Trolling with lures

As I pulled my boat into the dock the other day, another boat angler, who had also been lure fishing, asked how I had got on, writes Mick Brown. He was surprised when I told him I’d caught a dozen pike up to double figures as he had only had two small ones. When I mentioned that I had taken them by trolling, he became quite dismissive, and suggested that trolled pike were not as worthy as pike caught by casting.

I asked him if he had ever been trolling, and his answer was that dragging a lure behind a boat would not interest him in the slightest. The discussion moved on to the skill involved in trolling, and he could not see that there was any, and it was too risky snagging up and losing his precious lures.

I left the conversation there. He had closed his mind to the opportunities offered by trolling, and would be consigned to missing some of the most exciting sport available with a lure. I could see that he was someone who would catch very little and lose lots of lures in the process. In my book, trolling is an art, and is so much more than just pulling a lure behind a boat.

The picture on the left shows the lures I had caught pike on during that day. There’s a couple of Storm Thundersticks and Rapala Tail Dancers, a Rapala DT 20, a Rapala X-Rap Deep and a Rapala X-Rap Magnum. In this instance, the swims I fished were from 12 to 20 feet deep and the water was cold with quite a lot of colour, and these are the lures that caught after a lot of trial and error. There were plenty of snags too, but I didn’t lose a single lure. On another day and on another venue, I would probably use different lures. You need to work out exactly what is required for each session, and I hope this article will point you in the right direction.

All the variables involved in lure fishing need to be taken into account when trolling. First and foremost is to run the lure at the optimum depth. This can range from dragging the bottom to ripping the lure through the surface layers. Every type of lure can be pressed into service and apart from regular floating divers which are used more than any other lures, I will troll jigs, spoons, spinners, spinner baits, jerk baits and surface lures.

Choosing the depth to run the lure is best determined by using an echo sounder. In deeper swims, and in warm water conditions, you can take a chance without knowing the depth, as predators like pike, perch and chub will come high in the water for prey. By trial and error you can work down the water column to find the fish, but you will also find the snags too! An echo sounder takes out all the guess work as you can see the depth of the water beneath you and also spot any major lure-pinching snags. You will also see shoals of prey fish too, which indicate areas to concentrate on, as predators will surely be close to them.

Having a good indication of depth allows accurate choice of lure, and you should choose your lure to suit local conditions. Primarily, water temperature will dictate running depth. When the water is cold, I start by running my lure as close to the bottom as possible, and then gradually work my lures higher in the water column if I’m not catching. The picture on the right shows a 34 pound pike which was caught by doing just that. I started by trolling along the bottom at 25 feet and caught nothing. Working shallower, I finally had a hit by running a Rapala Super Shad Rap at about ten feet. The picture below shows the Super Shad Rap which the big pike took. It is in the now discontinued Crawdad Crawfish pattern. With it is a battle-scarred veteran in Red Head pattern which is one of my all-time favourites for clear water fishing.

In milder conditions I do the reverse with regard to running depth, and start with a surface lure and progressively work deeper. Some species, like zander, rarely come up off the bottom at any time and others - like chub - tend to spend a lot of time higher in the water. You really do need to study and understand the species you are after.

The speed of the trolled lure can be vital and can be anything from a snail's pace, for a jig that is being inched along the bottom, to a fast walking pace for hungry spring feeders. There’s more to it than that though, and amongst other skills you need to learn, are tricks to vary the speed and action of the lure as you travel along, sometimes by varying the motor speed but mostly by rod action. Dropping the lure back suddenly or ripping it forward, are just some of the things you can do to provoke a following predator to make its attack.

Lure colour choice can be particularly important, especially in very clear water. No-one will ever second guess what colour they will want on any day, but a good starting point is to use natural colours in clear water and bright attractor colours in stained or coloured water. In very coloured water or at night (yes, trolling is very viable in the dark!), any colour will catch. Most predators, such as pike, do not need to see a lure as their lateral line sensors will detect its movement. I have found that most lures catch at night, but when I’m fishing bigger waters or where I might have to draw predators from weed or snags, I prefer a lure that makes a lot of commotion, and this is where rattling lures offer an advantage.

I have only skimmed over the basics of trolling with lures, and have barely gone into any detail at all. There is so much more to say, but I hope that I have said enough to tempt anyone who has not yet tried trolling to make a start. If you apply yourself, you will be rewarded with some of the most interesting and productive fishing you will ever come across. Good luck!