Rigging for Considered Trolling
Use appropriate tackle and trolling methods that match the species you seek, and you should more than double your trolling results.
Terminal tackle comes first. Floating minnow-type plugs do a great job as they track at higher speeds than deeper running models with long bills or water-resistant lures such as spinners. Special plugs with smaller than average bills are well-suited to high speed use. Troll spinners or baits at high speed and you may reinvent line twist!
These plugs also float if you stop the boat to play a fish on another line. That's a nice change from wire line festooned all over the bottom!
Plug size seems more important than finish in many cases. Six inch plugs don't make it for smallmouth bass; the fish you seek had better be able to get the plug you select into their mouths. Free swimming baitfish come in schools of nearly uniform length. Baitfish start small in the spring and grow during the summer. A few make it over to the next year to spawn and start the cycle over. So you need several size plugs in a finish that matches that of the common baitfish. My tests in saltwater and freshwater show that a plug that's more than an inch longer or shorter than the average natural baitfish gets half as many hits as a size match.
Lure or bait size also affect speed. Most fish swim 1MPH per inch of length, so you can pull a six inch plug 6MPH! "Ambush" species take what they can get so finish seems more important here. Crayfish and gold colors suit most shore trolling. In lakes where small trout or shad are more common, go with silver plugs.
A few plugs, each in two or three sizes and finishes, seems a better choice than an assortment of "one ofs." So ask your local tackle shop for recommendations on type, finish and size.
Other options can work at high speed too. A baitfish rigged on a trolling hook so it tracks without excessive spin can produce. So do hoochies and a number of plastic squid imitations designed for salmon and offshore species. Pike, in particular, nail squid dragged along weed beds at high speed. Just don't expect too many pike per soft plastic bait!
Line selection is critical for high speed trolling. Low stretch lines such as Trilene XT work very well and stand up to abrasion better than softer lines. However, more line stretch can be an advantage when trolling for kokanee and other soft mouth species as it cushions the shock of strikes. If you use a premium line in a test no heavier than the weight of the largest fish you expect to take you won't go wrong. So 4 pound test for trout, 8 pound for most everything else and 12 pound where snags are a problem. Do realize that you hook twice as many fish on 4 pound as on 8 pound in clear water where fishing pressures are high.
Swivels don't seem to help much! Only the ball-bearing models work well and, in any case, plugs shouldn't twist line. If you need a wire trace for pike or ocean fish with teeth, get a light one in black wire with a black snap. In most cases a Uni-knot or other solid knot is all you need.
The rod and reel you use aren't critical if you have a decent drag and a rod that matches the line. Some people even troll with fly rods and reels, rarely with spinning tackle, but most usually troll with a conventional level wind bait casting reel and a rod nearly 9 feet long.
An extra long rod acts as its own spreader pole. When two rods are set at right angles in the back of a boat, longer rods increase lure separation and, therefore, coverage. Spread also gets lures over fish that are not scared by the noise or shadow of the boat. "High tech" folks use sideplaners to do this.
The problem with spinning rods and reels for trolling is two-fold. First, line, reel and guides are on the bottom of the rod where they tend to snag on oarlocks and such. Second, and most important, if you set a drag so fish won't break off and you reel while the fish runs or the drag slips, each turn of your bail puts a twist in your line. Level-wind reels don't twist line pulled off against the drag.
Once you are properly rigged and have found water at optimum temperature, trolling is quite simple. To start, trail a lure over the side of the boat and watch its action; vary your RPM to see what speed works best for each lure type you own. You may find it helpful to separate lures by most effective trolling speed.
You will doubtless find some lures run to the right or left. You can bend the eye slightly to cure this or mark such lures and use them where it's an advantage to troll a lure under the shadow of floating docks or overhanging weed lines. Try this at high speed, though, and lures will spin out of the water.
Now set the drag on your reel so it's barely heavy enough to keep the lure from pulling off line. This reduces the chance of breaking fish off at the strike. It also lets you know if your lure picks up moss and such. You can always use your thumb on a level wind reel spool or your forefinger on spinning reel spools to add more pressure if you need to pump. Don't change drags. That is a major cause of breakoffs!
If you want to cover as much shoreline as possible for "ambush species", troll as near shore as you can without hanging up your inshore plug. Troll with at least 100 feet and as much as 200 feet of line out. If you use more than two rods, run the third line a bit shorter over the stern of the boat just off the prop's whitewater.
Try the shaded shore first; fish seem more likely to feed after sunlight leaves the water. Carefully weave in and out so the lures work tight to shore, submerged weed beds, riprap banks and other likely water. On vertical banks you may almost need to scrape the bank with the inshore rod.
If possible, hold your rod to increase your chance of setting the hook and of telling when, by the change in vibration in your rod tip, your lure is fouled with weeds. If you must use a rod holder, buy a good one which releases the rod quickly.
If you pair lures by speed, you can use a shallow running minnow plug on the inshore rod and a deeper running plug on the offshore rod, so you can fish near cover in both cases. If your buddy does not care, or does not know, make sure your rod is on the inside. That rod usually takes twice as many fish!
When you troll for cruising fish further offshore, trail more line -- 125 to 200 feet -- and turn in gentle "S" curves. This helps show lures to fish not scared by your boat and varies lure speed to increase attraction. You might want to vary the size or finish if you stream two lures in this situation. I rarely troll a lure more than 15 minutes without a change or check.
Once you hook a fish, kick the boat out of gear and take the time to play your catch. Reel in the other lure or not if you like. Then, with one released or in the boat, swing back and try the same area again.
Do realize that if you switch directions from up to down wind, you will change effective lure speed and possibly depth. So drop your RPM if the wind moves your boat and up your RPM when you head into the breeze. Cross winds don't matter.
Take the time to find a spot with optimum temperature, pick plugs and rig gear to match the fish you seek, and schedule your fishing for the peak period. You should have few problems catching all the fish you want. Best of all, if you keep records and/or use last year's newspapers to check the order in which action in your favorite waters peaks, you can always fish where strikes are the rule, not the exception. That's the best reason I know to troll.