Early season trolling - improve your catch rate
During our hot Australian summer months, with long days and short nights, the metabolism of trout and salmon in our impoundments goes at full bore! As we enjoy our summer holidays, fish that are reaching maturity are generally packing on the weight in preparation for the rigours of spawning and the coming cold weather. The arrival of winter and cold weather generally means that fishing pressure slows while trout are spawning. After the spawning period, the trout and salmon that have spent much of the winter months in colder water will now start to leave this winter habitat and move more readily into other areas that offer optimum temperature, structure and food sources.
Water temperature, both surface and at depth, play an important role in a trout's behaviour. Knowing preferred temperatures for any given species is always a good starting point to assist with locating fish. Keep in mind that each body of water or fishing location will be different when considering water temperature. Water temperature has a direct influence on spawning fish but also plays a big role in the daily patterns of any fish species. As little as 2 degrees in temperature can often spell the difference between fish in the net and failure. With the numbers of temperature probes available today there is no reason why anglers can't monitor temperatures at almost any depth. An accurate temperature probe can be purchased for as little as $20 and can be a great help in locating the optimum temperature for whatever species you target.
Water clarity plays an important role in any fish behaviour or activity. Water levels in many impoundments can vary enormously at this time of year depending on rainfall (and or snowfall) and this can cause discoloration through suspended silt or debris. Discoloured water will often necessitate using fluorescent coloured lures or even lures with rattles and or attractors. This fact alone can make trolling, and most other forms of fishing, fairly challenging. To increase your chances of success think carefully about your location, the speed you will troll and the technique you will use to present your lure, fly or bait.
Fish often make use of different areas according to the season or time of year and this seasonal appropriateness as well as the availability of forage or a food source is the key to consistently finding fish. Prime locations for targeting active fish during the early season should include areas like the mouths of any inflowing streams or rivers, shallow points or break-walls that jut out into deeper water, and shallow shelves or drop-offs with weed beds are all likely spots to hold active fish. Structure in any lake or body of water can encompass a range of factors. When referring to structure its necessary to consider the range of structures in a given species environment. Generally most anglers think of structure in terms of submerged trees, rocks etc. Structure also includes elements like bottom configuration, bottom contents, water movement (such as the mouths of inflowing rivers), vegetation, drop offs, submerged points, water depth and shade.
If you happen to be prospecting a new area or body of water, watch your sounder carefully. The depth of any structure will determine how fish use it. Extensive weed beds in very shallow clear water are unlikely to be frequented by predators in intense summer daylight, but can be exceptionally good in late winter/spring as fish seek warmer water temperatures. Any structure used by fish needs to be at a depth that is appropriate for a given species requirements. Bottom content including rock base, weed beds, boulders, sand or mud can all make a difference to your success. Don't waste your time pursuing an area that doesn't have the right bottom structure to attract the species you are targeting. Structure or the shape of an area alone doesn't attract fish. The best fish attracting areas generally show a combination of structure (including weed beds), depth and available food. Fish often make use of different areas according to the season or time of year. To be really successful in the early season means not only using the right techniques and gear, but developing an understanding of fish species and their environment.
When you find an area of an impoundment (or river ) that looks like it has potential, be patient, and give it a thorough going over. One of the keys to success is to change your presentation (lure fly or bait ), change depths and trolling speed until you hit on a combination that works for you! You may find that you will have to make multiple passes in an area before you figure out what the fish want.
Locating fish and their food sources without the aid of sonar can be a tall order. Using a good quality depth sounder such as the Lowrance LCX25C for this task will allow you to target schools of baitfish and weed beds that are likely to hold food for a hungry predator. When searching likely locations for fish it pays to keep in the back of your mind that you are looking for habitat that fish are comfortable in, but you also need to consider the environment for their prey or forage.
One of my favourite choices of presentation for early season conditions is to troll a fly behind some type of an attractor, usually a dodger or flasher. Trolling flies are by their very use, intended to be submerged, and designed to look their best when moving under the water, not necessarily on top of it. Most dry flies struggle to provide a good imitation of a bug or insect when submerged. Trolling flies should provide the right mix of colour, either bold or subdued, the suggestion through shape of the prey your target species actually feed on, and movement to attract fish.
Choices for tying trolling flies can include almost any type of material. Fly tying materials like chenille work well because they will soak up water and make the fly heavier. Adding material like tinsel or mylar for contrast can also be useful. Heavier flies are useful because they help keep the fly from trying to float toward the surface. Tube flies and weighted flies are a good example of this phenomenon. Keeping the trolled fly on the same plane as the leader pulling it is what a good presentation is about. The choice of leader material between the dodger and fly is very important, and can spell the difference between fish in the boat and going home fishless. Most flies (unlike bibed lures) have little or no action on their own and your choice of leader determines what action from your attractor is imparted to the fly. As a generalisation long leaders in the range of 400mm to 1m are to long for use with flies. Short leaders between 150-300mm are usually your best choice. This is one application where the choice of a stiffer line is the preferred option, as stiff short leaders will impart more action to the fly than a long limp leader.
