.  In that case, a custom fitted mount is the best option if you’re serious about trolling from your pontoon boat.  

You can pursue a couple different options.  

First, try having a custom welded mount installed.  You’ll need to find someone capable of welding aluminum or at least fashioning custom clamps.  Again, this type of mount only works for pontoons with metal rails or sides.  If you are handy yourself, then the sky is the limit.  

On boats with full surround cushions and no exposed rails, a pedestal mount is your second option.  Pedestal floor mounts are also a good alternative when you feel a rail mount just won’t be strong enough.  You will want to make sure you have the deck space for this option.  

Where do you put a downrigger on a pontoon boat

Once you figure out the most secure means for mounting a downrigger, it’s time to find the right spot for it.  

As a good rule of thumb, mount your downrigger as far sternward as possible.  It needs to be placed without interfering with the motor when turning.  If you mount a downrigger too far towards the bow, you’ll risk tangling lines in your prop every time you make a turn.

On the other hand, I’ve seen some pontoon boats with downriggers mounted right on the back deck next to the motor.  This is not necessarily a bad thing but you need to stay attentive when trolling to avoid dragging the steel cable into your motor.

Finding the right placement requires some trial and error.  That’s why we find clamp on rail mounts to be the easiest downrigger solution for pontoon boats.

The back rail is a good place to start.  Just keep the downrigger close to the port or starboard side.  Take a look at the diagram below to see our recommend downrigger placements for pontoon boats.  

What size downrigger for pontoon boats

Two factors will determine the appropriate size downrigger to put on a pontoon boat.  First, is the strength of your mount.  Second, is the type of fish you plan to catch.

In our neck of the woods, trout and kokanee are the most sought after species.  Trolling for these fish often requires the surgical accuracy of downriggers to keep your bait at the right depth where fish are suspended.  

Trout and kokanee also don’t require a fast trolling speed so heavy cannon balls are not a necessity.  6 to 8 pounds is usually plenty of weight and small or medium sized downriggers with at least a 24 inch boom is ideal for pontoons.  

If you are trolling faster or needing to get your gear deeper, you may need to step up your weight to 10 or 12 pounds and therefore, increase the size of your downrigger.  However, you are likely not going to face those conditions while fishing in a pontoon boat unless you tackle saltwater fish like salmon.

Manual vs. Electric downriggers

I have spent many hours weighing the pros and cons between manual and electric downriggers.  I ultimately decided on manual downriggers but let’s take a look at what makes them different and why one might be better for a pontoon boat than the other.

Manual downriggers

There are several advantages to using manual downriggers that, for me at least, out way the cons.  Here is what I like about manual downriggers.

  • Inexpensive – Manual downriggers cost between $150-$350 each.
  • Simple to maintain – Manual cranks have few moving parts to fail.  Electric motors eventually fail.
  • Light weight – A light weight manual downrigger will put less strain on your pontoon rail mounts.  
  • No wires or battery – Manual energy is all you need and it makes my fishing setup super simple.

There is one major pit fall with manual downriggers.  Manually cranking gets tiring.  Especially, if you are fishing deeper than 40 feet of water.  Most manual downriggers move 1.5 to 2 feet of cable per turn but that is still a lot of work.  

It is even harder when you are fishing alone.  Any time you need to check bait or fight a fish, you also need to crank up the downrigger weight.  It’s not the end of the world but something to think about.

Electric downriggers

Like most things, if you are willing to spend the money, you can get the best.  Electric downriggers have plenty of great features but they have their fair share of drawbacks.  Here’s why I wish I had one.

  • Effortless to use – A push of the button is all you need to raise and lower these downriggers.
  • Some models sync with your fish finder – When you eliminate the guess work, you will indeed catch more fish.

Unfortunately, that is where the pros stop for me.  Electric downriggers have some irksome flaws that don’t pair well with pontoon boats.

  • Messy wiring – There isn’t a lot of places to hide wiring on pontoon boats.  Electric downriggers add plenty of wiring that is a trip hazard.
  • Susceptible to water damage – If your pontoon boat is used for family fun as well as fishing, then all that wiring needs to stay protected from water brought on board during water sports and swimming.
  • More batteries – Electric downriggers suck a significant amount of juice so you’ll need to add or upgrade your batteries.
  • Expensive – $600 to $1500 is average.  
  • Heavy – Most rail mounts for pontoon boats will have a tough time handling the weight of an electric downrigger.  Consider custom mounting options if you go electric.

3 Downriggers perfect for pontoons

There are countless downrigger options to choose from.  When you’re ready to outfit your pontoon boat for trolling, take a look at the following downriggers.  All 3 are excellent quality and will easily mount to most pontoon boats using rail clamps.

1. Cannon Uni-Troll 10 Manual Downrigger

All your trolling needs will be satisfied with the Uni-Troll 10 Manual Downrigger.  It is light enough to mount on a pontoon boat with the Cannon Rail Mount and versatile enough for just about any species you can troll for.  It has a swivel base for easy stowing and an extendable boom to keep the weight out from your boat.

The one-hand clutch deploy mechanism is a must-have feature.  We also like the integrated rod holder which keeps your rod perfectly placed and out of the way of the manual crank.  

It’s priced right, so check it out at Amazon.

2. Scotty Strongarm 1085 Manual Downrigger

When it comes to downriggers, Scotty finds the right balance between function and price every time.  The compact Strong-Arm is great for pontoon boat fishing.  It is lightweight and mounts securely onto any of the Scotty mounts we mentioned earlier.  

The easy to use break makes deployment a breeze and the sturdy 30 inch boom has enough reach to clear your pontoons.  With it’s 2:1 crank ratio, it is easy and fast with weights up to 12 pounds.  The included rod holder slides along the boom for customized placement.

Check it out on Amazon for the best price.

3. Scotty 1101 Depthpower Electric Downrigger

The Scotty Depthpower Electric Downrigger is light weight and feature packed.  When it comes to outfitting your pontoon boat with the best trolling setup, this downrigger is tough to beat.  

The 30 inch boom is well suited for pontoon boats and the smooth electric motor has fully adjustable speeds.  Compared to other electric downriggers, the Scotty Depthpower draws 1/3 the power from batteries so you can fish longer.  

If you want electric for your pontoon, check it out at Amazon.

Conclusion

Downriggers are an awesome tool for any angler looking to more efficiently catch fish.  Combine the benefits of a downrigger with the comfort of a pontoon boat and you’ll have the best of both worlds.  

Mounting a downrigger on a pontoon boat is not rocket science, so use the tips from this article and get to fishing.