THE 411 ON LEARNING HOW TO TROLL FOR TROPHY STRIPERS – PART 1
|By Capt John Luchka – Reprinted from Striped Bass Magazine|
Many “newbies” to
the sport roll their eyes, but even seasoned fishermen shake their heads
when I walk to my boat with these7-10 ft. monster meat sticks spooled with
shimmering steel and braid. Why? Well some feel that this is not really a
sporting way to catch Stripers (or just a lazy waste of gas while hoping
to catch a few fish). Sharpies however wink and give a thumbs up because
they know that many of the largest Stripers are caught on the troll. I
have been blessed to have fished and become friends with some of the best
fishermen on the east coast and have them teach me their ways. In this
series of articles on trolling wire and braid, I am here to help you avoid
some of those mistakes and give you the skinny on how to troll effectively
from A to Z.
When I ask to define and explain exactly what trolling is in a seminar, I get a lot of replies. By far there is one definition that I feel really hits home: Trolling is a systematic way of eliminating water that may or may not hold fish. To take that further, it is a way to thoroughly use your brain, electronics and tackle while taking in consideration the time of year you are fishing, the bait that is prevalent, weather, wind, moon stage, and tide conditions. It is not just pulling out of the slip, dropping some Secret Spoons or umbrella rigs over the side and sitting back as you have a bagel and a cup of coffee and shoot the breeze with buddies on board as you hope for the best. Far from it.
In many circumstances I have come across such fishermen on the water and in some situations it has turned into a heated exchange because trolling with wire requires a good amount of skill, awareness, and courtesy on the water. Before you invest in tackle to begin trolling and even before you leave the dock you need to understand certain things:
• Be aware of what is going on around you when entering an area where boats are trolling wire and braided lines. Never troll to close to boats pulling wire nor cross the path of another troller since getting wire wrapped around your engine or prop is truly a disaster. It can endanger the safety of occupants on both boats and it is also not a way to make friends on the water! Be wary of anchored boats with lines out and note where their anchor line is to avoid tangles.
• If you are last on the scene and observe boats trolling north to south do not be the guy who decides to troll east to west and cross their path. Doing this forces others to risk getting hung up on the bottom or snagged if they cannot retrieve their lines fast enough. If this does happen it can turn into a costly loss of a precious Secret Spoon or shad – not to mention valuable lost time fishing! Again, not a way to make yourself friends on the water. That one finger salute does not mean you are No. 1 so get over yourself, or else you will be ducking thrown sinkers!
• Often overlooked is proper boatmanship and being courteous on the water. There is absolutely no need to troll up along a beach or shoreline and impede upon a shore fisherman. Please remember that these guys have limited space to catch that lucky window of opportunity whereas you have the entire ocean, lake, or sound to peruse and catch fish. So give these guys a break or else once again you will be paraded with an assortment of fingers, sinkers, and words of hate in various languages.
I feel the above statements are very important and often overlooked simply due to the fact that we are all too excited to get out there in “our” water and catch fish but realize we share this resource with many newbies and sharpies alike. Believe me, people notice the good from the bad fishermen on the water and as you become a skilled angler you will quickly build a network with other skilled fishermen who will, after a trial exchange of information, determine if a partnership of some sort can exist. Having friends on the water who are catching
fish may only be a cell phone call away from putting you on the bite, but also remember to be “courteous” and reciprocate when you are on the bite.
Becoming a better all- around Striper fisherman means the need to learn, adapt, and understand more than one way to catch Striped Bass consistently.
I have always been a person to ask why does one tactic work one day but not another? Or what if I tried this
or what if that? I also enjoy trying new ways and fishing in new places to catch Striped Bass (which explains the room in my home where I have over 40 fishing combos!). One of the favorite set-ups I employ (and spend literally thousands of hours on the water proving them worthy) are my wire and braided line trolling combos.
PENN 4/0 and 6/0 Senators spooled with Wire are what is needed to pull bunker spoons like the Secret Spoons.
Imagine this, we have not even talked about what rod, reel, lure, or line we are using and where
to look for fish but to know that this information had to be passed on to me when I was a newbie was something I may not have thought twice about if I was not mentored. So heed this warning and take notice so you will not be known as “that guy”.
