Sarasota Trolling Techniques
Trolling on Sarasota Fishing Charters
There are many productive methods of catching fish. Sarasota trolling is a technique that every angler should add to his or her arsenal. Sarasota trolling techniques will help put more fish in the boat.
Trolling is a technique that has proven to be extremely effective in saltwater fishing for a very long time. Most anglers envision a large sportfishing boat out on the open ocean, trolling for tuna and marlin. But trolling can also be deadly using fairly light tackle on inland waters, too. I am a fishing guide and troll on fishing charters in Sarasota Bay, the Myakka River, and Lake Manatee. During the cooler months, rivers, creeks, and residential canals offer anglers the chance to catch snook, jack crevelle, tarpon, and other species. Flats and passes can be productive all year long. Trolling produces in the Inshore Gulf of Mexico in the spring and fall. Crappie, bream, and bass will hit trolled lures in freshwater lakes and rivers. Trolling is a great technique to both locate and catch quality fish.
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Trolling in creeks and rivers
Rivers, creeks, and residential canals abound all throughout the state of Florida and provide good fishing at one time or another. As the flats cool off, fish will migrate into these areas as they offer protection from the elements. The best rivers and canals will provide fish the sanctuary of deep water as well as abundant structure. The entire coastline of Florida offers these opportunities for anglers.
Snook took a big hit in the winter of 2010 as a prolonged cold snap dropped the water temperature into the upper forties. I believe that if it wasn’t for the deep holes in the rivers where snook spend their winters, the damage would have been MUCH worse. Numbers of smaller snook are on the increase while larger fish are regularly landed. These are great signs and while snook were opened to a limited harvest, I still release all of them, even if a slot fish is landed in season. Snook are magnificent gamefish, it would break my heart to kill one. There are plenty of other good-eating fish to target, let those big girls go!
Anglers have been catching snook by trolling for many years. Back in the 50s the Spoonplug was the hot bait, and it still produces to this day. I enjoy trolling shallow diving plugs and Rapalas are my personal favorite. Rapala X-Rap Slashbaits in sizes #8 and #10 in, depending on the depth of the water and the size of the available forage, and Jointed BX Minnows work very well trolled as well as cast. Firetiger, Gold Shiner, and gold are proven colors. These lures have a great built-in action and strong, sharp hooks. Most fish caught trolling will be hooked in the mouth, resulting in most being released unharmed. Another advantage with these plugs is that they float, therefore when the boat is stopped they rise to the surface instead of sinking and getting hung up on the bottom.
Tackle and rigging for trolling is pretty straightforward. I use the same rods and rigging for trolling as I do when casting the same baits. A 7’ spinning or baitcasting rod and reel with 40 lb braid and 30” of 40 lb fluorocarbon leader is all that is required. Then it is simply a matter of letting back a hundred feet of line and driving up the river or canal at idle speed or a touch above. Florida rivers tend to undulate; the depth will change quite often. Many times the fish will lie on these breaks or edges, waiting to ambush bait; fish-holding structure is not always visible. It is surprising how many big fish will bust a plug right out in the middle, giving the angler a good chance to land it.
I have my clients on a Sarasota fishing charter hold the rod when trolling, for several reasons. First off and most important, it is more enjoyable as they get to feel the strike. Also, the lures I use don’t dive very deep, so having the client keep the rod near the surface maximizes the depth that the plug will run. These plugs “vibrate” and if a piece of debris is picked up the angler can usually feel it and then clear the bait. And finally, it can be a bit tricky removing a rod from the holder when the boat is moving and the rod is bent double!
Trolling with light tackle also produces very well inshore. I do a lot of drifting on my Sarasota fishing charters, both in the passes and over deep expanses of grass. There are usually other anglers fishing, so courtesy dictates a slow idle back around to make another drift. Since we will just be easing along, why not drag a bait behind? My go-to lure is a #8 X-Rap in olive or glass ghost (white), it has been very productive as it matches the bait we have in our area. Once the treble hooks get beat up, I remove them and add a single 1/0 hook on the rear. The hook-up ratio remains good and it makes releasing fish MUCH easier. In fact, some plugs now come with a strong single hook for just this reason.
Again, just let out about half the spool and move at idle speed or just above. Many times clients catch more fish doing this than they do when drifting and casting. Spanish mackerel in particular find it difficult to resist a fast moving plug, but bluefish, ladyfish, jacks, trout, and other species will also fall prey to this method. One technique that often pays off is the twitch the rod tip sharply while trolling along. This will often times elicit a violent strike! Fish find the little pause where the plug drops back to be irresistible at times.
