Introduction: The Best Striper Trolling Outfits
Out of casting, jigging and trolling for striped bass, I would say that trolling is the most practiced technique for stripers. The basics of trolling for stripers are easy for novices to pick up quickly, but there are also many advanced trolling techniques to learn that can help in catching more fish under specific conditions.
Here’s what I love about trolling for stripers:
- You can search large areas easily and easily adapt to a tactical approach.
- You can target deep moving fish most effectively.
- Trolling is the ideal technique for larger boats with more than just one or two anglers.
- Trolling is a great technique for beginners because it requires less time to develop the skills needed to become proficient.
I will say that trolling gets a bad rap by many as it’s often associated with heavy gear and sometimes considered low skill. I disagree on both counts, mainly because the methods and equipment I use when trolling are different than what is typically employed in many areas.
I grew up working on a number of local charter boats on Cape Cod in the late 80s and early 90s. Back then, pretty much everyone was trolling with wire line. The name of the game was parachute jigs in the spring, umbrella rigs mid summer, tube and worm late summer and parachutes again in the fall. When I got my captain’s license, my first gig was running a 30’ Black Watch that was part of a party boat operation out of Falmouth Harbor. The groups we took fishing consisted mostly of families on vacation and individuals with limited fishing experience, making wire line outfits less than ideal because of their weight, as well as the tendency of wire line to tangle. As we got better at servicing this clientele, we discovered light reels with lead core on rods designed for musky fishing were a great alternative. At first we focused on fishing only in shallow water with these outfits, but over time we started realizing that with a few modifications to our techniques, we were able to work deeper water with equipment that was simply more fun and easier to use. (More on that in Section III)
Three Traditional Striper Trolling Outfits and My Alternatives
1. Wire Line Set Up
The backing/line/leader of a basic wire line trolling outfit typically consists of 50-pound test Dacron backing, between 200 and 300-feet of 50-pound test Monel or stainless wire line, topped off with a 6 to 15-foot shot of 50-pound mono or fluorocarbon leader connected to the wire with an Albright knot. Monel line is more expensive than stainless, but it has less “spring” and is therefore easier to handle; it also is stronger and lasts longer.
Some folks who use wire line a great deal elect to set up their outfits with “shots” of wire, connected with planer line or even Dacron backing material. Set-ups are often kept secret, but a typical one is three sections of wire, each connected by six-feet or so of planer/Dacron line. Not only does this configuration allow you to fish different depths of water effectively with one outfit, but it also has the added advantage of allowing you to have the less abrasive planer/Dacron rubbing back-and-forth through the tip guide.
A wire line jigging rod is often fiberglass or a combination of graphite and fiberglass; its slower action provides enough “give” when fishing with non-stretch wire to lessen the chances of ripping the hook out a fish. Carboloy or carbide guides were once the only choice to use when fishing wire since they won’t groove, which is the main problem with guides that aren’t designed to be used with wire. Some anglers prefer to use guides with rings made of silicon carbide or silicone nitride because they are lighter, helping reduce the overall weight of the rod, and they stand up well to wire line use. On the other hand, any of the ceramic or carbon based guides can crack if subjected to a sharp blow against a gunwale, rail or other unforgiving part of a boat.
No matter what type of guide you choose, make sure that the frames are extra strong and can handle the stresses of wire line jigging; in fact, in many cases guides for wire line rods have an extra bridge in the frame, providing three sections of support for the ring.
Although I have heard of some folks using roller guides on their wire line rods, my experience is that there are more pitfalls with this type of guide as opposed to benefits.
That said, the use of a roller guide tip is fairly common, but the issue with them is the same as with any roller guide: if someone is not paying attention, the line can slip between the roller and frame, resulting in an almost instant cut off. Roller guides can also stop rolling if salt or other crud is allowed to build up, making the roller stick. Sticking with Carboloy/carbide or silicon carbide/silicon nitride tips will keep things simpler and require less maintenance.
Hands-down the most popular real is the Penn 113H 4/0 Senator; it is heavy, but it has proven to be a workhorse over the years. The model with the aluminum spool is lighter, but it is more susceptible to corrosion; they still make one with a chrome plated spool and it is a better choice. In any case, leaving salt soaked backing and wire line on a reel will raise havoc with any of them.
Both Daiwa and Okuma make reels suitable for trolling wire, with the latter actually having a model that is designed specifically for this purpose.
No matter which brand you go with, a reel with a level wind is not a good choice when using wire. Some folks do it, but the strain on a level wind mechanism caused by wire will cause it to fail in short order. One of the challenges of trolling with wire is learning to use your thumb to lay the line on evenly as opposed to having it jammed up against one side of the spool or the other.
Capt. Mike’s Outfit
- When I do fish wire, my outfit features a shorter rod and I use shorter amounts of wire, which allows me to use a smaller, lighter reel.
- Shorter Wire: I grew up working on a boat that took parties of 12 out jigging for stripers and blues. We had four jiggers on the back. It was a lot to manage and 99% of our anglers were beginners with little to no fishing experience, never mind fishing with wire. As a result, we fished with shorter wire (125 feet) to avoid epic tangles. Over time, we figured out we could fish just as well as the longer lines with some strategic maneuvering. We’d make shorter passes, a series of turns, take the boat out of gear, and periodically let out more line and bring it back in. As it turns out, it was more productive to fish deeper as anglers had more energy to jig, and we were far more tactical about the fish we were catching.
- Shorter Wire Line Trolling Rod: These days I find myself fishing with a very short outfit, say 5 ½ feet. The shorter length makes the rod both lighter and more manageable to jig with. The shorter rod also helps keep the bait a little deeper when the rod is in the holder.