LET’S GET “DOWN” TO BUSINESS!
Wire line trolling and trolling with braided line like Power Pro are effective ways to catch trophy sized bass because the primary advantage is that it will allow you to precisely control the depth at which your lines and lures will run.
Striped Bass are opportunistic feeders and what we intend to do is emulate and duplicate the forage that they are feeding on, troll it right by their favorite hiding spots and put it right in their face.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT REEL
Matching your combos is necessary and each combo has a distinct application. Let’s take a look at reels. There are numerous reels on the market that can withstand the rigors of 8 hours of pulling wire but my weapons of choice are the PENN 4/0 HSP Senator and the PENN 6/0 Senator with some modifications – but keep in mind the standard models will suffice right out of the box. I use a metal spool, not plastic, with either an Accu-plate or a Tiburon one-piece machined aluminum spool. These one-piece spools and frames are ideal since the constant pumping action
that occurs when trolling big bunker spoons will loosen the screws on a non-customized reel, causing the reel to become sloppy and the drag to slip. Always check and tighten your hardware. Knowing that rods will pump harmoniously at about 5,000 to 6,000 times per-hour is easy to see how the vibrations caused will loosen standard hardware over hours of fishing.
Dressing a new reel with 40-60 pound single strand stainless from Malin will require a backing of at least 100-300 feet of either monofilament or Dacron. I use a haywire twist and an Albright knot to join the two together. It is important to mark distance increments on the wire line used for trolling. There are two ways that I employ when it comes to marking wire. I mark my wire at 100, 150, 200 and 250 feet using small sections of colored telephone wire. I color code each section so as to correspond to the appropriate footage I have out. Malin has also introduced pre-marked wire and thus eliminates the pain of marking every 50 feet. At an average trolling speed of 1.5-3 knots, wire will sink at an average of 1 ft. for every 10 ft. let out. For example, 100 ft. of wire will get down 10 ft. which
is my first colored marker, and 200 ft. will get down to 20 ft. which is my third colored marker when pulling a single Secret Spoon or lure.
Allow at least a 13-to-1 ratio when trolling Shad umbrella rigs like the 9ers rigs since they create more drag and will not sink at the same rate as a Secret Spoon. However, adding a drail sinker of 4 oz. attached directly above the rig itself will provide the rig an extra 5 ft. of sink rate whereas an 8 oz. drail will provide an additional 10 feet.
If the wire is rated for 40 pounds, it will break at 40 pounds just as if it were mono. Just because you are using “Steel” does not mean you can crank your drag down and horse that fish into the boat. Adjust your drag to approximately 1/3 the braking strength and then adjust accordingly.
SELECTING YOUR ROD
Selecting a rod is the essential ingredient in landing a trophy sized Striped Bass. Knowing which rod is used and why is important when it comes time for you to access where you will fish and most importantly how you will fish. I currently employ an assortment of rods and for trolling Secret Spoons. I use a Seeker 1153M in the 8 and 9 ft. models. The parabolic action required to make a bunker spoon dance in the water requires a limber rod–and these are two of the best off the shelf models.
For pulling a shad rig or any other type of umbrella rigs, use a shorter 6 ft. PENN Senator Wire line rod model 3140 NTWL, 7’0, 4/0, 30-50 lb. To pull umbrellas that have a lot of drag, you need a stiff and stout rod since there is no pumping action like you see when pulling a big Secret Spoon and these rods from PENN meet the challenge.
I am not a fan of the roller tip because rough sea conditions can rotate the way wire comes over the tip. If it happens to hang over the roller edge, it could create a weak spot or a deadly kink in the wire. If a kink does occur, cut the wire and splice in a shock absorber of 10 feet of 80 pound monofilament via an Albright knot
and a Haywire twist on both ends. A kink is an instant weak spot and under the duress of a Striper it will part at this location. Avoid using small swivels since they can inflict additional damage to the layered wire on the spool. After returning to the dock, kinked wire should be replaced. Instead of running a new 300 ft. shot of wire onto the reel, just remove the top 150 feet and then make a 10 foot shock absorber of 80 pound monofilament. Attach the new 150 ft. and spool it on to the reel. This is recommended for novice wire liners since the cost to replace kinked wire can be expensive. Better yet, have your local tackle shop do it.
