Hey anglers, Capt. Joey Argento Jr. here.
For the past 30 years I have fished Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River for a variety of big fresh water fish. I’ve gone after King Salmon (Chinooks), Atlantic Salmon, Coho’s, Lakers, Browns, Steelhead (Rainbow’s), Northern Pike, Muskellunge and Walleye to name a few.
During that time, I have experienced a number of issues while trolling. My hope in this blog is to share my knowledge on the most common issues that occur and are key to manage if you want to catch fish. Please keep in mind that there is no perfect order to my list.
1 – Weather
I think it’s easy to say that weather is a constant concern when you are fishing, that can quickly turn into a serious problem. When it comes to trolling, weather can affect your entire day before you even leave the dock. Wind and waves can wreak havoc on your vessel, causing a dangerous situation for you and your passengers. I have seen the strongest men bent over the side rail relieving themselves of last nights’ dinner. Thunder and lightning will scare the crap out of the most seasoned angler, let alone a young one. Then rain will just make everything miserable. The fish are also aware of changes. If it’s a nice day above the water, the fish may still not be biting because of a high or low pressure system, this is very important to pay attention to.
Do some research on your favorite weather app, there are many out there (even some designed for fishing). While not always accurate, it is a good idea to have an understanding of what the conditions will be before heading out for the day.
2 – Water Clarity
Water clarity is probably the easiest issue to overlook. Fresh water has a lot of algae and microorganisms that are naked to the bare eye. After many bright sunny days these microorganisms bloom, similar to how a swimming pool will turn green in the middle of the summer. This results in your fishing waters to be very murky and grainy. This condition might call for a color change on your lure. (maybe talk to using lighter lures to be more appealing in darker waters….)
In some cases algae will stick to your line, which can clump up on the reel and rod eyelets. (make sure to keep an eye for this and to keep your equipment clean) Days when the water is too clear the fish can see your line which may cause issues for downrigger balls and cables. I fully believe if you can see them, they can see you!
3 – Water Temperature
Water temperature has so many effects on fish. The biggest being Spawning, Diet, and Metabolism. All of which play a part to where fish are going to want to hang out. Water temperatures are always changing and can be hard to track in fresh water. With those changes, fish will change. For example, on Lake Ontario we are always talking what depth the fish are at and what the water temp is. Mid-summer you might hear that fish are in 500ft of water and 180ft down when it is 58 degrees. These fish have suspended to where it is most likely that their food source is. If you troll above or below this water temp, there is a good chance you won’t get a bite.
This will vary by lake and fish, but it is always good to have an idea of the temperature so you can start to notice trends.
4 – Boat Traffic
In the perfect world we would love to have our favorite fishing spots all to ourselves. The reality is we have to share the water with other anglers and recreational boaters. Traffic during peak boating seasons can cause difficulties to trolling. Far too often other boaters that are cruising do not recognize fisherman trolling until they have run right up your transom. On the other hand, it can be other anglers trolling in the same area because the fish are stacked up. In the fall, when the pre-spawn salmon are staging outside the rivers, you can see a hundred boats weaving in and out of each other. This can cause lines to get tangled, fish to get cut off, boats to collide, and friendly hand gestures to be exchanged.
Always be aware of your surrounding and try to respect your fellow boater.
5 – Debris
When I first drafted this blog I originally had this named presentation. The more I wrote and thought about it presentation wasn’t the issue. Proper presentation is the highest objective when you are trolling and it’s the debris that can ruin it. I could create another top 10 list of debris that we have dragged. Whether its seaweed, leaves, grass, sticks, plastic bags or other trash, they will ultimately all ruin your presentation. There are times to be aware of more debris present, especially after storms. If you spend any amount of time out on the water trolling, you’re bound to encounter some form of debris.
My underwater fishing camera's footage gives a great idea of what can be down there as well as what the bottom can look like.
6 – Structure
When fish are not suspended you can safely bet that they are on some form of structure. Most of the time that structure is Rock!. As you troll over them or around them they can fray or sever your line. For example, the rocks in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River are covered with Zebra Mussels. These mussel’s shells have very sharp edges that can cause issues to your line. Managing your depth around structure is crucial. Lures quickly become snagged or even wedged in between the rocks. Fish can become tangled and lines can be snapped off.
7 – Current
Current is another one of those “issues” that impacts presentation. It’s not a big issue on lakes unless you’re near an out flow, but very present when river fishing. Paying attention to the direction of the current is very important if you want to catch fish. Lures can run crooked or at the wrong depth. Thanks to my fishing cameras I can see exactly how the current is affecting the lures, and make the necessary changes.
8 – Speed
I have mentioned the word presentation a few times and I promise this will be the last. Overall speed is the most common thing to get wrong when trolling. There are two speeds that you need to pay attention to. Boat speed and lure speed, I spend more time looking at both of these than I do depth. There are several things that affect these, such as wind, current, the vessel, the type of lures you are running, and even boat traffic. There are several ways to control your speed and many devices to use. Most common being trolling motors, sea bags/drift socks, and trolling plates mounted on the out drive. Regardless of what you use the goal is to try and present your bait right. Pay very close attention to the way your bait is moving before you send it down. It is important to know that speed varies depending on what baits you are using and what affect this can have on your target species.
Some anglers have experienced seeing fish not being able to catch up to their lure when using an underwater fishing camera.
9 – Tackle
Trolling tackle is expensive! Why some people don’t take care of their tackle, I’ll never know. Back when I was a teenage first mate, my captains spent extra time caring for the tackle. I’m not just talking about rods and reels. Oh no! It’s the entire boat from the engine to the downriggers. There are so many things that can wrong and end your day. You absolutely must take care of your gear, so you don’t have an “issue”. I have seen downriggers fail, reels fail, boats breakdown, and fish lost because of old line. All of these (and more) avoidable with a little extra time and care. Nothing is worse for business when you have to end a client’s day due to an avoidable tackle issue.
10 – Electronics
Looking back at all the devices I have seen in 30 years makes me chuckle. Take a second and think about how far technology has come in this industry. How did we even catch fish without them? Sounders, depth finders, paper graphs, LORAN-C, GPS, down imaging, side view and now wireless underwater fishing cameras!! So what’s the issue? Knowing how to really use them correctly. Always do your research and read the instructions. Otherwise you may be going to waste a lot of time and money on these. Having a full understanding of how your electronics work before you leave the dock can save you a lot of money and catch you a lot of fish! They are there to help you capitalize on your water time and can provide great information to limit some of the issues I have mentioned above.
Thanks for reading, I hope my knowledge can help you land that next great catch!
Get yourself a GoFish Cam today.
Contemplating fishing for the first time? Check out our blog on Fishing Tips for First Time Anglers!