If you want to bag a lot of big striped bass this spring, then trolling is the most effective method to use. It’s May, people, and that means fat stripers are mass migrating up East Coast tributaries, getting hungrier and hungrier as they burn calories. This is the ideal time to put the following tips and tactics to good use.
1. Be precise with your line lengths and distances. If you let your lines back “a ways,” then you’ll never be able to match the distance—and thus the depth—a second time. Either count the number of times you allow the level-winder to run back and forth (if you use level-wind reels) or mark the distance on the line itself. Keep track of how far out each specific rig is. It’s a good idea to stagger the offerings when you get started, and when a line gets a hit, adjust the others to match it.
2. Set out 10-inch-long lures, or even larger ones. As those big stripers migrate, they aren’t interested in chasing munchies. They want a meal. In many areas, the menhaden those stripers encounter weigh a pound or more. Your 5- and 6-inch baits may be a good choice in a month or two, but during May, tempt those fish with large offerings.
3. Troll perpendicular to the current. Fish usually swim into the current, or they swim with it, so they’re facing in one of two directions. By trolling across the current, you’re pulling your offerings where the fish are facing.
4. Pick lures that shine on sunny days, but stick with matte finishes on low-light days. This advice is particularly applicable to spoons, but it also holds true for other lures that have some flash. In bright sun, the flash is effective; in dull light, a dull finish usually works best.
5. When the bite is slow and you see marks down low on your fish finder, start adding lead. Lots of lead. There are times when stripers go deep and get infected by lockjaw. This may be due to pressure changes, light levels or some other atmospheric influence—even the scientists can’t give us a straight answer. More important is getting a bend in the rods, and the best way to do that is to get those lines down deep. If you can run downriggers, that’s even better. If you don’t have downriggers, run a downrigger ball rigged to 300 feet of heavy braid from your aft cleats.
6. Match your speed to your lures, not the other way around. Current can have a huge effect on your lure’s speed through the water. While many savvy anglers use a paddlewheel speedo instead of GPS to set trolling speed, an even more reliable method is to hold your lure in the water next to the boat and set speed by watching it work. When it wiggles or wobbles most enticingly, note the RPM on your engines and stick with it until you change course or there’s a change in conditions.
7. When you spot a few fish on the fish finder sitting a bit deeper than your lures, pull a few quick “S” turns with the boat. That will slow you down and allow your offerings to drop a bit in the water column.
8. In cloudy or off-color water, set out some dark colors. Root beer, brown and purple can be surprisingly effective in off-color water, especially on cloudy days.
9. When pulling bucktails or synthetic-hair parachutes, check and clean every lure regularly. The filaments on those lures get clogged with suspended solids, jellyfish goo and other detritus. And that’s on top of being fouled with weeds or flotsam. It’s best to check and clean these types of lures at least once an hour. Check all other lines at least every other hour.
10. Maximize your spread. This doesn’t just mean pulling more lines; it means pulling lines with more baits. Umbrella rigs that put multiple teasers in the water, tandem rigs that double your lure count, and daisy-chains can all increase the number of eye-catching goodies you have in the water.
This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue.