The Art of Trolling Skirted Lures
by Peter Pakula
Trolling skirted lures through the ocean in search of pelagic fish ranging from small tuna to Godzilla sized marlin is easier in essence than just about any other form of fishing. The technology in electronics, rods, reels and harnesses, plus their relatively inexpensive prices for what you get and their longevity if maintained properly has even made small boat, even as small as 12 foot viable platforms to hunt these fish on an even footing with the large Game Fishing battle wagons, though indeed the larger boats are certainly more comfortable and handle rougher seas with more comfort and safety. There is even an 8’ game boat in Kona, appropriately named “Brain Damaged”, though I certainly don’t recommend boats that small!!!
There are few things on this planet that give as good an adrenaline rush as witnessing a rising dorsal accelerating to intercept a surface run lure. Without exception the take, and the moments following a strike are awe-inspiring and totally addictive.
As with all forms of fishing the starting point is rather technical, learning how the gear works on its own and interacts with the other equipment which is essentially a technical exercise. Only when that has been understood and using it becomes second nature can you effectively start enjoying the art of lure trolling and game fishing in general.
Somewhere on the planet a season is just ending and another just starting, anglers may have cracked their first successes, or they are just about to. The conditions and currents might have something to do with this, though I suspect that many of the marlin captures are a direct result of anglers having a better understanding of the workings of the ocean and skills of trolling artificial lures.
It is, at long last, accepted that artificial lures are not only an effective weapon for catching large game fish including the most spectacular of all, the billfishes. In many cases it is the most effective, being responsible for many wins against those using other methods. The best news is that trolling lures is very easy to do. Indeed a novice can be very competitive with just a basic knowledge of lure trolling.
Those who consistently miss out on success may do so for a many number of reasons, not the least of which is sheer bad luck. Though I suspect the main reason for failure is because of a misunderstanding of basic lure trolling principles that significantly decreases the chance of reasonable success.
Anglers generally experience some form of trolling before using skirted trolling lures for game fish. It might be trolling for trout along weed beds and drop-offs in a lake, or trolling around the edge of the sandbanks, circling schools of small pelagic fish or trolling for kingfish and small tuna along rocky shores and reefs.
These forms of trolling have many things in common. They all involve relatively low trolling speeds, under five knots, and often at a slow walking pace. Lures are placed a long way behind the boat so the lures will be in the ‘zone of convergence’ that is, the distance behind a moving boat where disturbed fish converge and resume normal behavior and hopefully, resume feeding. In most of these types of trolling it is assumed that the boat scares the fish. In most cases with all forms of trolling this assumption is incorrect, however the assumption remains ingrained and is unlikely to change.
Unfortunately, these types of trolling have nothing whatever to do with trolling for large oceanic game fish. In fact, it’s generally just the opposite. When converting to blue water trolling, you have to abandon the idea that the lures should be as far away from the boat and its wash as possible. When trolling for the big game fish, the boat and it’s wash are actually part of the system and the trick is learning how to use it to your advantage.
THE MOVING F.A.D.
When using skirted lures, the biggest difference is the speed. In blue water skirted lures are pulled along at effective speeds from a minimum of 6.5 knots, mostly 7.5 to 8.5 and as fast as 15 knots with the accompanying noise, vibration and white water. These components actually combine to form an effective ‘Fish Attracting Device’ otherwise know as a F.A.D.
Many anglers, because of their previous experience with other forms of trolling, run their lures way back out past the end of the wash, fearing that the boat noise and wash will scare the fish. In this form of fishing this is not the case. The action is concentrated in the area between the transom and the end of the prop wash and turbulence. This is known as the Strike Zone. This area is where you should run your lures.
Fish do get hooked on lures a long way back, but they were probably on their way to the boat. The chance of getting a solid hookup on a fish are far better on a short line, due to less line stretch and belly and the closer the fish come to the boat the more aggressive they become.
It is possible that the wash itself may appear to be a shoal of tiny bait fish foaming the surface in a feeding frenzy, or perhaps they have come to know that the motor noise and vibration could mean a trawler dumping trash over the side resulting in an easy meal, perhaps it does attract small predators like striped tuna and frigate mackerel that search the white water for a feed or camouflage, this may in turn attract larger predators. Regardless of what we imagine the wash represents to fish, the boat does not in any way scare these predators. The larger, bolder predators have even less fear and will come in so close to the transom they almost ram it in attack mode.
