Wireline trolling is a technique that is used by thousands of people every season to catch striped bass; especially in the bass-heavy waters of New England. It can be a very productive technique if you know what you’re doing, but it is NOT as simple as just dropping a line and motoring around in your boat, with a beer in hand, until the fish hop in your boat.
I know several stalwart stripe-hunters who can cruise into an area where other people have been failing all day and immediately start landing fish. Knowing where the fish are holding, what their feeding on and the speed to troll at are just some of the considerations to take into account.
You have to find the fish where they are, not where you want them to be. You also have to go when the fish are there, not when you want them to be there. These statements sound trivial, but there is a deeper meaning. For almost any kind of bass fishing, early morning is usually the best. Early in the season, they may feed throughout the day, but as the season progresses and the sun gets higher in the sky, you won’t find them feeding during the day unless there is tide, a lot of bait or a weather pattern to entice them into activity.
You will find bass holding around a structure and be able to catch them; however, it’s guaranteed there is some food down there to keep them interested. If the fish are holding on structure, then you have to present your bait over that structure: mark and catch, turn around and keep going over the spot until you stop catching. Don’t go trolling away unless you’re sure there is something better; and, don’t spend too much time trolling around a spot when you are not catching anything!
Bass are ambush predators, and a current will provide the opportunity to lay in wait for a small creature to be swept past their position, and they will eat them. It is the current, generated by the tides, to which you need to pay attention. An example of this would be the Block Island North Reef. The currents provide areas bass use as ambush points, and some of these are places to troll wireline.
Check Your Speed
Never troll at the same speed all the time, if it isn’t working. Often, fish will follow your offering and are waiting for that trigger telling them their prey has detected them. Speed up, slow down and change speeds – especially during your turns. You will be surprised how many times you hook fish immediately or very soon after a speed change. Sometimes, only going at a particular speed works – be it fast or slow. The most important thing to do is to pay attention to everything when you hook the fish. You should notice if it is during a speed change and see if it is only when you are going fast or very slow. If you speed up and turn, and the inside line picks up a fish, you may not have enough line because the inside line will usually go deeper and the outside line shallower.
Stay Current to Control Speed
The current can be used to control your speed. If you want to go very slowly, troll directly into the current. There is one area in particular I fish, trolling to the same spot and slowing down as the boat gets near so that I am going into the current. At times we are barely moving forward, and when I reach the magic spot on my GPS, one or both rods will go down with fish hooked (tide is critical in this case). There will be times when you will catch most of your fish only trolling in one direction concerning the current. Again, PAY ATTENTION to what is happening when you hook your first fish.
Fishing the Correct Depth
Trolling depth is extremely important. Your depth finder can mark a million fish below 30 feet but if your trolled rig is only 20 feet deep you will end up being very frustrated and catching very few fish. Your bait must be presented in the strike zone which is the area close enough that the fish will be interested in hitting your lure. The strike zone can be huge when fish are feeding aggressively, or very small if they are “turned off.”
If you see fish smashing bait on the surface, try letting out a small amount of wireline and troll around the feeding fish, not just through the middle. Many fishermen shut down the fishing very quickly by trolling through the middle of breaking fish. It is the most idiotic thing they can do. Similarly, you need to have the lure near the bottom if you are targeting bass that aren’t feeding aggressively near the surface. If you are in the water under 30 feet deep, it is only necessary to be within 5 feet of the bottom unless the fish are very sluggish. In deeper water, light penetration becomes an issue, and it is needed to get as close to the bottom as you can without dragging.
The rule of thumb is to let out 10 feet of wire for every 1 foot of depth. This is varied by boat speed and the weight of your lure. Naturally, going slower will cause the rig to go deeper and going faster will cause it to run shallower. Remember, if you aren’t dragging bottom once in a while, you’re trolling too shallow.
The Feed Should Match the Fish
You need to troll an offering which is representative of what the fish are feeding on. If there are hordes of sand eels, you shouldn’t be trolling 6” soft plastic shads. Bass most often eat bunker, sand eels and squid. Lures that represent these species are ones you should use. If you catch a keeper, open up its stomach and see what it has been feeding on. This can be very telling.
Bass Fishing is a Sport
This is supposed to be a sport. Keeping the boat in gear and continuing to troll after you have hooked a fish is “winching,” not fishing. I have seen so many bass skipping across the surface of the water as they are being reeled in; it’s ridiculous. You should be fighting the fish and not the boat. Where is the fun? Take the boat out of gear after your hook-up!
The last and most important piece of advice is this: Always ask yourself, “What do I need to change?” Are you going too fast, using the wrong rig, trolling too shallow, etc.? Sticking to the same methods regardless of success is a recipe for failure! Be flexible and have fun and I’ll see you on the water.
Chef Bobby is a Chef and Cookbook Author. He loves to share his knowledge of cooking and handling of fish with our community.