Trolling - Methods, Gear and Baits
by Michael Russell

The fact that fish will strike at moving objects has been known to man since the dawn of time. Evidence of this has been found throughout the world. Polynesians troll pearl shell jigs with tortoise-shell hooks from paddle canoes. Other races trolled from a variety of sail and oar propelled vessels, long before the advent of the motor. Now anglers can troll at various speeds and to depths of up to 60 fathoms with long lines and metal traces or downriggers.

Trolling is equally productive in salt or freshwater. It is synonymous with game-fishing but can capture a variety of fish of all sizes and in all depths of water. Technological advances in boating equipment, navigational aids, depth sounders, water temperature gauges, as well as in the tackle used by the angler has fuelled an explosion in the number of trolling offshore anglers who head out every day to feeding grounds miles from the coast.

Trolling can be done with dead or live baits and lures. The bait/lure combination has been developed over the years whereby a skirt or plume of feathers can adorn the head of the bait. This can serve two purposes, it attracts the attention of the fish and prolongs the life of the bait. As the bait is dragged through the water the skirt breaks the water ahead of the baitfish and reduces the amount of drag and friction on the bait, providing a streamlined, faster trolling action. This action excites the fish and encourages a strike at the moving bait.

Recreational and commercial fishermen both take advantage of the combination of live and bait trolling. Live bait trolling can be particularly successful where baits such as skipjack, slimy mackerel or yellowtail are trolled near drop-offs, peaks and troughs or near bait schools. Usually carried out at speeds of less than 3 knots, it is best that the angler hold his line clear of the rod to enable awareness of the panicked movements of the bait as a predator approaches.

Live baiting is best done with a high drag or free spool and a long period allowed between the fish taking the bait and the strike back, unless the fish hooks itself straight away and runs. Trolling with dead baits is the most-used method when fishing for billed fish. Many anglers troll with a combination of live and dead baits and usually at speeds between 3 and 6 knots.

One method to rig up dead baits is to hook the bait to the top of the head and from the throat or belly. Upon the strike, if the fish is not hooked, the line can be retrieved along the surface to tease the fish into a second strike. If the bait is sliced by a mackerel or a wahoo, the hook-up can be achieved when the fish returns for a second strike on the mutilated head.

The advantage of trolling with lures is that they can be trolled at high speeds and cover more ground and do not break up or disintegrate as do the live or dead baits. Lure trolling is to troll instantly. Bait trolling can be time consuming to setup and needs ideal conditions. If fish are following but not striking at lures, it would be best to vary the speed of the boat or to draw the line in at fast then slow speeds to give the impression of fleeing bait from the fish. Lure trolling should be conducted with a V or W pattern to reduce the chance of tangles. The outside baits or lures are further out, with the inner lines moving back in closer to the boat. It is also advisable to have the heavier lures in the centre so that the lighter, surface lures will skip over the others during turns.

Drags should be set to firm and the boat gunned or accelerated upon the strike to counteract the action of the fish and to eliminate stretch. Lures should be rigged on heavy monofilament nylon or wire traces to avoid cut-offs. An advantage of wire leaders is that the wire sits well in the water and does not detract from the movement of the lure. All trolled lures should remain within 70 metres of the rear of the boat because the propeller wash has brought the fish in to the back of the boat already.

Many inland fish live and feed close to the bottom. Lures must be able to go to lower levels. Trolling distances vary but where there are underwater obstacles, having too much line out can be disastrous. If the lure doesn't get caught up by an obstacle, a hooked fish with enough line can dart behind an obstacle and cut off. Of course, fish usually prefer this type of environment with lots of dead tress and snags for hook-ups.

Surface and shallow-diving lures do not work so well in inland areas as with other freshwater species. Inland fishing requires sub-surface lures, floating-diving lures which go way down and can work through a variety of depths.

Anglers who are skilled in both techniques tend to use trolling to investigate depth, type of water and location then resort to casting and retrieving. Some of the best lure-fishing waters in New South Wales Australia, are the clear, upper reaches of the western rivers near the tableland regions. Native fish thrive in fast flowing waters with high oxygen content rather than on the flat country where the water flows at a slower pace.
Michael Russell
Your Independent guide to Fishing

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