READING THE WASH
Before we put the lures out, let’s slow down to an average trolling speed of about 7 knots and have a look at the ‘Strike Zone’ the area between the transom and the end of the prop wash or turbulence created by the boat hull. You can read the wash behind a boat in a similar manner to reading the water around a headland, island, reef or beach.
The features of the wash are shown in the adjacent image, Fig 1. Reading the Wash. Down the middle is the prop wash, a very concentrated boiling confusion of white water, and indeed it’s much like a washing machine and does affect the stability of lures run directly in the main turbulence.
This prop wash is at its deepest at the transom, with the maximum depth at the props so perhaps it is not as deep as you might have imagined, and comes very close to the surface within a short distance. Although it looks like solid white water, it is quite translucent, allowing enough light to enabling fish to find tiny lures in the midst of it.
Along the side of the prop wash there are alleys of clearer water with little or no white water and turbulence. This is a great place to run a lure, as it highly visible and in non turbulent water. Predators are used to chasing tiny bait fish that are very well camouflaged. No matter what size or colour your lure is, it will show up very clearly no matter where you run it, as will your leaders and rigging.
Notice the white water coming off the sides of the boat. This Side Wash is very shallow and almost transparent consisting mostly of surface bubbles. A lure that is run in this area is probably more visible than in any other area, as the frothy white surface will highlight the lure’s silhouette but if it’s turbulent then it may affect your lure and rigs stability.
Every boat has a different wash format at every speed, in every sea condition and in every direction traveled. For example the wash is longer going into a current than it is going with it. To maintain the lures position you may lengthen a lures distance going into the current and shorten it going down current. The area you fish ie The Fishing Zone is variable and continually changing. To get the best results you will need to ‘tweak’ lure positions, heights and distances as conditions change.
The next items to take note of within the Strike Zone are the waves following the boat. These are pressure waves kicked up by the boat and vary in size depending on the boat size and hull type. The distance between them is the waterline length of the boat. These waves are the most important part of the wash for trolling skirted lures, as they are run and carefully positioned or tuned on the leading face of the pressure wave.
On close examination you’ll note several things including:
They are highest and widest at the transom and gradually get shorter, narrower further back in the wash and generally fade out around the end of the prop wash and turbulence. The top of the wave, the crest, is steeper than the bottom of the wave, the trough.
The face of the wave is far more visible from behind than the back of the wave. We’ll call this the ‘window’ as shown in the adjacent image Fig 2. The Window. The further down the face of the wave, the larger the ‘window’ and the more visible the lure is from behind, ie where the fish will track the lure from.
Some boats don’t have pressure waves, in which case the positioning of lures is less critical.
The rougher and choppier the sea the harder it is to distinguish where the pressure waves are, though with a little experience you will get to know how properly set lures look and behave and position them accordingly.
WHAT A LURE IS
Until we can interview a game fish we really don’t know why lures do catch fish. However over the years we have come to understand why some lures consistently catch more fish than others. It appears that they work because they trigger feeding and, or aggression responses. Basically in the world of the predator anything that moves and easily caught is possibly edible, the more like something it’s used to eating and the sicker or more wounded it appears the more likely a predator will commit its precious energy resource to an attack. This is a natural hunting response. A cat will attack anything that comes within range. A child will try and catch anything that is thrown towards it. The factors that contribute to the effectiveness of a lure are size, shape, colour, vibration, action, rigging and of course, but often overlooked fact is using them in an area likely to produce results.
WHAT A LURE DOES
The types of lure we are specifically discussing are surface running skirted trolling lures. Certainly much of the theory has relevance to other types of lure and other types of fishing. When run behind the boat, trolled, they tend to ‘work’ in a repetitive cycle. A lure that is working properly runs through the following cycle: It comes to the surface, grabs air ‘breathes’, dives down leaving a long bubble trail, ‘smoking’ and when it stops smoking, it comes up for another breath. It should not run under the water without a smoke trail for any length of time, if it does; it is called ‘lazy’. Also, it shouldn’t come out of the water too often, ‘blowing out’ when breathing.