Trolling is also a good technique to employ when fish are scattered about over a large area. The best approach is to move into the tide or wind and when a fish is hooked the boat is stopped. Anglers can then cast jigs, plugs, or spoons as the boat drifts back over the school. As action drops off, resume trolling again until another bunch of fish is found. One benefit to this is that the same lures that are great trolling baits are also equally effective cast out and retrieved back in; there is no need to have separate trolling and casting outfits.
Trolling will produce at the same spots inshore as other methods. Grass flats in four feet to ten feet of water will hold speckled trout, mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish, and other species. Edges of drop offs are good spots to try as well. Both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass are terrific spots to troll for Spanish mackerel and bluefish. These open sandy areas are large and trolling is a great way to locate fish.
Trolling the inshore Gulf of Mexico
Sarasota trolling has been a staple of anglers fishing the inshore Gulf of Mexico for many years. Pelagic species such as king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, false albacore, and cobia migrate along the west coast of Florida. These game fish follow behind the huge schools of bait fish. This is their primary forage. A fast moving plug or spoon mimics the prey. This is a very easy technique than any angler can employ to catch a big fish!
Plugs are a great choice when Sarasota trolling. The larger the lip on the plug, the deeper it will dive. Fairly stout tackle will be required when trolling a large plug. Conventional tackle in the 30 pound class is perfect. Heavy spinning tackle will work as well. A plug that dives down fifteen feet or so is perfect to target a large king mackerel. I prefer to use a 5′ piece of 80 pound flourocarbon leader instead of wire. Wire will prevent cut-offs but will limit strikes.
Game fish will hold over hard bottom, ledges, and artificial reefs. Sarasota County has an extensive artificial reef program. Several are close to shore for anglers with a small boat. Ledges and good bottom can only be located by spending time out on the water. Once located, these spots will produce year after year. Bait schools milling on the surface can be an indication of structure below.
Small plugs can also be extremely effective in the Gulf of Mexico off of Siesta Key beaches. Often times the bait is very small. A #8 Rapala X-Rap is a prefect match for the smaller forage. White is a very productive color. Surface activity will alert anglers to the presence of game fish. Mackerel and false albacore can be seen terrorizing helpless baitfish on the surface. The best approach is to skirt the edge of the feeding fish. Do not drive the boat right through the action. They will go down and may not resurface.
Spoons also produce a lot of fish. Clark Spoons and other manufacturers make special spoons designed for trolling. Spoons can be used when trolling in a couple of different ways. Due to boat speeds, some type of device is needed to get the spoon down in the water column. The easiest method is to tie a trolling sinker to the end of the line. These are torpedo shaped and come in a variety of weights. A ten foot long leader is tied to the sinker and then a trolling spoon is tied to the tag end. This is really quite simple and deadly on Spanish mackerel.
Planers are another device used to get spoons down deeper. They are effective but are a bit more complicated. The planer is tied onto the running line. A twenty foot leader is attached to the planer, followed by the spoon on the tag end. Planers come in several sizes, but #1 and #2 planers are the ones used in shallow Gulf of Mexico water. A #1 planer will dive five to seven feet. A #2 planer will dive down around fifteen feet.
The planer must be “set”. This is done by slowly lowering the planer into the water after the spoon is let out. With the ring up, water pressure will pull the planer down. The planer is then let out behind the boat to the desired length. The rod is then placed in a holder. When a fish hits, the planer will “trip”, allowing the angler to fight the fish without the drag of the planer. Plugs can be used with planers, but they must have a small lip. Large lips will trip the planer.
Trolling in freshwater
Speckled perch (crappie, to our northern friends) are a favorite of Florida anglers and trolling for them has become a very popular. The basics are the same, but the technique is a bit different. As in other applications, trolling allows an angler to cover a lot of water in a short amount of time. Jigs are most often used, but Beetlespins are also effective. The Blakemore Roadrunner is a very productive bait that combines both a spinner and a jig in one lure. Some anglers use spider rigs and other elaborate set-ups to get as many lines in the water as possible. I prefer to keep it simple; once again having my client hold the road and enjoy feeling the strike.
On deeper lakes with distinct contour changes, the best approach is to very slowly troll back and forth over edges where the bottom changes depth, crappie will often hold in these locations. Changing speeds on the turns will cause the lures to rise and fall, triggering strikes. On shallower lakes, just drive around, skirting the edges of weedlines or over submerged vegetation until the fish are located. On the flat, shallow Florida lakes, even the slightest depth change can make a huge difference. Locating a trough or hole in a featureless lake will result in a reliable fishing spot.
So, the next time you are idling along on your favorite lake, river, or inland bay, try dragging a lure out behind the boat. You never know what might eat it!