Anglers troll worldwide, but in Maine this technique dominates at ice-out and continues in high gear for at least the next six weeks. Lots of trophy fish come to hand now, too, as evidenced by records in The One That Didn’t Get Away Club — far more big fish than anglers catch in fall.
Serious trollers often use down riggers, but Maine anglers who troll in early spring but not later like fly rods for early spring trolling. They add a 30-foot, 6- or 8-pound leader to a super-fast-sinking fly line and troll all the fly line and the long leader, which gets the fly 120 feet back so that fish don’t associate it with the boat.
A 3-foot butt tied to the fly line with a nail knot and then to the leader with loop-to-loop knots works great for practicality. If anglers break the leader off, they merely tie another 30-foot leader to the 3-foot butt with a blood knot or loop-to-loop knot, easy knots to construct.
If someone ties the 30-foot leader onto the fly line with a nail knot, it takes more dexterity and time to tie the more complicated knot, particularly while sitting in a boat pitching in cold waves.
When trolling with flies, savvy anglers like to move at a 4 mph pace — the same velocity as a fast walk. If trollers don’t have a speedometer, they look at something in the water beside the boat — bubbles of foam, leaf, grass piece or so forth — to ascertain if the boat is traveling at the same speed as someone hoofing it fast. This gives salmon or trout a brief look as the fly zips by, giving them little time to scrutinize it long enough to see if it’s bogus. In short, they must react instantly or lose.
If a pond or lake has rainbow smelts, a smelt-imitating fly such as a Red Gray Ghost, Jerry’s Smelt, Umbagog Smelt, Supervisor, 9-3 and so forth works well to imitate this predominate schooling baitfish gathering at the mouth of tributaries and outlets to spawn. If the water has yellow perch, a Barnes Special makes sense. If a pond has lots of blacknose dace, a Blacknose Dace bucktail.
In short, the troller matches the hatch, but “the hatch” is a baitfish species, not an insect.
Folks who like trolling hardware choices like stick baits, spoons, etc. should go about 21/2 mph or close to that velocity. They should choose a speed that allows the lure to wiggle or wobble best, easy to judge by watching the lure next to the boat before letting the line back to 120 feet.
Trolling speeds generate debates far into the night, but I cannot leave proper speeds without mentioning two quick anecdotes.
1) Twenty years ago, I was trolling a Jerry’s Smelt at 4 mph across the mouth of The Spillway in downtown Belgrade Lakes village when a sewn-bait troller coming the other way hollered to me above the motor noises, “Where’s the water skier?” — a reference to my fast speed.
Right on cue, a salmon hit my streamer and went skyward not 15 yards from the smart aleck. The late Jerry Partridge of Jerry’s Smelt fame was sitting in my boat, and he burst out laughing at the perfect timing.
2) One year on a central Maine lake, a writer friend and I were trolling tandem-streamers from his boat when my companion decided to switch to a lure, creating a problem. If he continued trolling at 4 mph, that was too fast for a lure to work properly, making it wobble or dart in an odd manner that would turn fish off. If he went 21/2 mph or a similar speed so the lure would work, that was too slow for a fly. It was his boat and he slowed to a crawl. I just fly-fish and never caught another fish on my flies.
I suggested we anchor at a tributary and cast, but he said he preferred trolling.
My solution? I never fished with the guy again — not from anger but from practicality.
The moral of the story is simple — choose fishing companions with care. Neither of us was right or wrong — just different.
When folks troll lakes and ponds in April, tributary mouths, outlets, gravel shoals, last year’s weed beds, shallow coves, spring holes, deep holes and springy shorelines draw trout and salmon and are worth fishing extra hard, but the real way to find hot spots offers the most fun — lots of fishing in a single water to gain experience. That’s the best way to find honey holes.
A fish-finder pinpoints depths that game fish and baitfish prefer each day. Once I was fishing with a guide on Moosehead Lake who watched a fish finder until we found a salmon school.
He then put out markers on both sides of the bunched-up landlocks, and we trolled around the markers and through the fish every 10 minutes, which kept us in action until they moved. We’d catch up with the fish again, and that’s the way the afternoon went, landing myriad salmon.
As soon as ice goes out in April, salmon anglers might try Sebago Lake, Parker Pond in Mount Vernon, St. George Lake in Liberty, Swan Lake in Swanville, Wassookeag Lake in Dexter, Long Lake in Bridgton and Thompson Lake in Otisfield.
Brook-trout anglers might head to trout-rich Waldo County, and try Bowler Pond and Sheepscot Pond in Palermo, Dutton Pond in Knox and Sanborn Pond in Waldo. Little Pond in Damariscotta (Lincoln County) and Kimball Pond in Vienna (Kennebec County) are also good spots to find 2-pound brookies and larger, because IFW has maintained intensive brookie management in these waters for years.
Ken Allen, of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at: