I’ve occasionally seen Down-East Rod holders on Great Lakes boats since I first started fishing on the Great Lakes. Why not? The Peterson family started making these “down-east” in Maine in 1946. I imagine the first one’s I saw were clamp-on models tightened on the gunwales of small aluminum boats. None of the companies now producing the familiar “tube-type” holders were even in business back then.

            I’d never used Down-East holders until I climbed aboard Lance Valentine’s walleye boat last year. I’d never thought about using one until I’d experienced them, first hand.  I didn’t expect them to work well or even work period. They didn’t seem, at a glance, to be very durable. I’m writing this review, partly to eat my own words and thoughts.

            One clue that they work – Lance is sponsored by TraxsTech and has a complete set of their track systems, rod holders, rod trees, planer board holders and other Trax gear on his boat. The only “other brand” rigging is his pair of Down-East S-17 Salty Rod Holders mounted on each back corners of his boat.

            Once I saw them in use, I understood why. He had the Down-Easts adjusted steeply downward so the tips of his rods were positioned just inches above the water line. With no downriggers on his boat, he used his “down-easters” with a non-directional diving planer, like Offshore Tackle’s Tadpoles or with heavy Snap Weights.

            I’ve seen other trollers use similar set-ups (with tube-type holders) for directional planers and I know the pressure on the rods when being trolled keeps the rods from sliding into the drink; but I’m a firm believer in gravity and relying on friction and pressure to keep a rod from sliding out and into the drink seems a bit foolish. It must seem so for Valentine, as well, and the Down-East holders overcome that foolishness.

            Down-East’s Salty models are designed to hold the rod and clamp on around the reel’s seat to keep the rod from being able to slide out from gravity or even by being pushed or pulled. The rod and reel is locked in the holder.

            Instead of pulling the rod out of the holder as one would do in a tube-type holder, just lift straight up at which time the tube and reel grip flops open, instantly freeing the rod. “Brilliant,” I thought.

            I thought this because I’ve seen countless people struggle to wrestle a diver rod out of tube-holders when a big fish strikes the lure. Most of the time it’s just a chore. Once I saw a big strong guy pull so hard he broke the rod holder. More than once I’ve seen not so strong guys break diver rods at the handle when trying to wrench them free.

            My only concern was if the Down-East holder would be tough enough. They look to be molded out of what “pre-plastic” toys and parts used to be made from – we called it “pot metal.” That’s what I asked Lance. “Are they strong and tough? They look like pot metal.”

            He said, “I’ve seen musky trolling boats on Lake St. Clair rigged with Down-East holders exclusively.  I’ve never heard of one breaking. I’ve never had one break.”

            So I got a pair to try out and positioned them in place of my other diver rod holders. The first thing I noticed was on my boat, where I have them located, if I position the rod so the holder clamps around the reel seat, there’s enough of the rod jutting out the back to become dangerous to any passing belly-buttons. No issue, I don’t adjust the angle of the holder to defy gravity by lowering my rod tips down towards the water. So I don’t use the “reel lock” feature. I just slide the rod into the holder with only a few inches of the rod-butt jutting out the rear.

            Leaving that few inches out is important. To remove the rod, grip the protruding rod-butt with one hand while the other hand grips just behind or ahead of the reel. Then just lift the whole rod straight upwards and it almost effortlessly pops out of the rod holder. 

            I guess there’s a reason Down-East rod holders have been around for 75 years.  My sample models are staying on my boat. 

            Down-East makes Standard (for up to 25 pound fish) and Salty models for larger fish.

Both models have various mounting options – clamp-on, bolt-on, rail mounts and for both horizontal and vertical surfaces. Available online direct from Down-East at, as well as other online sources and retail outlets.

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