At a glance, a Magnum Downrigger Hellbender might look incomplete – like someone forgot the hooks. However, that lack of hooks is what distinguishes the Downrigger version of this classic deep-diving lure and makes it ready to use.

The Hellbender is a large, wide-wobbling, hard-diving plug that has been producing fine catches for more than six decades, and many anglers still use these lures on their own. Long ago, though, someone figured out that this same lure works wonderfully for delivering spoons, jigs and even other crankbaits farther down in the water column than they’ll dive to or will stay when trolled.

Soon, anglers who wanted basic benefits of downriggers without the complications and cost began removing the hooks from Hellbenders to create “budget downriggers,” and that eventually led to a version that is hookless out of the package.

Hellbender downrigging has localized followings all over the country and works well for everything from walleyes in Midwest to trout and salmon Western lakes to stripers in the South. Among the best known applications couples a Hellbender with a small spoon for hybrids and white bass and is centered in Texas and Oklahoma.

Anytime you want to troll with a lure that doesn’t dive (or dive enough) on its own and to keep that lure at a specific depth, a Hellbender provides a fine option. Beyond pulling a lure deeper, a Hellbender adds erratic action because of its own wobble. Also, the big heart-shaped lip deflects well off the bottom, often keeping trailing lures from snagging.

A Hellbender can dive deep – very deep. Trolled on a very long, flat line, it can dig more than 35 feet. It isn’t only for deep trolling, though. If fact, many anglers use fairly short trolling lines so their Hellbenders and consequently the lures being pulled behind them swim as shallow as about 12 feet. The amount of line out is the primary controlling factor for depth. However, line size and type, trolling speed and rigging are also factors. In terms of rigging, some angers add a small bell sinker to the front hook-hanger position to get a bit deeper, even with a short line.

Rigging a Downrigger Hellbender is simple: Tie the lure to your main line; add section of leader to the back eye that the spinner is on (some anglers remove the spinner and tie to the end of the swivel); tie your lure to the end of the leader. Optionally, attach a bell weight to the bottom eye with a split ring.

Common leader length is between 3 and 8 feet. Some anglers go longer, but extra-long leaders add challenges for landing fish. Common leader weight ranges from 10- to 20-pound test, dependent on the size of the lure the terminal end, water clarity and size fish you are targeting. Err heavy if you’re between leader sizes, as stiffer line lays out better when you are pulling a small lure.

Many kinds of lures can work, but the most popular offerings to present behind Hellbenders are lightweight spoons, hair jigs and small crankbaits or minnow-imitating plugs.

On the water, the two most important variables are trolling speed and the amount of line out. White bass, hybrids, stripers and steelhead favor fairly fast presentations. Walleyes and crappie respond better to slow presentations.

Finding the right amount of line to put out sometimes calls for experimentation. If you want to run baits at a specific depth because of baitfish or gamefish you’ve seen on the graph, and easy way to calibrate is to find an area with that bottom depth with electronics and let out line in measured pulls off the reel until the Hellbender starts bumping. Once you’ve figured that out, the same number of pulls will put the lure at the same depth. Often, however, fish will be just off the bottom. In that case, simply let out line, a bit at a time, until the lure starts hitting in an area with the right general depth, turn the reel handle a couple of cranks and start fishing.

Finding the right formula for your home waters and species you want to target might take a bit of experimentation, but if you’re willing to put for the effort you’ll most likely find a Magnum Downrigger Hellbender to be an extremely useful tool.