Great Lakes Trolling: How To Gear Up
Editor's note: This blog installment comes from Fishhound pro staffer Capt. Lou Borrelli.
You may have heard the saying, "there's more than one way to skin a cat." Well, there's more than one way to catch a trout or salmon too. Over the coming weeks we'll take a look at some basic principles to get you on your way toward catching these amazing sportfish.
First, though, you'll need an understanding of gear.
Get A Ride
Starting with the obvious, the first thing you need is a boat. Don't be discouraged if you're not running a 30-foot offshore fishing vessel. For many years I ran charters out of a 19-foot Starcraft aluminum boat. Even today I fish with a good friend of mine on his 16-foot Tracker.
It's true: A bigger boat can handle the rougher conditions of the lake. But you can catch just as many fish on a small boat as you can on a big expensive one. The main thing to keep in mind is that the boat's seaworthy and that it has all the USCG required safety equipment.
Rods & Reels
Before you select a rod and reel for trolling, try to generate a good estimate of how much fishing you'll be doing and whether that should affect your spending.
Next, realize there are many brands of rods and reels on the market and it's easy to get confused about which one's the best. Almost all of us live on a budget, so all things considered, lean toward a more expensivereel over a more expensive rod.
If the rod has good front-end flexibility, it'll handle most Great Lakes fish. Eagle Claw (pictured above) and Daiwa brand trolling rods are a good choice and you can purchase either of these rods for approximately $20 to $30 each. Both work extremely well for flatlining and downrigging. The Daiwa rods are also effective for copper and Dipsy rigs (to be discussed later).
The reel's probably one of the most important pieces of equipment. A good reel must be able to handle the speed and toughness of a fighting salmon or trout. If the reel can't keep up with the amount of line a big fish might peel off it shouldn't be used. I've learned the hard way that trying to use lower-end reels not only wastes money – it can cost you big fish.
Most Great Lakes fishing is done by trolling lures at controlled depths. Conventional lures rarely run deeper than 15 feet, so you need some type of apparatus that can get your lure to a specific depth. The following are a trolling aids to help get your lures down to the fish.
Downriggers are the most common method of lure delivery here on Lake Ontario. Downriggers make use of a heavy lead ball, which secured to the end of the wire 'rigger cable. There are clips higher on the 'rigger cable to attach your fishing lines (see photo to right).
Lower the lead ball until you're fishing the depth you want and when a fish bites, the clip will release from the line. The fight begins!
Like rods and reels, there are many types of downriggers to choose from. Although it would be nice to have the fanciest, most expensive electric downriggers, it's not necessary. Remember: The only purpose of the 'rigger is to get your lures to a depth of choice. Manual downriggers are just as effective as electric ones. They may be a little more cumbersome and tiring to use, but they'll work just fine.
Dipsy Divers, manufactured by Luhr-Jensen, are another effective method for driving lures deeper in order to reach fish.
A Dipsy Diver's a round disk that has a clip release at one side and a swivel for attaching your leader/lure on the other side. When the clip is set, it acts like a giant diving lip and carries lures down to 30, 40, 50 feet or more. The more line you let out, the deeper the Dipsy and lure will go.
One of the key features of a Dipsy Diver is the ability to adjust it so it tracks away from the boat. This allows you to run multiple rods off the same side of the boat.
When a fish hits the lure, the clip releases to flatten out the Dipsy and allow you to fight the fish. I's a very stealthy approach – no giant lead ball cruising through the water – and it can produce both numbers of fish and big fish.
Typically, select a medium to heavy rod with a good-quality reel for fishing Dipsys. The Shimano Tekota reel series is a good choice for Dipsy fishing.
Although you can use mono or braided line with Dipsys, I prefer wire. It adds a little weight and makes some noise as it cuts through the water.
Leadcore is also a good choice for Great Lakes fishing – especially in the spring. When the lakes are still cold, the fish have a tendency to hang in the upper portion of the water column – 5 to 30 feet below the surface.
Leadcore line, as the name implies, has a core of lead and is colored alternately every 10 yards. Therefore, 10 colors of leadcore is 100 yards long.
You can purchase leadcore pre-rigged with a backer and leader and it can be fished in a lot of different combinations. Many anglers will have 2-, 3-, 5- and 10-color leadcore rods ready to go. On average, one color will force a lure 5 feet deep. So if you use 3-color 'core and had all three colors in the water, your lure would run approximately 15 feet deep.
Trolling speed will ultimately affect lure depth, but this recipe will get you close. And there's no magic to using leadcore. Tie on a mono or fluorocarbon leader, attach your lure and let out the line. It can be attached to a planer board or run flat and is another stealth approach.
When the fish are near the surface, they can be bothered by boat noise, traffic, etc. The leadcore, if run on planer boards, will be far enough away from the boat to give you a better chance to hook up.
Drop weights, also known as "snap weights," are an inexpensive delivery method. They can be used with any type of rod, reel and line, and the amount of weight you use will determine how deep your lure will run. Some drop weights will only allow you to reach a few feet below the surface, and these are a good choice for spring fishing. Other drop weights that weight 3-, 4-, 5 ounces and up will take a lure much deeper. The "Torpedo Diver" brand weights are larger and can achieve depths as impressive as 200 feet.
Drop weights are also simple to use. The weight is attached to a small release with a button on the inside. Clip the line under this button and close the release. The weight hangs on the line and the more line you let out the deeper the lure goes. When you need to boat a fish, simply pull the weight off the line as it nears your rodtip.
Copper-wire rigs are another excellent stealth approach. Like leadcore, copper comes in multiple lengths. The most common are 300, 400, 500 and 600 feet, and distance is used to calculate depth. For example, 300 feet of copper will get your lure down approximately 55 to 60 feet. Copper rigs are great for catching big fish, especially when the fish are not very active. It's a good midday apparatus. However, copper rigging is expensive and isn't user-friendly. You'll need a large reel to hold 600 feet of 30-pound copper wire (plus backer and leader). Also, if you don't let copper out slowly, it can get tangled in the other lines that are already in the water and working. This can make for a very long day. Caution is a must with copper.
Depending on time of year and lake conditions, the above delivery methods are all good choices for fishing the Great Lakes.
The next segment will discuss how to use the above delivery methods and equipment properly. Until then, good fishing.
Capt. Lou Borrelli learned to fish with his grandfather and now owns and operates Get The Net Charters out of Rochester, N.Y. Capt. Lou runs trips along the south shore of Lake Ontario from Wilson to Fair Haven, N.Y. Visit GTNFishing.com or send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.