When it comes to fishing lakes for trout, trolling is right up there with bait fishing as a popular, effective and family-friendly method of catching fish.
In its simplest form, pulling lures behind a boat is basic. True. But there are little things that can make a big difference to your catch rate.
Trolling for trout is definitely seasonal. And it’s not just a matter of what season is best – it’s what season is best and where. Different lakes perform best in different months and it pays to get familiar with the primetime for a few of them.
At Lake Dartmouth for instance, the highest catch rates are in spring. And that’s not just based on my experience - research proves it. A 12-month creel survey of anglers’ catches undertaken several years ago clearly indicated a spike in trout catches during spring.
By comparison, autumn is often the best time to fish Lake Eildon, particularly in the arms such as Big River and Jerusalem Creek where brown trout gather prior to their spawning run up the rivers.
At Lake Bullen Merri, winter is probably the pick of the seasons for trout trolling.
The fish in there can’t spawn, but they do congregate on schools of baitfish and caddis. They are amongst the fastest growing trout anywhere in Australia! Just make sure you pack some warm clothes and an umbrella because it can be arctic in the southwest during winter!
Once you’re fishing at the right time of year, it’s important to find the depth at which the trout are feeding. The best way is to mix up the depths at which you troll your lures until you find what the trout like best.
If I’ve got experience in particular waters or have received advice on what the fish are doing, I’ll jump straight to that depth. At Dartmouth in spring for instance, I’ll run two paravanes from day one because it’s worked well for me so many times before.
They’ll have me trolling in 10-12m over the submerged tree tops, which is a consistently productive depth at Dartmouth in spring.
But if you don’t know what’s happening in a lake then it’s really a game of trial and error. Maybe test your social skills at the boat ramp to learn what other anglers already know. And while you might smile, I’m only half joking – on many occasions impromptu conversations have arisen at the ramp and priceless tips have salvaged a trip.
Flatlines, trolling sinkers, leadcore lines, downriggers – they’re all options to cover various depths, depending on your budget and experience.
Regardless of your approach though, I would stress this. Don’t try and fish every method at the same time. It’ll mean you don’t give any one of those methods a fair go.
Let’s say you’ve arrived at a lake with a mate, which means you’re allowed to use four rods (Victorian fishing regulations permit two rods per angler in inland waters).
Rather than fishing two flatlines, a leadcore and a paravane you’re better off fishing approaches that complement each other in terms of depth. One combination might be two flatlines and two leadlines so that you’re focused on water less than 9m.
Alternatively, you might have given the shallows a go for little result and decided to opt for some mid-water trolling. A combination of a leadline and a paravane would be a good match to try water between 8-12m.
Any deeper and it’s downriggers all the way.
A word of warning though, avoid fishing all four rods the same way. Two deep and two shallow will avoid tangles but four flatline or four leadlines is a recipe for tangles! And that’s before you even hook a fish!
I’m a big fan of winged lures for trout trolling. They’re cheap, easy to rig and more than any other trout trolling lure, indicate they’re swimming properly with that ‘tap, tap, tap’ of the rod tip.
My trout trolling started with Tasmania Devils. I’ve got dozens nowadays and have caught the bulk of my trout on them. A few years ago at Dartmouth, however, I realised that there’s a lot more to winged lures than first meets the eye.
Dad and I had been trolling the main lake for a week and had been doing well on paravanes. Eight to ten brown trout per session with the best of them nudging 1.5kg – good fish for Dart.
Given our propensity for keeping diary notes, we realised late in the trip that 75% of fish had come from one particular lure – a yellow Tassie Devil with a red throat and black stripes across its bum. We rummaged through our tackle boxes looking for other ones, but nothing performed as well as this particular lure.
It wasn’t until another boat, which had pulled up for a chat (which turned into a 45 minute chat in the dark) got talking to us about what was working best, that we realised (thanks to them) that the ‘magic’ lure was actually a Lofty’s Cobra.
Sounds like an obvious thing to check for, but given all the winged lures I’d ever bought were Tassie Devils, it was an explanation that made sense. It was amongst several a mate had given me when he moved to Queensland. The mystery was solved!
