How to

The Art of Trolling

Take the time to set up an efficient spread and you’ll definitely catch more fish.

GAMEFISHING with lures is usually done by trolling. Multiple rods all drag a different lure through the ocean, which sounds a simple enough exercise. In reality, getting a good spread of lures is quite a tricky business and not many anglers or boat builders actually understand what is required to get this right. The two main principles are that you need separation of the lines so they don’t tangle, and a variety of effective lures or baits to target the likely fish that are around at the time. It is quite a scientific business when you plan your spread, and with good lure selection and all lures running at optimal speed and depth your success will be far greater than those boats that simply drag lures around with no particular forethought or attention to detail.

You need to put lures in places where fish can see them. This means you need to keep most of your lures to the side of the foam and propwash so they run in clean water. Most trolling spreads, be they for billfish or other species, use five lures. In technical terms, the positions are short corner, long corner, short ’rigger, long ’rigger and shotgun. The names are self-explanatory and it isn’t rocket science. If your boat doesn’t have outriggers the same principles apply. The positioning of your rod holders is critical to your success. I use special angled aluminium pipe inserts to get my short lines (short and long corner) wide of the propwash so they run in clean water. These rod holder pipe inserts were custom made for me more than 20 years ago and fit into a vertical tube rod holder. They work extremely well as the lure runs wide of the side of the boat. They are one of the handiest items I’ve ever used and I’d strongly recommend looking for these if you are a keen troller.

If you’re trolling a spread of minnows, targeting species such as tuna, mackerel and wahoo, run the deepest divers on the shortest lines. This avoids cross overs and tangles, as the longer lines with shallower lures will pass over the top of the deeper running ones. When no one particular species is dominant and you run a mix of lures with both skirted lures and minnows in different sizes, pay particular attention to how the individual lures work, and know their optimal trolling speed. It’s impossible to run some deep diving minnows with a maximum troll speed of five knots with skirts that need seven knots to work. Also pay attention to the wind. Small skirted lures don’t have much inherent drag and will be blown around by the wind a lot more than most minnows.

Anglers who spend a lot of time trolling from big game boats for billfish have a good understanding of trolling spreads. A lot who fish from smaller trailer boats often get confused in setting their lures. But regardless of what boat you fish from or what species you target, setting up a good spread is a sure way to improve your catches. At the moment where I fish the marlin are few and far between, but the mackerel are in good numbers and there are wahoo and dolphin fish as well. If a marlin turns up we still want to put our best billfish lure out amongst the teethy critters so we have a shot at it, but at the same time I like to have my best mackerel lures in the zone as well. This type of spread is a bit of a “mixed grill”; it has something to appeal to most fish. So to run this spread I’ll put a pair of Halco 160 deep Laser Pros on the short lines, one about 30m back and the other at about 40m. These are fished on 10 or 15-kilo tackle. I may also run a Pakula witchdoctor teaser ahead of these lures. From the short ’rigger I’ll run a nice Pakula, Black Snack or Meridian skirt on mono aimed at a billfish, but this lure does run the risk of bite off from a toothy critter. From the long ’rigger I’ll run either a Halco Laser Pro 190, rigged with singles if marlin are around, or a second slightly smaller marlin lure, and this will be around 50 to 60m back. From the shotgun I’ll run a simple pink squid jet head around 12cm long targeting mackerel and tuna, as some days the bities prefer this to the minnows. These are very versatile lures. This is run on 10-kilo tackle and on 60-pound Shogun 49 strand wire. This type of spread gives versatility across a wide range of species. In a more normal season, where billfish are common, we will run four marlin lures and a single minnow on the long corner position with single hooks as these give a better percentage hook-up on billfish (but probably a bit worse hook-up rate on mackerel). The beauty of using the new Halcos is they run up to nine knots so they work at exactly the same speed as the optimal pace for most skirted lures and they are very strong lures. As long as your rod holders and outriggers are all positioned well you shouldn’t get a tangle, even on quite tight turns.

If the bites don’t come but there are birds and bait around, we persist but often change lure colour, change the positions a bit, drop the shotgun well back or speed up the troll speed. Another excellent option is to troll gar with the lures. Mitch Calcutt’s custom designed trolling heads were moulded over a garfish and with a bit of careful rigging the gar becomes the skirt of the lure. These things are deadly and a gar can be trolled at eight knots in the same spread as conventional trolling lures.

Once you get a good pattern set up you will start to get bites and in time you will develop the confidence to know what lure or bait is your particular favourite in the various rod positions. It’s good fun sorting this all out, and is quite surprising how one individual lure will work fantastically in one position but not draw a strike in another position. This is why some of the better marlin lures are marketed as “’rigger lures” or “flat line” models. The same applies with minnows.

Trolling is a lot more than driving and hoping. It is all about the lures you serve up to the fish and how you set them. Invest time in your rod holder and outrigger set up and you will catch a lot more fish out on the big blue.

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