Trolling is a very effective way to fish. Trolling involves dragging rigged baits, simulating a school of fish swimming behind the boat. These baits are towed from the boats outriggers in pressure release pins. The boats outriggers lay out wide to spread the baits apart to stagger them, and to keep the baits skipping along the top of the water. In Fort Lauderdale, the use of planers which run the baits very deep is highly effective for kingfish and wahoo. Trolling is so productive because the boat is moving and covering 5-7 miles of the reef per hour. It’s a great way to cover a lot of ground and hopefully troll past a few nice fish.
Trolling begins with a finely rigged bait box, which is usually a mixture of ballyhoo and strip baits, along with some artificial lures. Ballyhoos are one of the world’s most popular trolling baits. They troll beautifully when rigged properly and can last a good amount of time without washing out. Baits will fall apart (‘wash out’) from water friction (known as drag) over time when trolled. Ballyhoos are hardy baits, but the thing that makes ballyhoo so good is that everything LOVES to eat ballyhoos. They are the main bread and butter diet of everything we’re targeting. On many of my ballyhoo baits, I will affix a skirt for added color to enhance the bait. My bait box for trolling will have in it some naked ballyhoo, ballyhoos with skirts, and some ‘swimmer’ ballyhoo which are rigged with a small lead under their chin.
Strip baits are also hardy and tempting baits for big game fish. Strip baits are made from bonitos, which we catch throughout the summer while trolling. During the summer months, bonitos migrate through our area in mass numbers. Our captains spend a lot of hours processing these bonitos to make us strip baits and ground chum for the rest of the year. This hard work pays off because bonito strips are a must when trolling the reef. They are fast and easy to rig and make the perfect size bait for a fish to grab and eat while moving. Artificial lures are also used on the troll, but many artificial lures are designed to be rigged in front of a ballyhoo or strip bait.
In Fort Lauderdale and other areas of South Florida, planers are an excellent way to get a few baits down deep and cover the deeper water columns. Some fish prefer to lie deeper in the cooler waters. A planer is a small metal plate that when ‘set’, will plane down deep bringing the bait with it. This puts a lot of pressure on the rod, making it bend over hard. When the fish bites, the force of the bite will ‘unset’ the planer, releasing the pressure the planer was pulling on the rod. You can then fight the fish to the boat, without having to fight against a ‘set’ planer. Wahoo are one of those fish that will bite mainly on the planer baits. They occasionally come to the surface to eat a bait, but a planer can put a bait right in front of a wahoo’s nose. Kingfish too love deep baits and trolling planers is by far the best way to catch numbers of kingfish.
Outriggers, the very tall, upright poles on the sides of sportfishing boats, are designed to lay out and separate the baits. Outriggers serve several purposes. For one, outriggers spread the surface running lures apart from each other, allowing you to fish more baits simultaneously without tangles. The pressure release clips that you set your baits into, serve as an alert that you’ve just gotten a bite. Also, outriggers keep your baits skipping along on the top of the water, making your bait look even more like a frightened baitfish.
All of our baits set behind the boat, make up our ‘spread’, which is our nickname for the smorgasbord of baits we’ve ‘spread’ out there for the fish to feast. An experienced captain or mate knows which lures, baits, colors, depths and spots are going to be working well, depending on the conditions of that day. A good day of trolling can yield a box load of fish and a slow day can yield none. Every day is different out there, which is probably why I like trolling so much. It lets me troll around and see what’s happening. I can try different depths, speeds, areas, and also listen to the radio to what everyone else has been catching. If I hear the kit fishing is going off 10 miles to the south, we can head off to try that. Hey, maybe we’ll troll!