Trolling artificial lures for gamefish
by Chris Tan
Trolling is not just putting the lures out and sitting back, relaxing or sleeping while waiting for the strike! Trolling also requires the anglers to ensure the lures are trolling/running properly. I have observed that if the lures are tangled, they will not get hit by fish. On one trip, there were three of us trolling. Only one lure was hit. When the other two lures were reeled in, they were all tangled up. This happened a few times, the same lure kept getting the strikes, and each time the other two lures were wound in all tangled up! Also lures with rubbish like weeds or plastic bags snagged on the hooks or bib will not elicit any strikes.
A lure swimming satisfactorily will cause the rod tip to vibrate rhythmically. When it does not have this rhythm it may be entangled. To confirm this, observe the neighbouring rod tips to see if they have a change in rhythm. Sometimes a rod will seem to have extra drag on it while a neighbouring rod has less. Possibly the lines are tangled, and one rod is taking the pressure of two or even three lures! Pull the rod back and check the reaction of the neighbouring rods. If they tend to "relax" or straighten when another rod is pulled back, it is possible the lines are tangled.
Correct placement of the lures during trolling is critical. Ideally the lures should be staggered. The lures placed in a W or inverted W (viewed from above) when trolling up to 5 lures. When trolling 3 lures they should be placed in a V or inverted V.
The lure type also makes a difference where the lure is placed. The lures should be of different types: some deep divers, shallow divers or surface lures. For example, the shallow runners take the middle and outer most positions (the first, third and fifth positions) whereas the deeper divers take the second and fourth positions. Or a surface lure can be placed somewhere in the pattern too. This ensures no lure running next to the other is at the same depth, reducing the chances of tangles. This is the optimal use of different lure types.
The larger local fishing boats should have no problem trolling 5 lures, but many anglers say it cannot be done. This is because you have five anglers on board, all who want to do their own thing. The uncooperative anglers want to place the lures the distance they want and use their choice of lure. So whatever happens, nobody takes due regard of the neighbour's lure placement or type (running depth). Unless everyone on board cooperates, the trolling will be constantly interrupted with tangles! Team work is the name of the game in gamefishing.
One can judge how far the lure is placed by visually fixing the position of the lure when it is dropped in the water. Watch that point as the boat continues to move forward, all the time keeping the reel spool free, keeping just enough friction with the thumb on the spool to prevent overruns. When the distance is reached, engage the reel into gear. Rather than use distance measurements of metres or feet behind the boat when referring to lure placement, using the terms "at the second wave or fifth wave behind the boat" is much easier as the boat's hull produces waves in the wake of the boat. This gives the anglers a common reference, as judgments on distances in terms of feet or metres vary considerably between individuals.
When releasing the lures for trolling it is essential the boat is travelling straight, not in a turn, not even a gradual turn. Releasing the lures in a turn will cause the lines of the lures placed at different distances to cross and get tangled. When retrieving a lure or adjusting the distance of a trolled lure while other lures have already been placed, ensure the boat has been tracking in a straight line for some distance and all the other lines are straight behind the boat. If not, wait for the boat to start tracking straight, or else the lure could tangle up with as many as two other lures on the way in or out!
The distance to place the lures for trolling behind the boat depends upon conditions of trolling. Trolling around islands and other structures may require the boat to do a lot of turns to keep the lures in the strike zones. Therefore the lures should be kept close to the boat, about 10 to 20 metres. This is because the lures could easily snag on the structure during the turns. The lures do not follow the same path as the boat, but tend to cut within the turn. A good boat captain will communicate to the anglers the distance he wants to place the lures behind the boat, and he will manoeuvre his boat appropriately to ensure the lures swim over the most promising spots and not get snagged. But some anglers are plain stubborn and insist on placing the lure far behind the boat, thinking they have a better chance of a strike if they do so. Often their lure will just get caught on the structure and inconvenience everybody else! If the boat is in open water and is not expected to turn very much, the lures can be placed far back as desired.
Do not however be deceived into believing that the further away the lure is from the boat the better it is. Once I placed my skirted lure on the third wave behind the boat, less than 15 metres from the transom in open water. On the boat was a chap who believed any lure less than 50 metres behind was too close, and he was constantly messing up the trolling with his inconsiderate angling behaviour. Within half an hour, I hooked up a marlin on that lure, close behind the boat. Upon recommencing trolling, I found that "Mr. Distance" had placed his lure exactly where mine had been placed, close behind the boat and in the rod holder I had been using too! So to prevent any tangles, I placed my lure on the fifth wave this time.
Once the lure has been placed behind the boat, the rod should be placed in the rod holder, with the drag set at the strike setting. When trolling artificial lures, it is essential to have the drag set at an amount of resistance sufficient to drive the hooks in! Some anglers mistakenly believe the drags should be set as light as possible, let the fish run for a while before striking. This method is only valid when using live or dead bait for trolling. Top anglers throughout the world, set their strike drag from 15% to 30% of the main line strength when trolling artificial lures. For example when using 30 pound main line, a 25% strike drag setting would be equivalent of approximately 7 to 8 pounds drag. The drag setting should be taken with a spring scale, with the fishing rod in a working curve (ie the way the fish would be pulling the line from the rod and reel, with the rod bent) , not straight off the reel.
Some anglers will change the drag after the hook is set. Among them are those that increase the drag after a strike, normally those anglers that use a light strike drag setting. Those that decrease the drag when fighting the fish use a heavy strike drag. Others leave the drag untouched, the drag for striking the fish is the same as the drag for fighting the fish. It is an individual style of setting the hook and fish fighting. It also depends on the sort of tackle used. I would recommend anglers new to trolling to keep the fighting drag and strike drag the same.
Needless to say, the drag of the reel must be smooth. Or else the sudden changes of jerky drag exert stress in excess of what the tackle can take. Seeing the rod bucking up and down when a fish is running steadily is a sure sign that the drag of the reel has some major problems. Get it fixed before a big one is lost.
Naturally the drag has to be set corresponding to the rest of the tackle used. Use a balanced outfit. Using 50 pound line with a 14cm lure, and setting the drag at 30% (17lbs drag) of the line would be sure to straighten the hooks on the strike. Or if the rod is rated for 20-30 pound line, and if the drag set at 17 pounds (30% strike drag), a big fish will very likely reduce the life of the rod. The same goes for the reel. The gears can be stripped or jammed if the line spooled on is heavier than recommended for the reel.