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Written By: Cal Kellogg, February 6, 2014
We kicked off this discussion of natural bait trolling in the last issue of the Fish Sniffer. Here’s the conclusion-Cal Kellogg.
Over the years my thoughts on the best speeds for rolling bait have changed significantly. There was a time when I was convinced that the presentation had to be made slowly in the 1 mph range. The reason for this was two fold. First, I thought that trout and other gamefish found a slow presentation most attractive when it came to trolling natural baitfish. Second, I didn’t think that a delicate shad or anchovy would hold up to the abuse of being trolled at anything over say 1.5 mph.
The test of time has proven me wrong on both accounts. Trout and salmon will eagerly slam a quickly spinning baitfish and yes you can troll rigged bait up to and beyond 2 mph with little problem.
The brining process, particularly with a product like Fire Brine, makes your bait tough and somewhat pliable. This means you can get it to conform to the shape you want and that the pressure of the current at even a fairly brisk trolling speed isn’t strong enough to damage the bait or pull the hooks loose.
Of course, your trolling speed has an influence on how much bend you’ll want to put in your baits.
As a general guideline, I like to run straighter baits for trout then I do for salmon. For salmon I like a big roll, but for trout I like a tighter more drill bit like spin. A big roll is best achieved at slow speeds, while a tight spin can be used at a variety of different trolling speeds.
Line twist can be a tremendous problem when rolling bait, but there are things you can do to eliminate it. The first most obvious solution is using one or more high quality trolling swivels between your leader and main line.
If you find yourself in a situation where you can only find the garden variety swivels, take a 14 inch section of heavy 25 to 40 pound test monofilament and put swivels at either end of it. Place this swivel-adorned section of heavy line between the leader and main line. The thick mono will resist being rolled over by the lighter leader material.
Silver Horde markets a line of small trolling rudders. They come in chrome and other colors. These devices can be hard to find, but once you find them your tackle box should contain a selection of them. Rudders simplify rigging and make eliminating line twist easy.
The final element of consideration for an angler rolling bait comes in the form of the strike. Trout usually hit a trolled baitfish pretty hard. If you are using a downrigger a trout will usually pop the line out of the clip on the strike.
King salmon are found in a lot of trout lakes around the west and they strike rolled bait differently than trout, much of the time. A king salmon strike is usually signaled by a lot of tapping and nibbling. If this occurs when fishing with a downrigger, manually pop the rod out of the clip and then allow the forward motion of the boat to draw the slack out of the line. Generally as the boat moves away and the line starts to rise the hooks will sink home and you’ll be eating barbequed salmon for dinner!
Shifting gears a bit, when exploring new lakes or targeting trout that are playing hard to get I have not found anything as effective as a threaded night crawler. To rig a threaded night crawler I start off by snelling a No. 6 bait holder hook on the end of a 36 inch 10 pound test fluorocarbon leader. Next I take out a night crawler and slide it onto my worm threader. If you’ve never seen a worm threader, it is a simple wooden handle with an 8 inch section of fine diameter metal tube imbedded in it.
The tip of the tube is cut off on a sharp angle. Once I have the ‘crawler impaled on the threader, I slide it down to the handle. After that I place the hook tip in the end of the tube and pull it down tight by gripping the leader against the wooden handle. The final step is to slide the ‘crawler up the threader, over the bend of the hook and down the leader.
A night crawler threaded like this can be fished a number of different ways. You can tie the leader to a swivel knotted to the end of your main line and pull it from .50 to 1.5 miles per hour. Rigged like this the worm will spin and glide through the water, making an inviting target for trout.
My all time favorite approach is to pull a threaded ‘crawler 12 to 18 inches behind a watermelon pattern Sep’s Side Kick dodger or Strike Master dodger. The only time I go with a larger dodger is when the water is discolored or if I’m working in really deep water.
