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Proven Trolling Techniques for Landing Big Trout

Brooks: Proven Trolling Techniques for Landing Big Trout

By Jason Brooks

Sleeping in can be good for fishing. As we pulled into the boat launch on this late spring morning with our boat outfitted for fishing trout, prime parking and no wait at the ramp welcomed us. This is what I call, “batting clean-up”. I find it satisfying to arrive after the hustle and bustle of the morning crowds to fish late in the morning, or even mid-day. These are the days I get to enjoy having the lake to myself. What other fishermen may not realize, when they head out the door at o’dark thirty, is the same fish are still in the lake and willing to bite later in the day, if you can find them. Here are the keys to trolling for trout.

Know the lake you're fishing: After getting our lines out, we motored to a small cove where a stream enters the lake and provides colder water. Trout often head to colder water once the lake temperatures warm up a bit. For the same reason, they will head to the middle of the lake where the water is deeper and stays colder throughout the day.  Knowing the topography of the lake and identifying the location of “cold pockets”, such as underwater springs, stream inlets, and deep holes will help you find the mid-day trout.

Pro-Tip: You can find maps of most lakes today on the internet or with a mapping software program such as Navionics, but even more fun, is just trolling around and paying attention to the sonar unit location when a fish strikes. A good fish finder is a helpful tool to locate fish and register depth, but keep in mind, that the cone of the sonar is usually shallow and widens out as it goes deeper - so when you mark a fish or two, depending on the depth, there is likely more fish in the vicinity than what you can identify on the screen.  

Water temperature matters: Thermoclines are areas underwater where the water temperature varies; these pockets are affected by a few factors. First off, overall depth will affect the thermocline, along with air temperature, water clarity, and even bottom structure. A dark muddy bottom will absorb sunlight and heat the water, whereas a cobblestone bottom will likely keep the bottom cooler. The same effects will occur with sunlight penetration; if the water is cloudy or dirty, the top water is likely to warm up, while the deeper water will remain colder. Trout prefer water temperatures between 50-65 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on species, time of year, as well as the oxygen content in the water. Trout can live in water as high as 77 degrees, but anything above 65 causes them to stress, which makes them less likely to bite.

Pro-tip: Awareness of the water temperature below your boat can help you catch more fish. Using one of the many digital thermometers on the market that register depth and temperature is a great option, but if you don’t have one of these gadgets available, then simply keep an eye on the fish finder and adjust your depth until the trout start to bite. 

Make your dodgers work for you: Downriggers are necessary equipment when you want to find deep trout in large lakes. When trolling in larger bodies of water, it is best to use an attractor with a lure to entice fish to bite. I have found that Mack’s Lure Sling Blade Dodgers are great attractors for trout. You have the option to downsize to a 4-inch dodger for lakes freshly filled with small stocker trout or upsize to a 6-inch dodger when targeting larger fish. A dodger does a couple of things to increase your chance of success. First, a dodger offers vigorous movement that mimics a feeding fish chasing something they want to eat or bite. Secondly, it imparts action on the lure by swinging it through the water back and forth, or “dodging”, which is how this effective attractor got its name. 

The Sling Blade is an elongated teardrop-shaped dodger from Mack’s Lure I find useful when fishing trout. This dodger can be tuned once you discover the speed at which the trout want to bite.

Pro-tip: Colder water makes fish more aggressive. A trolling speed between 1.5 to 2.5 miles per hour is the best for enticing tout to bite. For this application, you can fish your dodger right out of the package; it will dart in the water perfectly, and do so at even much faster speeds. However, if you find yourself in warmer waters, in the upper 50s to mid-60s range, then you will want to put a slight bend in your dodger to give it a bit more action at a slower speed. View this video by Bobby Loomis to learn more about selecting and tuning dodgers. The wonderful thing about the Sling Blade dodger is how versatile it is for tailoring action to fishing conditions. 

Pro-tip: Another important feature to know about dodgers is that they can also be used to disperse scent in the water. Mack’s Lure SBF Pro Gel in Trophy Trout formula works well for attracting trout. Another bonus when using SBF Pro Gels is that the formula sticks to the dodgers well and contains UV, which adds visibility in low-light conditions. Remember when adding scent to your offering, you will need to clean the flasher at the end of the day. 

Pro-tip: Rig the Sling Blade with the top trout-producing lure, the Mack’s Double Whammy Original. If you are using a downrigger, the dodger can be tied right to the mainline using a shorter leader, 18 to 25 inches from the Double Whammy. Tip the top hook with a piece of shoe peg corn and use both hooks to stretch out a small red worm or piece of nightcrawler. Smear the silver side of the dodger with SBF Pro Gel and get ready to catch some fish. Popular colors for the dodger for fishing trout are green or orange, but Mack’s recently came out with the Wonder Bread pattern in the 4-inch Sling Blade Super Glow, and it will be a top producer. It’s been very popular so keep checking if you find this pattern is sold out. Pairing the dodger with a Double Whammy Original in Chartreuse/Orange with a Nickel Blade is a safe bet, but do not overlook other colors, including the all-black option with a nickel blade

Pro-tip: You do not have to have downriggers to fish the dodger and Double Whammy combo; using a slider weight on the mainline is another great option.  Just be sure to use a 36-inch bumper between the slider and the dodger to allow it to send action to the lure. This setup works great in shallower lakes. Depending on how deep you are trolling and what kind of rod you are using, a 1 to 3-ounce weight will land your gear deep. It is best to use a level wind reel and count the times your spool guide goes back and forth to allow a consistent depth. Once you find the fish, take note, and be sure to go back down to the same depth. 

When fishing trout in shallow lakes or during the time of day when fish are closer to the surface, such as in the morning and evening, there is nothing better than trolling light tackle. A lightweight spinning rod or a 4-weight fly rod and a handful of Mack’s Lure Smile Blade Flies are a fantastic way to spend the day catching trout. Fishing slow in small watercraft such as a kayak or rowboat is perfect for this type of fishing, however, we also do it in our 18-foot Hewescraft and stow the downriggers for the day. 

Pro-tip: This setup for a Smile Blade Fly is simple: use a spinning rod and simply pinch a few split shot on the line, a foot or two before the Smile Blade Fly. Then let it out and troll it around until you get bitten. For fly rod use, rig it the same way. When you are fishing with an intermediate sinking line, you are all set, but if you are fishing a floating line, add a split shot on the tippet. The best thing about the Smile Blade Fly is that it can be fished very slowly as the Mylar blade spins at incredibly slow speeds. If you decide to speed things up, then you can “tune” the Smile Blade by pinching the blades closed a bit. Slow trolling works well in warmer water, and as you remember from earlier in this article, the surface of the water is likely to be the warmest part of the lake. This is why Smile Blade Fly lure is a good option to pull from your tackle box when fishing in warmer water. Recommended colors are black with a purple blade, olive green with a gold blade (I switch the blade out to a silver) or brown with a copper color blade

Final thoughts: Trout trolling is a lot of fun and a fantastic way to spend a day on the lake. With the right tackle and strategies in your arsenal, you can have a successful day of trout fishing in whatever water conditions and temperatures you encounter on the lake. The techniques will help you put trout in the net for a great day of fishing. So next time you head out, save yourself the stress of getting up early and fighting the long lines at the boat launch, instead sleep in a little and bat clean-up. Trout fishing is supposed to be fun, so make it that way. 

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