May 04, 2020
By Scott Haugen
Leaning over the side of the boat to help my dad and our buddy untangle their lines, I forgot all about my pole still in its rod holder. We were trolling a lake for rainbow trout and Dad had a big fish take him into another line. The fish got off, but both lines—with all their trolling gear—were a mess.
We were in 65 feet of water, so I had just let my trolling gear sink once we killed the motor. I was shocked when I looked and saw my rod doubled over. While my flashers and bait were sinking, a trout had evidently hit it—and it ended up being the biggest rainbow of the 15 we caught that day.
I’ve been trout fishing in lakes since the mid-1960s, and one thing I’ve confirmed in that time is that the learning never stops. With the creation of new gear comes more opportunity for anglers, and some of the following moves have helped me put more fish in the boat over the years.
CHANGE IT UP
Speed, angles and turns are all key to increasing hook-ups when trolling. This is something my grandfather taught me in the 1960s, and I’m surprised by the number of boaters I see today who only troll in a straight line. By varying your speed and angles, you change the delivery of your terminal gear, and often that’s what elicits a strike.
Even a change in speed of a half-mile per hour can make a difference. If you’re marking trout on your depthfinder but aren’t getting bites, speed up the next time you go through that same spot. If increasing the speed doesn’t work, slow it down on your next pass. Keep trying different things until you find what interests the fish.
Should a change in trolling speed fail to deliver, try turning the boat when you’re over the fish. Making a sharp turn probably entices a strike more than any move you can make. This is because the change in angle quickly slows the travel rate of the terminal gear, and this often triggers the trout. Over the years, close to 80 percent of our strikes when making turns have come on an inside rod—that is, the rod on the side of the boat toward which you’re turning. Turn left, and the rod on the left side of the boat is more likely to get hit. This happens because that’s where slack in the line is created the quickest, resulting in a faster drop of the bait.
When changing trolling angles, don’t just troll in circles or ovals. Make figure eights and sharp-angled zigzags. Even holding a rod in one hand and quickly jerking the mainline with the other in order to speed it up and slow it down can yield results. Reeling in a line a few feet at a time while trolling will increase terminal gear action and sometimes result in a bite, too.
There’s a lot of gear available to trout anglers these days, and investing in a wide selection of it is a good idea. Last year, I fished with a buddy who had a giant tackle box full of the latest and greatest trout tackle. Whenever the bite slowed, we’d change out terminal gear and give the fish something new to look at. One morning, just two hours after launching the boat, we were in line at the take out—three of us with five-trout limits.
Two other boats of anglers we chatted with were disappointed with how slow the action had been and called it quits well shy of their limits. When I asked them what different presentations they had tried, they remarked that they’d stuck with the same setups all morning, never changing a thing.
While we tried multiple plugs, lures, spinner blades and different kinds of baits that day, the hot bite came on a pink-bladed Silver Magic pre-snelled spinner. In the lake we were fishing, chartreuse was usually the go-to color. However, 12 of the 15 trout we caught that day came on the pink Silver Magic setup with half a nightcrawler and a piece of salad shrimp as bait.
Not only can changing the color of your spinner make a difference, but changing flashers can, too. Vary the color and size of flashers you use. Change between high-profile and low-profile, mylar wings and metal blades. Last year we did great with Mack’s Lures Flash Lite Trolls, both in the two- and three-blade models. We also did well with Les Davis Trolling Flashers, UV Rooster Trolls, and the 4-inch Big Al’s Fish Flash Mini, which we often rigged in tandem.We’ll try them all again this season, but be ready with backups, too.
COVER MORE WATER
Changing the size and color of your terminal gear can often be the ticket, but sometimes a change-up of the entire presentation is necessary. Last year, I experimented with a different kind of two-rod trolling setup when fishing in Oregon. With one rod in the holder, I grabbed a second rod for making casts with a variety of spinners and plugs, and had the best results with a Mag Lip 2.5. This little plug casts great with 4-pound Maxcuatro line. While terminal gear is trolled behind or tight to the boat, the Mag Lip allows me to cover even more water by making casts to either side. One day on the lake, four of my five-trout limit came while casting the Mag Lip, the other on the trolling gear.
Mini Mag Lips are also great for trolling. I like flatlining them, and will often add a second duo-lock snap swivel. Doing so increases the erratic action potential of theplug when trolled slowly, as it alters its action and balance.
When trolling the Mag Lip 2.0, add a medium-sized split shot or two about 30 inches up the line. Frog patterns worked best early in the day, while gold and orange were the top colors once sunlight hit the water.
Don’t overlook the value of a depthfinder when trout fishing. Not only will you learn about the bottom structure, you’ll be able to track channels and discover at which depths trout are holding. Last spring, in the lakes my buddies and I fished, the majority of trout came at 12 to 15 feet deep in just 45 to 60 feet of water. Trout hold at specific depths for a reason—usually due to water temperature and food availability—and a depthfinder can help you locate them.
When trolling for trout this spring, consider changing your gear, varying your trolling path and trying different baits. Oftentimes, making just one change can increase the number of fish you catch. Then again, trout can be finicky from day to day, hour to hour, meaning it’s up to you to figure out what lights ’em up.
Mini Mag Lip Diversity
Not only are Mag Lip 2.0 and 2.5 plugs great for trolling for trout in lakes, they are also very effective when trout fishing in rivers.
These smaller Mag Lips can be backtrolled from boats along current seams and through riffles where trout reside, and their skip-beat action often attracts bites when more subtle presentations aren’t producing.
Tipping a hook on the Mag Lip with a single egg, small piece of worm, maggot or grub, can also help establish a scent line that’s carried downstream. Once a trout detects the smell, it can easily follow it to the plug.
Removing the hooks on a Mag Lip 3.0 and running a 2- to 3-foot-long dropper tipped with a worm hook and half of a nightcrawler can also be very productive when backtrolled for trout in a river. This mini diver-and-bait setup is one of the most effective I’ve used in more than 50 years of trout fishing in rivers, and it’s my go-to rigging when taking new anglers on the water. ($6.89; yakimabait.com)
AUTHOR NOTE: For signed copies of Scott Haugen’s best-selling books on salmon and steelhead, visit scotthaugen.com. Follow Scott on Instagram and Facebook.