The art of trolling for stripers requires observation, reflection and fine-tuning.
I’m constantly discussing and engaging in tactical strategy with other charter captains, mates and anglers. One recent topic I’ve had with a variety of different fishermen has been trolling for bass in shallow water when actually fishing on big bodies of water.
Let me elaborate. Large bays, sounds and river complexes along the Striper Coast contain varied depths; major urban area shipping channels for example, may drop to depths of 100 feet, yet they give rise to shoals and flats that proliferate each estuary. Striped bass transverse these areas, and the fishing over them can get white hot and remain that way for weeks, if not months.
Of course, the ocean is shallow just outside the breakers and near the shoreline; there are also those locations with mid-ocean humps, rips and shoals that create shallow water, trolling spots. What do I consider as shallow while on the troll? When I’m pulling lines in 15 feet or less, my mindset changes in terms of achieving trolling success.
When shallow, it’s possible for terminal gear to get down in the mud and sand. The lures pick up weed growth or just plain old mud. Mojos seem to pick up unwanted dirt or junk around the knots. Moreover, the small mud particles get suspended within the parachute itself. The nuisance will completely deter bass bites thus wasting troll time.
Many anglers have tremendous success trolling tandem mojos, but shallow waters sometimes require a tweak. Leader length of the trailing mojo can be shortened dramatically, for example. Bluewater Candy Lures package their tandems with a 14- by 4-foot leader, which works outstandingly well. But shortening the 14-foot section by 5 or 6 feet can help dramatically when in skinny water.
Additionally, shallow water mojos are often more successful when fished as singles. If fishing less than 12 feet of depth, I make my move to mixing singles into the spread. Lighter mojos, depending where fish are staging in the current, are less likely to pick up junk and the bass respond favorably. Experimentation on the fly can help anglers figure out what’s working. For example, captains can run a tandem mojo or two while pulling two singles on the outrodders.
Umbrella rigs have a unique value in shallow water trolling. When anglers zone in the proper drail size to be attached at the nose of the umbrella, the lure can be kept right above the bottom or mid-column easily. Fish of all sizes can’t resist an umbrella rig. One beneficial quality about the multi-pronged umbrella rigs is that if one arm grabs a tiny bit of weed, the bass seem to ignore it. Other lures don’t get that same mulligan in my experience.
Spoons are a great option to keep weed off the line. Their erratic, side-to-side movements are violent enough that they evade bottom trash. If they do pick up something it’s usually a plastic bag or some floating reeds that get snagged around the swivel. Likewise, trolling plugs have a great wobble to them when pulled into the current and the mud stays off, leaving only the weed as something that gets hung on the trebles.
It’s essential to have the boat in gear while deploying trolling tackle. Hooks and lines are less likely to get fouled. If anglers feel the lures actually hit the bottom while at trolling speed, they should immediately reel in a few cranks. And let’s face it, in shallow water, they are going to reach the bottom fast if idling. What’s more, letting gear drag on live bottom or rocks can result in a snag and loss of gear. If the rod tip is bouncing unnaturally with larger-than-normal jolts, reel up and redeploy a bit shallower.
If the shallow waters rise and fall in depth, for instance, 10 feet drops to 35 feet and comes back up to 15 feet, anglers need to stay on their game even more so. Constant reeling in and letting out of line needs to take place. If anglers get confused where the lures are in the column, they should reel up and redeploy. Some lures should get trolled just above the bottom and others mid-column in order to create striper strikes.
Remain diligent when making turns; slack in the line can take place easily when turning the boat, which can result in lures banging bottom where they will grab debris or get hung up. If observed, all gear should get reeled in and checked.