July 2009

July 2009
July 2009
July 2009
July 2009
July 2009

 Bait Trolling the Easy Way
Part 1- The Basics

By Tom Davis

To catch salmon and other game fish, anglers use many techniques and tactics that change from area to area. For example, on the West Coast of BC you can troll, mooch, cut plug, drift-fish or cast. However, on the Great Lakes, where the other major North American recreational salmon fishery takes place, trolling accounts for over 90 percent of the fishing effort with the balance made up by pier and in-river fishing. Yet on average, trolling is the most common fishing style in both regions with its popularity actually increasing on the West Coast. Cut plugging and drift-fishing are still extremely popular in selected fishing areas, but trolling currently appeals to the greatest number of anglers. This is because it is successful, relatively easy to master, offers a technique that works for all salmon, and in the case of freshwater fisheries is deadly on many trout species. It also opens up a diverse range of lure and gear presentation options. Anglers can choose to become proficient with lures like plugs, spoons, flies, hootchies and trolled baits or any combination of these effective and time-proven products. Of this list, mastering the trolled bait system is perhaps the most difficult for the weekend angler, but the rewards for doing so can be terrific.

A Bit of History
Bait trolling is not new. Anglers have been dragging herring through coastal waters for over a hundred years. Early presentations were crude and before 1950, state of the art bait trolling usually involved wiring the mouth of a herring shut, rigging it with a double hook setup and running it behind a small to medium sized metal dodger to provide a side to side darting action. A popular alternative involved fishing with a cut spinner or herring strip for which the technique is credited and thought to belong to Puget Sound anglers. This presentation had a tight spinning action which was more consistent than the action produced when using whole bait. My father, Rhys Davis, fished Puget Sound for nearly a decade while splitting his work schedule each year between Seattle, Washington, and Sidney, BC. He believed he could develop something for sports anglers that would provide a more consistent action to a cut spinner, protect soft bait from the effects of trolling and also catch more fish. The Strip Teaser was the result of his endeavors. Today that original lure is still available for anglers.

However, the popularity of the herring strip model was overtaken in the 1980’s by the next generation of bait lures which keyed on using whole herring and anchovy baits. Brand names like Anchovy Special and Krippled Anchovy are well known on the West Coast and other areas, along with a variety of differing names like Roller Baiters, Herring Aids, Nosky Killers and Spring Kings that have come and gone or evolved into updated models over the past thirty years. While whole bait lures have a strong following with serious anglers and professional guides, the weekend warrior often struggles to get the right presentation. Unlike many artificial lures which have manufactured actions, a herring or anchovy rigged with a bait holder must be tuned by anglers to produce the proper roll. Baits that are set up correctly catch fish all year and in every region of the Coast. Unfortunately, baits that are poorly presented catch very few fish.

The Step by Step Bait Setup
Buy good quality bait and take care of it as it’s tough to catch fish consistently if baits are substandard. Purchase bait from outlets that turn a high volume of product. Good quality baits can last for two or three years in proper refrigeration. Unfortunately, accidents happen and occasionally baits are thawed and then re-frozen. Avoid buying baits that have frost inside the packages, show any evidence of bleeding, or just look dehydrated. Aside from obvious yellowing, the best way to check for dehydration is to place your thumb on the eye of the bait. If the eye stays raised the bait is alright, if it has sunk into the eye socket the bait is dehydrated. When you get your bait home keep the trays in the top part of your freezer. Also, while fishing thaw out a tray, or even half tray, at a time and keep the rest inside a “freezer pack cooler.” Store away from heat or direct sunlight.

The trick to using bait retaining lures is to recognize that the most popular time-tested bait holders are designed to fish with the correct revolving action on their own. Do not rely on your flashers or dodgers to impart the right action to the bait. There are a few anglers who are very successful at running these baits at higher speed, rigged on short leaders with little or no bait roll. However this technique is the exception and not the rule. An attractor will not turn a badly set-up bait into a winner, but it will enhance the action of a properly tuned herring or anchovy.

Thaw out your bait before rigging. This teaches you how to work with pliable or fresh bait. It also ensures that the action won’t change after a few minutes of trolling as it could if you start with a frozen setup.
The speed and shape of the bait roll are critically important. Properly tuned baits should run at 1 to 2 revolutions per second and have a tight snappy action. Tight action is a relative concept. For some anglers tight means a drill bit roll, for others it might be slightly wider with a bit of extra wobble in the shoulder area of the bait. My smaller sized tighter-action baits revolve in a circle about the diameter of a golf ball while my larger wider-rolling baits turn inside the diameter of a tennis ball. Tight rolls should have the head and tail rotating on the same axis while wider “corkscrew” rolls have the tail following the course set by the head. Avoid actions where the tail revolves with a wide propeller spin.