All the different shapes and sizes go through these motions with different aggressions and timing. For example, for many sliced headed lures the cycle is repeated every 15 seconds, some as long as 30 seconds between breaths, Pakula lures are at their best when they breathe every 5 seconds. Some lures come to surface and softly breathe before diving, others explode on the surface like a sonic boom. Some dive as straight as an arrow, others may ‘swim’ off the side or dive in deep consistent arc, others shake their heads or tails as they dive. Smoke trails vary from pencil thin to almost creating their own prop wash. This mainly depends on the shape of the lure head, lure length and trolling speed. How often a lure goes through the working cycle depends on sea conditions, boat speed, lure position, distance, line height, line class and rigging.
Of all things that a lure does it’s most important jobs are to get a fish to strike aggressively and by far the most important thing a rigged lure is supposed to do is to carry the hook rig in stable manner to maximise the chances of hooking the fish. Please see other Pakula Articles and the Pakula YouTube Channel.
Now that we a basic idea of where lures are to be run and what they are supposed to do we can now move onto the lure selection. This is generally based on the level of information you’ve got, varying from getting a set of lures recommended by your local tackle store or from anglers fishing in the same areas, or perhaps chosen by recommendations from manufacturers, web forums, and indeed from personal preferences based on your own experiences.
Care should be taken if you incorporate individual lure recommendations to form a lure pattern. Think of it as getting advice for car parts, you could end up with an economical 1200cc motor, 4wd diffs, balloon tyres, comfortable LTD body etc, all great as separate items but when they’re put together it’s a bit of a disaster.
When choosing lures we tend to specify them according to the species of fish we most desire to catch, such as Blue Marlin Lures, Sailfish Lures, Tuna Lures, Wahoo Lures etc. Unfortunately this method of classification is not only incorrect, it is often misleading as just about every predator will attack anything it has a chance of catching and swallowing.
A lure pattern should imitate a selection of wounded or fleeing bait species that are likely to be in the area at the time you’re fishing. As most predators will feed on any available food source over any given period, getting this right you’ll target whatever predatory species are around from small tuna to monster billfish.
‘Matching the hatch’ is actually quite easy, as the species of blue water bait are very similar throughout the world’s game fishing areas, though it is very important to note that the food types change as they migrate through an area at certain times of the year. By following this system through you’ll also notice that through any given period there are many available food species. By working out which food is most likely to be in the area you can more accurately select a lure that ‘matches the hatch’ in action, colour and size. There is no doubt that if you get this system right you will also catch target species outside the period considered to be a normal season.
SELECTING LURES FOR THE PATTERN
There are several considerations in choosing lures to form a pattern:
Number of Lures
The next step is to decide how many lures you wish to run and the line classes involved. The number of lures run varies greatly. In areas where the fish are in great numbers, or there is a small crew to handle the gear the number of lures is less than in areas where there are less fish or more crew on board to handle the gear. For example in Cairns many boats troll only two lures and no teasers. In other areas such as Portugal up to ten lures and a brace of up to six teasers are used. The number of lures trolled also depends on the boat configuration, for example a standard fly bridge twin diesel classic game boat normally fights fish maneuvering backwards, which necessitates all rods and teasers are cleared before getting after the fish. With sports boats that are outboard powered boats the fish is generally fought with the boat maneuvering forwards at least in the initial stages of the fight so there is no need to wait to get the gear in before going after the fish. Most of the information and even the terminology used is in relation to the clasical game boats and fishermen tend to follow those regardless of the type of boat they use.
In the following we’ll assume that we’ll use five rods which is the ‘traditional system’ used in most areas. I encourage you to view other Pakula Articles and the Pakula YouTube Channel for information more specific to your situation.
Each line class has a maximum sized lure that can be effectively trolled due to the drag setting and hook size used. There is however no minimum sized lure for any line class. Nor is there any minimum sized lure for any species or size of fish you are chasing. Granders have been caught on lures as small as five inches long, however as they are rarely rigged to catch fish of this size they are normally lost on the smaller lures. As a guideline most predatory fish, particularly billfish can swallow a meal as large as twenty percent of their own weight. The largest commonly available lures are around eighteen inches long which is equivalent to a bait of four to six pound, so even the largest lure you’ll use is not out of the question for a small sixty pound marlin.