It is critical to use carborundum or carbolloy guides when pulling wire since they will not become grooved by the wire or cause damage to the wire. There is a new material called Silicone Nitride which is also a great guide material which is produced by Fuji. The rod should have either a slotted slick gimbal butt section or a metal
Aftco butt vs. a spongy or cork butt. The slick or metal butt allows the angler to easily extract the rod out of an outrodder or rod holder. Spongy or cork butt sections will make it very difficult to remove since the stress on the rod works against the effort to extract it. Now imagine if you had to do it with a 50 pound Striper on the other end! Both the Seeker and PENN rods have these preferred features which will allow you to make your day on the water more rewarding.
When it comes to rod security when trolling, secure your combo by clipping on a 10 foot leash to the eye opposite the handle on the reel so it does not impede your way in reeling. The leash length allows me to extract the rod and walk freely around the boat during a fight. Why attach a safety leash? If the rod is in an outrodder and say one of the following happens, the drag is cranked down too hard and a fish takes it or you snag bottom on
a turn because you were not paying attention and the depth got to shallow. Well, that rod just got launched into the water faster than you can say, what the heck was that splash? Having the safety leash secured to a boat cleat and to your combo will allow you to retrieve your rod out of the drink and save you a few hundred bucks!
TERMINAL TACKLE FOR WIRE LINE
We have covered reels and rods but now we must address our tag end. When attaching a leader we employ an Albright knot to attach the wire to a 20 foot length of 50-80 pound test fluorocarbon leader material when trolling Secret Spoons, tubes or parachutes. Use a monofilament leader of 80-100 pounds when pulling umbrella or shad rigs. Attach a heavy duty ball bearing coast lock snap swivel from Spro in the 165-200 pound class with an improved clinch knot. The swivel prevents line twist which is detrimental to any large fish encounter. Furthermore, when the fish is ready to be brought aboard the leader gives more flexibility than wire and provides some stretch in
case that bass makes one last final run. The leader is simply more forgiving than wire and will not create a deadly kink. At the tag end of the leader always check your swivel and replace as needed if it is not rotating freely and a squirt of WD-40 is always an added help.
THE 411 ON LEARNING HOW TO TROLL FOR TROPHY STRIPERS – PART 2
In Part I we
covered some of the basics with regard to tackle, boatmanship, and getting
you on your way to becoming a more knowledgeable troller. Proper
preparation at the dock will certainly determine what kind of a day you
will have on the water–whether you choose to pull wire or braid. I also
want to make you nuts and help you not over think what you already know
(or may not know)... but lets have some fun anyway.
I am an advocate of a checklist and a log book and the night prior to my trip I am reviewing the following: time of year, water temperature, tide and wind conditions, fishing reports from friends, moon phases, what colors shall I bring (based on clarity of water). I also make sure all rods and reels are in tip top condition, all of the hooks are sharpened, drags and clickers are tested, what depths will we be fishing and that all the hook out tools are available. The most important thing I prepare myself for is what the Stripers feeding on so I can emulate
them when I begin my troll.
I am a firm believer in preparation and that is the one thing you can control. However, finding the fish and making them eat is something you can only hope you have a shot at controlling. I can attest to some days when my Lowrance fish finder is littered with marks, and that I have to mix up my strategy and try something just a little different to entice that hook up. Be it a color change or just varying the trolling speed, it could be that simple.
ARTIFICIALS AND COMBOS
At the time I penned this article, I just returned from a trip in the Western Long Island Sound where adult bunker or menhaden were the prevalent forage. Since the conditions were ideal and no toothy bluefish were around, I decided this would be a day to experiment and try a whole bunch of artificials and combos.
We can all fall into a habit of catching fish one way if that way produces–but what if it is not working today? What do you do? Chalk it up to one of those days where you pack it in early–or try a new tactic? I feel that this is the right time to experiment with a new wire or braided line combo. This “IS” the time to pull a huge plug like a
Yo-Zuri Deep Diver or a Mann’s Menhaden Imitator. Also, when the bite is less than desirable, you should ask yourself: Am I optimizing my boat performance to make these lures and bunker spoons work properly? Can I handle making a turn into some wakes that may be questionable and not tangle my lines or snag bottom?
