How to Troll Fish in Lakes – Quality over Quantity
Spring trolling and fishing for trophy walleye and northern pike in the eastern end of Lake Ontario’s “Golden Crescent” has been affected by many things over the last few years, including clearer water. Although the sheer numbers of walleye in large schools have declined, many walleye swim in smaller groups that are more widely dispersed with plenty of action available.
With the excellent quality and quantity in this area, it is the best opportunity for all types of fishermen to prove that they know how to troll fish in lakes by catching a trophy walleye and northern pike without a substantial investment in new equipment. Many people think that you just go out and catch lots of walleye, etc. This is not a numbers fishery (although some days it can be); it is a trophy fishery, noted for big fish.
Catch and Release
One thing that I would like to make clear is that all fishermen are responsible to take only what they need. Catch-and-release is very important to this fishery, so don’t take them just for show; use good judgment for each situation while you enjoy your spring trolling. We have some groups that release them all, some take only one or two to eat, some take one to mount, and others take whatever they catch as they pay a lot of money for that right.
Overall, in a whole season, we feel it works out. It is rewarding to hear about the large number of fishermen who are practicing catch-and-release recently in this area to help keep this fabulous fishery alive and well for future spring trolling efforts.
Most of the fishing we do in the spring is in 10-35 feet of water, but occasionally 35-60 feet, knowing how to troll fish in lakes during this time of year takes attention to details and patience while you figure out the winning combination of trolling fishing gear and trolling techniques. This means that the deeper fish can be easily reached with dipsy divers, mini-divers, lead, or deep diving body baits.
The most complex setups including wire rods, lead core lines, lead drops, downriggers, dodger/flasher rigs, and the like are not needed. A fisherman can be quite successful running body baits from in-line planers or large planer boards along with a few well-placed floaters and divers while they are spring trolling for walleye and pike.
Planers are a vital piece of trolling fishing gear. Most of the season we like to run large double-boarded planers by Prince Mastercraft. They have florescent orange striped sides along with flags that are easily visible in rougher water. Depending on boat traffic, we like to run them from 75-150 feet out, away from the boat. I like to run three to four lines off each side attached with offshore releases anywhere from 150-250 feet back on the farthest line out, shortening the lead 10-12 feet on each rod put out.
Best Trolling Fishing Rods for the Job
The trolling fishing rods that I like the most are 7 ½ foot graphite (I use Daiwa) with Daiwa LC 27 line counter reels, spooled with 12-15 pound Trilene or Cortland line with 8-12 pound fluorocarbon leaders. I am one that likes to use downriggers no matter how deep the water is. Depending on how many people are in the boat (you are allowed two trolling fishing rods per person), I will run all four downriggers with different baits. Generally, we will run 8-12 rods in the water at one time while spring trolling. You must constantly adjust and fine-tune your trolling fishing gear setup when the conditions and location of the fish change.
Shallow Waters Need Different Trolling Fishing Gear
If you start your spring trolling in shallow water, you might want to adjust to shorter leads somewhere between 80-150 feet behind the boat. Also, consider switching to lures that track tightly, can be trolled faster, and don’t dive as much as others, so that you can cover more ground with less chance of tangling. It’s always important to keep track of hits in any slight turn or large turn as you can determine if the fish prefers a faster or slower speed.
Deep Water Tactics
When you start fishing deeper water, several combinations of trolling fishing gear can put more lures in a fish’s face. The most obvious is to lengthen leads on the planer boards, and if you’re running divers, let them back a little further. You can add small slip weights in front of the swivel when running leaders or run split shots on your line four feet above the lure which also works to catch grass, etc. that will interfere with the action and presentation of the lure. Some anglers like to run mini-divers from Luhr-Jensen and Big Jon. Small spoons with 50-100 foot leads off planar boards are as successful as body baits, but sometimes inhibit the usefulness of the mini-divers.
Lures, lures, lures!!! What trolling fishing lures are you using? Probably the most often asked question out of a fisherman’s mouth. I’ve always found that whatever you’re confident in, and catches fish for you, is the most important fact. When fishing with my friends, I’ve found that we can be spring trolling the same area at the same speed, and if one guy is catching fish on something in particular, I will switch, with no results, and vice-versa. But generally speaking, if the fish are banging a lure steady on one boat, you definitely should have a couple of those trolling lures out.
