Ready, Set, Troll…
Written By: Cal Kellogg, March 12, 2012
April is upon us and that means it’s striper trolling time in the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta. The water temperature has climbed into the middle 50’s. As a result the bass are on the move and will soon begin spawning in the upper reaches of the delta.
During the spring migration, say roughly between the end of March and the beginning of June, most anyone, be they bait anglers, pluggers, jiggers, fly tossers or trollers can count on catching delta stripers, but it’s the trollers that enjoy the most consistent success and hook the largest number of fish, including some real monsters.
This being the case I figure this is a perfect time to go over the basics of delta striper trolling. I know there are a lot of aspiring trollers out there in Fish Sniffer Country and I want them to get started on the right foot!
Speed and depth are the two key concerns when it comes to trolling for delta stripers and everything else you do stems from these two conditions. Speed and depth…remember that.
Before we really examine the significance of speed and depth, let’s take a look at the tackle required for trolling. For starters you’ll need a modern lightweight rod that combines a sensitive tip with plenty of backbone.
Since your rod will be in a holder while trolling, you might be wondering why it needs a sensitive tip. The sensitive tip, displays the action of the plug. If your plug picks up a weed or a piece of grass, it kills the action and you won’t get any strikes. A sensitive tip allows you to constantly monitor your plug’s action insuring that you have an effective lure in the water at all times.
The rod should be matched with a high capacity level wind line counter reel loaded with 30-pound test braided line.
After threading the braid through the eyes of your rod, put a large bead on the line and then tie on a swivel using a Palomar knot. To the swivel attach a 4 to 6 foot leader of abrasion resistant 30-pound monofilament and tip the leader with a medium size lock snap.
Once you’ve set up a pair of rod and reel combinations, it’s time to start thinking about lures. Minnow plugs, jigs and vibrating crankbaits are the basic offerings employed by successful delta trollers.
Yo-Zuri, Bomber and Rebel minnow plugs are all proven striper producers. Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnows are the current favorite among delta trollers. You’ll want a small assortment of shallow and deep running Crystal Minnows. Toss in a couple deep running broken back Rebels and a couple shallow running Bomber Long A’s and you’ll be well heeled in the minnow plug department.
In terms of colors and finishes, minnow plugs in rainbow trout, chrome/blue, chrome/black, chrome/chartreuse, metallic gold and red head/white body will all put fish in the boat.
With an assortment of plugs in hand, you’ll need to pick up a package of white 6 to 8 inch straight tail plastic worms. You’ll use these for tipping the rear hook of your minnow plugs.
There is wide range of jigs that will take delta stripers, but the best of the bunch is a 4-inch pearl Fish Trap teamed with a lead head. For trolling you’ll want to rig your Fish Traps on 1-ounce heads.
Vibrating crankbaits, represent the final piece of the troller’s lure assortment. Rat-L-Traps are the tried and true crankbait of delta trollers, but offerings from Strike King, Cotton Cordell and Berkley work just as well. If you have a couple crankbaits in chrome and couple in white you’ll have your bases covered.
In terms of tackle, once you hunt down the stuff we just discussed you’ll be ready to hit the water in search of stripers and that’s were the concepts of speed and depth come into play. In the eyes of delta trollers there are three kinds of stripers. There are shallow fish, deep fish and fish that are too deep to target.
Shallow fish hold from right next to the bank to about 10 feet deep. Deep fish are found in water that is about 11 to 16 feet deep. Fish holding much more than 18 feet deep become difficult to target and generally the bass that are holding beyond the 20-foot mark aren’t as active as the shallower fish.
Your vibrating crankbaits are perfect for targeting fish in 4 to 6 feet of water, while shallow running minnow plugs are the bait of choice for fish in 6 to 10 feet of water. To attain the correct depth with these lures you’ll want to troll them a specific distance behind the boat in a specific speed range. With vibrating crankbaits you’ll want to run them 100 to 125 feet behind the boat at 3 to 5 miles per hour.
You can run your shallow running minnows at the same speeds, but you’ll want them 140 feet back. Your 1-ounce Fish Traps will catch fish at these depths too, but I had you pick them up for another application we’ll discuss a little later.
An effective combination when working the shallows is to arm the rod on the bank side with a crankbait and adorn the outside rod with a shallow running minnow.
In 11 to 16 feet of water you’ll need to employ your deep running minnows. With these baits you’ll want to troll at 2.5 to 3 miles per hour. As a rule of thumb you’ll want your deep runners 100 feet behind the boat, but that can vary depending on the depth.
Your goal no matter what the depth is to have your plug working right above the bottom. If the water is on the deep side, you might need to let out more than 100 feet of line. If the water is on the shallow side, but still too deep for shallow running plugs, you might need to shorten your line to 60 or 80 feet to keep the plug from digging into the bottom.
In situations where the water is 18 to about 22 feet deep you can squeeze a little more depth out of your deep runners by teaming them with a 1 ounce Fish Trap. To do this replace the standard swivel you attached to your braid with a three-way swivel. To the top eye of the three way attach a 6-foot leader tipped with a deep running minnow plug. To the lower eye attach a 20-inch leader with a Fish Trap attached. The Fish Trap will run beneath the plug and pull it down to greater depths on a slow 2 to 3 mile per hour troll. No matter what lure you’re using, set your drag fairly loose and place the rod in a rod holder with the clicker on. When the reel screams you’ve got a bass on. Once you bring your prize to the boat use extreme caught. Stripers are strong and one swipe of their head can bury dangling hooks in your hand.
Employ the tackle and set ups I’ve described and keep an eye on the Fish Sniffer to stay abreast of the location of the bass and you’ll be well on your way to enjoying an exciting and successful spring trolling season.