Sea trolling

Are you tired of long runs out to marks and is your wallet suffering? Does pier or shore fishing bore you? If so, try sea trolling for a change—it makes for exciting angling.

Trolling or towing a bait, natural or artifical, behind a moving boat to catch fast-moving predatory fish, has been practised for centuries. There exist in museums in North America polished stone rigs used by Eskimos in the 15th century.

Up to the late 1950s trolling was one of the principal fishing methods used by sporting anglers in British waters. Then, when charter boats fitted with sophisticated electronic equipment came onto the scene, sea angling underwent massive changes. The opportunity to make large catches quite easily from an anchored boat on wreck marks proved too great an attraction for many anglers, and trolling, or whiffing as it is sometimes termed, was almost forgotten. To be fair to trolling, the method was only suitable for the angler with his own boat, or with access to a small craft, so perhaps it was natural that the new sport of wreck fishing became so popular.

At present, however, there is a definite swing back to the use of small boats, for anglers tire of four-hour runs out to a mark and do not welcome the high cost of a day’s fishing. Besides, certain species —bass, for example—could never be caught from a charter boat with ten anglers aboard, and so devotees have continued to fish as their forefathers did, although technical advances are making a great difference to the catches.

Varied baits

Baits for trolling are very varied. Small whole mackerel and sandeel are widely used, as are mackerel and squid strip. Marine worms are used to a lesser extent. Bright metal lures fitted with treble hooks are popular, but their effectiveness is largely restricted to shallow water fishing for mackerel, pollack and school bass. In deeper water the artificial eel is now generally used with great success. Lures of this type have come a long way since the introduction of the first models, which featured a plastic body and a tail made from the rubber ring of a jam jar. Thirty years of steady develop-ment have brought considerable manufacturing expertise, yet improvements continue to be made.

Red Gill

Red Gill, the brainchild of Alex Ingram of Mevagissey, is now a fourth generation lure. His latest innovation is a specially shaped hook, fitted to the large Thresher model, which prevents the body of the lure being detected and pushed up the line, when a fish strikes at it. Of the five models offered the 172mm size is by far the most successful.

In the last couple of years, however, the Eddystone Eel, pro-duced by David Beer of Plymouth, has proved a serious rival. It has a much softer tail made from ultra-thin plastic, which gives a faster action, making it particularly suitable for trolling at slow speeds without losing its attractive motion. The Eddystone Eel is available in a number of sizes, but the medium model of 190mm gives the best results.

A new lure, the Eddystone Troller which has an all-through action, will possibly be the best yet. This lure was the result of an enormous amount of research, done with the cooperation of the expert bass anglers who fish Eddystone, Bri-tain’s top bass mark. The spec-tacular catches are made over the gullies close to the lighthouse itself, where giant bass, some weighing as much as 20 lb, have been seen.

Unfortunately, considerable commercial fishing with monofilament nets in areas around the Eddystone where the bass are known to run, has taken many thousands of fish and sport is nothing like it was a few years ago. Bass, however, are great survivors, and there should always be a level of sport to enjoy. In the spring of 1981 some excellent cat-ches of fish to 15lb were made, most of them with live sandeel which swarm over the reef in vast numbers, particularly during April, May and early June. In keeping with many other fast moving predatory species, the bass’s inclination to strike at a bait is heightened by a good run of water, so a spring tide period is much the best time to fish.

Artificial eel

The best rod and line capture made on an artificial eel is the British record bass of 18lb 6oz taken by Roy Slater in 1975. The biggest fish are extremely wily and refuse to be tempted by anglers’ lures, but hun-dreds of fish weighing between 7 and 14lb are taken each year. To contact them requires a thorough knowledge of the reef, for the only way they can be caught is by trolling the lure at least 100 yards behind the boat, taking it right through the jagged gullies. The rocks on either side rise to within a foot of the surface, and even a tap against the gneiss rock may hole the stoutest craft.

The bass anglers at the Eddystone, rightly known as the most dangerous reef in the English Chan-nel, fish alone, and this presents problems. To leave the tiller or wheel for just a moment in the turbulent waters when the boat is under way, even at three knots, is asking for trouble. To avoid it, rods up to 15ft long and fixed to special holders mounted in the stern are used. When a bass hits the lure, the length of the rod first cushions the powerful strike and then its spring back, combined with the boat’s forward speed, drives the hook home.

