03. Trolling Scenarios
Between The Lines - Ch: 12 Fighting Fish
Following are several scenarios for trolling, keeping in mind that there are many days with no signs and nothing to work with. At all times, however, there is still a chance of success and other times where all the signs are there and it seems you have found game fishing heaven. It is true that even the best crew may end the day without a reel screaming with excitement. There will always be the element of luck or the Joker in the pack of cards, which may appear at any time for anyone regardless of their experience level. Just as in a game of cards, knowing how to take advantage of the Joker is where training and experience play their part.
Spread Out Bait School: The excitement builds as you come across any school of bait. However, if they are spread out either on the sounder or flicking on the surface and not tightly balled they may well be of no consequence if you can't find any signs of predators in the area. (Fig 1) Finding any bait school is better than nothing, but you can waste quite a bit of time working one that has nothing feeding on it or shadowing it.
When you first come across the bait school, mark the spot on the GPS then use it as the centre. Zoom both the GPS and sounder into the area, the GPS into about a 1.5 to 3-mile screen and the sounder to just either side of the bait school, and work the area in a bunch of expanding figure eights. If there is no sign of predators note the spot for future reference and go into a grid search of the area. There is often more than one bait school in an area, some of which may be tightly balled up by predators actively feeding, or lurking around them, often down current of the bait school.
Unless you can find other signs such as a temperature break, hovering birds etc it may well be worth moving on to other spots. If you can find nothing better to work as the bite time approaches come back to see if things have improved or in anticipation of finding the ‘Joker'.
There are certainly other things you can do in these situations. If you can see the bait on the surface and can see the species, colour and size, ensure that you have lures in the spread that match them as closely as possible.
Boiling Bait School: One of the most exciting things you can come across is a school of boiling bait with predators in a feeding frenzy. If the predators you are chasing are evident all the better. Simply match the hatch with the lures. Work out the best way to approach the side of the school, starting the runs a fair way away from the school, gradually coming closer to it. If everything goes to plan those reels should scream. Never go through the middle of a school of fish working on the surface as you may well split up the bait school which has taken the predators considerable energy and time to ball up to the surface. (Vid 1)
Most of the time the main predator you're chasing will not be evident, rather tuna or other small predators will be seen feeding on smaller bait. It is normal to assume the larger predators will be feeding on the tuna. More often than not the larger fish will be feeding on the smaller bait alongside, or back behind them picking off the wounded bait as it drifts back in the current. This is where running a lure spread of various sizes comes into play where you attempt to match the hatch of the medium-sized predators and the bait they are feeding on.
As mentioned previously, rather than work the main bait school, target the smaller balls that have been separated. By leaving the main school intact you can catch much more fish from the area.
Hovering and Circling Birds: You may have noticed this scenario has been mentioned quite often, perhaps because this is my favourite, or because of it one of the most obvious long distance signs that are often bypassed. Birds not only have great eyesight they also have a very keen sense of smell. Often just going in the same direction as a flock of seabirds can lead you to fish, though set a limit to the distance as it could be quite a long way. Concentrate on birds that are known to be local inhabitants so you don't make the mistake of following a flock of seabirds on migration as you could end up on the other side of the planet.
Birds can smell the oil of baitfish that are being predated upon at quite some depth as the oils come to the surface. In fact, you may even notice the oil slick as you get closer to birds circling above. As noted before the higher the birds are circling the deeper the bait. As the bait gets driven closer to the surface the lower the birds will hover. As the bait gets closer still the birds will begin to get agitated, squawking and pushing others off course. When the birds begin to swoop low, but not quite diving, the bait hitting the surface is imminent and it is the best time to troll through the area. Only make one pass and stay out of the zone letting the bait regather in case the boat spooked them. Once the signs show again make another pass.
Catching Other Boats' Fish: This is a common scenario - a boat within sight raises a fish but doesn't hook up. Do you go over and try and get it? Often the answer is yes, especially if the other boat keeps going. They may have found the only school in the area and may not be capitalising on their find. If they have hooked up and moved out of the area as they follow and fight their fish it is often worth going over and working the same area they hooked up in as there are likely to be more fish there. Pin-pointing other boats' positions is quite easy if you have a set-up where you have a radar overlay on your GPS... it's simply a matter of putting a cursor mark over their position, and you have the spot - even if they forgot to mark it in all the excitement of hooking up! If the other boat stays in the area they should at least have right of way in the area.
