April 13, 2013

Allen Afield: Above all, prize fish are for what the angler trolls

By Ken Allen

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.

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