As discussed earlier the ‘Strike Zone’ is from the back of the boat to the end of the wash or turbulence. To enhance this we select lures from highly aggressive and large near the back of the boat to more sedate and smaller as we get to the end of the prop wash which is also the end of the ‘Strike Zone’. The greater the range of sizes used the more species of fish you are likely to target. For an example a five lure spread may consist of one fourteen inch, one twelve inch, two ten inch and an eight inch lure. There may be times when you may wish to eliminate smaller species such as Skipjack or Bonito, in which case you wouldn’t run lures under eight inches see image Fig 1. Reading the Wash
The chosen set of lures should be compatible with each other in action, vibration and effective trolling speed. The simplest way to do this is run lures that are all similar in type, i.e. all Scoop Faced Chuggers such as many in the Pakula Range, or all Sliced Slant Head Lures. Mixing lures types and brands when your just starting out is really making the sport far more difficult and unsuccessful than it could be. Each lure developer designs their lures to run in specific positions within a pattern at certain speeds. Knowing where this position is just by looking at the lure without a great deal of experience can be quite difficult.
To make things more difficult the standard terminology used to describe the lures position i.e. long corner etc is not appropriate, as it does not convey the relevant information. Whether a lure works in a certain position in a pattern relative to the others depends to great extent on the angle at which the lure hits the water. As shown in the images Fig. 3 and Fig 4 Angle of Entry, the angles and therefore the lures performance can vary considerably.
Though it is certainly important to totally understand this concept when designing lures it is enough that a game fisherman should be aware of its importance regarding lure positioning.
There are certainly many methods of adjusting the angle at which the lure enters the water such as simply raising or lowering the rigger halyards or by putting the rods in straight or angled rod holders and or using rubber band and release clips to the gunnels to lower the angle on flat lines. Other aspects that affect the angle are the line class and diameter and length of leader, the heavier they are the lower the angle of entry.
The Image Fig 5. Head Shape shows some of the many variations available of head shapes in their relative positions in a ‘pattern’ of lures to show the relevance of shape and position.
– The longer the head and the smaller the face the longer the position ie Long Corner, Long Rigger and Shotgun.
– The shorter the head and the wider the face the shorter the position ie Short Corner and Short Rigger.
– If a head is both long and has a wide face the more likely it is to work in all positions though because it would have a more aggressive action it is best used in a short position.
As previously mentioned it is important to place the more aggressive and active lures closer to the boat. If this simple rule is not followed and you put the larger or more aggressive lures at the tail of the pattern you can set up a ‘Blocking Pattern’. Many fish will not go past a larger lure to attack a smaller one.
Though all this sounds complicated it is quite easy to put it into practice with a little planning and observation. Until you are confident it is worthwhile having a couple of bullet heads to run in positions that you can’t work effectively. As bullets run under the surface they can run in any position at any normal trolling speed.
It’s not surprising that there has been an ongoing debate as to the significance of colours of lures to the fish we are trying to catch with them. This ongoing discussion shouldn’t come as a surprise as every aspect of fishing is under continuous scrutiny. Scientific research is in a similar situation, regardless of what is known there is always more to find out. Research by Kerstin Fritsches of the Vision, Touch and Hearing Research Center at the University of Queensland, Australia finally proved that Marlin do have colour vision and there are plans to further this research.
With the amount of information in the form of anecdotal evidence and individual catch rates of specific lures and lure colours with reference to the proportion of that colour produced it does seem pretty coclusively that colour is a vital aspect of lure choice. Not only do predators see relevant colours, it would seem that they also have a wider range of colour recognition into ultra violet, luminescence, gamma and possibly infra red wavelengths, as a result Pakula Tackle has included many additives in lure heads and skirts.
For a novice selecting lure colours can be quite daunting. Luckily most blue water bait species are similar throughout the world’s oceans. To make things easier still their colours are to a great extent proportionate to their size, which can be reflected in the lure selection.
