Trolling Techniques, Rod Holders and Electric Motors
For many freshwater anglers in Texas, trolling is a eight-letter word that translates to novice. Texas anglers would rather hang out with a monstrous “troll” of folk legend than admit to pulling a lure behind their boats. That’s why they invent cute trolling euphemisms such as “strolling” or “long lining” to describe a variation of a fishing art that predates mechanical engines. Sailors in search of the New World supplemented their boring diet at sea with fresh fish caught by trolling behind sailing vessels. Many sailors still troll with wind power.
Windsurfers in Hawaii and Florida use inventive rod holders that secure a fishing rod to a surfboard and double their pleasure by indulging in two sports at once. They troll while windsurfing and often land fish that weigh more than their sporty craft.
Trolling has never caught on among Texas freshwater anglers because 80 percent of Texas fishermen favor largemouth bass, and trolling is less effective for largemouths than for any other popular game fish. Catfish rank second among Texas fishing fans, and trolling is generally a poor technique for catching catfish.
Where trolling shines is for open-water game fish such as striped bass, hybrid stripers and their smaller cousins-sand bass, more accurately called white bass. Trolling is the best fishing technique for northern game fish species such as lake trout, chinook salmon or walleye, and the anti-trolling bias is not a factor where those species exist.
Trolling techniques can be modified to make them effective for game fish such as crappie. In fact, crappie fishing pro Wally Marshall uses a technique he calls long lining because he puts out ultralight jigs a long way behind his boat and uses a bow-mounted electric motor to slowly move the jigs over submerged structure.
Electric motors are often called “trolling motors,” though they are generally used to position a fishing boat rather than for trolling lures. Fishing guides at Toledo Bend called it “strolling” 25 years ago when they dropped one-ounce striper jigs under the boat and used an electric motor to troll the jigs through suspended stripers that showed up clearly on sonar flashers.
Because the fish were swimming at a specific depth, “strolling” the jigs at that level was a more effective fishing technique than vertical jigging at the correct depth. Moving lures were more apt to be intercepted by moving fish.
There is an art to trolling. In fact, Ken Schultz, fishing editor for Field & Streammagazine has written a book titled The Art of Trolling, published by Ragged Mountain Press. The 130-page volume was revised in 1996 and includes more about trolling than the average Texas angler ever wanted to know.
The sport’s art deals with presenting a lure at the right depth and speed to suspended fish, a task that’s not as easy as it sounds. In the heyday of Lake Texoma’s big striped bass fishery, anglers learned exactly how deep the Whopper Stopper Hellbender would dive at optimum trolling speeds. Always innovative, the fishermen learned to add a heavy jig trailer to the deep-diving crankbait. The trailer jig’s weight and drag added a couple of feet to the maximum depth you can troll a Hellbender.
Diving lures feature oversized snouts mindful of a spoonbill duck. Most packages that contain deep-diving lures include information about maximum diving depths. Unfortunately, the depths to which billed lures dive depend on what weight line the angler is using and how much line he has out. More line typically results in a deeper dive. So does smaller diameter line. Boat speed is another variable.
Since boat speedometers are notoriously inaccurate, veteran trollers monitor speed by engine rpms or by speed readouts on a GPS (global positioning systems) unit. Trolling fanatics often rely on downriggers to take the guesswork out of trolling depth. Downriggers mount on the stern gunnels of a fishing boat and use a heavy weight to drop a measured distance straight down under the boat. The fishing line is attached to the weight via a specialized clip. When a fish bites, the strike or ensuing fight jerks the fishing line free of the clip so the fish can be fought.
Downriggers work great because you can put your lure at the precise depth you want it and you can troll very slowly, or just drift with the lure at the productive depth, says Rusty Cox, a Carrollton angler who caught his share of Texoma stripers on downriggers.
Cox has also used downriggers for slow trolling live bait around oil rigs in Gulf of Mexico offshore waters. Near Venice, La., he trolled a live blue runner beside an offshore rig. When a big amberjack ate the bait, Cox gunned his engines and used the boat to pull the big, tough fish away from the structure.
Amberjacks are notorious for swimming into abrasive structure when they’re hooked, and the powerful fish are hard to catch when encountered close to a rig. Use sonar to pinpoint suspended fish, then try to troll your lures through the fish. Simply trolling through the open lake is not an efficient method of fishing unless you know target fish are present. You can hold a rod while trolling, but it works better if you mount rod holders to securely hold the rod until a fish is hooked.
Generally speaking, lipped diving lures dive deeper when used on small diameter lines. They also dive deeper when more line is released behind the boat. In trolling tests, most diving lures also dived deepest at the slowest possible speeds. Increasing the boat speed did not make the lures dive deeper.
When choosing a lure, try to select a size and design that imitates local baitfish. For most fishing in Texas lakes, this means threadfin or gizzard shad. Experiment with lures and boat speed until you find a winning combination, then stick with it.
Do not troll when fish such as stripers, hybrids or sand bass are schooling actively on the surface. You can easily catch those fish by casting to them. Driving a boat through surfacing fish will spook them and cause them to disperse. Trolling is not advisable in crowded waters where long lines are apt to get tangled with other fishermen.