A favourite trick is to call in your hook-up as soon as you can to try and get other boats to leave the area they have been working to come and try to find where you are. This is a ploy to maximise your bite time in the hope that you can get a number of fish before the end of the bite period while others waste this time travelling across barren ground to get to you. Even if they find you they still have to work out the lay of the bait school and the direction of presentation, and indeed what lures and colours may work.
If you find an area with several of the signs in one place such as temperature breaks, bait, birds and other activity you are most often best off staying there. The old adage "don't leave fish to find fish" has stood the test of time.
Deep Structure: Some of the most popular target areas are deep structures such as sea mountains and canyons which obstruct the flow of the currents creating upwellings. To be an effective area, current is needed to push the deep ocean water, which is full of nutrients to the surface, feeding algae and bacterium. In turn, the smaller bait feed on these as the predatory cycle of big fish feeding on smaller fish continues. The upwellings that hold this cycle of life can be quite some distance from the actual structure itself. The distance and size of the area likely to hold fish is dependent of the size and shape of the structure, how deep the water is and how strong the current is.
To work these areas effectively start at the structure itself and work the areas around it. The sign of the structure working, apart from all the other signs that may be present, will be a major temperature change and current lines, and often the water on the structure is rougher than the surrounding areas. The deeper the structure the further away the upwellings may be, usually down current.
It is also likely there will be a pressure build up in front of the structure often shown on the surface by a calm area, often called ‘the glide', where the largest predators often patrol, as this is where migrating surface bait schools get caught in the major temperature changes that occur in and around ‘the glide'.
Current Lines: Though current lines are one of the most sought after signs they can be misleading. To be worthwhile other signs should be present with the most important being temperature breaks, and secondly, a difference of texture of the water surface which is a sign the bodies of water on either side of the current line are interacting with each other.
Current lines are essentially a mark of two bodies of water which we judge by differences in temperature and current speed. However they are far more than that, they are a wall between the two bodies where baitfish, especially small ones, are blocked by their inability to cope with temperature changes over a short distance. Often there are other important differences as well such as algae, oxygen, suspended sediment and salinity content. Apart from suspended sediments which appear as the dirty or cloudy water, we cannot gauge these factors. We cannot easily ascertain which side of the current the fish are likely to be on unless there are signs of bait, birds or fish working. It is, therefore, best to work both sides of the current line by zig-zagging down current, going quite some distance either way as we are also unable to tell how the waters are interleaved below the surface. Quite often you'll find fish on what is perceived to be the wrong side of the current line
When to Change Lures and/or Colours: One of the most common questions asked is when do you change lures or colours? It is also the hardest to answer as the specific scenario will dictate the answer. In most cases, if the pattern of lures is made of various sizes covering the main four colours of blue, green, purple and black then it is unlikely a lure change is necessary unless you can clearly see the bait species in the area you are fishing in.
The main patterns used should be established as discussed previously in the chapter 'Set Up Lure Pattern Practice' where the various sets of lures that will run together in certain positions at certain speeds was established. Even if conditions are choppy or rough the same lures should still work by slowing the trolling speed and/or altering the direction of trolling to quartering the sea rather than going directly with it or against it and/or adjusting the trolling point as discussed in the same chapter.
If you still want to make lure changes based on a hunch then use a fifth rod to fill this need, positioning the lure on the shotgun, or in its relative position in the centre of the spread based on the size of the lure. That is, if it is smaller than the others it would go to the back of the pattern, or if it is larger than the rigger lures but smaller than the corner lures it would be positioned between the riggers and corners.
Seas, Wind and Current: The most difficult scenario of them all is working out the best approach to trolling in adverse conditions. Each boat handles large seas and swells differently. Keeping the boat and its crew safe is always the main priority.
Going straight into a big sea will make the lures blow out of the water as the waves peak behind the boat. Going with the sea will make the boat surf down the face of the waves. As it accelerates the lures may blow out and tumble down the face of the waves. Slowing the boat speed down may help in controlling the lures.
If there is no danger of rolling the boat in breaking or peaking seas, often the best way to troll is quartering down sea over the main target area, and reposition for another run by heading straight into the sea. Or if the current is running against the sea then quartering into the sea is a better option. Although in this case of seas against current the seas may be too steep to work effectively or safely and the best option is to either get out of the current which will reduce your chances of raising fish or take the safest option of returning to port.
