The Secrets to Effective Trolling

DAVID_WEBB_SALMON_FISHERMANWhen I think back to the thousands of hours I have spent fishing for just about every variety of fish that Canada has to offer, by far and away trolling has consistently produced the most fish.

It has proven successful for species as diverse as walleye to rainbow trout — I have even caught bass while trolling. For some species, such as monster Gerrard rainbow trout and offshore salmon, it is a critical element to success.

There are many factors that make trolling so successful — it’s not just a matter of dropping a line over the back of your boat and waiting for success to fall into your lap. You must understand the species being fished, where they might be at when being fished, their depth, the bottom structure, prey species and location, the weather and light conditions and potentially even the moon phase at the time. (Not to mention tides when fishing salmon.) Trolling can also be a great technique when fishing new water as it allows you to cover a lot of territory and with the aid of a fish locator, begin to find hot spots that warrant further attention. It also works great on scattered fish populations where no one location proves essential. Large surface feeding rainbows are, at times, a perfect example of this phenomenon. Let’s examine the various approaches to trolling as determined by depth and technique.

Surface Trolling

Fish at or near the surface are most likely there because of access to a food supply — as such, are often the easiest to troll for as depth control is not an factor and they may already be aggressively feeding. The trick is to match your lure to their food supply and then place it in front of their nose with the right kind of action to trigger a strike. That may sound simple but it is not always so. I can always recall a day on a small lake that was chalked full of nice sized rainbows. I could see them working the surface all over the lake but was only getting an odd hit from those few fish that were within casting distance of my flies. After a couple of hours of frustration, I decided to try slowly trolling a wet fly well back of the boat. Bingo! I was constantly into fish and caught and released at least a dozen nice rainbows prior to the dinner bell.

Fish that are near the surface can be boat-shy so you have to ensure that you either get your lure back far enough behind the boat so that they can drop back into place by the time your lure arrives or use a strategy that moves your lures out and away from the boat. When fishing directly behind the boat, I would most often run my lure at least 200 feet back of the boat and when fishing for very boat-shy large rainbows, at least 300 feet back.

A better alternative is the use of planing or trolling boards. Boards come in a variety of sizes and construction configurations but all are designed to move your line out to the side of your boat in order to put your lure onto fish that have either already moved away from your boat or are in a static position off to the side of your boat. These boards also allow you to alter the distance your lure is parallel to your boat as well as behind the board. But just as importantly, at least from my perspective, is that they will allow you to play your fish independently from the board, once hooked, through the use of release clips. They are particularly effective for trout and even for species such as walleye. They are also effective with a wide range of lures, from spoons to plugs. I have run about everything from bucktails to shallow-diving plugs effectively from trolling boards. The boards that I use can also be adjusted for degree of motion. When set right they jump and dive creating additional action to your lure, which is particularly useful when trolling static bucktails that are now jumping and altering their motion in consort with the board. The bucktail begins to resemble a darting baitfish trying to escape a predator.

Suspended Depth & Bottom Trolling

Here is where you need to look carefully at your gear and how you intend on reaching your target fish that may be either suspended or on the bottom. The first, simplest and most inexpensive method is to use lures or plugs that can potentially run at the depth you want. Some plugs, for example, are designed to run at depths of 30 feet or more. The next is to use line that is weighted, such as lead core or even steel line. And let’s not forget the use of weights that can be attached to your line. When trolling line behind your boat it is always important to know the amount of line you have let out by either using measured pulls or a reel that has a line counter so that once you have a hit or two you can accurately and readily reacquire this distance.

The next alternative is the use of divers of various sorts to achieve your desired depth. For intermediate depths, deep running plugs, divers or heavier lures that are fished well behind the boat can be effective but for deeper depths weighted line is a better alternative. I have used them all with varying degrees of success. Unfortunately, they are also plagued with a number of disadvantages as so many factors such as wind drift, speed, tides, line type/weights, amount of line released, lure type and so on can significantly effect your success.

Thankfully, there is a solution — downriggers. They are by far and away the best alternative for both types of depth controlled fishing, whether you need to fish at 30 feet (13 metres) or at 130 feet (40 metres). They not only allow you to control the precise depth you want to achieve but will keep your lure there independent of all these influential factors. Once set at your predetermined depth, it then just becomes a matter of trolling at the ideal speed for the lure you are using to trigger a hit. For some species such as salmon, they are all but essential and next to the fish locator have been the greatest achievement for the sport fisher in recent history. I have used them very effectively in both fresh and salt water. There are many types to choose from. My only advice here is to match your downrigger to the type of fishing you are doing. For example, in a small boat all you may need is a clamp-on Scotty Laketroller model. Whereas for deep water off shore salmon fishing an electric Scotty Deluxe Depthpower or Cannon Mag 10 HSO may well be the right choice. But if you intend on doing a lot of deep water trolling they are certainly worth the investment. I wouldn’t leave the dock with one — or more.

Other Techniques

There are a number of factors to consider and additional techniques that I use to improve success while trolling. Let’s take a look at the simplest approach, that of dropping a line directly behind the boat. Once your lure is in place, impart action to it by moving your rod tip forward a few feet and then letting it suddenly drop back. Do this on a regular basis and you are sure to have more hits. Now let’s talk about speed. Trolling speed can vary depending on a number of factors such as species, water temperature and lure type. Ask other anglers what has been working or vary your speed until you find what is working on that day. I also like to use a zigzag or S-type trolling pattern as in doing so it will either pick up lure speed on the out-turn or alternately will drop lure speed on the in-turn. This change in action will often precipitate a strike. Another tip to remember is that once you pick up a fish, troll right back through the same area as you will often pick up an additional fish. For line shy fish such as big rainbows, use as light of weight line as you feel comfortable with or alternately consider using ultra invisible lines such as Fluorocarbon lines. It is surprising just how one or more of these changes can effect your success rate.

For bottom dwellers such as summer lake trout, work bottom structure with the aid of a fish locator. While keeping an eye on your locator raise and lower your downrigger weight sufficiently to keep your lure just above the bottom.  Or alternately, if using lead core or steel line, ensure that you are bouncing bottom every once in a while. And always remember that keeping your lure in their strike zone, whatever depth they are at, is not only going to put more fish in your fish box but it will also certainly enhance your sense of potential success.

Get Hunting & Fishing Articles On Facebook!

Do You Like What You’re Reading? Subscribe To Western Sportsman Print Edition Today!

Are You Looking For More Fishing Articles?

This entry was posted in Articles, Fishing, General and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.