by George Poveromo

Trolling locates fish — but it's not just for offshore anymore.
By George Poveromo

 

Swimming plugs are hard to beat when the fish are within casting distance. But if feeding fish can't be located, the plugs aren't worth a plugged nickel. So expert anglers these days are taking that fish-attracting action on the troll, covering more ground inshore and finding the fish, whether they're scattered in twos and threes or schooled up tight.

 

Prime inshore trolling areas include seawalls and docks, in canals and river mouths, along edges of major channels, inlets and passes and bridges — both lengthwise, provided they're long enough, and across, beneath their spans. I sometimes troll swimming plugs to locate snook, cobia, grouper, striped bass and bluefish, and even tarpon. Once I find fish, I gauge their interest and either continue trolling in a shortened window or drift or anchor and cast lures or baits right where they're lurking.

 

Lip Service
To choose a swimming plug, I pick those that emulate baits that would be irresistibly large morsels to the fish I'm targeting, but are not so big that fish shy away.

 

To decide between shallow-running or deep-diving plugs, look at the depth of the target species. If the fish hold within ten feet of the surface, as bluefish, stripers or mackerel often do when chasing bait, pick a short-lipped shallow-runner that creates less drag and exerts less pressure on ten- and 12-pound tackle.

If big snook or striped bass are holding deep, I match a long-lipped deep-diver with slightly heavier tackle, such as a 20-pound-class outfit, and point the rod tip at the surface to reduce the angle at which the line enters the water. This helps keep the lure near the bottom.

 

To get the most action out of a swimming plug, use a loop knot to tie it to the leader — even lures with a ring eye can use more wiggle.

 

Bottom Speed
When deploying a swimming plug in an inlet or a pass, I set my boat speed at three to five miles per hour, faster during a strong tide. I cast out the lure and stop the line at times to feel the plug "swim." When it bumps bottom, I reel up a few turns to put it in the depth zone of bottom-hugging fish. For suspending fish, such as mackerel, bluefish or tarpon, I put the lure at a depth halfway between the surface and the bottom.

When trolling against the current, I let out more fishing line, which helps my lure hold near the bottom. The force of the water can lift the line and lure, but unspooling enough line will overcome that effect. A deep-diving plug can require up to 200 feet of line to hold bottom in an inlet 12 feet deep with fast water movement, but needs only 100 feet or so for slow current.

 

When trolling with the current, the lure digs better and requires less scope to reach the desired depth.

But sometimes keeping the lure on a short leash is counterproductive, because the boat can spook the fish as it passes them in a relatively shallow inlet. By the time they have regrouped and resumed feeding, the lure has long passed.

 

Bridge Work
Bridges are excellent structure for trolling swimming plugs, because they provide fish with many spots to sit in ambush: pilings, bottom depressions and — at night — shadow lines from lights on the bridge.

When trolling a bridge with slower current, do so along its upcurrent side and let the moving water sweep the lure to just in front of the pilings or the shadow line. The lures must hit these spots precisely or a fish won't make its move.

 

With strong current, fish hide behind the pilings, where the structure provides a respite from the flowing water and makes for better feeding. In this case, I troll the downcurrent side of the bridge, tight to the pilings and eddies. This puts my lure right where fish are likely to hold. Since many bridges are shallow outside the main channel, shallow-running plugs are best.

 

When trolling through a bridge span, focus on its pilings and look for structure. Deploy the lure well in advance of the approach so trolling speed and lure depth are dialed in for the pass. The current offers clues to where the fish wait in ambush.

 

The next time nothing bites a blind cast swimming plug, try trolling it instead.

Bring Snook to Justice
Florida snook are a prime target for inshore trollers.

 

David Justice, of Berkley fishing lines, knows how to find snook by trolling plugs inshore. Here are his six ways to catch more snook:

 

1) Pick a slow to moderate tide. Snook go off the bite on a slack tide, while a current ripping through an inlet makes line control difficult.

 

2) Look for dirty water, which keeps snook from getting too close a look at artificial lures.

 

3) Troll against the tide, so lures pass fish from behind, which is more natural — as though they are fleeing — and less intimidating than a head-on approach.

 

4) Pull lures parallel to jetties and continue to troll a few hundred feet beyond the end of the rocks.

 

5) Leave just the rear hook on the plug, or replace trebles with single hooks to improve the hookup ratio. This also makes hook removal safer and less stressful for both the fish and the angler.

 

6) Use a wire leader in strong current, instead of mono or fluorocarbon. It cuts through the water better and helps the lure reach bottom while maintaining lure action.
— G.P.