Wireline Trolling for Bass

By: Chris Bell


Overview. Wireline trolling is a techinique that is used by many thousands of New Englanders every year to catch striped bass. It can be very productive if you know what your doing, but many people think you simply put the line out and motor around in your boat to catch fish, and are surprised when they see others catch fish after fish in the same area and apparently doing the same thing and even using the same rig. Well, there must be something different. Knowing where the fish are holding, what their feeding on and the speed to troll at are just some of the considerations to take into account.

Where are the Fish. You have to go where the fish are, not where you want them to be. You also have to go when the fish are there, not when you want them to be there. For any kind of Bass fishing, early morning is usually the best. Early in the season they may feed throughout the day, but as the season progresses and the sun gets higher in the sky you won't find them feeding during the day unless there is tide and a lot of bait or a weather pattern to entice them into activity. You may find them holding on structure and be able to catch them but its pretty certain that there is something in the way of food down there to keep them interested. If the fish are holding on structure, you have to present your offering over that structure, if you are off by 50' there is no joy. If you are trolling and mark and catch fish, turn around and keep going over the spot until you stop catching. Don't go trolling away unless your damn sure there is something better to head to. And don't spend too much time trolling around a spot and not catching.

Tides and currents. Bass are ambush predators and a current will provide them with the opportunnity to lay in wait for a small creature to be swept past their position so they can gobble it up. It is the current generated by the tides you need to pay atention to. An example of this would be the Block Island North reef. The currents there provide areas which bass like to use as ambush points, and some of these are places to troll wireline.

Trolling Speed. Never troll at the same speed all the time if it isn't working. Often fish will follow your offering and are waiting for that trigger that tells them that their prey has detected them. Speed up, slow down, change speeds, speed up during your turns. You will be surprised how many times you hook up fish immediately or very soon after a speed change. Sometimes only going at a particular slow speed works, or a particularly fast speed. The most important thing to do is pay attention to what is going on when you hook up. You need to notice if it is always during a speed change, only when you go fast, only when you go very slow, etc. If you speed up and turn, and the inside line picks up a fish, you may not have enough line out since the inside line will usually go deeper, the outside line shallower.

Current can be used to control your speed. If you want to go very slow, troll directly into the current. There is one area I fish trolling to the same spot and slowing down as the boat gets near it, going into the current. At times we are barely moving forward, and when I reach the spot on my GPS one or both rods will go down with fish on (tide is very important in this case.) There are times when you will catch most of your fish only trolling in one direction in relation to the current. Pay attention to what is happening when you hook up.

Trolling Depth. This is extremely important. Your depth finder can mark a million fish below 30' but if your trolled rig is only 20' deep you will end up being very frustrated and catching very few fish. Your offering must be presented in the "strike zone", which is the area close enough that the fish will be interested in hitting your lure. This strike zone can be very large when fish are feeding aggressively, or very small if they are "turned off".

If you see fish smashing bait on the surface, try letting out a small amount of wireline and troll around the feeding fish, not through the middle of them. So many fisherman shut down the fishing very quickly by trolling through the middle of breaking fish. It is the most idiotic thing they can do. You need to have the lure down near the bottom if you are targeting Bass that aren't feeding aggressively near the surface. If you are in water under 30' deep, it is only necessary to be within 5' of the bottom unless the fish are very sluggish. In deeper water. light penetration becomes an issue and it is necessary to get as close to the bottom as you can without dragging.

The rule of thumb is to let out 10 feet of wire for every 1' of depth. This is varied by boat speed and the weight of your lure. Naturally, going slower will cause the rig to go deeper and faste will cause it to run shallower. Remember, if you aren't dragging bottom once in a while, you're trolling too shallow.

Matching the Hatch. You need to troll an offering which is representative of what the fish are feeding on. If there are hordes of sand eels then you shouldn't be trolling 6" soft plastic shads. Bass most often eat bunker, sand eels, and squid. Lures that represent these species are ones you should have available to you. If you catch a keeper, open up its stomach and see what it has been feeding on.

Sport Fishing. This is supposed to be a sport. Keeping the boat in gear and continuing to troll after you have hooked up a fish is winching, not fishing. I have seen so many bass skipping across the surface of the water as they are being reeled up, it's absolutely ridiculous. You should be fighting the fish and not the boat. Where is the fun in that? So the advice is take the boat out of gear after you hook up.

By following the guideleines presented here the reward will be more success for your fishing trips. The last and most important piece of advice when your not catching is this: remember to ask yourself: "what do I need to change?" Are you going too fast, using the wrong rig, trolling too shallow, etc. Watch what other people are doing, it may give you a clue. Catch 'em up!

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Chris Bell has fished Rhode Island waters for 11 years. Before that he was a writer and PC administrator.   He now guides fishing charters in Rhode Island out of Jerusalem on several boats and in the winter writes on various aspects of fishing for stripers, flounder, and other species and fishing techniques.

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