A threaded ‘crawler pulled 18 inches behind a set of silver or brass flashers is an old school favorite that has been catching big numbers of trout for decades. Sep’s makes fine low drag flashers for this work, but my all time favorite flashers are the Vance’s Little Slim Willie’s. They are 17 inches long and feature three different blade sizes, simulating a larger fish “chasing” a couple smaller fish. These blades some in either chrome or chrome with prismatic chartreuse tape. I use both, but I use the chartreuse flashers the most.
I’ve noticed that when I have the flashers in the water, even if that rig isn’t getting hit, my partner and I (often Paul Kneeland) get more hits overall provided we have our other lines working in the top 25 feet of the water column.
When targeting salmon in deepwater trollers often attach ball trolls to their downrigger weights to draw fish into their spread of lures and baits. Could it be that my near surface flashers are doing the same thing, namely pulling fish up toward the top and into a collision course with all the gear behind the boat, not just the lure trailing behind the blades?
Flashers definitely pull in and excite fish and when that happens the number of strikes you get should climb on ALL of your gear so long as it is running reasonably close to the blades.
I’m trying to be more observant and with this in mind I’ve gotten way more strategic about where I position the blades behind the boat. It seems to me that you want them working slightly in front of your other rigs. If our other rigs are running 75 to 100 feet back I’ll often strip the flashers out 50 or 60 feet and fish them right off the middle of the stern.
As simple as ‘crawler trolling seems there are a couple of tricks that can make using them even more deadly. These days I seldom use a night crawler without adding scent to it. At times I lube them up with Pro-Cure night crawler flavor Super Gel. At other times I’ll inject them with oil or Pautzke Nectar. Believe it or not I’ve also found crawfish, krill, anise and garlic scents to be effective when teamed with ‘crawlers.
When trout are spooky or finicky it is important to play out your bites, especially when using a plain threaded ‘crawler or one teamed with just a small dodger. A trout that grabs a worm is not expecting to feel resistance. By playing out a bite, I’m referring to feeding the trout some slack when it hits. If the trout are being tentative a worm strike usually begins with a few taps. When I see that I immediately pop the line out of the downrigger clip and drop the reel into free spool, giving he trout a five or ten count before beginning to retrieve line. This allows the trout to eat the bait while feeling minimal resistance.
While there is a solid fraternity of trouters that routinely catch trout while still fishing or drifting live minnows, very few anglers use them for trolling. Those that do generally pin them through the lips on a single hook. When these intrepid anglers get a strike, a bare hook is typically all they have to show for their efforts. Trout seem to grab live minnows by the tail before turning them for head first swallowing. A trout that grabs a trolled minnow by the tail generally rips it off the hook and gets a free meal, while all the angler gets to experience is the agony of defeat.
I’ve found that trolling live minnows in the 1 to 2 inch range at 1 mile per hour or less produces good numbers of trout, provided the minnows are used on a double hook rig. I’ve caught rainbows up to 5 pounds while using the method I’m about to describe while fishing highly pressured reservoirs such as Folsom Lake in the Sacramento area.
My rig consists of a 36 inch 6 pound test fluorocarbon leader. For most applications I use an 8 pound test leader, but with live minnows I go light to give the minnow freedom of movement. On the end of the leader I tie on a No. 10 bronze octopus hook. About 2 inches up the leader I snell on a second No. 10 octopus. I pin the first hook upward through the minnow’s lips. I don’t impale the minnow with the rear hook. Instead I just let it hang loose so that it swings back and rides next to or just behind the minnow’s tail when trolled. Nine times out of ten when a trout takes a nip at the minnow’s tail the rear hook ends up imbedded in the cartilage at the tip of the trout’s nose.
Hello Fish Sniffers, Cal Kellogg here. We are out of space for now. Check out the next edition of The Fish Sniffer for part two! This article is a excerpt from my new book, Trout Tactics.
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Trout Tactics retails for $19.95. You can call (800) 748-6599 or (530) 320-0368 and order your copy directly from Fish Sniffer headquarters!
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