Trolling like a boss
Whoever said trolling was boring never did it correctly. Especially trolling with multiple rods and planerboards (or paravans) – it’s a completely different game. In this article, I will dive deep into everything that comes into play when stepping up your trolling game to the next level.
Monster pelagic pike
Whenever I fish in Sweden or the Netherlands, nine out of 10 times I am fishing for the biggest fish out there. Aiming for big fish means you have to be willing to take on big waters that hold them. These enormous waters all have their own playbooks, but one thing they all share in common is that big fish roam the big open waters.
On some waters more than others, the pelagic hunting tactic seems to be a favourite for big pike… and zander too. You can always catch big fish in the shallows, especially when there is a lot of vegetation. But sometimes there isn’t any vegetation or the conditions in the shallows are not ideal, or perhaps those big and tasty baitfish are simply more abundant out in the open water. Keep in mind that the vegetation gives great camouflage for pike but it makes it harder for them to hunt too. That’s why these bigger fish often switch to hunting in the deep open water. What kind of situations are we talking about? Well, to give you an example, I’ve caught several big fish on water 60 meters or deeper. Obviously, these big fish weren’t caught close to the bottom. As a matter of fact, these big mamas were caught using lures running very close to the surface. It makes sense if you think about it. How often have you seen schools of bream crashing through the surface or perch hunting small fish or other small bait in the middle of the lake? Or how often did you spot big signals on the screen of your sonar just a few meters below the surface?
Deep water with big signals between the bottom and the surface.
On water systems this big a GPS is of vital importance. Most of all, for your ow safety. Old structures, rocks, shallow areas and other possible hazards are well documented on the latest maps that are available to the public. But also, you want to be able to navigate correctly when the weather flips and takes a turn for the worse.
Besides safety, you want to get a clear picture of where the fish are. These spots, especially the ones where fish are roaming the deeper water, can differ from day to day, season to season. Finding those patterns is much easier by logging all your strikes, even if you miss them. Over time, you will create a map where some spots hold a lot of waypoints, while others hold little to none. Finding patterns is one of the most important keys to success when fishing for big fish. These patterns are sometimes hard to explain, with often no clear signals at all like temperature or structure. I guess some things in fishing will always a remain a mystery.
Another key element in trolling is speed. Speed is such a powerful factor. It determines the time fish have to reach your lure, the way your lure swims, or whether you give fish time to inspect the lure to trigger that reaction strike. It also determines the running depth of your lure. As you can see, speed is really important and the only way to measure it accurately is by using a GPS.
This fat October pike was lurking pelagic around a big school of baitfish.
Current marine electronic equipment offers a wide arrange of tools like side imaging, down scan and live mapping that all benefit us anglers who love to troll. AutoChart Live (Humminbird) or Sonar Charts Live (Lowrance) are a couple of examples that can help create a clearer picture of the lake you are fishing. They help improve existing maps and even create a map if there isn’t a map present. On some big Swedish lakes there simply isn’t a map available, so making your own map gives you a huge advantage.
Sonar Charts LIVE: before and after mapping on a lake that hasn’t been mapped before.
Autochart Live on Humminbird screens are my preferred choice
Spread out to for success
In the Netherlands, spreading to cover more water is already a key component in trolling successfully. In theory, the more water you cover, the more fish you will reach and the more fish you will catch. Before planerboards were used at all, your best bet was to use a short rod combined with a long rod. The short one was used to fish close to the boat, usually held in the hand. The long one used for fishing in a rod holder in a 90-degree angle, making the most out of its length and covering as much water as possible.
Planerboards give you so much more reach than you would normally be able to pull off. They have downsides though, but we will cover that later on. While the Netherlands offers great ways to fish with Planerboards, Sweden is the place to be for trolling with planerboards or even big side planers. The water is clear, deep and there are less obstacles to get stuck on.
In the Netherlands, the water is often covered with dead vegetation during the summer and autumn months – a direct result of our shallow water systems. Planerboards still work well, as they give a good indication when they pick up some debris. Big side planers on the other hand, are horrible in this scenario. With planerboards, you pick up debris but your lure will still be able to run as it should. With big side planers your line runs freely through the water and can pick up all kinds of things and will affect how your lures run.
