by Jim Porter
In many bassin' circles, trolling is often considered the lowest form of fishing. However, it is positively one of the most effective way to rapidly locate and catch bass.
Although trolling is not allowed during tournament competition, it is an acceptable method for locating bass during the practice days. This can be extremely valuable when on strange waters. Trolling for bass has four primary advantages: it allows you to cover a lot of water in a rapid manner and locate fish; it is effective for catching bass at depths where most of us are uncomfortable with normal cast-and-retrieve techniques; it provides very precise depth and speed control; and, the accuracy of lure presentation in relation to structure is maximized.
The reader should understand, at this point, that trolling is not a matter of simply dunking a lure in the water and dragging it around the lake or river in a haphazard manner. It is a very defined and exacting technique, just like precision casting and a good touch with a worm. The basics of trolling can be marginally taught through the written word, as we will attempt to do in this article. However, true proficiency is an acquired skill, gained through experience and application.
Trolling is always done in the close proximity of deep water and along a specific break-line or major structure feature. We should also take note of any adjacent structure and the possible movement routes from the deeper water to the shallows. The best of these have always proven to be the drops and ledges associated with the submerged river and feeder creek channels. Others which have proven good are long sloping points from the deep water which terminate in a large flat or major cover area. Still another is any water of 12 to 20 feet, which connects the channel areas to the shallow flats.
Once the locations are chosen, trolling becomes a matter of proper equipment selection and lure presentation.
While the reel is of little significant importance, the type rod used in trolling is very much so. It should be short and stiff. There are two distinct reasons for this. First, the short rod is easier to handle (and we really have no use for a long one). Second, and most important, is the control factor. Trolling a lure places a constant tension on the rod and line, and a long, whippy rod will give the angler a soft, mushy feel of the lure. Because that lure will be encountering bottom objects occasionally, it is important that the angler be able to immediately distinguish between a strike and the bottom. He should actually be in what we might term 'direct contact' with his lure at all times. This means to be able to feel, quite clearly, the vibration and running pattern of the plug and any variation thereto.
Another significant advantage of a stiff rod is that it will 'give' very little when a snag, say a stump or log, is encountered. The lure will be quickly jerked away from the snag, rather than given the opportunity to become entangled with it. Still another factor in the use of a stiff, strong rod is that it allows the angler to apply pressure and quickly move the bass out of the school. This is important, in that a panicked fish often will spook the rest of group if allowed to remain in their midst too long.
Very closely tied (no pun intended!) to the advantage of the stiff rod is the type of line employed. 99% of us bass anglers use monofilament. Nearly all of these lines have a built-in stretch factor, usually in the neighborhood of 15-20%. The ability to stretch is a major advantage for most bass angling in that it provides a cushioning effect and precludes a lot of line breakage. However, in trolling, that quality of monofilament is a detriment. You can equate the stretch factor to using a soft rod-you lose a good bit of feel and control.
Until recently, the only decent trolling lines, those with little or no stretch, were Dacron or other braided materials. Recently, some of the major line manufacturers have started to produce and market 'low stretch' products. Silver Thread is an excellent example in mono. And, of course, Fireline and Gorilla Braid are the newer entrants.
Trolling almost exclusively dictates that you use lipped, diving crank plugs. Only in the very shallow zones can this be excepted. As in all other types of fishing, depth is the most important lure selection criteria. The simple fact is that if you don't get the lure down to the bass, he will not normally move up or down very far to capture it. Except when suspended (and that is a 'no-feeding' condition), a bass almost always stays near the bottom. That, then, is where the lure should be and what you base your selection on. My experience has shown that the Bagley Divin' B series and the Rebel Company's Fat Free Shad family are ideal choices for trolling. And, there are enough lure sizes within each group to adequately cover all appropriate depth zones.
Boat control is a critical part of effective trolling, as it obviously effects the presentation of the lure. The ideal trolling rig is a nice and stable 14 foot, V-bottom aluminum boat with a manually-steered five to 15 horse-power motor. It is easy to keep on track and provides for fast reaction when a snag or a fish is encountered. But, like many of you, I don't have one and have to contend with a big bass boat and a 'go-faster' engine. You can adequately troll from one of these rigs, but it wears the driver out trying to compensate for the continual low speed oscillation from one side and then the other. I only bring this up in the event you have access to both. Given the opportunity, troll with the smaller, more maneuverable rig.
The key to proper lure presentation is, as we have already said, depth control. However, remember that the depth must be in relation to the structure being fished. Boat control, therefore, must be utilized to keep the trailing lure properly positioned along the break-line, appropriate contour interval or in such a manner that the lure will climb over the point at the proper location. Haphazard fishing, it is not. To be effective, trolling must be very precise.
Once bass are located by trolling, the angler has two possible choices, depending on the depth at which the fish were found. He may elect to stop and work the area with a conventional casting approach, or he might decide to make additional trolling passes. Either way, he should have tossed a marker buoy over the side when the first fish was hooked. Note that the marker is not placed exactly where the fish was caught, but rather should be positioned off to one side of the location. If it were dropped on the school, the descending weight might spook them. The marker is used strictly as a reference point.
Trolling is a highly effective bass locating and catching technique. It can often mean the difference between a full live well and just another day on the water.
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