Whether you’re crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas, gunning it for the marlin grounds in the northern Gulf, or just cruising the coastline trying to kick up your own cool breeze, chances are you’re passing through fishy territory. Why not put out some lures and troll?
If you’ve ever been misled into believing 15 knots is too fast, think about this: How many times have you watched lollygagging schools of dolphin or bonito swim circles around 8-knot trolling baits? Big wahoo and marlin subsist on these swift, lower level predators. They’re accustomed to prey that streaks off in terror.
But high-speed trolling involves more than just a throttle adjustment. It requires some changes in rigging, tackle and tactics. A naked ballyhoo used for sailfish and dolphin, for example, will not withstand the rigors of trolling beyond eight knots. It’ll wash out–another time-consuming, good-looking bait gone to waste.
Well-brined ballyhoo or strips can be used in combination with lures to add durability, but at really high speeds, lures are far and away more practical. Even then, there are designs that perform better than others.
For trolling much above 12 knots, you want a heavy lure with a conical forward taper that cuts through the water and tracks beneath the surface. A bullethead is more practical than, say, a slanted Konahead or concave chugger. If the lure jumps out of the wake and becomes airborne, or spins, it’s not suitable for the speed you’re trolling–it’ll create line twist, and the hazard of a wrapped rodtip. And even if you could keep a broad, concave lure head beneath the surface, at high speeds there would be too much drag on the line; add a striking fish and that’s bad news.
High-speed lures can be trolled on flatlines or outriggers, but if you plan to push the 20-knot mark you should limit yourself to a pair of flatlines. The riggers will make it hard to keep the lure from leaving the surface. Decide how far back to place the lures by watching to see how they’re running, not by some arcane “third or fourth wake” formula.
The Panhandler High Speeder is an example of a lure designed for Florida high-speed applications. It weighs around six ounces, shaped sort of like a bullet squashed laterally and appears elliptical when viewed from the front. Maker Capt. Phil Fessendon of Panama City modeled it after a submarine, of all things. “We wanted something that would catch fish at speeds while we were running someplace,” he explained.
Several companies offer a variety of tapers available on weighted, skirted lures. The Wahoo Whacker, Billy Bait and Green Machine are three well-known models. Heavier versions of the small conical lures lumped together as “tuna lures” also cross over into this category. Some flatheads with reduced surface area on the nose work, too. Jets are another option, with holes that channel water through the head, leaving an enticing stream of bubbles in the wake. Yet another is the Area Rule Doornob, an aptly named soft plastic with a narrow “waist” that accelerates the flow of water over the head, greatly reducing drag. The same company also makes the Hoo-Nob, a chrome leadhead.
Lure color is a subject all its own. For wahoo, a combination of black with red, purple or orange is pretty standard. For tunas, similar dark colors perform admirably. Something that resembles school dolphin is proven for billfish, such as green-and-yellow or blue-and-white.
The trolling feather (alternately known as Japanese feather and feather duster) is an old standby that works just as well as the more expensive plastic lures for many applications. Among others, anglers on the southeast coast are using heavy feathers, eight ounces and up for wahoo in the summertime.
This kind of gear at high speeds puts a lot of stress on the line. Light tackle is out of the question. Thirty-pound-test is an absolute minimum, and 50 or 80 is preferable if you plan to drag marlin-size lures.
Single-strand leader wire is not a good choice for high-speed trolling. It has a tendency to kink, especially when the lure is being jerked along at 15 knots, occasionally skipping out of the wake. But if you insist on single-strand wire and haywire twist connections, use No. 12 or heavier. A better choice would be multi-strand cable, for instance 170-pound-test Sevenstrand, which must be crimped. All kinds of wire and cable are inherently dangerous for whoever leads the fish to boatside for gaffing or release. Smart lure-riggers use only a short piece, attaching it to a heavy monofilament shock leader via swivel or Albright knot. For that matter, heavy mono alone is perfectly acceptable for high-speed trolling lures. With a stiff rig or double-hook rig joined by wire, many wahoo are taken on mono leaders in the 300-pound-test range, which is something to think about. To discourage line twist, use a top-shelf ball-bearing swivel.
Hook setting is simple when the lure is steaming along at planing speeds. Ideally, the hook will bury itself on the strike, so the point, or points, should be razor sharp. Adjust the lever drag just tight enough to keep line on the reel. With the boat moving at 15 knots and an 80-pound wahoo flying like a Polaris missile in the opposite direction, full strike drag with 80-pound tackle can break hooks, part line and/or pull hooks free. If the boat rides down the face of a big wave and the lure pulls through the back, it should take a few turns of line. Perfect.
When a fish hits, let it run for a few seconds as the captain backs off the throttle. After you’re situated in the chair or harness, and the fish has settled down, move the lever drag to strike position (preset with a hand scale at between one-quarter and one-third the line’s breaking strength).
Now concentrate on keeping up the pressure, finishing the fight, and wondering why in the world you didn’t think of pulling a high-speed lure until today.