Expanding your mind to think outside the box will give you more opportunities to try some of those funny looking
lures in your tackle box that caught your eye while flipping through a catalog on a cold winter’s night at home. It
is also a time to review your boat handling tactics–since this should never be taken for granted. So, when is the best time to try something new? Anytime, but log everything you do so you can go back to it for future reference.
THE MAD SCIENTIST AT WORK...
I first wanted to pull some Secret Spoons and Shad Umbrella rigs on wire. On my bunker spoon rod (which is a Seeker 1153M-8ft) was a PENN 4/0 Senator HSP spooled with 60 pound Malin single strand stainless. A ball bearing swivel and coastlock snap rated for 165 pounds was attached to 10 feet of 100 pound test of Yo-Zuri disappearing pink fluorocarbon leader on one rod, and the new PENN fluorocarbon leader in clear on the other. My 9ers shad umbrella setups were PENN Senator Rods with the same tackle as above (with the only exception being a 4 ounce drail sinker attached to the rig so I can get 5 feet deeper while letting out 100 feet of wire).
My Braided setups were the new PENN GS700M Bluewater Series along with an old trusty Senator attached to a 975LD and a 545GS with 50 pound Power Pro and 100 pound Fluorocarbon leader. I prefer using Power Pro braided line vs. monofilament since 50 pound braid has the diameter of 12 pound mono–which allows my line to cut through the water with minimal drag or resistance (Other features and benefits are improved sensitivity since there is no stretch and remarkable abrasion resistance).
Since my forage fish on this June trip was bunker and if where you fish there are an abundance of gizzard shad, herring, squid, or sand eels for example, then on your tag end find a plug, bunker spoon, or umbrella rig that closely emulates that bait fish in size and shape. Select the proper combo and your percentages for scoring increases.
STARTING YOUR TROLL...EYES BIG...SMELL THE WOOD BURNING...
Ok, we have our combos ready and now we need to read our charts, GPS, and fish finder to determine the depths we are fishing (so we can let out the appropriate amount of line or wire). Whether you are pulling braid or wire the first thing is to always leave your clicker on when letting line out. This signals to the boat operator that you are letting line out and not to pick up speed and take off. Communication point where your lures are at a desired depth
and secured in your outrodder with a leash! Yes, secure those combos! Have a glove on to protect your hand while letting out wire or braid and give it a hard pull once the lever is locked. You want the drag tight enough to where it does not release while trolling – but firm enough to set that hook once a Cow whacks it.
As you let the line out you want to keep pressure on the spool so as to avoid any backlashes, and you want to insure your rods are pumping while noting how many marks are in the water. Always drop your Secret Spoon, plug, or umbrella rig off the side of your boat and not in your motor wash. This will insure your apparatus is tracking correctly. Again, note your marks on your wire, remember every 100 ft will get you down roughly 10 feet (and 130ft with an umbrella). No drail sinker will get you down 10 feet.
Since your wire is marked, how do I mark my braided line? You can either fish with a reel with a line counter, or
mark your line with a Sharpie (always but have your marker on your boat so as to keep that mark fresh and visible since it will wash away over the course of a day). Another way is to simply pack your reel with 150, 200 or 300 feet of braid and once you get into your backing you know what you have out. I have 3 separate reels spooled this way.
LET THE FUN BEGIN...
We now have 2 rods in our outrodders with the drags set, we are watching our fishfinder and ready to take up or let out wire as necessary. The rods are pumping with two of the same brand and size bunker spoons. Why the same brand? Why the same size? Always pair your bunker spoons by brand and size because some bunker spoons will work better at a little slower trolling speed while some bunker spoons need to be worked a little faster, as to allow them to work according to specification. Always have an extra set on board. It is ok to pull a bunker spoon on one rod and a shad rig on the other. I do this when I am prospecting and trying to find the “it” lure!
AM I DOING THIS RIGHT? NOW I HAVE TO THINK!
Ok, I am feeling confident and a friend asks me, “How do you know what speed to troll at?” There are many good answers to this and you will probably get a different answer from everyone you ask. In my many years of pulling wire and braid I have always asked this question to the many guys I fish with (since I am always looking to learn different perspectives).