A strong wind can also make trolling difficult if it blows the lures out of their positions, causing tangles and lots of wind belly that will also reduce the chances of hooking up. In these extreme conditions, a change of lures to those that are designed to handle them is desirable. They are generally lures that have a high resistance to flow, translated as a high degree of drag. In the Pakula range of lures these are usually used in the short positions - short rigger and short corner - such as the Cockroach, Mouse, Rat, Wombat, Sumo, Hornet, Patriot, Chatterbox and Bremilo plus the Short Chugger, Beer Barrel and Semi Sat.
Fish in the Pattern, but not Striking or Hooking-up: This is a common problem for some. If you follow the previous chapters you may well find that this is a rare occasion as most of the strikes should be aggressive and accurate resulting in a high hook-up rate. That said, it is still important to understand the basics of what could be happening when you raise a fish that does not strike the lure or seems to miss the lure or attacks and mouths the lure in a cautious manner.
Fish rarely waste energy. If it is in the pattern it is there to eat. If it does not there is something amiss with the presentation. As a lure goes through its cycle it comes to the surface to breathe and then as it dives it pulls the leader down with it. As the leader dives, it creates a bubble trail and pulls a sheet of air down the full length of it. This ‘leader trail' is relative to the thickness, stiffness and smoothness of the leader. The thinner, softer and smoother it is, the less the leader trail will be evident. To the fish the length of the lure is the full length of the leader in the water and lure, changing to just the length of the lure as it goes through its working cycle. This causes confusion to the fish as does the vibration of the leader which is different to that of the lure. A sign this is the case is the leader being hit and coming back scuffed, or foul-hooking fish in the side of the head and eyes as the fish has gone around in front of the lure.
The 'leader trail' is most evident in lures run in clear water. If a fish is raised and is following, move the lure across into the side wash as the surface foam will camouflage the leader trail and the fish will be more likely to attack it aggressively, as the target now appears a consistent size.
Another possibility is that the lure, which should represent a wounded baitfish, is not trying to flee when the predator's presence is apparent. In this case, pull the lure away from the fish either by simply raising the rod tip or winding the lure towards you. (Vid 3) There are several other alternatives such as the 'longbow' tease, making the lure more aggressive by pulling on the line between the reel and first runner. As the line is released before the fish is struck it can legally be done by someone other than the angler. (Vid 4) Another version of this tease is the angler lifting and sweeping the rod to accelerate to increase the lure's action. (Vid 5)
Better still bring another lure in next to the one it is following and ‘tease' the fish with it. Often when the fish is confronted with two choices it will make a decision quickly.
Fish will trail a lure for quite some distance and often at depth. The boat going in a straight line for a few minutes as the fish may summon the courage for another attempt. The lures you are running are the ones that got the fish into the pattern in the first place so it's not a good idea to change any at this stage though of course, it is compelling to do so. Rather add a lure to the spread if you think you have one that will do a better job, often the best choice in this circumstance is a smaller lure.
The most important point of all is that you have found a fish, and likely an area with more, so mark any area you raise fish in on the GPS. Work the area thoroughly before moving on as even if there were no signs of why the fish should be there when you raised it they will often become apparent as you continue to explore the area.
There are many possible reasons why a fish in the spread does not strike aggressively or strike the lures at all. Many of them may have to do with the condition of the fish, moon phase, water temperature and many more reasons that have nothing to do with the technical side such as the lures, leaders, trolling speed, trolling direction etc. However, these are the only things that we can control so it is important to review all these things if you are consistently raising fish without getting solid strikes and hookups over a reasonable period of a few weeks or months. Don't change things based on just a couple of hours or days' results.
There are many possible scenarios when fishing, in fact, every hour of every day is a new one. When you have two very different players interacting with each other, humans and fish, in an oceanic environment that is a continually changing stage, the scene is set for surprises and a new adventure at every turn. It's a large ocean, getting to know the moods of a very small part of it can take a great deal of time, but the rewards for making the effort are certainly there.
The reward is when it does all come together and there is a hole in the water where your lure once was, the rod reluctantly bending to the strain, and the reel's screaming that oh so sweet song of... "We're hooked up baby, what you going to do now!"