You don’t have to sit and wait for fish to come to you on large waters. Try trolling to track down the specimens, suggests Gord Burton.
Whenever the subject of trolling comes under discussion among anglers, the talk turns to huge waters. Lochs, loughs, lakes and reservoirs are all venues that respond to this neglected method. Unthinking boat anglers often spend many fruitless sessions fishing from static positions, when the most effective tactic of all for locating hotspots on these vast expanses of water is to troll – tow a bait or lure behind a moving boat.
Trolling in such large areas, with depths over 15m (50ft), is an adventurous style of fishing with the added attraction of the unexpected. Depending on the water, it could be a big pike, perch, salmon or ferox trout that takes your bait or lure.
Before setting out on any big water, especially the sea-like lochs of Scotland and the loughs of Ireland, make sure that you know the sailing capabilities of your boat. You must be absolutely certain that it can cope with big waves, should you get caught out a long way from the shore when a sudden squall or storm whips up. Large waters, which are renowned for their tempestuous nature, are no place for the faint-hearted or foolish angler.
Trolling is a method that can take the angler a long way from base and a breakdown of your outboard motor could mean a long row home, so keep some spare springs, shear pins, spark plugs, ‘damp-start’ spray, an extra can of fuel and a few essential tools on board — you never know when you might need them. Always carry a compass, a map and a torch – fog and squally rain can make navigation impossible.
Beware of hazardous reefs and rocks that can reach the surface on many of these waters, because if you collide with one at speed you could seriously damage your craft or even sink it! Never go afloat without a life-jacket and wear it at the slightest indication of rough weather. Always take plenty of warm, dry clothing, and your wet weather gear too when out fishing on large waters – even the hottest days can turn cold and wet very quickly.
The right equipment
There are two other pieces of equipment vital to the trolling angler. First are good sturdy rod rests that can be clamped to the gunwales (sides) of the boat to hold your rods in the outrigger position when fishing. Get the strongest you can -you don’t want a rod pulled over the side by a savage take.
The other essential item of gear is an echo-sounder — you must know the depth contours over which your baits or lures are working. If you are using a fish-finder, you have the added advantage of being able to locate shoals of prey fish and then working through them in the hope of finding feeding predators.
Most medium range pike rods with test curves between (0.68-1.13kg) are fine for trolling. Multiplier reels are highly recommended because their clutch systems are far superior to those of fixed-spool models – you can leave them in free-spool with the ratchet on, so a striking fish can take line with an audible indication as a bonus. Trolling is a pretty rugged style of fishing so there is no need to use lines that are lighter than about 12lb (5.5kg) b.s.
Deep, deeper, deepest
There are three basic types of trolling. The first employs mono-line and only uses the weight of the lure or bait with perhaps a small Wye-type lead to sink it. The Americans call this method ‘flat-lining’. This is generally used when fishing in shallow water down to about 8m (26ft) deep.
The second method, for deeper fishing, uses a lead-cored line. These usually come in 100m (110yd) lengths and are a different colour every 10m (11yd) so you know how much line is out. Remember to tie several metres of nylon leader between the thick lead-core line and the wire trace to give better presentation of your bait or lure.
The final method — the downrigger system – enables you to fish as deep as you like. A downrigger is a miniature crane, with a heavy weight tied to the end so you can lower bait or lure to the required depth.
Bait or lure?
Most trolling is done with artificial lures under the power of an outboard motor, but both live and deadbaits have their day, as does oar-power. An anti-kink vane is essential for all baits and lures likely to spin and twist the line – use a plastic one for shallow fishing and a Wye lead for deep water.
As a rule, livebaits work best when suspended under a float and slowly trolled by rowing. Deadbaits can be used like this or set up for wobbling in the usual way and towed along.
Plugs and spoons work best under power at a slow tick-over speed (walking pace). Artificials are generally more effective in summer and autumn when the water is warmer, with slowly rowed natural baits scoring in winter when predators are less athletic because of the cold.
On the water
Once afloat your first priority should be to decide where to fish – this is when your echo-sounder becomes essential. Check the depth contours around some likely fish-holding features such as the sides of islands, rocky peninsulas and the mouths of bays and rivers. Try and build up a mental picture of the underwater topography before you start fishing.
Having established some potential hotspots, you must decide at what depth to fish your chosen baits or lures. Use two or three rods (if permitted) and fish at different depths and distances from the boat to cover a lot of water.
When a take comes, give the throttle a quick squeeze to help set the hooks, then cut the engine while you play the fish – if there is a strong wind blowing, lower a stabilising anchor or drogue to prevent the boat drifting too far.