Salmonid anglers who troll with downriggers, sewn bait and lures do well after ice-out, and Maine’s coveted The One That Didn’t Get Away Club – run by The Maine Sportsman magazine – has years of statistics proving that point. Of course, early-season casters plying spring holes, tributaries and outlets also catch trout and salmon now. Yes, we often think of fall as being the big producer of lunkers, but ice-out generates more wall-hangar action.

Folks who specialize in trolling often have the technique down to a science and need no fly-fishing specialist like me telling them how to do it, but folks who just troll after ice-out with fly gear do well, using simple, time-honored, trolling techniques that go back a century.

Whenever I have trolled in April and early May, the fishing gods have smiled on me, and my tactics can be described in a few paragraphs:

First, an 8-weight fly rod with a fast-sinking line works for me, which gets the fly down but scant feet unless the leader has weight ahead of the fly. Ice-out salmonids often cruise near the surface, so shallow trolling suffices. A 30-foot section of six-pound leader fools fish better than eight-pound mono, but that’s easily arguable.

If I feel real fancy and am flush with money, I’ll choose expensive fluorescent mono instead of nylon because it is less visible to fish. (It cost about $12 a small spool instead of $3 to $4 a spool.) Fluorescent fools salmonids so well that I wouldn’t leave home without it, but a four-foot section of fluorescent on the tip of the 30-foot nylon leader is more cost-effective than using expensive material for the whole trolling leader.

A streamer imitating a rainbow smelt makes a good choice – such as a Gray Ghost, red Gray Ghost, Black Ghost, Supervisor, Blue Smelt, Nine-three or particularly a Jerry’s Smelt. A Jerry’s Smelt is a dead-ringer for a rainbow smelt in spring spawning colors. I match the size to smelts in a game-fish’s stomach or to dead smelts floating on the surface. Often in spring, a streamer on a No. 4, 8x long hook duplicates the proper size. Exceptions exist.

Like many Maine fly trollers, I want the fly 120 feet behind the boat to get the pattern far from the noisy motor and splashing boat.

Trolling fast fools salmonids, and “fast” works like this – about 4 to 41/2 mph – slightly faster than a fast walk – a 15-minute-mile pace. Experienced hikers know this speed cold. I like to toss an acorn or conifer cone ahead of the boat and watch as the boat passes it to gauge speed.

The topic of trolling speed with flies reminds me of a quick anecdote from Long Pond in the Belgrade Lakes. Twenty Aprils ago, the late Jerry Partridge, the originator of Jerry’s Smelt, and I were spring trolling in my boat on a sun-splashed day with a light wind – just enough to make low waves. We were hitting 41/2 mph while passing the mouth of Belgrade Stream in Belgrade Lakes Village when we passed a troller heading the other way. An angler in the bow hollered, “How’s the water-skiing?”

Sometimes in life the world works for us. That day the guy no more than uttered the words – and bang. A salmon hit my fly and went skyward close to the other guy’s boat.

When trolling flies, a fast troll works for salmon because it gives this salmonid little time to inspect the offering. When trolling lures, the best speed to make the lure wobble and dart efficiently dictates the mph, often slower, and a slow speed offers most sewn-bait trollers the right action.

Anglers after salmon and even brown trout can do well by trolling fast. One afternoon in my 20s, the honorable Stanley F. Foye of Pittston was fishing Pinkham Pond in Alna on the same day that I was plying its depths. Back then, IF&W stocked brown trout there, and Foye was approaching water-skiing speeds with his trolling, an exaggeration. One way or the other, Stan outfished me big time that day, and I was using a bucktail that he had tied and given me a few days before. It was the same pattern he was using on Pinkham that afternoon.

Good locations for trollers in April include tributaries, outlets, springs and deeper holes on bottom that hold salmonids, but these fish may be anywhere in spring. Folks who learn a water know the nondescript honey holes. For instance, in Long Pond in downtown Belgrade Lakes Village in front of the Village Inn about 75 yards out, a submerged, man-made structure on bottom holds salmonids big time in spring.

The shoreline from the Recreation Center southward into the cove holds ice-out salmonids, too, particularly in the old days when this pond was – in my humble opinion – one of Maine’s three best landlocked-salmon waters. That shoreline and the structure mentioned above used to produce April and early spring action – enough for me to keep a boat on the pond.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at

[email protected]