Over the years four colour groups have accounted for the highest catch statistics and even more than that these colours would appear to have certain best positions in the spread, these factors add up to make up a central backbone applicable to any blue water lure pattern. I’ve noted the colour groups in specific positions in the pattern as shown in image Fig 9. Pakula Pattern Example.
The normal terminology for placement is on which pressure wave the lure is run. For example a pattern may be described as waves 2,3,4, etc. Once again this standard terminology can be misleading. For example a large displacement boat may only have a very short wash and only four or five waves to work with. A fourteen foot boat with a 40hp motor would have a very long wash and up to ten waves to work with. In reality the positions are not that important as long as the lures are spaced out within the ‘Strike Zone’.
Lure Positions for Classical Twin Diesel Game Boats with Long Outriggers
The largest lure in the pattern is black. As it is run closest to the boat at the position in the most turbulent part of the wash the dark silhouette shows up clearly. In reality most bait species are well camouflaged so regardless of what colour a lure is it will be visible regardless of where it is run and even if it were invisible the vibration that its action puts out would be felt by the fish’s lateral line making it easy for the fish to track down. The main combinations are black over pink, purple, or green. In some patterns you may wish to substitute a very bright florescent colour like a Pink or Orange combination.
The next lure in the pattern is the second largest and is a blue combination such as blue and silver over green and gold, blue and silver over pink or blue and pearl white over pink and white.
The most successful colour in this position is purple or violet in combinations of blue, pink and black.
Without doubt the best colour for this position is Green preferably Lumo® over green and chartreuse
The fifth lure on the shotgun and any supplementary lures in various other positions are the “try out” lures. This is also where you should run an area’s own particular ‘hot colour’ for example black and red or yellow around tropical reefs, pink in the light tackle fishery in Australia. Any lures you wish to try out in new colours or shapes should be run in the shotgun position.
The above colour groups in their specific positions have more than proven their effectiveness over many years successfully replacing many game fishing areas traditional hot colours. This set of colours matches the most common bait fish colours found in all game fishing areas around the world. You will also see that these colours range from very bright to very dark in various spectrums, giving maximum variation in their silhouettes.
SETTING UP YOUR LURES
We are just about ready to deploy the lures. Most of the preparation such as setting up leaders and rigs, rigging and hook sharpening, of the lures would have been done prior to getting on the boat. There are however just a couple of checks before you set the lures. Hooks should be checked for sharpness, leaders for any nicks or abrasions.
As the lures are readied or put in the water the hooks should be checked and adjusted relative to the lure head within the lure skirt. With lures that have a symmetrical head shape such as all Pakula Lures, the positioning of the hooks control which way up the lure runs in the water. If you run a two hook rig at the recommended 60 degrees angle by placing two points of the hook in the dark side of the skirt will ensure that the dark side rides upwards. (Fig 6. Hooks Set at 60 Degrees) The hooks will not spin within the skirt and they will maintain this position. Other types of lures may require a toothpick placed in the back of the lure head to fix the leader and hooks in position.
SETTING THE PATTERN
Now that we know where to run them any way, it is (at long last) time to put the lures out. The lures that you plan to run farthest back should be put our first, in order to avoid tangling with the closer ones. The Shot Gun is generally the longest lure and is set just past the end of the prop wash or turbulence whichever is the furthest. The Long Rigger is put out next and set near the end of the prop wash and turbulence. The actual ‘pattern’ is not very important, but you must keep the lures far enough apart so that they don’t tangle even when the boat makes a tight turn, though it is also a good idea to have the lures close enough to each other so that if a fish doesn’t like a lure as it is drawn through the pattern it can easily be aware of others to chose from. This tends to excite a fish into either taking the lure it is following or race over and to attack the other. There are other reasons for keeping the pattern relatively short and tight such as the longer a lure is set the more line there is to stretch and cushion the strike. A normal lure pattern is shown hereabouts showing the relative positions and their names. (Fig 7. Trolling Positions)
The actual number of lures you run does not matter and apart from multiple hook ups there does not seem to be any evidence that shows that the more lures you run the more fish you catch. Remember that you are on a moving F.A.D. that attracts fish looking for something to eat in the wash. The most important factors in determining the number of lures to run are the sea conditions and the number of hands on deck. Until you are confident you can handle most situations allow one rod for each angler, visitor and crew. Don’t expect the skipper to wind the other lines in. Things happen quickly and there often isn’t time to stuff around getting more lines in. The rougher and windier the conditions, the less the number of lures you can run without continually tangling lines.
