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Trolling! Trolling! Trolling!

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Published on: Apr. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 4, 2010

Keep those lures a trollin', keep that boat a-movin'-- Fish on!

Through rain and wind and weather, trolling's altogether

The quickest way to catch any fish around.

Tie em on! Throw `em out! Set `em down! Look around!

Grab the rod! Set the hook!-- Fish on!

da-da-da, da-da-da, da-da-da, da-da-da, da-da-da, da, da, da --Fish on!

I often sing when I'm trolling. I figure the motor will cover the noise I make, so why not? Besides, trolling makes me happy. I admit that I also sing when I'm mowing the lawn, but what comes out then is pretty mournful because, frankly, I'd rather be trolling.

Trolling has its own rhythm. Water laps metronomically against the boat's side, fishing lines sing in the wind. OK, I may be going off the deep end--or drop off--with this description, but trolling is easy music. You simply steer the boat and drag your lures around. It's not much harder than turning on the radio.

There is no more effective method for getting fish to bite, either. Granted, trolling doesn't work with all the fish all the time, but trolling has the advantage of finding the very fish that are susceptible to trolling. You don't have to wait for the fish to come to you; you take your game to the fish and see who's willing to play.

Sales Pressure

Fishing has two basic sales techniques. In the showroom window approach, you present a tantalizing bait in a place that you think will have a lot of fish traffic and hope that some of the passers-by will be unable to resist your offering.

This approach works some of the time, particularly when fish are logy and disinclined to feed. Your offering is near at hand, smelly and easy to catch. Even a stuffed fish (one filled with food) will sometimes take a bite.

You can pretty well expect that some of the time you make your sales pitch to empty water. No matter how fetching, your bait won't get taken because there aren't any fish around. Other times, fish just stare at your presentation until they get bored and leave, or until you move the bait. Moving the bait increases the sales pressure. A fish knows it has to make a decision before the deal gets away.

That's the kind of pressure you exert when trolling. Instead of saying "Please examine and try this lovely bait that I'm dangling in front of your eyes!" you say, "Hey, this flashy item is on sale for only a short time.

"Make up your mind now, because I've got other fish to fry!"

Some fish decline, but fishing is a numbers game. I figure you do better in the long run by seeking out and contacting as many willing buyers as possible than by trying to argue away the sales resistance of a determined few.

Search Tool

Because trolling helps locate fish, it's my first tactic when approaching a new lake. Instead of just riding around, watching my depthfinder to figure out what the lake bottom looks like and where fish may be concentrated. I'll motor a few hundred yards from the launch ramp and run out a few lures. Usually I'll snake in toward and away from the shoreline while keeping an eye on the depth. If I don't catch anything, I'll run the sides of an underwater point or make wide figure-eights in the mouth of a creek arm.

When I contact a fish, I'll mark the spot by noting the depth and a distinguishing shore landmark or I'll throw out a marker buoy. I can then troll back over the spot or sneak up and fish the area with another technique.

I'm not alone in relying on trolling to find fish. A popular bass fishing magazine revealed that many professional bass anglers troll to locate fish before a tournament. The same issue suggested that trolling is probably the easiest way for beginners to catch fish.

Perhaps because the pros aren't allowed to use the technique during tournaments, you don't hear much about trolling for bass. My best bass catches, however, have come from pulling crankbaits in front of the docks at Lake of the Ozarks. I will troll long stretches of shoreline without a strike, and then I'll come to a small section where the bass go gaga over my lures. Usually, these fish don't show up on the depthfinder. If I hadn't been trolling, I wouldn't have found them.

Unspecified targets

Trolling works for more than bass. When trolling for walleye on Stockton, for example, I'll also catch white bass, crappie, catfish and largemouth. On Truman Reservoir, I've caught seven different species in a day of trolling.

You can aim for certain species by adjusting bait sizes, depths and places you fish. However, keep in mind that most fish are opportunists. You may experience some disappointments when, for example, an orangish carp materializes behind the boat when you thought you were fighting a golden walleye, but you also can expect some pleasant surprises and you'll almost always be able to find some action.

Trolling Essentials

Trolling is a big, all-encompassing thing. Although primarily a motor sport, you can row-troll or drift-troll using current or wind. You can even walk-troll along a shoreline, dam or wall.

You can troll lures or live bait, or combinations of both. In the north country, anglers troll flies behind paddled canoes for trout. The same technique works for panfish. Anglers in Florida and in other southern states drag big shiner minnows behind their boats and catch monster largemouth bass.

