By Captain Mike Hogan
In the 1990s, when I was running “six-pack” charters on Cape Cod on boats larger than my 18-foot skiff I run today, my go-to trolling outfits consisted of the usual heavy jigging rods outfitted with 4/0 Penn Senators loaded with wire line to catch striped bass and blue fish. I didn’t think much about how heavy these outfits were and consequently how much effort was required to fish them properly.
When I had clients onboard who either couldn’t handle the outfits physically or preferred not to use such heavy outfits, I would compensate by changing fishing styles altogether and consequently missed out on some great trolling action when the fishing called for lures down deep…
Then one day, my good friend and fellow charter boat captain, Tom Danforth showed me his new trick. He had loaded up Penn 320gti reels with fast sinking fly-line and put them on lighter trolling rods. Instead of heavy leadhead jigs he was using small bucktails and large bunker flies to fish shallow rips in 5 to 10 feet of water against strong currents. I tried the gear and to say I was immediately impressed would be an understatement. Not only was this an awesome technique to catch finicky fish in shallow water, but these outfits were a lot easier on my customers. More importantly, I found that unlike fishing with wire line, trolling with the fast-sinking fly line was quite easy both in terms of fishing techniques and putting together the outfits.
Selecting the Right Outfits
The first step was finding the right rod. At first, I experimented with lightweight trolling rods. They worked, but even the lightest ones were clunky and lacked sensitivity. That’s why I turned to rods designed for musky fishing. The one I settled on is a 7 rod made by G. Loomis. It’s high modulus graphite, very sensitive but is rated for lures up to 2 ounces, which is heavy enough to handle the soft baits I use in addition to the fast-sinking fly line. Like most musky rods it has a long handle for better leverage when fighting big fish and could sit in a boat rod holder, plus a trigger grip reel seat for better handling during the fight. In short, the rod has just enough brawn for trolling and jigging. It was love at first sight. (Yes, I do have a fishing problem!) It proved to be perfect and I ended up buying two more.
The rods I use are longer than the traditional trolling outfits but that’s intentional. Personally, I like the extra length as it’s more forgiving if the rod is poorly positioned during a battle as there is more bend in the rod that needs to be straightened before there is any slack, a big concern with inexperienced anglers on board. The extra length also keeps the lure away from the boat, thereby minimizing tangles with any other rods that are being used on the troll.
Matching this rod with the right reel was the easy part. I needed a reel with enough capacity to hold a fast sinking line (most are 90 to 125 feet long) in addition to at least 160 yards of backing. Although more expensive than traditional Dacron, I prefer to use braid for backing due to it’s smaller diameter, which increases the reel’s capacity, plus braid also is less water resistant than Dacron, meaning your offering gets deeper with less line deployed.
Assuming you’re not fishing against heavy current, putting out all 125 feet will get you down about 20 feet or so with most lures. For my leader, I always use fluorocarbon of 30- to 50-pound-test. Not only is it nearly invisible to fish, it is more abrasion resistant than monofilament, which means a great deal to me when bluefish and sharp rocks are in the area. Yes, you will lose a few lures even with the 50-pound-test if the bluefish are numerous but I think that is a fair trade-off for the better action you get from your lures on relatively light leaders.
Once spooled up and ready to go, these outfits can be trolled in just about any situation where that technique is appropriate. If you’re fishing a rip always use an “S” pattern, which means approaching the rip from up-current and veering of just ahead of the rip, allowing your baits to drift over the shoal into stacked up fish waiting to ambush bait that are swept down-tide.
In terms of selecting what lure to use, follow the age old fly-fishing mantra, which is to “match the hatch.” Since these are lighter outfits, you now have some options that those using heavier gear do not. You can fish shallow water, and you can troll small and lightweight lures deep. Remember, the weight of the fast-sinking line does most of the work in getting your bait down, so you need not worry about weight of the lure, especially in shallow water, say between 5 and 10 feet.
The Jiggn’ Troll Method
Jigging softbaits, large and small is an excellent way to cover such shallow water and these outfits let you do it with control and precision. Soft Baits have the same great action as when they are cast but in deeper water they do require a little imparted action, which should come from a series of very short jigs, almost making the bait vibrate in the water. If short strikes are an issue with larger jerk baits, you can try one of the tandem rig methods that have recently become quite popular. If the water is weedy or rocky, try soft baits rigged “Texas style” (hook point buried in the bait) with offset worm hooks. For soft baits 7 inches or larger, I recommend Owner 7/0 and 11/0 offset worm hooks. They are ridiculously sharp and strong enough to stand up to larger fish, which I learned when I caught a 40-pound school bluefin on one last summer.
These outfits aren’t only for working the rips. They’re also great for trolling over structure. One of the more popular lures in for that style of trolling our Hogy swimming tin, which can be effectively fished on these outfits in up to 30 of water when fished down-tide.
Depending on how slowly your boat can troll, you might need to let out some extra backing to get your tube deeper. In addition, taking the boat out of gear and making turns will drop your lures. I’ll often take the boat out of gear after passing fish that I marked on the fish finder. While trolling, you’ll find these outfits to be amazingly sensitive, so take advantage of this and hold the rod.
A deadly alternative to the famed tube and worm is fishing with many of the large soft baits such as the 14″ and 18″ Hogys. For whatever reason, the action of the large soft bait seems to do the trick on its own as it works it’s way through the water. But that doesn’t mean its not worth jigging it, especially on the free fall associated with taking the boat out of gear.
Slow trolling along contour lines can produce some very large fish. Also, keep in mind that these trolling outfits don’t just work for striped bass and bluefish. Be sure to try them when trolling for tarpon, redfish, snook, atlantic bonito and false albacore in the north east and for pike and musky in the mid west. Don’t forget, when they’re not “showing,” they’re often down deep so be sure try this set-up. Even a small jerk bait when trolled a little faster can be deadly on deep water speedsters.
Captain Mike Hogan