By Matt Stevens
You don’t need a boat and a motor to go trolling for big snook. But a strong pair of legs and a stout rod will go a long way to landing some monster linesiders.
Land-trolling, or pier-trolling, is an old-school technique that is an effective way to cover lots of ground on bridges, piers and seawalls when targeting snook. The basis is simple: Drop a bait and walk up and down the structure you’re fishing with it trailing behind until you feel a thump. You can troll as fast or slow as needed to produce a strike, or until your legs run out of gas.
There are a variety of factors at play, including bait selection, tidal flow, wind and strength of current that make perfecting pier-trolling harder than it might sound.
Both artificial and live baits will produce strikes. Traditionally, swimbaits are among the first lures chosen by accomplished pier-trollers for two reasons. First, they have great action in the tail and don’t require a fast retrieve, allowing even the slowest walk to create an enticing movement. Swimbaits are also heavy, which is key to holding them in the current when trolling, and they are available in sizes typically ranging from 3 to 6 inches so you can accurately match the size of bait the snook are naturally feeding on.
Heavy bucktail jigs and lipped, diving plugs are great artificials for pier-trolling, too. The technique can also be effective using live baits, from shrimp to grunts to pinfish to whiting. When using live bait in a strong current hook the fish through the nose or the shrimp through the head and attach a 1- or 2-ounce egg sinker above your leader, which should be roughly 36 inches of 40-to 60-pound monofilament. In a slower current live bait can be free-lined.
The strength of the current where you’re fishing will help you determine how best to ambush snook, which lay in wait underneath piers and close to bridge pilings targeting their prey. If the current isn’t very strong, you can let it carry your bait toward the structure with a low risk of getting hung up. If, however, you’re dealing with a strong current you’ll want to let it carry the bait away from the structure to avoid snags.
While dropping bait straight down is a good bet, you can adjust your technique in different situations. For example, if you are trolling from a bridge or pier that runs parallel to a dock, seawall or underwater structure within casting distance, you can cast toward the structure with the current and then start trolling.
Keep a pier/landing net within your reach to help you land those hogs. If you can maneuver it, carry the net with you as you troll. If not, tie it to the structure you’re fishing from and let the top hang just out of the water so you can guide a fish into it if you’re fishing alone. If you have a buddy who’s willing, have him follow you around with the net and take turns trolling.
It’s also a good idea to have a plan to safely release overslot fish which might need reviving. You might have to walk the fish to the base of the pier or bridge you’re fishing from to be able to hold it in the current until it’s ready for release. Map out the logistics of your spot before you start fishing.
You’ll want to use a rod that will stand up to the intense, bang-bang style of fight that is the snook’s signature. Since the battle will be up close and personal around structure, choose a 7-foot rod with medium heavy or heavy power, rated for 15-to 30-pound line with a fast action.
A spinning or conventional reel will work, but you might be more comfortable with a bait-runner style reel. This will allow you to set the reel in free-spool mode while trolling, which can help you avoid having the hook pop out of the snook’s mouth right away following a strike.
Pier-trolling is best served in the early morning or late night when the fish are actively feeding. The days leading up to and following the full moons of the spring and fall are perfect times to fish the graveyard shift. FS
First published Florida Sportsman April 2014