Blue Water
Blue Water

Tricks for trolling blue water lures

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Al McGlashen
March 2007

There is a lot of blue water out there and one of the best ways of covering the ground is by trolling lures. But there are still a few tricks to getting the bites.

Strikezone carved a path through the slight chop with four lures splashing and bubbling in the wake like obedient dogs on a lead. From the helm I alternated my attention between the electronics scanning the horizon and keeping a visual on the lures. We had one more advantage and that was Strikecam, our underwater trolling camera which gave us an amazing view of anything that approached the lures, especially since we have linked it straight into the Furuno Navnet 10.4 inch.

The water was warm and blue but just as the satellite charts had shown there were no temperature break for us to focus our efforts on. As a result we had opted to troll and search for game fish. After two hours of trolling with the tide change approaching a fin suddenly appeared in the spread. The marlin paused for a moment as if deciding which lure to strike then charged forward and in a single slashing motion engulfed the lure. On the Strikecam it looked awesome but what was more amazing was the second fish shadowing below. The rod loaded up and drag screamed as the hooks dug in.

Typical of striped marlin the fish launched out of the water crashing across the surface in a spectacular display before sounding. Twenty minutes of swift boat work in the Haines Hunter saw the fish boatside and released before he knew it. Racing back to the same spot it took all of five minutes to hook up and by the end of the day we had raised half a dozen fish, managing to catch and release three.

Trolling Tricks

Blue water trolling is often described as ‘hours of boredom, minutes of mayhem’. It is a technique that works best when the fish are spread out because it allows you to cover a lot of ground fast and effectively. The most common lures employed are skirted lures which originated in the Hawaiian Islands decades ago. It is a highly successful technique that works on just about everything that swims from giant bluefin tuna to spearfish, and from marlin to mahimahi.

From humble beginnings lure trolling really has evolved and today’s skirted lures are seriously high tech creations with various head shapes and thousands of different colour choices. I should also add that it is a common misconception that these lures imitate squid since they have skirts. Strikecam really has helped give us a whole new perspective and I have to say the lures really do sometimes look like small tuna feeding. Seeing things from the fish’s view has certainly helped us refine our lure fishing techniques considerably.

Despite the effectiveness of blue water trolling it is a technique that is not easily mastered, especially when compared to the relatively easy method of slow trolling live baits. Unlike live baiting, where the bait does all the work, when employing artificials the angler has to rig them right and then set them so they swim and entice strikes. Luckily in recent years offshore experts have begun to reveal their secrets and help other anglers skip a few steps and send them down the right path. Having said that, there is a steep learning curve involved in blue water trolling and nothing works better to improve your skills than putting the hours in on the water.

Seeing a big blue skyrocketing out of the water makes all the hard work setting up the spread worthwhile.

Setting Up The Spread

Crews that specialize in dragging lures really do treat it as a science. They experiment with various styles and sizes at different speeds in alternate positions to see what works best. There is no such thing as the optimum spread because it is something you constantly improve. Each lure has a specific position in the spread and is set up in a way that should entice a strike from every fish that is raised.

Typically I have found that lures with minimal action work best, while marlin definitely prefer active lures that smoke and splash. Remember a spread of lures should resemble a school of fish to the predators. As a standard rule most boats troll four or five lures in a spread, two from the outriggers, two from flat lines and one from the center rigger on larger vessels. There is certainly a trend amongst fishermen to troll as many lures as they can, but in recent times I have found that fewer tends to best. Sure, the more lures the more activity in the water, but maybe too many lures make it hard for the fish to select a specific target? On Strikezone I sometimes run just two lures but rarely more than four.

Trolling is a highly effective technique that works on a wide range of species including wahoo in more tropical destinations than New Zealand.

When chasing blue marlin I definitely keep the lures to a minimum because when they hook up blues power off to the horizon and the last thing I have time for is to retrieve half a tackle shop of lures. Alternately, when chasing tuna multiple hook-ups are what we want so then I run four outfits. With this in mind I never run teasers because it is simply just another thing to pull in.

Based on four lures, the basic pattern employed by most anglers is a ‘V’ pattern, with the outriggers at the back and the short/long corners inside. Personally I don’t think this pattern is too effective from trailer boats because of the white water caused by the outboard. As I result I have modified my pattern to resemble a rather warped ‘W’ pattern that works on everything. What I have outlined below is flexible enough so it can be adapted to suite any trailer boat.

A large 14-inch lure runs up short on the port outrigger. A heavy lure, that digs in and creates an enticing splash like a feeding tuna, sits very well in this position. The key factor for the lure in this position is for it to splash a lot, because the lure is competing with the boat for the fish’s attention. This is a very productive position for blue and striped marlin.

