New Tactics For Lake Michigan Trout & Salmon

New-age lines and better quality fishing gear add up to more salmon and trout in your cooler on our Great Lake this season. (May 2008)

When you stepped onto a Lake Michigan trolling boat several years ago, chances are every reel onboard would have been spooled with identical nylon monofilament line. The skipper probably bought the line in bulk spools and changed it frequently. That's all changed. In fact, if you board a boat these days and notice the skipper relies on only one kind of line, you might want to reconsider your choice of captain.

There are dozens of kinds of fishing lines available these days, each with one or more attributes that put them a cut above all the others for certain uses. Great Lake trollers who are on the cutting edge know what's available and how to use those products to their best advantage. When you step onboard with these guys, you'll see reels spooled up with a variety of lines, in several colors and in different strengths. Some reels will even be loaded with two or more kinds of line.

Here's a strategy often employed on the reels used with directional diving planers. Start with 30-pound-test monofilament. Fill the spool to approximately two-thirds capacity with this backing. Set the line counter to zero and meter on 150 yards of one of the gel-spun polyester lines, also 30-pound-test. Any of the popular brands will work, but the ones with a "slick" finish tend to be more resistant to fish-hook fleas, common most years from midsummer into the fall. Finally, set the line counter to zero once more and spool on another 100 feet of 30-pound high-visibility monofilament. A double Uni-knot makes a solid connection between the mono and the polyester line.

The top length of monofilament is for early-season use when anglers want the divers to get out away from the boat as much as down deep to the fish. In early season, Great Lakes salmon and trout can be reached by spooling 20 to 50 feet of line but never more than 75 feet. Let out more than that and the inherent stretch of the mono makes it tough to trip the diver and the 3 to 1 dive ratio obtainable with shorter lengths of line becomes something like 10 to 1. The drag of the relatively thick mono pulling through the water means you'd have to let out 10 more feet of line to get the diver 1 foot deeper.

Once the fish go deeper and the divers need to get more than 20 or 25 feet down, discard the monofilament and tie directly to the polyester line. The thinner diameter and nearly zero stretch will allow conventional divers to dip down to 50 or 60 feet easily and even deeper by using oversized add-on rings or magnum divers.

Why this obsession with 30-pound-test? The reason to fish the Great Lakes is to see how many trout and salmon you can catch -- not to see how many divers you can litter across the lake's bottom. Diver line less than 30-pound-test just doesn't cut it. You can lighten up the leader between the diver and the lure as much as you wish. But make sure it's 30-pound-test or more from the rod tip to the diver.

When trolling, forward water pressure on the downrigger weight, downrigger cable and fishing line all team together to cause what is called "blowback." A trolling angler might have 80 feet of downrigger wire deployed, but because of the deflection, the downrigger weight is only 60 or 70 feet beneath the surface. The deeper one attempts to troll, the more guesswork is involved because of blowback.

Heavier 'rigger weights help a little, but it's easier to spool up the downrigger reels using a similar strategy as is done on the diver reels. This time fill the reel almost to capacity with a premium monofilament for use early in the season when the fish are less than 40 feet deep. Most trollers will use 17- or 20-pound-test. Once the summer progresses and the fish head deeper, add a top shot of one of your favorite braids in 20-pound-test. Only 150 feet or so is needed, so you can outfit all your 'rigger reels with one reel-filler spool. Remember, 20-pound polyester braid is thinner than 8-pound mono.

After making the switch, watch the belly in the line between rod tip and downrigger weight all but disappear. Blowback is minimized, you'll get better hooksets and with no stretch in the line, and catching fish will be more fun than ever.

Choosing one of the ultra-bright colored lines now available for both your monofilament and braided lines is a strategy many experts employ. It makes it much easier to instantly track the lines, maneuver hooked fish around other lines, helps prevent tangles or alerts you to a small tangle before it becomes a major one. Though the bright-colored line often puts off fish, a fluorocarbon or clear monofilament leader often solves this problem.

As the spring "surface" bite fades away with ever-increasing water temperatures, Great Lakes anglers need to get their lures far under the surface to put them down to the eye (and mouth) level of hungry salmon and trout. Conventionally, downriggers have been the tool of choice to make those presentations, along with directional diving planers. Many anglers, however, have rediscovered the advantage of combining these traditional presentations with the "old" technology of using lead-core lines in addition to monofilament or braided lines normally spooled onto their reels.

Lead core is a stealth tactic that gets a lure way back behind a boat so the fish don't associate the shiny confederate twinkling at the end of the line with the noise and commotion of the passing vessel. It works well, but that's the only good thing about it.

Lead core is a two-part line. It has lead wire to give the line weight, and is encased in a braided nylon line to give it strength. The weight makes it sink ever deeper as more line is deployed. The downside of lead-core line is it's bulky, about the equivalent diameter of 80-pound-test monofilament. That bulk requires using a reel with a large line capacity. The reel itself will be heavy, so adding 100 yards of lead core to the reel means you can forget any notion about having a rod-and-reel combo with "balance."

Lead core works very well, and catching a fish with 100 yards of lead-core line deployed is only slightly more fun than not catching a fish at all. Though there's not much stretch in the lead-core line itself, there's plenty of sag in the heavy line, like power lines stretched between two rods. It can't be eliminated totally and because of the sag, much of the head-shaking, tail-pumping feeling of the fish doesn't make it to the rod tip. All the angler feels is a heavy pull.

Depending on trolling speed, the type of lure used and the speed of the boat, figure each 10-yard segment of lead core will pull a lure 3 to 5 feet below the surface. Most anglers will use 100 yards on a reel, which will position a lure an average of 40 feet

deep. Sometimes that's not deep enough.

There are ways to make lures go even deeper. One way is to spool on more lead-core line. Some captains will put as much as 200 yards out at once. I agree with Internet postings that swear anyone who would do such a thing is either a retired drill sergeant or is just plain mean. There's nothing fun about catching a fish on a "double-core."

Another method is to use a large line-counter reel on the lead-core rig. Deploy a full 100 yards of lead core behind the boat as usual, then to get the lures deeper, set the line counter to zero and attach a 4-ounce weight to the backing with a rubber band. Let out 50 to 100 feet of backing and the add-on weight will pull everything deeper. When the weight comes up to the rod tip when fighting a fish, it breaks the rubber band to remove the sinker so you can continue to reel in the fish.

Some people view a trip to a well- stocked line department in a well- stocked fishing emporium as confusing. Great Lakes trollers, who know what each style of line is for, view the displays as more opportunities to catch more fish. You should, too!

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

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