by George Poveromo

Try these five tricks and watch fish tear into your baits.
George Poveromo

INCITE BITES: appeal to feeding instincts with these proven methods.
Photo: George Poveromo


Offshore trollers may find these scenarios all too familiar: A fish rises into the spread, only to fade away without striking—never to be seen again. Or how about when fish are scattered throughout an area, but don't respond to your baits? Such predicaments can prompt anglers to wonder what they're doing wrong—especially if other boats are hooking up.


The art of trolling encompasses the proper rigging of lures and baits, arranging those offerings in an organized fashion, hitting the right trolling speed and choosing an area where fish are likely to hold. But experienced trollers don't stop there. When they're not raising fish, and others are, these anglers employ a handful of tricks in an effort to turn the game around.


Outlined below are five strategies I use on the troll when I know fish are in the area, but we're not getting bit. Experiment with these methods and you might find one that makes your trolling spread irresistible to fish.


1. Trolling speed is probably the single most effective adjustment in drawing strikes. Initially, I'll settle on a speed that makes my baits or lures look attractive. Baits with weighted skirts, such as Ilanders, should track just beneath the surface, while skipping baits should be splashing right in the surface, not launching across it.


If fish are in the area and we're not raising them, I'll play around with my speed. First, I'll increase the pace by two to five miles per hour to see if a faster presentation will excite the fish—and it often does. To maintain the action of the baits at a faster clip, drop them back farther. If the faster speeds don't do the trick, I'll slow down, going below my typical trolling speed by two or three miles per hour. The skipping baits will slowly traverse just under the surface, and the weighted ones probe a bit deeper, often drawing strikes.


2. Adjusting the distance of my baits from the boat also works. If my typical trolling pattern isn't cutting it, I move the baits closer to the boat and fish both flat lines just outside of the prop wash. I set the two outrigger baits about 50 and 100 feet behind the flat lines, respectively, adjusting my speed to get them tracking properly. Run a teaser or two outside of the flat-line baits to enhance the commotion. Also put at least one center bait far back—just in case. Fishing the baits closer together lends the illusion of a tightly packed school of bait. If tight isn't the ticket, drop the spread far back and space out the baits. Try setting the close flat line about 50 feet beyond the prop wash, and the long flat line about 150 to 200 feet back from it. Fish the close outrigger bait 200 to 400 feet beyond the farthest flat line, and the long outrigger bait another 200 to 300 feet beyond the close outrigger. Place a center 'rigger bait from 600 to 1,000 feet beyond the spread. I think this wide spread setup allows reluctant fish to isolate a single bait.


3. Switch out baits to make the spread look different when the competition is fierce among several boats. The problem is, nothing distinguishes the spread of one boat from another. In this case, I go with either very small or very large baits, fish at least one bait deep and deploy subsurface teasers, such as the Strip Teaser, to make mine distinctive. Sometimes the excessive splashing of large baits like Spanish mackerel, mullet, horse ballyhoo or even an artificial lure will bring up a fish. But other times, it's the small ballyhoo, tuna feathers or mini lures that score a few more hits. For extra depth, try a downrigger, a wire-line outfit or place a bait behind a trolling sinker. Downriggers let me set baits at precise depths, so I use mine to fish Ilander-tipped ballyhoo on wire leaders. A No. 311/2 Drone spoon has proven deadly when pulled on wire line. Behind a 16- or 32-ounce trolling sinker, I like to use a 16-ounce Yo-Zuri Bonita lure that also acts as a big teaser.


4. The sink-and-swim is probably one of my best trolling tactics for dolphin. Helping to make my spread stand out, this method takes it one step further. Here's how it works: Imagine a lot of boats trolling the same weedline for dolphin with the same baits, and the bite is slow. I edge up alongside a weedline and stop the boat for about a minute, making sure not to drift back down over the lines that are now sinking. Dolphin, holding in the depths, now see several shiny baits floating down through the water column, appearing injured. If the sinking baits don't draw a response, imagine them suddenly racing to the surface as I shift into gear and resume trolling. This creates the illusion that the baits were startled and fleeing from a predator. Even the most stubborn dolphin seems unable to resist the sink-and-swim.


5. Chumming can do the trick when trolling in confined areas, such as a zone where fish have been spotted or along a stretch of weedline. When I know fish are around, I often cut up ballyhoo and broad-cast the chunks in the area, even while trolling. I confine my trolling to within a quarter mile of the chummed area and continue to sweeten the waters with cut-up bait. The chunks floating down may be picked off by dolphin, getting them feeding. When this happens, they'll sometimes charge into the spread and eat a trolled bait. Squid chunks are ideal here and live-chumming with pilchards also has strong appeal.

Trolling is an effective way to cover plenty of real estate and locate fish. These strike-inciting tactics can help you cure the local lockjaw and get in the game.