Needless to say I’ve now got many more Lofty’s Cobras in my tackle box. But my point is this – the subtleties of different lures can have a massive influence on catch rates. Here we were trying to match colour when it was the different action of the Cobra that was probably the key.
They’re slightly more bent than Tassies and thus swim differently.
These days I’ll flatline, leadline, paravane or downrig with a Tassie and a Cobra just in case a subtle difference in action is the critical factor.
While a lure’s action is determined by its shape, it’s also influenced by the speed at which you troll it. Craig McLaggan, who makes Lofty’s Lures in outer Melbourne, reckons 2.5-2.7kmh is perfect for his winged lures, and concedes this is slower than for Tassie Devils.
“I’ve had days on a lake when we’ve caught heaps and other boats haven’t had much luck,” Craig says.
“I tell them to slow down using buckets over the side if they have to - sometimes they listen and then reap the rewards.”
Hearing that from Craig, I’ll confess to trolling too fast on regular occasions. I’ll avoid buckets if I can and use my bow mounted Minn Kota electric. Craig’s solution has been to install a trolling baffle on his 50hp four-stroke Mercury that provides the ultimate in speed control.
Winged lures should not be fished on the wires with which many of them are sold.
End of discussion.
A fixed lure on a wire, especially a heavy one like a winged lure, provides way too much leverage for a 2kg trout to throw the lure. Best to thread the line through the lure and then a bead before the treble. That way, the lure slides down the line and away from the jumping fish, which loses any advantage offered by a heavy lure near its mouth.
Better still, consider tossing the treble too and using single or double hooks rigged on brass rings and split rings. Once you’ve tried it you won’t go back. It’s that good!
Sounders are amazing and I wouldn’t be without one when trolling for trout. But they do have limitations. They can’t tell you what’s coming up ahead. The funny thing is, the terrain adjacent to the lake does. You’ve just got to look!
Steep banks will probably continue into the water, thus providing deep water close to the shore. Conversely, shallow sloping grassy banks probably indicate a shallow shelving piece of underwater terrain. Looking ahead for these productive depths, away from trouble.
Having said all that, I am a big fan of getting to know a trolling stretch. You’re unlikely to see me trolling right around a lake’s shore. Instead, I’ll choose a stretch and get to know it by trolling it several times. Any snags or weeded lures are your ‘teachers’, allowing you to learn that stretch of water and evade trouble on the next pass.
The best place to catch a trout is where you caught the last one. Well, almost. My point is this – more often than not, trout are not alone. If you’ve done all the hard work and caught your first, or even just got a strike, then keep going.
Persist in the same area with the same technique. Chances are you’ll get another fish and be on the way to a great day on the water.
I’ll put this point into some perspective. Again, it’s an example from Lake Dartmouth. On day one, we found some fish along a bank in the main lake near the wall. Backwards and forwards we went for a nice haul of eight fish to 1kg, mostly browns. The next day we returned and did the same thing, refining the approach by trying different coloured winged lures from various makers. Day three and four we did the same with similarly good results.
Other boats went flying by, and mates headed way up the lake in search of more remote action, and some peace and quiet. But we’d found some fish and I wanted to stay with them, working through the numbers for a better specimen of 2kg or more.
Now lots of you will say that trolling the same stretch sounds awfully boring. I reckon it was the opposite! We got very familiar with the location of submerged trees that could snag our paravanes so there were none of the ‘errors’ that come with a new stretch of water.
And it was relaxing. For someone who’s always in search of the next fish, staying on a known quantity had me looking at more than the sounder, enjoying the scenery and making minor refinements to lure selections that I wouldn’t otherwise make.
Seven tips to improve your trout trolling – hopefully, there’s one or two in there that make a difference for you this season.
With all the rain we’ve had and several impoundments full or close to it, there should be great trout trolling on offer in Victoria over the next few years, in both stocked waters and our wild trout fisheries.
Top Trolling Spots
Lake Dartmouth (northeast)
Lake Eildon (northeast)
Rocky Valley Reservoir (northeast)
Lake Bullen Merri (southwest)
Lake Purrumbete (southwest)
Lake Fyans (northwest)
Lake Wartook (northwest)
Lake Jindabyne (NSW)
Lake Eucumbene (NSW)