How to

The Art of Trolling

Towing lures is a skill that will catch you plenty of fish. DAVID GREEN outlines how to master this much maligned art.

MY boats are designed as a special kind of fish trap. Both my smaller tinny and my 6m centre cabin are purpose built lure dragging machines, because I like trolling. There’s something kind of special about setting up a spread of lures, be they for barra, bass or marlin, and then taking them for a very long swim. Like Bushy says about trout, it is all about the trap you set. The aim of the troll is to put the lures in front of the fish we want to catch, and then entice them to bite. It is a highly interactive business as far as marine electronics go. If you like such toys, trolling is your game. Somewhere along the way when boats got faster and louder, designs were built for top end speed to get to the spot faster. What owners of these overpowered vessels forget is that the ability to travel slowly is in fact often a more valuable fish catching asset in boat design than being able to travel at warp speed.

While casting gets you more direct contact as far as bites go, trolling lets you cover a stack of water and get to know it intimately. If you spend a lot of time targeting marlin out on the big blue stuff, you soon learn that patience is the key. It takes time to set a good trolling trap and longer to wait for the trap to be sprung. The wait between bites is a time of plotting and planning, and while you may not have a lot of physical activity while you wait for a strike, your mind will be working overtime as you plan little lure adjustments, lure changes and contemplate your spots, plans and observations of the water around you. Constant movement creates a different kind of mindset to the one you tend to have when casting. You stumble across small clues that lead to bigger clues that eventually lead you to your quarry. A dipping bird can find you a flying fish or school of bony bream that in turn finds you a marlin or a barra. Trolling is a game of watching, careful observation and contemplation.

What I find really interesting is how the little lessons you learn in one type of trolling scenario are adaptable to other types of trolling. Tricks that catch you a marlin may also catch you a barra, bass or trout, and similarly the habits of some of the smaller fish we chase on the troll are also often very similar to bigger fish out on the ocean. The following article is about some of the main principles I’ve learnt in roughly 40 years of trolling. My old man used to love trolling metal spoons and chromed brass bars from our wooden dinghy powered by a trusty British Seagull in my childhood, and the tailor we used to catch represented the first reliable lure fishing I’d ever experienced as a kid, so the passion for trolling remained with me since. I think a lot of the new Gen Y crew are a bit dismissive of trolling at times, and in the barra impoundments in particular young badge-covered loud and proud anglers tell all that “they never troll”, which is fine by me as it keeps them off my good trolling runs. But as you get older you soon learn to never be dismissive of another man’s fishing method, and in time you realise with the passage of years that all the old farts actually knew a lot more than you do. Learn to love your trolling.

Boat Factors
The boat is the bit that imparts action to the lures on the troll, and controls the speed, width of troll spread and depth of lures. It is, in general terms, also a bloody big thing to a fish! Now some fish, such as marlin, love boats. Marlin are born with no sense of fear, high levels of aggression, rampant appetites and often display overwhelming stupidity by eating lures placed less than five metres behind the boat. To a marlin, the boat is something making a big disturbance on the surface and the lures following behind are something to do with that disturbance. Some engine noises, particularly from older style two-strokes, seem to put marlin off a bit, but low throbbing four-strokes and big diesels just don’t seem to faze these apex predators.

Most fish, however, don’t like being near boats when they move through an area. The shadow of the hull, noise of the motor and size of the profile mean not too many fish hang around boats, particularly in shallow water. If you’ve ever wondered why at times you catch fish trolling but see none on your sounder that is because the fish you pass are getting well away from the boat. This is why anglers with side scanning systems often see a lot more fish than those with conventional sounders. The main thing to learn from this is that most species you chase on the troll will have a “zone of convergence”. That means at a certain distance back behind the boat all the fish disturbed by its passage return to normal activity as the disturbance of the boat has passed, and that little “startle” from a boat going past is forgotten. The clearer and calmer the conditions, the longer this zone will be. I’ve found with some species such as flathead and bass that I get plenty of hits quite close to the boat, and a lure 20m back is often adequate, especially when trolling under electric power. In clean barra dams I like my lures way back in the next suburb, especially when trolling at night. I find big dam barras can be cunning bastards to catch at times, and when things are clear and the water surface is glass they don’t like my boat going overhead. Trolling well back at around 80m plus gets me more bites but can be difficult to manage. In the dirty Top End rivers, however, we catch stacks of barras trolling very close to the boat, as the tide, dirty water and general environmental noise mean the barra aren’t as fussed by a boat moving overhead. They are more worried about crocs and sharks.

Out on the blue water Spanish mackerel and wahoo definitely like a bit of distance between the lures and the boat, and a “shotgun” lure run a long way back often gets the most hits from these two species. Tuna also like a bit of distance. On my two short lures run on the second and third waves behind the teaser, 90 per cent of all the bites are from marlin.

