Striper Trolling Tips for Open Water and Structure
I will say that trolling gets a bad rep by many as it’s often associated with heavy gear and sometimes considered a “low skill” technique. I disagree on both counts. The main reason why striper gear is so heavy is the need to get down deep in depths over 20 feet. If you are a set it and forget it type, you may need the heavier gear. But, if you’re willing to put a little extra effort in with these tips, you can fish any level in the water column, and often far more effectively with the old school methods.
The first step in developing your strategy is to fully understand the structure, or lack there of, that you’re trolling on.
- Open Water: “Open Water” is a pretty generic term and represents at least 80 percent of trolling for stripers and to me, trolling in open water means any situation where you are targeting/searching for actual fish as opposed to working a specific structure in hopes of finding a fish that is drawn on it.
- Although they don’t qualify as “structure” in the classic sense of hard structure such as rocks, reefs and the like, you should always be aware of any subtle structures in the general area that could hold stripers. The embedded Navionics data on your unit is a huge wingman here. Take a look and see if you find any goodies and make a mental note of where they are.
- Often times, you can find a previously unnoticed drop off or other bottom contour. Maybe these aren’t huge, life altering discoveries, but every so often, they are big time diamonds in the rough. If all else is the same, add those “spots” to you reconnaissance.
- Structure: Striped Bass are creatures of opportunity. Stripers, particularly big ones, will tend to hang out in areas that will hold a food chain or create some sort of disturbance where bait is easily ambushed. This means rips, rocks, boulders, mussel beds, shorelines and drop offs; these are all great places to target. The best part of fishing structure is that you need fewer signs to validate your choice to fish there. There is almost always a chance to find a striper in any of these habitats. The other thing I like about trolling in or around structure is that structure produces all season long; once you have discovered a piece of structure that “always” produces for you, you have a spot that you can head for without any reports that talk about a hot bite.
- Trolling Tactics:
- Troll with the Current: This is the easiest way and will keep your lures at the desired depth. On the other hand, trolling uptide will create a water ski effect and raise your lures.
- Lots of Turns: If you incorporate a series of turns into your trolling pattern, you can fish a pretty wide spectrum of the water column. The inside line on the turn will drop; the outside line on the turn will rise.
- Thin Braid, Faster Drop: The thick diameter and heavy weight of lead core result in a slow moving spool on the drop. This will greatly diminish the depth you’ll get to if you put the reel in free spool. I find that the 40lb braid comes off the spool 10x faster, allowing for a faster drop than the heavier yet slower moving lead-core off the reel.
- Short Rods: The shorter the rod, the lower the angle of line is to the water. The lower the angle, the less line you have exposed to wind drag and the less time it will take the lure to drop when taking the boat out of gear.
- Slow Trolling Speed: The slower you go, the deep your lures will drop. I deal striper trolling speed is as low as you can go, preferably under 3.5 kts through the water. Don’t worry about speed over ground while trolling with the tide.
- Drop In and Out of Gear: As you see from my outfit above, I have accommodated for this technique, which I tend to utilize almost 100% of the time I troll for stripers. This technique puts together all the tactical tips 1 -6. When you put them all together, you can hit targets in up to 60’ with the light outfits we are recommending. Not only can you reach the fish, you have a lot more control and sensitivity. Also, as importantly, you have the enjoyment of a skilled technique with fun easy to use outfits. Here’s how the method works.
- Identify Target: If I see a juicy fish target or a piece of structure that I like on the fish finder, I will count to 5, then take the boat out of gear
- Wait: I will then count 10 seconds for every 10 feet of depth. More if I am trolling against the tide. The goal here, regardless of the amount of time (other factors include lure weight and wind check) is to get the lures to the depth of the target.
- Engage: Once you feel confident that you are in the zone, put the boat back in gear. This is often when you hook up,
- Tease: If the above method doesn’t work within 15 seconds, I repeat on a shorter account. This time I will put the reel in free spool simultaneously. Once engaged again. I will crank in 30’ of line to simulate a spooked fish.