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July 15, 2005

Six Patterns for Successful Offshore Trolling

Guidelines (not hard-and-fast rules) for deploying baits in different situations. Tweak as necessary to fit your boat, crew and conditions.

Carolina Catch-All
"I'm ready to catch whatever's willing to bite!" says Capt. Richard Budalich, a freelance skipper who runs private and charter boats in North Carolina, Florida and the Caribbean. He especially likes fishing out of Morehead City, North Carolina, for the grab-bag possibilities. "Morehead has an excellent run of tuna in April and May," he says. "After that, we change from focusing exclusively on yellowfin to trying to catch everything from dolphin to blue marlin."

As bridge teasers, Budalich often deploys a dredge and another personal favorite. "I'm particularly fond of my Ilander teaser: a chain of four standard blue Ilander lures followed by an Express Jet with a mullet or mackerel stuffed inside it," he says.

Dink ballyhoo on 20- or 30-pound gear occupy the flat-line positions, about 10 feet behind each teaser. These baits may tempt anything from dolphin to sailfish to white marlin. "They work like pitch baits, but they're already in the water," Budalich says. "I like to keep both flat-line baits the same distance back because fish often come up on one bait, take a whack at it and shoot right across the spread to grab the other."

Short-rigger baits slip in about 20 feet beyond the flat-liners. Here, Budalich might run a dink bally on 20- or 30-pound tackle or a Pro Soft Scupper or other chugger head on 80-pound. "I always put my larger lures on heavy tackle in the short-rigger spot because that's where I seem to get the most blue marlin bites," he says.

Another all-time favorite North Carolina bait, the SeaWitch/ballyhoo combo, gets into the pattern's long-rigger spots. Budalich sets these about 120 feet back of the transom using 50-pound outfits because these baits, he says, "could get hit by anything from 80-pound yellowfin to 100-pound wahoo to blue marlin ranging from 100 pounds and up."

A "shortgun" bait (naked dink ballyhoo on 30-pound tackle) trails 150 to 180 feet behind the transom, followed by a deeper shotgun bait at least 200 feet back. This caboose usually consists of an Ilander/ballyhoo combo on 50-pound gear.

Tonga Tactics
"Within 10 minutes of our harbor, we reach underwater cliffs that go from 300 to 3,000 feet and extend for 5 miles," says Capt. Steve Campbell of Ika Lahi Lodge in Tonga. "On any given day we can encounter blue, black and striped marlin, sailfish, spearfish, wahoo, mahimahi, yellowfin and dogtooth tuna."

Campbell takes advantage of this South Pacific smorgasbord with a trolling spread that features a mix of heavy and light tackle and large and small lures. He also keeps pitch baits at the ready, rigged on several different line-class outfits.

Thinking big blues, Campbell sets out a Mold Craft Big Johnson/cone-head lure combo as a bridge teaser on the right side's second wave. A medium-sized plunger on 80-pound gear rides close behind on the third wave, with the line clipped to the transom.

He then puts out a giant killer on 130-pound tackle on the left side's first wave. "I'm a fan of Black Bart lures and use their larger models, such as Marlin Candy, Hawaiian Breakfast and Super Plunger," he says. He clips the line to the transom and keeps the lure close to reduce reaction time after a hookup. "We have to get on top of big fish quickly; otherwise, they can cut the line on the steep drop-off," says Campbell.

An 80-pound outfit pulls a medium plunger-style lure on the right rigger, set on the fifth wave. Or when targeting yellowfin or mahimahi, Campbell puts out a smaller jet head on 50-pound tackle. "Of course, when we do that, Murphy's Law sends a big blue to eat that lure," he says with a grin.

The left-rigger lure, also on the fifth wave, usually consists of a small plunger on 50-pound gear. Ten waves back, a jet head on 50-pound picks up any fish that may not want to rush into the heart of the spread. A center rigger keeps this line up and out of the way.

"In flat seas I keep my spread tight to the transom. When it gets rough, I space out the lures because I do a lot of sharp turns when working the drop-off," says Campbell.