The wild swings in weather we have experienced these past few weeks following an abnormally chilly winter season has fish scattered and difficult to pattern right now.
On both Stillhouse and Belton lakes this past week my clients and I have landed fish from out of as much as 48 feet of water to as little as 3 feet of water, and everywhere in between.
When unstable weather puts the fishing off a bit, flatline trolling with crankbaits is a time-tested means of putting fish in the boat.
Essentially, flatline trolling involves moving crankbaits through the water by using the forward motion of your boat, typically powered by an outboard motor. The angled plastic bill on the crankbait causes the lure to both dive and wiggle with a swimming motion, thus attracting gamefish.
There are a number of considerations to be made in order to troll effectively. Let’s look at these one at a time.
The vast majority of the late winter/early spring diet of our local gamefish consists of threadfin shad and gizzard shad. Using baits that are of the same size and profile of these two baitfish types is a wise choice.
All else being equal, smaller crankbaits will tend to catch more, but smaller, fish; larger crankbaits tend to catch fewer, but larger, fish. My favorite smaller-sized crankbait is the Storm Original Wiggle Wart. My favorite larger-sized crankbait is the Storm Smash Shad in size 7.
As with crankbait size, you cannot go wrong with selecting natural hues which imitate shad coloration. I typically use crankbaits with either a white or chrome base color and a darker back. The Storm Original Wiggle Wart in bone, metallic silver chartreuse or Tennessee shad are solid choices. As for the Storm Smash Shad, good color choices include purple pearl, threadfin shad,and blue chrome orange.
LINE TYPE AND DIAMETER
The bottom line is this: The thinner your fishing line, the deeper your crankbait will dive. I find 10- or 12-pound test monofilament the best all-around choice for trolling crankbaits. This strength is sufficient to withstand the strain that occurs when a trolled bait gets snagged, giving the angler a shot at going over top of the hung lure and working it loose.
Monofilament has a degree of natural elasticity which helps hook fish initially and then helps to keep them hooked.
The amount of line the angler pays out behind the boat directly impacts the diving depth of the crankbait. For example, through trial and error I have discovered that a Storm Original Wiggle Wart on 70 feet of 12-pound test line will dive to 14 feet. If I only pay out 50 feet of line, the same lure will only occasionally touch bottom in 11 feet of water.
My all-time favorite trolling reel is the Abu-Garcia 5500LC, which is a line counter-style reel. The reel has a three-digit counter which measures the number of feet of line going off and coming back on the reel.
This is invaluable for metering the dropback distance of the crankbait so once a productive distance is determined, it can be repeated with a high degree of accuracy.
Good trolling rods are typically long and limber casting rods which bend evenly from tip to butt in a parabolic curve. Rods with fast actions which flex only near the tip are too stiff and will become the source of many missed fish. Often, rods made specifically for downrigging make good flatline trolling rods.
For the early spring months, I try to keep my speed over ground at 2.0 to 2.3 mph as determined by the GPS built into my sonar unit. For boaters with larger engines which prove difficult to throttle down to such speeds, consider trimming the motor up so the thrust is directed partially upward instead of entirely rearward.
Also, the trolling motor can be dropped into the water and turned sideways so as to create maximum drag, thus reducing forward speed. Despite the name, trolling motors are not all that helpful for trolling but rather are intended for precise positioning.
Rod holders mounted to a boat’s gunwale allow anglers to troll hands-free and help keep multiple trolled rods a fixed distance apart which helps prevent tangled lines. Mounting a rod in a rod holder such that the rod angles downward from the gunwale to the water helps to maximize the running depth of the lure.
SONAR UNIT CHARTS
Using the charts built into or added into modern sonar devices will help the troller to run parallel to depth contours. Using the trail-making function on a sonar unit will allow a troller to retrace his steps on successful trolling passes over productive patches of bottom.
As water temperatures rise, fish metabolism rises with it. When hungry fish scatter as they often do during and after an incoming cold front, covering lots of water quickly and efficiently via trolling with crankbaits can be an enjoyable and productive endeavor.