Trout Trolling Techniques
September 24, 2010
New technologies help anglers go light. From downriggers to flashy attractors, trolling light for trout has never been more popular and productive.
Clipping my 6-pound mainline to the downrigger, I felt a bit out of place. I was used to doing this on ocean-going salmon excursions, not in shallow lakes for trout. After I dropped the 5-pound ball to 28 feet, it didn't take long before the first strike.
Smile Blades are an excellent terminal gear attractor that fish love. They also offer little water resistance when the fight is on. Photo by Scott Haugen.
A quick snap of the wrist, and the fight was on -- a 2-pound trout and myself, locked in battle. It was great! Not only for the fight, but also because the 'rigger got the Wedding Ring spinner down to where the fish were holding.
With basic trolling gear, that would have been tough to achieve.
Later that day, my two sons fished the same lake with me. Eight-year-old Braxton chose Mack's Flash Lites, while his younger brother Kazden, 6, picked Mack's Hot-Wings tipped with half a night crawler.
Both are low-profile setups that allow for easy trolling. And when the hit comes, you feel it.
"This is a huge one," yelled Kazden. "He's really fighting hard!" The aggressive strike had nearly yanked the rod from his hands. Minutes later, he was holding up a 4-pound rainbow. He couldn't get his line back in the water fast enough.
With the new fishing technology, we now have a series of lightweight options, from downriggers to terminal gear, to flashy attractors and more. Trolling light for trout has never been more popular and productive.
On today's market, there are many attractors used for trolling, from simple one-piece plastic flashers to multiple metal-blade setups, to bendable Mylar and more. Some meet specific angler needs. But which one to use often comes down to personal preference. Other factors that influence which trolling rig to take include what lake you're fishing, at what depth, water visibility and light penetration, the amount of fishing pressure and whether you're going after educated fish or fresh planters.
For my boys and me, our goal was a lightweight trolling setup to maximize the fight of the fish, from hookup to the time we landed it.
Rigging a 1-ounce trolling sinker inline, I needed to find a setup that required little speed to function properly -- to achieve our primary objective, and also to use minimal weight to sink to our targeted trolling depths.
With a trolling sinker tied to the main line, I attached a bead-chain swivel to the other end, to prevent line twist. The bead chain's opposite end snapped into the trolling attractor, and to the other end of that, a 3-foot leader tipped with a Wedding Ring or Smile Blade.
In recent years, our family has rated Mack's Flash Lites among the top in slow-trolling gear. But Hot-Wings are quickly becoming a close second. Incredibly lightweight, these trolling flashers require little movement and make for very pleasant, easy fishing. The Hot-Wings are rigged inline, with a trolling sinker connecting the main line to them. A leader of 30 inches or so works well.
There's no rudder on the Hot-Wings, and only those two blades incorporated into the system means ultra-low resistance while trolling, and later, fighting fish. In fact, the blades on the Hot-Wings will spin with ease while trolling at a mere 1/4 mph.
In addition to their counter-rotating blades, another great feature of these small-profile attractors is their weight -- only 1/10 of an ounce.
Because they offer so little drag, you can connect multiple Hot-Wings together to add more flashy attraction to your setup. You can also "tune" the blades -- that is, bend them inwards for a faster spin or flex them wider for a slower spin.
On the Flash Lites, simply run a 6-inch dropper off the rudder and attach your cannonball sinker to the other end. Virtually the only weights you'll be fighting are the sinker and fish.
When it comes to very slow slow-trolling, it can be hard to keep attractors working when making a turn. This is where the Hot-Wings and the Flash Lites continue to shine! Even with at slower speed, these attractors have great action, and their light-reflecting capability makes them tough to beat when trolling for trout.
Another lightweight setup that's given us excellent success is Dee's Diamond Flasher.
This tool has become an icon among salmon anglers trolling in both oceans and bays. For trout, we use the two smaller models: a 4 3/4 inches high by 4 inches wide version, and the Double Dee's Micro System.
The small-profile 2 3/4-inch-long dual flashers work in tandem to produce a high level of reflection while maintaining extremely low resistance.
The result? You can feel the lightest of trout strikes.
For each Dee's setup, a 4-foot leader is attached to the trailing end of the flasher or flashers. At the head end of the mainline, tie a bead-chain swivel and attach it to a plastic rudder. Off the rudder, tie a 6-inch dropper and to that, affix a 1-ounce cannonball sinker. (Deeper water may require more weight.) On the other end of the rudder, attach the flasher with a snap swivel, and you're all set.
In the center of these hard-plastic Dee's Flashers is a thin Mylar window that not only reflects light well, but when being trolled, makes a popping noise that simulates a baitfish.
No question, it works -- and works well. Rainbows love the Dee's Diamond Flasher, but the level of resistance of this trolling rig truly maximizes the fighting action, making the battle more exciting for anglers.
THE TERMINAL RIG
These attractors could be the most important part of the trout-trolling scheme, but don't overlook the terminal gear. There are several great trolling spoons and plugs on the market.
Which you choose could depend on many factors -- namely, what are the fish biting on when you wish to fish a particular body of water?
From K3 Kwikfish to 70 Series Hot Shots, spoons and other specialized terminal gear presentations, what to use on any one lake largely comes down to what the fish are feeding on.
When it comes to terminal gear presentations,
perhaps the best known among trout trollers is Mack's Lures Wedding Ring series. These lures have been around for more than 35 years, and recently they've added a special metal blade that works wonders. Tip a Wedding Ring with worm, corn or shrimp, and your fish-catching probability will increase.
Of course, when trolling for trout, the night crawler is a tough bait to beat.
In many places, anglers wouldn't think of using a night crawler if it wasn't tipped with a piece of white corn. A worm tipped with a Pautzke Egg is also an old-time favorite that still produces. Other lakes find trout hitting best with a piece of sand shrimp tail added to the hook, just below the night crawler.
Some trout -- and trout anglers -- prefer popcorn, or salad shrimp, those skinned, precooked tidbits you can pick up at a local grocery store and add to your hook. These are great baits in combination with worms, but they also fish well by themselves.
Before he leaves home, my dad puts the shrimp in the microwave for about 20 seconds. That seems to toughen them up, so they stay on the hook better, and at the same time, they release more scent. They are still a fragile bait, but one of my favorite for trout, especially when trolled slowly with a bright flasher.
When you're targeting trout, going light on the trolling gear not only increases rod sensitivity, but will let you feel the fight of the fish all the way to your net.
THE DEAD DRIFT
To steal a technique from the fly-angling world, dead-drift fishing for trout in lakes can be very productive. The idea here is to cast out your terminal gear, then let the wind carry your boat, followed by your lines, over the fish.
This is nothing new to salmon and winter steelhead anglers, who cast upstream and let the current carry their boat and terminal gear downstream, over the fish. In rivers, it's called dragging or boon-doggling.
With dead-drifting on a lake, wind is a must, for without it, there's nothing to move your boat.
A motor can serve, but this approach is typically not as effective as using the wind to move the boat and the gear naturally.
The setup for dead-drifting is simple. Tie a hook on the mainline, tip it with your bait of choice and add the desired amount of split shots a couple feet above it. You're set!
How much weight to use depends on the depth you want to fish -- and how fast the wind is moving you across the lake's surface.
For the best results, on your first pass, try different amounts of weight on each rod. See who gets the first bite. For your next pass, put the same amount of weights on the other rods.
One key to consistently catching fish while dead-drifting is positioning the boat so that the wind hits it directly from one side, at a 90-degree angle. This ensures that your boat travels at a consistent speed, letting you more effectively judge the amount of weight to use.
When dead-drifting and trolling light for trout, a depth finder lets you see where the fish are at and what depth you're working with.
A line counter on your reel is another key for fishing at consistent depths. Cabela's Ripcord, a color-coded, braided line, also lets you hit target depths consistently.