How to

Spread ‘Em

In this technical piece, Fisho’s gamefishing writer, SAMI BAILLIE, shares some of the finer points on setting up effective big game lure spreads. Whether you fish from a trailerboat or a flybridge cruiser, these insights will help you catch more billfish and tuna.

A COMMON statement that I hear from the less enlightened is: “Lure trolling is boring, mate; it’s like driving down the highway at night running over wombats.” My standard response goes something along the lines of: “How many wombats have you actually ever run over on the highway?” Most answer: “None …”.

The fact is that lure trolling is one of the most effective, and certainly most exciting, methods of chasing the great gamefish of our oceans. It’s second only to switch baiting – to which nothing comes close in terms of excitement levels when experienced with a well-oiled crew. The key to enjoying successful and exciting big game lure trolling lies in selecting and setting the right spread of lures for your boat, and your area. What works for the bloke next door may not work for you. And what works for your mate up north certainly won’t be as effective on your local waters down south.

Things to Consider
There are many variables that you should consider when selecting a pattern of lures. Some of these are fairly obvious and others are often overlooked. The reality of big game lure trolling is that any lure put anywhere behind the boat will catch a fish – eventually. While you can go to extreme lengths to set up what you believe to be the winning pattern, the fish will throw logic out the window and eat the little Xmas tree lure you’ve set for striped tuna on a cord line; so try not to get too bogged down with “rules” and “theories” as the fish don’t read ’em! Having said that, you can certainly increase your chances by considering a few of the variables that come into play.

Your Boat
If you fish from a 5m trailerboat powered by a four-stroke outboard then expect a slightly different set of rules to apply when compared to, say, a 40-foot flybridge cruiser powered by a pair of big shaft-drive diesels. Different boats will require different approaches when it comes to selecting lures. For example, if your boat likes trolling at a slower speed, then you need to select lures that work best at a slower trolling speed, and vice versa. If you fish from a trailerboat, generally you will want to run your lures a little further behind the boat; therefore you need to consider lures that suit that position. If your boat has big outriggers with a high lift, then you’ll have a wider choice of options. On the other hand, if your boat has short ’riggers (or none at all), then you need to consider lures that will troll better from lower angles. If your boat has a wide beam (like a gameboat), then you have the opportunity to present more lures but if your boat has a narrow beam (like most trailerboats), then you need to consider trolling fewer lures to avoid tangling. Don’t be fixated on the general belief that a big game lure spread must consist of five lures, because in some instances this number is just not practical (in a small/narrow beamed boat or if there’s a strong cross-wind, for example). You will catch just as many fish with two or three lures out as you would with five; you just need to be confident in your chosen pattern.

Your Area
You can do no wrong by trying to match the hatch when it comes to selecting the right lures. Find out what the predominant bait species are in your local area, and start by trying to match the size and colour with your lures. By doing this, you’ll give yourself the best chance of having a fish appear in your spread. Don’t be scared to throw something in from left-field every now and then though, as quite often the brightest and/or ugliest lure in the spread is the one to go off – take a look at the “Gelato Yum Yum” colour from Zacatak Lures in your local tackle shop or online and you’ll see what I mean!
Also take note of the regular weather conditions you’re likely to be fishing in. If it’s normally windy and/or rough in your area, then you’ll need lures designed to perform in rougher conditions; conversely, if it’s generally calm, then opt for lures that perform better in flat seas.

Your Target
Make sure you decide on what type of fish you’d like to target before heading out. By having a target species in mind, you can select appropriate lures and increase your chances on the day. Of course, other species are going to eat the lures anyway, but at least you’ll have a good shot at hooking the fish that you’re really after. For example, if you were hoping to hook a tuna, mahi mahi or small billfish, then there’s little point trolling around with a spread of 12-inch lures out the back – granted, you’ll still hook a couple, but you’ll catch a lot more by fishing with smaller lures in the 4-8” size range.
If your target is a big blue marlin, then you’ll probably want to troll lures in the 12-16” size range. Once again, you’ll still hook a blue when trolling smaller lures, but chances are the small lures will be rigged on lighter leaders with smaller hooks – not a great combination for a big blue!

A bit about lures
Skirted trolling lures are available in an ever-increasing amount of shapes, styles, sizes and colours. There’s a fair bit of crap to filter through, but this shouldn’t be too hard as most of the best lure makers/suppliers will provide plenty of sound information which you can use to help guide your selection. My suggestion is to study up on the various lure types and get to know the attributes of each style. For example, slant face lures generally spend most of their cycle riding the surface, throwing off a fair bit of splash. They create a lot of action, splash and noise in your spread; and most will run at their best on calmer days (although some slant designs really like rough weather, too). Conversely, cup-faced lures have a more subdued action that generally includes some time diving, swimming and “smoking” below the surface during their cycle. Thanks to their dished out face, these lures have a stronger bite (grip) on the water, and therefore will hold in better during rough conditions. There’s a few other styles to consider too, including the traditional Hawaiian scoops (often referred to as “Konaheads”), which can work a treat at slower speeds; and also the various bullet heads, which are a high speed trollers’ delight. Some bullet designs can also be tricked out to do some pretty cool things in amongst a regular spread – they are a very underrated lure style for billfish in Australia, in my opinion. The best bet is to have a few options rigged and ready, so that you can build a winning spread on the day. Different days/conditions will call for different lures; try not to persist with a less-than-ideal spread just because a certain lure is your “favourite”. Every lure in your spread should be slashing, swimming, smoking and diving at its best at all times. If a lure is continually skipping, jumping, spinning or blowing out of the water, either re-position it or replace it with something that works better.

If you’re just starting out or are unsure of what you’re likely to encounter on the day, then start with the following basic guidelines and expand from there:

Basic Start-Up Spread
Stick to cup-faced lures to start with. These are the easiest of all skirted lure styles to troll, and will perform well in both calm and rough conditions. Try shorter/fatter head shapes in close; and longer/slimmer head shapes further back. As you gain experience, start experimenting with other lure styles to add further dimension to your trolling.

Stick with lures that are on the smaller side rather than larger. Big lures = big fish, small lures = all fish. Try a mix of sizes from 6” to 10” to start with. These will catch you everything from a small mahi mahi through to a 500lb+ blue marlin.

While a full spread of five lures is a great thing, on a small trailerboat boat you’re better off sticking with only three or four lures to start with. This will reduce chances of tangling, and make it easier to clear the water when you get a hook up.

When setting your lures, put the smallest ones out first (to run furthest back), and then work back towards the boat. Waves 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 is a good general rule of thumb on where to position your lures. On trailerboats, slightly longer rather than shorter is the accepted norm (due to larger underwater exhausts).

We’ll finish with a couple of final little things to remember when you get out there. If your lures look “lazy” in the water (not smoking or splashing), then crank up your trolling speed by a knot or two and see if that helps. You can also bring the lure a little closer to boat; this raises the towing angle and is an easy way to bring a “dead” lure back to life. This little trick works in reverse too, so if your lure is constantly jumping out of the water, drop it back a little and watch it dig in and start swimming again. Sometimes only a minor adjustment is needed to correct a “dog” (sometimes they are beyond correcting though!).

Have you been dying to catch your first marlin? Well, get your lures rigged, fuel up the boat and hit those warm, blue currents. The next few months are prime billfish season along most of the east coast. Get out there, set that winning spread and wait for the reels to scream!

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