All over the world, trolling — towing a baited line behind a moving boat – is a natural and obvious way of catching predatory fish. The problem with this in Britain, though, is that most of our sea fish species are confirmed bottom feeders. The exceptions are porbeagle shark, bass, pollack, mackerel and garfish.
These limited species and the high cost of fuel have meant that few British anglers go trolling. Charter boats rarely offer trolling as an alternative to wrecking, uptiding or drifting, so most boats that do troll are privately owned and used for fun rather than as a business. Nevertheless it’s an excellent method of catching fish — and is slowly growing in popularity.
There’s plenty of variety when it comes to choosing the right baits for trolling. They divide into two categories: natural and artificial. Shark, bass and pollack can all be caught on both types, while mackerel and garfish respond better to various kinds of bright artificial lures.
Artificial sandeels The best artificial lures are sandeels — lifelike imitations of the natural eel. The attraction of these lightweight baits is the long, wiggly rubber tail. They come with hooks already attached.
You can buy them in many colours – red, orange, yellow, green, pink and so on. On bright days the lighter colours seem to catch most fish. In the late evening, when the light is fading, an all black eel can be deadly for inshore pollack. Plugs and spoons As an alternative to artificial eels, try single or jointed plug baits. Mackerel-sized Rapala plugs, for instance, have great bass appeal – they are fished behind a Wye trolling lead. The most versatile plugs have an inbuilt adjustable diving vane to alter the depth of the dive, and so need less lead than artificial eels. Again, the hooks are already attached. Small plugs or wobbling spoons can bring in plenty of mackerel and garfish. Natural trolling baits The bigger fish -porbeagle, pollack, bass — may go more for natural deadbaits. Mackerel, herring, sprats and garfish are all good, and can be presented in a number of different ways.
A strip, cut crosswise from a side of bait-fish and hooked near the narrow end, is one; another is a split tail – a mackerel sliced through then partly sewn up; and a whole fish, perhaps a garfish, with its backbone broken in several places to give it a wiggly action, is yet another.
For extra security try inserting a wire in the bait’s lip and wrapping it round the fish’s nose. And ‘gang hooking’, using four or five hooks in sequence, gives increased hooking potential, specincially preventing fish takingjust the back half of the bait. The basic rig for trolling is the same for both natural and artificial baits, with line weight and hook size geared to the fish you are after and the size of the bait you are using. You fish the baits 80-100m or so behind the boat, weighted with a 4-8oz trolling lead. Use a 3-5m long trace, which allows the baits to ‘swim’ enticingly, and match hooks to bait — a range from size 6/0 to 10/0. Allow for at least one swivel between trace and lead.
For pollack, bass and smaller fish, you need up to 20 lb main line, with a slightly lighter trace. For porbeagle you must go very much heavier. Anything from 50-80 lb main line is required, with a very heavy rubbing leader to cope with the shark’s rough skin. The last 60-90cm or more of the leader should be wire of at least 300 lb breaking strain, which the fish can’t bite through.
Trolling speeds vary from one area to another, depending on the strength of the local tide. Experimenting is the only way to find what is best in a given location.