Trolling flies can be presented on flat lines, with the aid of snap weights, lead core lines or downriggers to fish a range of depths and conditions. Trolled behind a dodger or flasher they can be extremely effective. I have successfully used flies up to about 100mm long to target both trout and salmon. The drawing below depicts a typical set up for rigging flies and attractors.
The Soft Option
Another alternative for early season trolling is to use one of the new soft plastic swimbaits. Well known in the north American market as the hot producer for cast and retrieve applications when chasing bass, swimbaits are a versatile lure that are effective for many species including trout.
Although there doesn't appear to be a universal definition for "swimbaits" within the tackle industry the term seems to encompass two main styles of lures. Minnow or shad shaped soft plastics are the norm, while the hybrid wood/plastic varieties such as the original AC Plug, a hard wooden body with soft plastic tail, also fall into this category. Many of the hybrid style lures also have a bib, which allows them to float at rest but dive when retrieved or trolled. Soft plastic swimbaits usually either float or sink at various rates depending on the plastics formulation and the lead content. Storm lures have now also brought out a new suspending model, the Suspending WildEye Swim Shad.
Swimbaits generally have a wiggling tail action, but also gain action from the shape of the plastic body itself as well as the addition of a jig-head, if used. Many of the soft plastic models available also closely mimic the complicated action generated by bibed or diving lures known collectively as crankbaits. Swimbaits are available in a huge range of sizes from about 25mm long to the monster catching models over 300mm available from companies like Storm Lures. From boot or paddle tails to split tails and curl tails there are a host of swimbaits to cover almost any application or depth. Another big plus for swimbaits is there cost, you can easily buy 2 or 3 swimbaits for the cost of one hard body minnow style lure. When you add the ability to readily accept the new scents formulated for soft plastics it's easy to understand why this style of lure has so much potential.
Some swimbaits come pre-rigged with a single large up-turned hook behind the head and some with both the single hook and a belly treble hook. If you use the single hook model it often pays to run a stinger hook to stop short takes. This can be rigged much like putting a stinger on a spinnerbait. Slip a treble over the point of the single hook and pin it in the back of the bait, then use a piece of tubing on the single hook to stop the treble from slipping. You can also rig a stinger with a short piece of braid or Dacron and tie it to the back of the single hook. The unrigged models of swimbaits can also be rigged to run weedless, by burying the hook in the soft plastic body, handy if your flat line trolling in areas that contain a lot of snags and weed.
To troll swimbaits I have found that the medium ( ¼ ounce ) weighted lures and suspending models work well for flat line trolling. Most of these models will troll to about 1.2 to 1.5m on .22mm monofilament and about 1.8 to 2.0m on 10lb. Braid. Speed is fairly critical with the lighter models, to fast and they will roll. The heavier models can stand a fair bit of speed and can easily be trolled at a speed with Cobra style lures. Trolling swimbaits for trout has a number of things in common with trolling flies. This style of lure can greatly benefit from the addition of an attractor. For flatlines, lead core line or downrigging with swimbaits the action from a small flasher or dodger can really improve your results. Attractors such as dodgers or the new Mylar wing airplane attractor (available from Pieces) give this style of lure a lot more movement than the tail wiggle common to this style of lure. The new Mylar wing airplane attractors do not have the drag of normal in line attractors such as cowbells or ford fenders and are very easy to troll.
Some of my favourite soft plastics for trolling include the Storm WildEye Swim Shad in both the rigged weighted model and suspending models and the small WildEye Finesse Minnow. Another range of swimbaits that I've had good success with is the Bass Assasin and Berkley range of soft plastics.
Get away from the crowd!
One of the most important things you can do to improve your chances of success is to getaway from the crowds. If you're a newcomer to any particular impoundment it's very hard to resist the temptation to fish where everyone else is. Local knowledge is always useful and can put you in the picture when confronted with the challenge of working out how to fish a new body of water. Most newspaper and radio reports, as well as tackle shop gossip will tell you that the hot spot is in a particular area. Undoubtedly a lot of anglers will catch fish in these areas, but a lot of boat pressure can really put the fish down, especially in shallow lakes. Ultimately your goal of a trophy fish will mean that you'll have to find your own hotspot!
Concentrating on your target species preference for structure, temperature and food source can make all the difference to your success!