Tested trolling tactics for trout

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With Montana’s general fishing season opener just a couple of weeks away, many anglers are getting ready to hit their favorite rivers and streams. 

Here in Northwest Montana Region One, with so many of our waters open to angling all year, we don’t get too excited about Opening Day other than to recognize that we might have some more company on the water for the next six months or so.

Many folks around here who fish lakes like to jig: It works year-round and is the only game when the lakes freeze. But many others love to troll, and the fact that all of the trout species we have here in Northwest Montana can be taken that way only adds to the method’s popularity. Trolling can be as simple as holding a fishing rod in your hands as your vessel moves with the wind or as complicated as a multi-rod system with side planers, sinking line, trolling weights and downriggers.

For the average angler trolling for trout in Montana, a 14- to 18-foot boat with an auxiliary trolling motor is the norm. The popularity of bow-mount electric trolling motors grows every year, and GPS technology allows almost unlimited ability to stay on course, but any method to maintain a speed and a heading will work. 

In a nutshell, trolling allows the angler to fish a lure or lures that mimic a small fish swimming in a natural way.

Many, many trout are caught each year trolling a wedding-ring spinner set up anywhere from 50 to 300 feet behind the boat. Using dodgers or flashers ahead of your lure adds flash, vibration and action to your lures. Wedding-ring spinner baits do not have much action other than a small blade at the front of the rig, so attractors such as a dodger or cow bells in front add the needed motion. 

Small spoons and spinners like a Dick Nite or a Rooster Tail can also be trolled as can streamer flies and minnow-type stick baits. In fact, almost all minnow-type baits can be trolled as well as cast and come with the diving depth marked clearly on the packaging.

Depth is critical with all lures because you need to be able to keep your lures moving through the water without dragging on the bottom. While occasional contact with the bottom is necessary for some presentations, for trout you typically want to be ahead of and slightly above your targets. Speed is essential for obvious reasons, but mostly to ensure your lure is moving at the speed the lure was engineered to run at. Speeds from 1.5 to 3 mph are the norm.

At this time of year, trolling the shorelines for fish feeding in the shallows is very important, especially early in the morning and later in the evening. Focus your efforts around shoreline structure (rocky points, inlets and manmade structures) and cover water until the right conditions produce the desired results. Trout are on the move right now, taking advantage of feeding opportunities that spring brings. During the day, these fish will move to deeper water but won’t stray far from their morning and evening feeding areas. 

Now is a great time to get out on the uncrowded waters and work out your trolling techniques. Getting it all dialed in early in the season will just help you be successful even when the increased angling pressure happens later in the season. A book I highly recommend is “Trolling Truths” by Sep and Marilyn Hendrickson. I’ll see you on the water!

Howe runs Howes Fishing/A Able Charters. Contact him at www.howesfishing.com or 257-5214 or by emailing Mike@aablefishing.com.

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