Lure Positions for Outboard Powered Boats with No or Short Outriggers
Perhaps the most confusing apect of getting lures to work well as apattern is the terminology used to describe positions which as mentioned earlier is based on clasical game boat positions. If this terminology is used in trying to set up a pattern of lures for bnoats with short, sub 16 foot or 5 meter long outriggers or no outriggers you really need to use different terminology to clearly indertify the position of the lures as the clasical positions infer not only distance but do infer that the lures are trolled off the tips of long high outriggers or shotgun poles, hence the terms Long Rigger, Short Rigger and Shotgun have become common terms for explaining where a lure is to be trolled.
As there isn’t much if any height added to the lines in boats with short or no outriggers there really needs to be different terminology used to help explain the lures that should be used in these positions.
In the image below we have used common football team positions to identify the various distances and ‘Angle of Entry’ in these situations.
The relevance here is that the lures further back in the wash, the Short Winger, Long Winger and Fullback do not have the aid of height from outriggers or poles and are therefore different lures ie the further back the lure the lower the ‘Angle of Entry’ so the longer the head the further back and the lighter the leaders that should be used to get lures to work effectively.
You can certainly increase speed to get the lures working better, but picking the right lures rigged the right way allows you to stay around the 6.5 to 7 knot trolling speeds.
Please keep these factors in mind regarding information that use the traditional names when recommending lures or rigging as the information may not be rel event to your specific boat set up.
Once you set the approximate distance behind the boat the lure is fine tuned by adjusting its position on the face of the pressure wave. The action of the lure can be adjusted from very aggressive to quite sedate. Remember that the wave is steeper at the top than at the bottom. The higher the lure is run on the face of the wave the more aggressive the action, however in this position the lure will often blow out of the surface and possibly tangle. The lower you run the lure in the face of the pressure wave the more sedate the lure becomes. Generally the best compromise is running the lure in the lower third of the waves face. Another consideration in the positioning of the lure is how hard or easy it is for a fish to make a clean take. This is described in more detail below. If a lure blows out of the water often you can simply wind the lure towards you, down towards the bottom of the pressure wave. If it still keeps blowing out will you can drop it back to the next wave or slow the boat down. Unfortunately this may mean that you have to drop all the lures behind it back and re-tune them.
Another simple method is adjusting the angle or height of the line by either raising or lowering the halyard on outriggers or incorporating a mini tag line off the transom to adjust flat lines. There are lots of ways of adjusting the height of lines from the water line to the tip of the riggers, but it is important to keep any system as simple and straightforward as possible. Image Fig 8. Adjust Height.
WHEN TO CHANGE LURES
On most boats trolling around the oceans there always seems to be someone intent on trying out every lure on the boat in every position possible. The most this pastime actually accomplishes is keeping at least one person awake on an otherwise boring day. The reality is that although you may find the hot lure of the day, you are more likely to replace the one that would probably have achieved the best results.
Trolling skirted lures only results in catching fish given certain situations. In fact they are the same situations that lead to success in every other form of fishing. Quite simply fishing where the fish are, and even more than that, being where the fish are at the time they are feeding
It would be great to consistently know when the period of action is going to happen it is important to develop a central core pattern of lures that are never replaced so they are available to the fish during the ‘hot period’.
The core pattern should not change is usually based on 4 lures in quite specific colours and has been referred to earlier on in the article and shown hereabouts. Image Fig 9. Pakula Pattern Example.
Only the size of the lure is changed according to the area and line class, rarely the colour or head shape.
The lure you can change often are the middle or shotgun lure which is set up so that it can be run from a high central rigger all the way down to a snap off the transom so that any most head shapes or sized lure can be run off it. As it is the central lure it has a clear position anywhere from the back of the boat to as far back as required.
Other lures may be run in and around the rest of the pattern, but the central core remains not only because they have proven the most consistent but they are also a good indication of how good the other lures you are trying stack up against them. Indeed should you have consistent results on one of the fringe lures then by all means move it into the core pattern.