There is a simple process for setting up a herring or anchovy to produce an effective action. Before securing the bait in the bait holder, straighten it out by removing any kinks, bends or twists that might have been caused by the frozen baits resting against each other in the tray. Once you have pinned the bait in the holder, set the brazed-on point of the treble hook into the bait just behind the dorsal fin and slightly above the lateral line. Set the shank of the hook flush against the side of the bait and don’t worry if the point comes through the opposite side.
Figure 1
Next hold the bait in front of your eyes and slowly begin to pull up on the leader just ahead of the point where it enters the front of the lure cavity.
Figure 2
Keep pulling up on the leader until the bait has a nice even curve from its head to its tail. Make sure the curve extends right to the tail. If not take the bait between your finger and thumb and gently put more curve at the tail end.
Figure 3
Check the roll of the bait at the side of the boat. If it is rolling too quickly take it out of the water and reduce the degree of bend. If it is rolling too slowly increase the bend until it revolves at 1 to 2 turns per second.
By following these instructions anglers can easily master the basics for an effective trolled bait presentation. However, there are a number of other important factors that contribute to consistent bait trolling success. Check your baits regularly, and if it doesn’t look quite right, change it. Trolled baits fished in combination with full-sized Hot Spot style flashers are deadly. However, they can also be run without attractors if the fish seem fussy about biting.
Don’t fixate on exact leader lengths. For winter Chinooks and coho use 42- to 60-inch leaders and for mature fish 72-inches is a good average leader length, but don’t be afraid to try longer. Finally, troll at 1.5- to 2.2-mph for Chinooks and increase that speed to 2.5- to 3.5-mph for coho salmon. If you fish baits for chums, shorten the leaders to 30- to 36-inches, and troll dead slow so that the flasher is barely turning over.

In Part 2 - Bait Trolling the Easy Way, I am going to highlight some special setup tips and techniques that will improve your fishing success.
Credits: Art work supplied by Rhys Davis Ltd.

Huxley’s Run: 

One of the joys of fishing is sharing that fishing with others. I think in every angler, a good day on the water will bring to mind a friend who might share it.

But this is dangerous territory because it requires total trust in that the fishing will not spread through the fraternity; that the next trip will not be met with 480,000 other anglers who had, in turn, been ‘shared’ of the secret.

And so it was to that wonderful stream that I brought my friend Fred. He had never fly fished before, but had ardently practiced with me in the back yard. The stream in question was a gem, needing nothing more than a cast of  25-feet. And, two days before, the steelhead had been there in numbers.

Fred was a close friend. What a treat it would be for him to catch a steelhead on his first day fly fishing. He was competent enough with the rod. Unfortunately he didn’t own one. His entire experience had been with my six-weight Sage. The rod, he said, was “either too stiff, or too wiggly.” He wasn’t quite sure.

We arrived at the stream. He was attired in my old waders, my old boots and using my stiff-or-wiggly rod. He had no vest. No fly box. No leader material. His only contribution was his licence, a three-day permit he bought grudgingly and added its expense to how financially challenging fly fishing was. When we got to the stream I strung his rod. I handed it to him with a black General Practicioner attached. We stood at the pool and I asked him, “Do you want the head or the tail out?”

He thought about it for a second and asked, “What do you want?”

Knowing I had caught fish two days earlier in both sections I told him it didn’t matter to me. His eyes slanted and he thought again.

“You pick,” he said.

So I told him, with little thought about it, to take the head of the pool, I would take the tail out. His eyes gleamed weirdly.

“Come to think of it, I will take the tail out.”

"Fine.” I said and walked towards the top of the pool.

He stopped me with a hail.

“What do I do now?” he asked.

So I trudged back, gave him quick instructions – cast out, mend and get ready. He was into his 254th false cast before I turned back to the top of the pool once again. And then he shouted.
I turned to see him fast in a fish. It jumped and thrashed and did all a first steelhead should do. He finally coaxed it into the shallows, where a picture was taken and a hearty handshake finalized for that momentous moment in his life. We toasted his efforts and I once again walked to the head of the pool, feeling a wonderful warmth within.

He hollered again. The second fish, on the second cast! Another picture, another toast, another warm feeling.
I had thoroughly fished the small run at the head of the pool when he hollered with his third fish. It was a remarkable steelhead, brightly nine pounds. Another picture, another toast, and then…

“I think I’ll give this run a go,” I said, unhooking my fly.

It was not a screech, but close to it - his voice broke and startled me in its intensity.

“This is my spot. You have yours, I have mine.”

I smiled and chuckled lightly at the joke. But I found out quite quickly he wasn’t joking. He was serious. I told
him about etiquette and that age-old tradition between angling partners that would insist I take the next cast in
the tail out.

remained adamant. It was his spot. He had his and I had mine. I was set to argue further, even to the point of raising my voice. Instead I looked at him, smiled, and put a hand on his shoulder.
“You’re right,” I said. “I guess I’m just being a little selfish. I apologize. I will go back to the top of the pool. You have fun.”

He smiled too, a wolfish grin that made me realize the incredible mistake I had made. I turned to walk back and then stopped. “But you’ve had three fish on that fly,” I said, keeping my voice even. “Let me at least check the knot and the leader.”

There was a long pause and I could see his mind working. Did he know the cards I was holding? Did he realize what was about to happen? And then, the look on his face and his body language gave him away. He was not figuring anything out; he was just being terribly impatient. He wanted another fish and he was weighing the possible delay in my meddling, against the feel of another
steelhead on the line.

“Okay,” he said, “but hurry it up.”

The black GP came to hand and I looked at it intently. It had been used hard, but was still intact – the magic of it seemed to tingle in the palm of my hands. It was a quick snip. The knot was retied onto my leader, which I had secreted into my hand.

I released his line and said, “There you go.” His fly-less leader danced merrily in the wind.
I don’t know what sounded better that day – his squeals of protest or the sound of my reel and a steelhead taking line.



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