Color selection is a key factor when trolling fishing lures, and the right color could change every couple hours. Walleye definitely have color preferences, largely related to water clarity and the amount of light present. When trolling fishing lures in stained water, or in overcast conditions, bright or fluorescent colors such as chartreuse, orange, red, and green, seems to work well. When fishing clear water or under bright conditions, shiny metallic colors such as gold, silver, copper, and black produce.
Tried and True Favorites
Lures that I like best for spring trolling? I really like the old Thundersticks! My opinion is that they are always the best out of the box without any or very little tuning. When water temps are below 58 degrees, I like stick baits with small diving bills and a longer thinner body such as Rapalas, Thundersticks, Bombers, Smithwicks, Husky Jerks and Reef Runners.
When water temps are above 58 degrees, and you are fishing deeper water, crank baits with moderate action and larger diving baits will produce more flash and vibration. Storm Deep Jr. Thundersticks, Deep Diving Little Ripper Reef Runners, Husky Jerks and Rapala Shad Raps all produce.
It is always good to make sure that your trolling fishing lures are running true by letting out some line off the side of the boat and checking out the action. Don’t be afraid to give some extra sharp jerks to see how it reacts in case you get into some rougher water, this is how to troll fish in lakes successfully.
Is trolling the only way to go? No; but most charter guides feel it is the most productive when it comes to getting bigger fish and more of them. Knowing how to troll fish in lakes during spring conditions allows you to be able to cover more territory more quickly. Worm harnesses and jigs are very productive and come in an assortment of colors and sizes.
Best Trolling Spots
There are so many good places to fish in May and June in the Golden Crescent that it’s hard to mention them all. The Black River and Bay area are the most frequented areas. With many points, edges, and drop-offs, plus the deeper 50-60 foot belly in the middle, it has the structure, bait, and water flow that create excellent walleye fishing.
Some other areas that produce consistently are Everleigh Point, Bull Rock, Sherwin’s Bay, Pillar Point, Guffin’s Bay, Adam’s Cove, Chaumont Bay, Three Mile Bay, Middle Shoal, Point Peninsula, Hidden Harbor, Fox Island, Grenadier Island, and the Stony-Calf-Galloo Islands.
Other spring trolling spots include: Henderson Harbor, Bass and Gull Islands, High Rocks, Stony Point, Ray’s and Sawyer’s Bay, Stony Creek and Drowned Island, plus many others too numerous to mention. A couple shops and marinas where you can get information on “what’s happening” are: B&J Bait, owned by Judy and Claude Kirch in Dexter on the Black River; and Henchen’s Marina, owned by John Killius in Henderson Harbor.
Explore the Area
A good way to learn a bit about the area and some of the methods used is to book a trip with a local charter fishing guide. It usually pays off in the long run, just in the knowledge gained. Most guides are very generous with tips about where to fish, what to use and how to use it so that you know how to troll fish in lakes on your own after you spend a day with your charter fishing guide.
Location is Key
There are unlimited choices of baits, rigs, depths of water, structures, and types of fish to target in the Golden Crescent and its tributaries. Productive walleye and northern pike set-ups can be quite simple with patience and persistence and not being afraid to experiment. However, it is always important to remember some main points when figuring out how to troll fish in lakes – especially for walleye. Location is the key to success; you need to be where the fish ARE. This is especially true of walleye because they have a tendency to school so tightly.
Secondly, make sure your baits are in the range where the fish are more active, and present them with a lure that they will respond to. Finally, select a color that gives them maximum visibility and adjust your speed to their feeding habits. Again – speed can sometimes be determined simply by watching your turns to see if they prefer the fast or slow side of the boat.
Keeping these tips on how to troll fish in lakes in mind, and with a solid effort, hopefully they will help your fishing success; especially if you’re just starting out. Remember to have fun trying, and to take a kid fishing!
Original Article By Captain Bob Dick
About the Author
Captain Bob Dick owns and operates Moby Dick Charters out of Henderson Harbor on Lake Ontario. Captain Bob specializes in sport fishing for trophy walleye, browns, lake trout, king salmon, northern pike and smallmouth bass. He has lived and fished the eastern end of Lake Ontario and tributaries his entire life and is a member of the NYS Outdoor Writers’ Association.