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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.

Florida Free-for-All

Spring and fall bring a pelagic potpourri within range of boats working Florida's Space Coast. You'll find Capt. Scott Goodwin (321-228-0048; scott@fishtrap.com) chartering out of Port Canaveral, where he targets king mackerel, dolphin, wahoo, sailfish and the occasional blackfin tuna.

Goodwin usually deploys a daisy-chain teaser (8- or 10-inch squids trailed by a chugger-lure/bonito-strip combo) from each side of the bridge, dropping them back about 20 feet. After that, he sets out the flat lines. On the right goes a 9/0 reel loaded with 100-pound braid, rigged with a 24-ounce trolling sinker, 40 feet of 300-pound mono and an Ilander/ballyhoo combo on #9 wire. "This is a meat rod," Goodwin admits. "We put it out with wahoo in mind."

The left flat-line bait consists of a naked, chin-weighted ballyhoo on 30-pound gear and 50-pound mono leader. Positioned about 40 feet back, this bait draws strikes from just about every species Goodwin comes across. It can also be reeled up and offered to fish on the teaser.

A ballyhoo behind a small SeaWitch or C&H Lil' Bubbler, also on 30-pound, rides 50 to 70 feet back in the right-rigger slot. About 60 feet back on the left rigger, Goodwin runs 30-pound tackle and #7 wire leader with a SeaWitch/bonito-strip bait. "I really like that strip bait," he says. "It's rather small, so dolphin can easily inhale it. And it's tough, so sailfish can take multiple shots at it until they get hooked."

Finally, another 30-pound outfit pulls an Ilander/ballyhoo or Iland Sailure/bonito strip shotgun bait on a #9 wire leader. "That bait goes way back, probably 200 feet. It accounts for a lot of wahoo but will catch other species as well," says Goodwin.

California Searching
Albacore, yellowfin and bluefin tuna stay on the move - and so do Southern California anglers in pursuit of these hard-fighting, delicious game fish. "We usually troll when searching for schools of tuna and albacore," says Andrew Alvarez of Melton Tackle (800-372-3474) in Anaheim, California.

Boats leaving San Diego ports typically make 60- to 100-mile treks to reach banks and temperature breaks holding albies that average 30 pounds but may grow to 50. With luck, they sometimes also come across bluefin ranging from 30 to 150 pounds. "Trolling is the best way to locate fish," Alvarez explains. "Once we get a trolling bite, we stop and throw out live baits to hold tuna near the boat. If we don't get any bites within a few minutes, it's back to trolling to find another school."

Alvarez recommends Zuker 6-inch Feathers and small Melton Cherry Jets, pulled on 50-pound outfits, as best-bet lures when prospecting for albacore. When he suspects bluefin are in the area, he puts an 80-pound rig at each transom corner to deploy Yo-Zuri Bonitas 20 to 40 feet back. "These lures dive deep, so they won't tangle with the feathers and jets," Alvarez says.

The simple, no-nonsense spread proves ideal in convincing albies to betray their presence. From the flat lines, feathers or jets ride on the second wave back. Similar lures, clipped to the riggers, run on the fourth wave. A shotgun lure goes straight down the middle, at least 60 feet back.

Guatemala KISS
Anglers in the know conjure images of high-volume sailfishing whenever anybody mentions Artmarina (305-663-3553) and Guatemala's Pacific coast. Yes, sails can smother you here, but enough blue marlin prowl these waters to keep Capt. Brad Phillips on his toes. While designed primarily to maximize multiple-hookup opportunities afforded by pods of voracious Pacific sails, Phillips' spread also allows anglers to capitalize on chances at any blues that pop in for a visit. "I believe in the KISS theory to avoid cockpit confusion," Phillips says. "Never put out more baits and teasers than your crew and anglers can handle. You must maintain control of the spread."

Since Pacific sails show neither fear of nor respect for sizable lures, Phillips knows he can use bridge teasers large enough to rouse a marlin's interest without sacrificing shots at sails. He runs a Mold Craft Standard Bobby Brown on the right side and a Mold Craft Standard Wide Range on the left, both riding on the wake's third wave. "I've raised fish on daisy-chain teasers but find them hard to get out of the water quickly. If you can't snap the teaser out of the water, sails often stay on it rather than switching over to a bait," he says. One more teaser, an Ilander/ballyhoo combination deployed on a 30-pound rod, occupies the right flat-line position on the fourth wave.

Pitch-bait rigs in the cockpit include several 20-pound rods with naked ballyhoo, ready to pluck sailfish off the teasers, and a mackerel on 50-pound for dropping back to blues.

Phillips prefers baiting sails with naked, skipping ballyhoo rigged on Eagle Claw 2004 7/0 circle hooks. He rounds out his spread with three of these baits, all on 20-pound tackle: one on the left flat (fourth wave) and two in the rigger positions (sixth wave). "I like a fairly tight spread," he says. "If you start with a bait far back, then drop back to feed a fish, it takes longer to see if you've missed the bite.

If you do miss the first bite, you start a second drop-back even farther from the boat. Keeping baits in tight and beginning the drop-back process closer to the boat gives you more control."

On days when baits seem to raise more sails than teasers, Phillips may put a ballyhoo out in place of the teaser on the right flat. Conversely, when sails seem more interested in teasers, he'll swap one of the rigger baits for a hookless lure and tease fish in to a pitch bait.