It would be fair to say that trolling lures in tropical creeks is more popular in the Northern Territory than it is in Queensland. However there are many reasons why Queenslanders should include trolling in their bag of tropical creek tricks.
First and foremost is that trolling is a great family activity. It’s so simple for kids; all they have to do is free-spool the lure out to a mark on their line and hold the rod. The mark on the line could be as simple as a black marker pen streak on pink or yellow braid.
When we troll our basic kit involves four rods – one fully rigged and ready as a spare and the other three are for the basic fishing pattern. All are spooled with different coloured braids so that tangles and crossovers are easier to sort out. We run a short line and a long line out one side of the boat, and a medium distance back for the third line, which is on the opposite side of the boat to the other two.
Other advantages of trolling that spring to mind is that you can cover a lot of water, three anglers can fish at once and you don’t need an electric motor to hold you in position while you cast at isolated structure.
When you are first starting out as a creek angler, it’s hard to know where the fish are, and what their behaviours are. By trolling you get to cover a lot of areas, depths, temperatures and structures, and after a few trips you'll have some form of idea about what types of features that the target fish hold on in your area.
Water flow is the critical factor when you are picking a creek trolling location. The greater the water flow through the area the better. This doesn’t mean that you should only fish at the times of highest water flow. You should look for locations where water flow can be high as these will often have the best structure in the form of deep holes on outside bends, undercut banks and snags that have been washed into the middle of the creek.
High flows can be generated when flood plains drain via gutters into the main creek or river. It is the mouths of these side effluences and confluences where deep holes often form and they are one of the best places to troll.
I like creeks that are just wide enough to fit the boat in; when you troll in these narrow passageways then your lures on both sides can be in the strike zones from time to time.
Ideally you will succeed in getting your lures as close to the above items as possible; hopefully you will even bump your lure into a few of them.
The general practice when trolling is to point the rod tip out to the side and slightly forward. Held at this angle you can drop the rod tip back towards the lure when the lure bumps either a snag, a rock, or the bottom. When you drop your rod tip back it allows for a couple of metres of slack line. This momentary slack allows your lure to float up and over the obstruction. Also just after you hit the structure is when you are most likely to get a barramundi strike. To have your lure paused in the water at the same time that the barra inhales is the best way to end up with your lure inside the barra’s mouth. Perfect!
Another trick is to jerk the rod after the first drop back then again let the lure float up; do this a couple of times with the engine knocked out of gear and you can really excite the barra into inhaling. This Queensland innovation is a technique that has taken the Northern Territory by storm in recent seasons.
Trolling can be a ‘mind in neutral’ affair, or it can be a very exact science between the skipper, the angler, the rod, the amount of line out and the diving depth of the lure; all these factors can be combined to drive your lure right past the nose of your target fish.
Three anglers per boat seems to be a good balance for most situations; or three anglers and one skipper with the skipper’s role rotating through the crew or the skipper slipping a line out occasionally in wider pieces of water.
If there is a little bit of width in the creek then I’d start by trolling along close to the bank along one side and then back along the other side. Side scan sounders are one of the greatest inventions as an aid to trollers. If you find snags in the middle of the creek, don’t ignore them; they can often be honey holes. Once you have these mid-water snags located then start trolling past them out in the middle. The same approach can be employed for midstream schools of fish and schools of bait. Sometimes you won’t know which option to try first, or next.
My barra trolling tackle is pretty basic; I use a 7ft double handed baitcaster rod with an Abu Garcia 6000 sized reel loaded with 30lb braid. My leader will be anything from 40-60lb fluorocarbon and it’ll be about a rod’s length so that you can get a few turns on the spool when the fish is at the netting stage. I like the 7ft rods because they help achieve a little extra spread in your trolling pattern.
To facilitate the floating up of the lure use very buoyant lures. I like short, fat, deep diving cod-style lures as well as the commonly accepted long minnows.
I like to have a cross section of diving depths in my trolling spread; from deep divers, medium depth and ultra-deep ploughs. If one depth is producing all the results then I’ll use that lure on the other rods. Having said that, one of the fun things about tropical creek trolling is the variety of fish you can encounter and having a wide variety of lures in your spread can certainly create that great feeling of ‘what’s next’.
Once you get to know a creek, then you can sometimes run a few more lures in your pattern if you like; but please keep an eye on the regulations (number of rods/lures per angler) for the particular area that you are in.
When trolling you should pick up an array of species and with judicious recording in your fishing diary, you’ll have a wealth of knowledge on everything from flathead to barra and all those species in-between like blue salmon, fingermark, grunter and mangrove jacks. Oh and of course trevally and queenfish.
As I mentioned before, trolling can be laid back, or it can be super serious. It suits a crew blessed with a cross section of experience levels and it is a great way to gain intelligence on a new waterway. Go have a troll!
Good Trolling Structure
Sandbanks with small or steep drop-offs
Deep water on the outside of bends
The mouths of drains, especially on the run out tide
‘Y’ junctions where two waterways interact
Colour changes in the water
Trees that have fallen in off the bank
Anywhere that baitfish are holding
Any structure that interrupts or changes the direction of water flow