It might look complicated, but once you get use to this system it’s quite easy to use
So, what is the difference between these big side planers and the smaller planerboards? Big side planers have a few benefits: the line releases so you won’t fight the fish and the planerboard together. You can also put more rods out without worrying too much about getting tangled. The downside is less mobility, as these big side planers create a lot of extra drag. They are also sensitive to debris in the water. Finally, a big downside is also that it takes a lot of time to setup and once you get stuck it is very difficult to stop the boat and get unstuck.
The smaller planerboards are more mobile, take less practice to use and are less sensitive to debris. The downside is that they stay on your line when you fight a fish and they can come off during heavy winds.
Starting with planerboards
As a fishing guide, I often hear that anglers have tried to use planerboards one or two times and then throw them into the corner because they are too much hassle. I would always suggest starting small and simple. Start on a lake that is relatively deep and start with one planerboard instead going full-on into the complexity.
Keep it simple, maybe even use a lure that is floating to get use to how it all works. That way you avoid getting stuck when stopping down while fighting a fish. Once you get used to one planerboard on each side of the boat, you can step it up and use a second.
A massive Swedish pike caught above 45 metres of water
‘Big lures, big fish’ is a common phrase, but it doesn’t give any guarantees. Smaller fish do hit big lures but big fish also grab small lures. The one thing you do accomplish with big lures is that you fish more selectively. You catch fewer fish, but you have a higher chance of catching a big fish. If you want to get confident using planerboards or big side planers, you might want to downsize a bit to get a feeling on how the entire technique plays out.
Eyes bigger than its belly?
When using big swimbaits to catch those pelagic monsters, there are a few things you should take into consideration. You want to fish in a lake with clear water and present your bait high up, towards the surface. That way it gets noticed as much as possible as these big fish are lurking in the deep are often looking upward to spot prey they can attack. Big natural swimbaits seem to work best, like the 32cm Line Thru Roach or 40cm Line Thru Trout. The big burbots work well too in the colder months, when you want to slow down to a speed where the Roach and Trout don’t work that well. Again, speed is super important.
Pike are so successful because they are so opportunistic. Their metabolism goes up during the warmer months. Big prey will make them cross several meters and really put in an effort.
A wide selection of big swimbaits with natural actions.
That 40cm Line Thru Trout doesn’t look that big anymore.
Another great tool these days is side imaging. I recently did an article on the effect of technology, where I pointed out the downsides of technology and the possible impact in the future. These tools offer insane insights but might have an impact which we won’t like in the long run. All speculation of course, something to keep in mind but make no illusions; the train has already left the station and bigger tech upgrades are coming.
Side imaging has been around for quite some time, but with the increase in frequency it delivers crystal clear images. It gives you a very wide view on the conditions below your boat, scanning both sides and giving a clear picture with stunning details.
I mainly use it to spot big schools of baitfish that normally wouldn’t show up in my down scan or 2D sonar. I use it to spot big individual signals that are roaming the deeper water. It is also useful for finding the big changes in structure, deep holes or ridges.
A school of baitfish above a big crater in the bottom.
We all need a little luck on our side
There are a lot of the things you can control to be successful in caching big pike. Things like constantly adapting to the conditions, trying different lures and tactics, building up experience and most of all perseverance. Fishing for these giants takes a lot of time and it’s a mental battle too. You will have moments where you will start to doubt if you are doing it all correctly. Why they are not biting? But you also need a little luck!
Fishing like this can feel like a lottery sometimes. We’ve had multiple days where only one side of the boat gets the strikes. Same lures, same depth, same presentation. About as random as it can get. Also, you have to be in the right place at the right time. Sometimes you can do all the right things and nothing happens.
Almost no wind and the sun burning everything it touches, but that didn’t stop this massive 123cm / 14kg pike
Finally, I would like to add two other key factors into successful trolling, but they also apply to all styles of fishing.
First of all, do not be afraid to fail. Go out there and experiment. Days that don’t produce any fish are not necessarily bad days. Try to learn something each day. It will be an investment for the future. Days will be tough, but the reward so much bigger. Last but not least, a solid fishing buddy is worth its weight in gold. The ability to boost each other’s morale, pick each other’s brains for new tactics or push each other just a little further can make all the difference. Plus, you get to share great memories together!