Different baits and techniques require different speeds. Nightcrawler harnesses (spinner rigs) or plastic worms work best when crept along. To slow down enough, I'll either use an electric motor or put the outboard in reverse and go backwards. The transom pushes enough water to slow me down. Spoons and rattling crankbaits need speed to get their proper action.

Give me a Break!

Although it's easy as throwing a line out and kicking the motor in gear, you can make more of your trolling by dragging your lures over fishy places.

During my years of SCUBA diving, I continually marveled at how much of a lake contains absolutely no fish. I would swim along for what seemed like miles, but was probably more like football fields, without seeing anything but the bottom. Then I'd happen on an area that was filthy with fish of all kinds.

What the good places often had in common was a change in depth, sometimes called a "dropoff" or a "break," or a coming together of different habitats, such as the edge of weedbed or where rock changed to sand or sand changed to mud. Cover, such as underwater trees and rocks seemed to attract fish. A point on a shoreline or an outcropping along a riprap shoreline or a wall also seemed to draw fish.

Many fish attracting features of a lake are completely underwater and are best located with a depthfinder. However, you can surmise a lot about the bottom of a reservoir just by looking at the shoreline. Steep bluffs, for example, often continue underwater, meaning that it is pretty deep right next to shore. You might also see some rock slides, which would indicate a pile of fish attracting rocks directly beneath.

Points of land usually continue underwater. You might even guess where the highly productive tip of the point is by studying the slope and tendency of the land near shore. A road that ends at the water probably provides edge cover all the way out. A creek flow means a channel and a fish-important juncture where the creek channel meets the main channel.

The edges of weedbeds are highly productive both because they provide an edge between open areas and cover, but also because of the change in bottom composition or depth that the weed edge indicates. Abrupt changes in water color indicate depth changes and a kind of open trail among upright tree snags tells you exactly where the old stream channel meandered.

Another way to get the "lay of the lake" is to procure a topographical map or a marked fishing map. Because they were once dry, Missouri reservoirs have been well mapped, and it's good evening entertainment to translate a topographical map's squiggles into fish hotspots.

If all else fails, or if you feel like fishing without thinking, just troll the shoreline. It almost always gets deeper the farther out you go. Try different distances from shore until you contact fish or sense that your lures no longer are within a reasonable distance from bottom. What's reasonable? It varies for species, but I like to keep my lures running anywhere from nicking the bottom to three or four feet above it.

Little Extras

My preference to fish near bottom requires me to keep a lure retriever handy. Usually just a chunk of lead with some stiff coils of wire, lure retrievers are pretty simple affairs. When you get snagged and can't get off by yanking or pulling at the lure from different directions, you simply hover above the snag, slip the retriever on your line and let it slide down (it has it's own cord) Let it tangle in the hooks of your lure and then, hopefully, break the lure free. The amount of time I'll work at freeing a lure is directly related to the cost of the lure.

I always keep ready for instant deployment a couple of marker buoys to pinpoint fish locations. To frustrate anglers whose fishing strategy is to flock to other anglers' markers, I'll occasionally toss a dummy buoy that floats away from a hotspot and chuckle while they struggle to fish near it.

Planer boards are another neat trolling accessory. I use them to get my baits away from the boat. I've also used them to walk-troll long shorelines. If the wind is right, I can run a lure 50 to 75 yards out from shore while keeping my feet dry.

How many lines should you run in a boat? The formula I've concocted is: 2 equals 2, while 3 or more equals 1. I can easily run two lures--one on each side of the boat--but if my fishing companions and I let out three lines or more they invariably twist into one. I'm so afraid of this unravelable snarl that I don't dare take a turn, can't dig into the cooler for a soda and have to concentrate like the dickens so that the wind doesn't blow me off course for even a second. Fishing is supposed to be more fun than that, so I usually limit myself running two lines from the boat.

If you feel you must squeeze even more value from your fishing license, you can minimize tangles by combining deep and shallow running lures, long rods and short rods and lures run far back and lures run closer to the boat. Planer boards spread out lines wonderfully but, beware when they tangle--Oh, my!

Take a kid trolling

When you find a type of fishing that's fun, it seems a shame not to share the experience with someone. Trolling is as easy as a boat ride--you don't need a lot of elbow room in the boat and you don't need a lot of expertise. Anyone, even small children, can sit and watch poles and reel in fish.

Trolling is not as easy as that, of course. Sometimes you won't find fish no matter how many nautical miles you log. During those long dry spells, it helps to have a young voice or two to harmonize as you sing, "Trolling! Trolling! Trolling!

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