Regardless of what species you troll for, vary the length of your lures if you aren’t getting bites. In clear conditions chasing species like trout, barra or bass always have at least two lures well back. Trolling is good if you like to fiddle about changing stuff. Drop things back, move things up and constantly adjust your spread.

Width of Spread
Regardless of what species you are after, you can cover a big area with your lures by covering long distances, but the wider your lure spread, the more water you cover. This is partly the reason that game boats have outriggers, but on the small water I like to have two rods out wide and to the side and two rods long. This requires careful positioning of rod holders. A wider lure spread puts your lures closer to more fish. Often when trolling shoreline structure you notice the lure closest to the bank gets more bites, particularly with structure related species such as barra and brown trout. In this situation the wider lure may be missing the fish, but if you change to a lure that runs a bit deeper on the depth contour line, you may get as many bites as the inside line. Trolling width of spread is important. A wider mower cuts more grass. A wider spread catches more fish. Simple, really.

A wide, well planned lure spread also saves on tangles. Make sure all on board know where you want their lures placed. The usual names for lure positions in game fishing are “short corner”, “long corner”, “short ’rigger”, “long ’rigger” and “shotgun”, the longest lure back. I adapt the same principle to estuary and impoundment trolling as well.

Depth of Spread
One of the interesting aspects of trolling is mixing up the lure depths you use. In general, this mostly applies to hard-bodied minnows, but regardless of whether trolling for pelagics on the blue water or mangrove jacks in a canal, having one or two deep lures can really change a bite. The ability to run a spread of lures at a variety of depths greatly improves the versatility of the troll spread and covers a lot more of the water column. The famous Barra Classic, run on the Daly River in the Northern Territory each autumn, is predominantly a trolling event. Each year, angler experimentation with different running depths sees new methods trialed, from banging deep snags with lures such as Halco Poltergeists to trolling up the middle of the river on big tides using shallow running Bombers or big Halco Laser Pros. It is all about experimentation with different lure depths to get into the strike zone that’s happening at the time, and the winning teams are usually the ones that master the correct depth for a particular part of the tide cycle.

On the blue water deep lures are often intolerant of high speed, and it can be hard mixing skirts that require seven to nine knots with minnows that blow out at six knots. I use a lot of X-Rap Rapalas for this type of work, as they get bites and go fast. The new Halco LP 160 is another beautiful lure that takes the pace.

Using Electronics
GPS and good underwater imaging is the key to trolling. Trolling is a game where the skipper of the boat gets to dictate the course of the day, and it is all about putting all the clues together so they add up to produce results. This is why I find trolling much more absorbing as I’m usually the one driving, but it is also a good reason to put a second sounder in the boat so your crew get to adjust their lure depth and distance without having to constantly ask you how deep it is.

Regardless of whether I’m on the blue water or trolling a dam, I use my GPS like an electronic whiteboard. If I find a clue, like a bait school, dolphins, a reef or snag, I mark it. If I mark fish, I hammer the area relentlessly, often for hours. Two of my favourite targets, marlin and barra, show up very well on an echo sounder. The old rule holds solid – never leave fish to find fish. On a recent trip to Lake Awoonga the fishing was reasonable, but the best bite time, as is common in mid summer when the water temperature was 30 degrees, was between 10pm and 3am. At 2am I marked a beast sitting out in the open on a big flat plateau that holds bait but is fairly featureless. I marked the spot in the GPS and began to circuit the area, running into the same fish a few more times. Big barra sitting mid water in open ground are generally hunting for food, and on the fifth pass I got a perfect boomerang arch on the Lowrance and a big red blob on the Humminbird (I run two sounders on my tinny).

Half a minute later the short corner crashed down and the fish almost emptied the little threadline reel. That fish was over 120cm long, weighed over 50 pounds on the Bogas and was caught using marlin tactics in a freshwater dam.

Getting in the Mindset
Trolling requires patience and a game plan. Try to avoid random ocean wandering when you aren’t catching fish. You need to be patient, a rare commodity in modern society. Work the areas you know well and always be confident. I adopt the mindset that we are all trolling towards our next bite, and make sure everyone is attentive and looking for clues. The classic question after hours of biteless trolling is always the same – do I stay or do I go? Regardless of the species you chase, the answer is always to persist, look and learn, and only move if you have a better plan. Hanging in there to bite time on a good spot always beats random boat driving.

Regardless of what species you chase, learning how to troll effectively is a skill definitely worth investing time in. A good troller catches fish through constant observation and turning those small, seemingly insignificant clues into a fish on the line.

What's your reaction?

Related Posts

Load More Posts Loading...No More Posts.