In the past experts have tended to use lures of their own design, jealously guarding their secrets. Tempers have risen sharply when lines have crossed and one angler has wound in and seen the other’s lure. Home-made varieties are now less common, but a few anglers will modify commercial lures in various ways in the hope of gaining an edge.

Usually two rods are used at once, and these are matched with multiplier reels filled with 35lb b.s. Monofilament line and 25ft traces of 25lb b.s. The size of lead depends on the strength of the tide, the speed of the boat, and the depth the lure is to be fished, but 1lb is the average weight. The best patterns for trolling are those whose centre of gravity is below the level of the line, which prevents twisting or kinking. A curved Jardine lead is mounted by running the line around a continuous groove and spiral wires at the ends of the lead. This kind can be changed without cutting the line.

Trolling for pollack

Trolling for large pollack on offshore reef marks requires a similar approach. During the day the fish swim near the bottom, so trolling is best at first light and in the late evening when they rise to within a few feet of the surface. As with the bass, it is vital to work the bait a long way behind the boat, well out of the way of engine noise and pro-peller turbulence.

Working a lure for these ‘race’ pollack is an exciting sport, and records prove that trolling is one of the deadliest methods for making big catches. An indisputably classic haul was made many years ago, when Captain and Mrs H Millais trolled rubber eels 6ft below the surface at 3lA knots, off Sennen Cove in the far west of Cornwall.

Their first session, in the early evening, produced 24 pollack and coalfish, weighing 269 lb, which included a pollack of 21lb and a 20lb coalfish, at the time the biggest ever caught on rod and line. The following evening saw a repeat perfor-mance, when 34 fish totalling 416lb came to the net. The best specimen was a coalfish of 23lb 8oz, which was to hold the British record for a great many years. While these were exceptional catches, there are many instances of hundreds of pounds of fish being taken in a few hours.

Shallow water fishing

Fishing shallow water close to a rocky shoreline can be very rewarding, especially during the later mon-ths of the year when bass and pollack hunt inshore. The best places to search for them are in the tide rips off headlands, such as close to Berry Head, in Devon, and Rame Head, Dodman Point, and the Lizard in Cornwall.

Trolling is best done in the early morning. Locals who specialize in this type of fishing are generally afloat by 6.30am and reckon to have half a dozen good bass in the bag by breakfast. The same trolling tactics are used for fishing close in, but it seems that natural baits, particularly sandeels, are better in shallow water. Used live and trolled at very low speeds, success is assured.


Eels should be mounted on long shanked fine wire hooks—such as the Aberdeen—by passing the hook point through the fish’s bottom lip and then nicking it into the soft skin on the underside, just behind the head. With a long trace the eel can swim naturally.

It is worth mentioning here that live sandeel mounted in the manner described, but offered on a split-shotted 20ft long drift line, as the boat moves along with the tidal run, is a superb method of attracting bass and pollack.

Lifelike movement

Returning to trolling with dead sandeel, it is essential for the eel to be very soft and flexible, so that its movement in the tide will be lifelike.

This is achieved by gently bending the fish backwards and forwards until the backbone is broken in a dozen places. Some anglers prefer to use a thin strip from the length of the sandeel which is hooked through once at the thickest end. It is essential to cut the strip evenly, using a thin-bladed, razor-sharp knife. Any suggestion of a jagged edge will spoil the movement and this will be instantly spotted.

Sea birds, constantly wheeling and diving over the water are a good indication of fish feeding near the surface. Find them, and you stand a good chance of coming home with a fine catch.

Although battery operated air pumps have largely solved the pro-blem of keeping sandeels alive, the water temperature in a portable carrying container rises very swiftly. Add new water frequently, otherwise the fish will quickly die.

Putting the eels in a courge and towing it behind the boat during the journey out to the fishing area, is one way of reducing the amount of time the eels are on artificial ‘life support’. The perfect answer is Piano Troll, a streamlined polypro-pylene container which features a weighted bottom so it stays the right way up. This type of courge can hold up to a score of large eels.