I have been told: "Troll 1 1/2 knots to 3 knots, if you troll with the current you need to pick up your speed so your lures and rods pump properly." I've also heard: "Troll slow and low and when trolling against the current you may have to speed up a bit to get the rods pumping." And: "Try to quarter your troll into the current, stem the rip line, stop and drop your rigs so they sink a little deeper and under those @#$ Bluefish, then kick her into gear!" Another good one is: "Vary your speed and zig-zag to give a new look if nothing is working" and my favorite answer: “Just watch my rods and they tell the story."
All are good solutions and very true until you dissect the following; How fast am I trolling when I am pulling a bunker spoon? or an umbrella rig? a parachute jig? a single 5-9 inch rubber Shad? a Mojo on a 3-way with a plug? or a deep diving lure? Well, the answer to that takes us back to the beginning of this article and that is “Experiment, Learn, and Log It!”
Only you can control what takes place on your boat and I am only here to get you to think and make you try something that is different from the many successes you may have had using another technique. Once you are confident in another technique, well, that just makes you a better fisherman with another bullet in your arsenal.
It also keeps you one step away from getting skunked on the water.
Here is Super Tip #1, and commit it to memory! While making a turn, the inside rod will always ride lower and slower and drop deeper while the outside rod will ride higher and travel slightly faster. If a strike occurs, note which rod was struck. Hit the MOB (man overboard button) to mark that spot and make that troll again! Depending on which rod got the hit will dictate how you plan to make your next pass.
FISH ON!! NOW YOU’VE DONE IT! WHAT DO I DO?
Here are the quick and easy essentials: Attack the rod holder from the stern of your boat so as to get your body weight behind the push of the rod to release it from the outrodder. Stay tight to the fish, do not allow any slack, and do not pump the rod! Pumping the rod just make the hole in the Stripers jaw larger and the slack once you lay the rod down after a lift may be just enough to allow the Striper to wiggle free.
If one fish is on you must clear the other line and bring it in so as to avoid a tangle or a hang-up on the bottom. If you are the Captain, keep the boat in gear until the fisherman has control of the rod and is able to fight the fish so as to keep tension. If the angler has difficulty fighting the fish then offer a waist belt so the rod gimbal can sit firmly so the angler can use his upper body, arms, legs, and back to fight the fish.
On occasion, when I run my boat I may be able to pop the boat into and out of gear provided I am confident the angler can keep a tight line and not allow the fish to swim alongside the boat or lose touch. It is imperative to keep that line tight with the fish behind the boat. I want you to yell out the marker color so I know how much braid or wire we have to go until we can see leader and then get a net under the fish and landed safely.
LANDING & RELEASE TACTICS
If you have a Striper on a bunker spoon, resist the temptation to lift the fish by the spoon. Secret Spoons are made with precision in mind to keep a certain shape so they swim a particular way. Grabbing a lesser quality bunker spoon with as little as an 8-10 pound Striper on the end could bend and render the bunker spoon useless. Don’t try to bend it back into shape since it will never swim correctly again. Use your net, get a wet towel over the eyes of the Bass to calm it down and then work your hook from your bunker spoon free.
Landing a Striper or multiple fish on an Umbrella rig not only stresses your tackle but also you the angler and the fish! You can employ a net to land the fish or simply grab the actual rig itself and bring the fish on board.
Super Tip #2: If you are looking to get back into the action quickly have a back up umbrella rig all ready to be snapped on once the other is landed. Have your buddy deal with unhooking the fish while you get the new one on and back in the water! The one he untangles is now the next spare. You never know how long that bite will last since Stripers may only eat during a small portion of a particular tide so don’t mess with that rig, get another on and get back in the action!
I am a believer, along with many scientific studies that show that you need to get that fish to the boat quickly since a long, hard fought fight is detrimental to the survivability of a fish after it is released. So please, handle the fish with kid gloves and take your picture quickly and revive the fish for as long as it takes to where it can swim away freely.
In my next article on trolling with wire and braid I am going to show you a variety of lures to try and how to spice them up with a variety of scents and jellies. We’ll also cover working around bait schools and how to analyze a bait slick and some of the best places to troll when there are no visible signs of birds or bait fish. Let the hunt continue and run silent, run deep!