As mentioned previously the species of bait fish in any area vary in species and size. By using the four main colours green, blue, violet purple and black in lures of varying sizes you’ve got most species covered. However there are times and circumstances that may require an expansion of the pattern. For example in many areas squid may at times be the most abundant bait species so introducing colours such as pink, brown, orange and white may be appropriate. In areas where the current is raging, especially near reefs and undersea mountains, deep-water species may be pushed to the surface in the up welling. As most of these are red in colour it may then be time to add this colour say red and black to the spread.
There are always alternatives to everything. However establishing a core pattern of lures and getting to know how to run them is certainly preferable to never knowing if you have the right lure at the right time doing the right thing.
ASPECTS OF FISH DESIGN AND PRESSURE WAVES
Understanding the use and capabilities of the gear used to catch large game fish, particularly marlin seem to take up the considerable bulk of technical discussion. Part of the story though involves understanding the capabilities of the fish you are after and then relating this to the methods we use to chase them.
When trolling, the gear we use is artificial and so is the environment we create. The wash, turbulence and pressure waves in which we run the gear is also foreign to the fish. The fish are not the slightest bit deterred from hunting, feeding and displaying their aggression in this zone of froth and turbulence. We can certainly increase our success by understanding the how this and the fish interact.
The average marlin and sailfish caught off the East Coast of Australia and in many parts of the world are between six to eight feet long. Marlin usually flex laterally, side to side, the bill, mouth and tail stay in line with each other. They do not bend their bodies and tails vertically, up and down, although they are often portrayed with this ability in drawings and even cast in this position.
Due to the size of pressure waves being the water length of the boat wide there are many times, especially in smaller boats where we expect a fish to grab a trolled lure or bait with it’s tail and dorsal out literally of the water. Though the fish’s body also creates thrust, the tail is obviously the main propulsion unit and the dorsal the main stabiliser. The smaller the boat the more important it is to understand this chapter as many of the fish you are trying to catch just don’t fit in the pressure waves and an awareness of this and the tactics available will certainly improve results.
The illustrations from 1 to 5, image Fig 10. Marlin Attack show that the higher the lure is in the pressure wave the more of the fish is literally out of the water to try and grab the lure, in image 1 the fish literally has to stand on its tail and literally has to lunge at it, often missing it though it does look pretty spectacular. The further towards the trough we run the lure, images 2 to 4 the more fish is under the water and the more effectively the fish can control its movements and attack, and the greater the chance of a successful hook up.
Other factors in making it easier for the fish to grab the lure and hook up is using lures that dive deeper, as shown in image 5. Apart from actual lure design the larger the lure the deeper it will dive. The closer the pressure wave is to the boat the steeper it is the more appropriate it is to run the largest lures in the spread in this area.
The slower the boat goes the smaller the height of the pressure waves. The height increases the faster the boat approaches plaining speed. Interestingly as the boat increases speed it pushes the crest of the pressure waves away from the transom.
With these points in mind there are several tactical responses to a ‘missed strike’. Rather than drop the lure back to a fish where it is more difficult to attack it is better to pull the lure towards the boat into the trough where it is easiest for the fish to attack it, in fact they may even surf down the wave to grab it. This can also be achieved by slightly increasing speed, which pushes the wave back leaving the lure closer to the trough.
An obvious solution is to run the lures in the trough if that’s the best position to hook a fish. There are a number of points to consider.: Lures are very sluggish in this position. The full leader is in the water that does spook fish. Experience has also shown that with employing a couple of tactics that become automatic running lures in the lower third of the pressure wave results in the highest success rates.
Though we’ve been referring to fish striking from behind the theory applies to fish striking from any other direction as well. The more water the fish has to swim in the more likely you are to get a clean hook up.
Even if you understand and introduce every point in this article it is important to realise that this whole sport becomes that much more enjoyable and exciting once the technical aspects of it becomes second nature. For example selecting and setting a pattern of lures and tuning them should take a lot less time than reading about it. There are also a great many other things to get right in your trolling system such as drag setting, rigging, use of teasers, outriggers etc which we have or will deal with, but no matter how much of a perfectionist you are with you gear and lures, even if you become the supreme artist of lure trolling the single most important thing is go to where the fish are and stay with them through the bite period.