From the May 2010 issue

Trolling - It’s A Matter Of Speed

By Mark Martin

Speed kills: The phrase has been coined to strike a chord in us that driving too fast could have fatal consequences. The term, however, could also be used to remind us that, when trolling, if you’re not paying attention to your speed you will kill what could potentially be a good bite.  And it’s not just trolling too fast that can ward off strikes, but motoring too slowly, as well.

Anglers often ask me, “What’s the number one thing I can do to improve my catch when trolling?” Although there are several things one can do to better their results, my answer is nearly always the same: “First, figure out what trolling speed makes fish strike the particular day you are out, and then control your boat so that you can hold that speed.” If you, too, heed these words I guarantee you’ll catch more fish. Nowadays, with the use of GPS, anglers can pinpoint their speed right down to 1/10 of a mile per hour. Deciphering speed via a GPS is a great advantage for anglers as the trolling pace that triggers strikes can sometimes boil down to adjusting your trolling speed in these increments. If I had to start my fishing career all over again, one of the first  things I would buy to become better at trolling would be a high-quality large-screen Lowrance HDS (High-Def System) sonar and GPS. A Lowrance HDS all-in-one sonar/GPS, when coupled with a Navionics mapping program installed in the unit’s card reader, are the ultimate devices in allowing me to know my speed, as well as what lies ahead and under my Lund at all times.

I like to display the numeric depth and speed readouts on the screen of my Lowrance in large font so they can easily be read no matter where I am in my Lund boat. With a quick glance, I know whether I have to speed up or slow down, and then adjust the throttle of my 9.9-hp, four-stroke Mercury kicker motor accordingly.And with a Navionics mapping program playing in the background on the screen, I can follow the breaklines with exacting results. And I know which way to turn my boat well before I need to, which allows me to steer precisely to and along structure.

On a side note: New this year from Navionics is a mapping program called the “Fish’N Chip.” It’s a program that was made with anglers in mind, with more lakes on it than ever before that have been charted by the company and the bottom contours now shown in one-foot increments. The Fish’N Chip also includes Great Lakes contours in higher definition than before.

Sometimes Mother Nature throws a monkey wrench into the trolling mix by adding high winds to our day on the water.What’s the number one rule when trolling in windy conditions? Always troll with the wind. You’ll have much better boat control and be able to manage speed better. But even going with the wind, big waves can play havoc with steering and speed control due to surge (a slowing and speeding of the boat as you ride up, then surf down) to what would normally be a steady ride. Although a little stop-and-go action of a lure is a good thing when trolling, too much will discourage a fish from hitting. To remedy this, I deploy a sea anchor while trolling. I either use one large-size sea anchor that’s tied to the bow, which opens and rides directly under the boat (making sure the rope’s just long enough to allow the sock be near the rear of my Lund, just head of my Mercury’s prop), or, two small drift socks, one on each side of my Lund, both tied off on the cleats and the bow. With sea anchors deployed, my Lund won’t surf down a wave much faster than I was able to power up into it.

After controlling your speed, the next thing would be to use the proper tackle and equipment for trolling. Crankbaits, body baits, and spinners (crawler harnesses) are the lures I troll most. Again, if I had to start all over, I would immediately buy some Plano tackle totes and fill them with Rapala lures and Northland spinners.

The reason I’d search out Rapalas is, no matter the style, each and every one of their lures has been tank tested before being packaged. This means every lure runs true right out of the box. Also, all Rapala lures run true at both slow and fast trolling speeds, making them the most versatile lures on the market. The reason for using Northland spinners is they offer a wide variety of blade shapes and sizes, as well colors. The larger the spinner blade, the higher it will ride in the water column; also, the slower you can troll it. And you can adjust blade shape, too, depending on the speed the fish want. Due to their narrow shape, willow-leaf blades can be trolled at higher speeds because they have the least amount of water resistance. Indiana-style blades spin the easiest and are a good, all around choice. Colorado blades have the most water resistance and work best when trolled slowly; they also produce a loud ‘thump” in the water, which is good in stained water.

The next purchase I would make would be Church Tackle in-line planer boards. In-line planer boards became popular in the early 1990s, and are, still today, one of the most significant contributions to the world of trolling. In-line boards gets your lures out from behind the path of the boat and into the faces of fish that haven’t been spooked. They also allow you to use more lines with out getting tangled.

Church boards are easy on, easy off (one handed, if need be) and plane well, no matter your trolling speed. There are four models/sizes to choose from to cover all techniques and fish species. The most versatile size, however, is the “Walleye Board,” which works with spinners, crankbaits and body baits, whether I’m trolling them on Berkley Trilene monofilament, FireLine, or leadcore.

The following are general speeds for lures. When trolling, you’ll want to keep adjusting your speed until you start getting strikes; then take note of the speed and do your best to keep it.   Spinners work best when fished slowly, from .07- to 1.5 mph. Crankbaits, on the other hand, will work best when fished 1.3 to 2 mph. There are times, however, especially in warm water conditions, when high-speed trolling cranks works well, at speeds up to 3 mph.

Want to catch more fish when trolling? Find the speed that produces the most strikes and control your boat so that you hold that speed. Take advantage of GPS and use the right lures for the speeds you are fishing. Mark Martin is a touring walleye pro ( and and Fishing Vacation/School instructor ( who live in southwest lower Michigan.

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