2. Short Lead Core Outfit
Like wire line trolling, there are certain characteristics of an outfit that is a good choice for lead core trolling. On the other hand, there really isn’t a “classic” choice and you have more options because of the more forgiving nature of lead core.
A slower, more parabolic rod is once again a good choice; many folks use a lead core rig to troll the tube-and-worm, often putting the rod in a rod holder. Bass often will hit the worm once and then come back to pick up the remainder and the softer rod helps since the offering remains right in the strike zone.
With lead core, you can use level wind or non-level wind reels, with size a matter of choice. The Penn Jigmaster has always been a good, traditional non-level wind lead core reel and other manufacturers also make non-level wind reels that are basic and rugged like the Jigmaster. If you prefer the ease of a level wind reel, there are numerous “winches” that will fit the bill; in a pinch, I have use reels that are typically associated with casting, but be advised that reels built for trolling typically have stronger gear sets and frames that can handle the stresses that are typically associated with this form of fishing.
I put this outfit together based on the need for a rod that is easy to store, soft to handle light trolling and easy to use. The short rod also has the added benefit of a shorter distance from where the line exits the rod to the surface of the water.
Capt. Mike’s Outfit
- Although the rod I use is listed as tuna stand up rod, which might seen unusual as a choice for trolling lead core line, DON”T BE FOOLED! The Offshore Angler Ocean Master OMSU-OB 5′ 6” has proven to be an excellent choice for this type of fishing. It is only rated for 15 to 30lb line, is super light and feels maxed out with a 50lb striper!
- The shorter length make this rod easier to store on my boat, and similar to the wire line rod is prefer, the distance between the rod tip and the water is reduced, allowing for more feel and contact with a fish.
- Combine this rod with a Daiwa Saltist Hyperspeed conventional reel and you have a great lead core outfit, albeit a unique one. This reel is a little sports car with its 7.3:1 gear ratio, which allows you to retrieve line in a hurry. This is ideal because it allows you to check for weeds quickly or take up line quickly if you encounter a sudden change in water depth. If you are fishing the tube-and-worm, you can also reel your rig in quickly to check the status of your bait if you have a hit, but no hook up. In addition, a faster retrieve allows for quick line pick up if a fish starts swimming toward the boat or the boat drifts down on the fish while reeling it in.
- My line set up is another area where I break from the norm. I put a pre-measured amount of lead core, typically 150-feet, attached to 40lb braid backing as opposed to Dacron. I like the shortened lead-core as I often put the reel in free spool to get it down deeper, with the boat both in-gear and out-of-gear. I find that the 40lb. braid also comes off the spool 10x faster, allowing for a faster drop than the heavier yet slower moving lead-core.
- The configuration of my leader is also unique and has been developed after years of trolling lead core. I connect a ten-foot section of 60lb fluorocarbon to the lead core and then attach a #7 ball bearing swivel and finally a shorter section of 20 to 60lb fluoro depending on what the situation is. If the fish are finicky, I go lighter. If there are blues around, I go heavier. Either way, make the portion of the leader that goes to your lure no longer that the rod length, as I don’t want the swivel going through the guides. The extra swivel between the two sections of leader provides a bonus as it helps with lure spin when trolling tubes and umbrella rigs.
3. Long Lead Core or Wire Line Outfit
- Classic Version: The wire version of this would be a 7’ heavy-duty fiberglass rod. The lead core version of this set up would likely be a 7’ or 8’ graphite rod with a long mono leader.
Capt. Mike’s Outfit:
- I think that musky rods are the best-kept secret in saltwater fishing, but not all of them are appropriate for trolling. The one I use is the St. Croix Musky KD1910 8-foot; it has a moderate action, meaning it features a more parabolic bend. A musky rod that bends easily is more forgiving when the boat rocks or when the fish change direction. St. Croix features a number of musky rods in the different families of freshwater rods that it offers, including Mojo, Legend Elite, Legend Tournament, Triumph, and Premier.
- I like musky rods for trolling on boats with outboards as the added length helps clear them if you are fighting a fish off the transom; this is especially true with larger outboards mounted on brackets., particularly big ones on bracketed transoms. They are also great for clearing lobster pots, which are often encountered when trolling in areas that hold bass. Another nice feature is that they are light, and their long butt sections make it easier for youngsters to sit down and fight a fish.
- I pair this rod with a Daiwa Hyperspeed conventional reel, with the same line and leader set-up that I use with my Short Lead Core Outfit.
A Few Tips for Fishing Wire
- I rarely troll wire in more than 40 feet of water so I have no problem getting down with the outfit mentioned above. I’m also of the philosophy that if I need to fish in water deeper than 40 feet, trolling seems too much like work and I move to a new method.
- Always keep you thumb on the spool when letting the line out or you’ll end up with a nasty birds nest of unforgiving wire.
- Be careful of the knot between the wire and the leader — if it catches on a guide or the rod tip it can cause back lashes. Make sure you are cutting your wire as close to the knot as possible (if you are tying you own knots) and using your pliers, push the sharp end of the wire into the knot to avoid cutting your thumb when letting the spool out.
- Check your knots between the backing and the wire, and the leader and the wire. Re-tie as needed. Your local tack shop should be able to help you do this. Tolling and jigging can loosen even the best tied knots.
- If you’re loading the reel with 300 feet of wire, mark each 100 feet with a permanent marker or a spliced piece of Dacron. This way, you can accurately gauge how much wire you’re deploying depending on the depth of the wire. This type of marking also helps when you break line — it will indicate how much line has been lost and how much line will need to be tied back on.
- Keep your mono leaders light in case you snag on the bottom and need to break the line. Wire is hard to break so keep something handy on deck that can be wrapped around the wire and used to break the line without injuring your hands.