Next is the long corner, which is home to a smaller 10 to 12-½-inch lure. Sitting behind the outrigger lure in clean water makes this position ideal for a lure that creates a long smoke trail (bubble trails). It is deadly on tuna, wahoo and marlin. As an alternative, the long corner can be converted over to Halco Trembler.

The short corner is the place for your biggest lure. Being close to the boat it is essential that this lure has a lot of action and splashes continuously. Like the short rigger it must compete with the boat and teaser to gain the fish’s attention. Dark colours that stand out against the wash, like purple and dark blue, will increase the number of bites on this position. This is the favourite position for blue marlin bites.

The long rigger sits only slightly further back than the other outrigger. Skirted lures that dive deep and create little surface commotion make this a favourite for striped marlin, yellowfin and even sailfish. It is consistently the most productive spot in the whole spread on my boat.

Avoid Prop Wash

The key is to ensure that all the lures run in clear water and not in the prop wash. The wake conceals the lures, making it difficult for a predator to spot. A decent set of outriggers will naturally run the lures in clear water, but on certain boats the flat lines will need to be set further back or half way along the outriggers to avoid the white water. Every boat is different and puts out unique wakes so experiment to ensure your lures run in the clear. An adaptation of the above spread is three lures – one short on outrigger, one medium and then a centre lure way out the back working as a shotgun.

Setting the lures at different distances will not only make the spread look more natural, but will also reduce the chance of tangles. When set up correctly a boat should be able to execute tight turns without the chance of the lines tangling. Perfecting the tangle-free spread is simply a matter of trial and error and can take some practice.

Trolling lures is arguably the best way to catch blue marlin due to their nomadic lifestyle.

Where To Troll

Blue water trolling is not a matter of just chucking a few lures out the back and trolling around till you get a bite. Instead it is a deliberate search pattern to locate fish. There is a lot of water between fish so you need to maximise your chances of an encounter. Anglers must take the time to learn where to look for the fish; the key is the ocean’s currents.

The currents govern all pelagic species - both bait and predators. Bottom structure, such as reefs and canyons, disrupt the current creating upwellings. Cooler water is pushed towards the surface where it mixes with the warmer surface layer resulting in substantial temperature variations. Baitfish congregate along these breaks to feast on plankton and other microscopic organisms. In turn apex predators like marlin and tuna are drawn by the concentration of food, thus creating a food chain.

Reefs, canyons and even the continental shelf are prime examples of structure that cause upwellings. The development of high tech depth sounders and GPS units has made finding these formations an easy task. As has the introduction of satellites that can read the sea surface temperatures.

Although structure is the obvious place to locate temperature breaks it is not the only option. Eddies of warm water regularly break free from the main current and travel independently. At the front of these eddies the temperature can vary dramatically. Rich in plankton these waters draw baitfish and predators alike. In recent times I have been using, a subscription service which shows real time sea surface temperature charts that has proved invaluable in identifying potential hot zones. For me it has been a huge success and is paramount to success. Offshore fishing is becoming increasingly technical!

Modern lures come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The best way is to experiment.

How To Troll

Now that we have established how to locate the prime areas to find marlin, the next step is to troll properly. The speed to troll a spread will vary between 6 and 10 knots depending on the boat and weather. In rough seas it is best to slow down a little and avoid punching straight into the sea. Instead I like to plan my day so I run parallel to the waves, not only does this allow the lures to run at their optimum, but it also makes it more comfortable for the crew. A following sea will offer a gentle ride but surfing down the waves, will invariable cause the lures to blow out as the boat speeds up. They can fly out of the water and somersault end over end in big seas, often tangling the trace. To avoid trolling into the weather take the time to carefully plan the day ahead after seeing the weather report.

Many crews work over a canyon once and then head off to the next one; so instead of concentrating on these productive areas a majority of the day is spent in transit. Choose a specific location and work it thoroughly. It is imperative that the peak fishing period around the tide change should be spent on a productive area, not travelling between locations.

Black marlin have traditionally been targeted with bait but in recent times more and more are falling to well prepared lure spreads.

A flock of birds circling about could indicate a patch of bait, or possibly even the presence of predators. Instead of charging right through the centre of the birds work around the edges, because the predators will be shadowing the bait waiting for an opportunity to attack. Sooner or later a fish will appear so just keep working the school.

Another trick is always mark as a waypoint every strike on the GPS. This is particularly so for tuna and wahoo which are schooling fish, but even marlin will congregate in an area. So if you get one bite the chances are if you work the area you will get more.

Trolling can be highly productive, however it really is a style of fishing that requires serious attention to detail to master. It is an exciting style of fishing that works when done well, so head out offshore and start trolling.

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