Trolling is a highly efficient fishing tactic that can lead to bent rods and a full cooler. Unfortunately, it can also lead to a day of droning aimlessly around the bay and returning to the dock with an empty cooler and a fuel tank to match. We know which sort of outcome anglers are interested in — and these five trolling tips will help make it happen.
1. TROLL CROSS-CURRENT, EVEN IF THE DOMINANT CURRENT IS MERELY A SURFACE CURRENT CREATED BY A BREEZE. To understand why, first picture an airplane coming in for a landing or a boat maneuvering up to a fuel dock. Either way, the subject maintains maximum control by heading into the dominant forces of wind or current. Try to land with a tailwind or approach a dock with a trailing current. Course corrections have much less effect when a vessel’s forward motion is maximized — a recipe for disaster.
Fish — whether it’s a rainbow trout in a stream or a rainbow runner in the ocean — operate on the same principle: they head into the current when unaccosted. So if a boat trolls with or against the current, its lures will usually pass parallel to most of the fish. Sure, some of them will likely still see the offering and strike, but cross-current trolling — trolling perpendicular to the fish — puts lures in front of them and boosts the chances of them spotting lures as they move through the water.
2. DON’T LET GPS DETERMINE TROLLING SPEED. GPS measures speed over ground, not speed through the water, and it can’t take factors such as current into account. A paddlewheel speedo or a pitot tube can read speed through the water, but remember that these can give inaccurate readings, especially late in the season when growth may impair the wheel’s motion or clog the tube. Even more important, however, is the fact no speedometer can tell you how lures look moving through the water. Top sharpie trollers usually judge their speed not according to any set measurement but by how their lures or baits look as they troll.
To get your speed set just right, try this. Set an initial speed and then lower one of the rigs into the water. Hold it so it swims right next to the boat. Watch its action as the captain slows the boat slightly and then increases speed just as slightly. When the bait is wiggling in the most realistic and enticing manner, the boat is at the ideal trolling speed.
3. DON’T SET LINES AND FORGET THEM. Trolling lines need constant attention, because lures can pick up leaves, bits of weed or other flotsam. Plastic teasers sometimes double back on the hook. Spoons may twist the line until it tangles. Swimming plugs may go off course and hook another line. There are countless reasons a trolling line that was deployed properly can get messed up, so check the lines regularly, or you’ll never know there’s a problem. You may still be trolling, but at that point you certainly aren’t fishing anymore. As a rule of thumb, in most situations check every line at least once an hour. If issues appear regularly, shorten that time frame as necessary.
4. ADD SOME ACTION. Particularly on dead-calm days when the boat has little motion other than moving directly forward, trolled lures often look rather blasé. Trigger a boost in the bites by having the anglers jig the rods during the troll. The captain can help, too, by zigzagging instead of always going in a straight line.
5. CHANGE THE LURES, IF YOU’RE NOT CATCHING FISH. And if you are catching fish, change the lures! Yes, this sounds strange, but hear me out. First, if the fish aren’t biting, giving them something else to look at certainly makes sense. If the fish are biting, pay close attention to the size, color and type of bait or lure that’s getting the most bites. If other lines in the spread are going untouched, generate more strikes by swapping them out for an offering that better matches what the fish are going after.