Slow-trolling shiners targets the lunkers.
By Chris Christian
Originally published in the January 2008 print edition.
It’s not the most glamorous bass tactic, and you’re not likely to see it on the cable TV fishing shows. But there’s a reason why slow-trolling live shiners is the bread and butter technique for bass guides from Lake Okeechobee to Talquin–it works. It gives virtually any angler their best shot to catch a true 10-pound-plus trophy. Or, at the very least, it helps to locate concentrations of bass that can be caught with other methods.
Slow-trolling a shiner is also about as simple a technique as you’ll find. It’s nothing more than tossing a live one 50 feet or so behind the boat, and then easing the boat along on the trolling motor while you let the shiner “swim.” In that respect it’s not much different than slow-trolling a live bait for kingfish.
There are a few refinements that make it more effective. First, the shiner needs to be placed far enough behind the boat that a bass can move out of the boat’s way and then slip back to where it was lurking before the shiner gets there. That’s normally at a distance of about 50 to 60 feet. That’s a lot of line out, and a bass will take more as it moves with the bait.
Therefore a long rod is an asset. Few guides use models shorter than seven feet. Seven- to 8-foot models are popular and a flipping rod is actually ideal. It has the length and the backbone required to troll the shiner and fight a good bass at these distances.
Braided line is another advantage. It has no stretch and slams a hook home even at a distance. Lines in the 40- to 60-pound-test range are the most popular, although monofilament lines in the 20- to 30-pound range will work.
This rig is best assembled around a casting reel. The reel needs to be left in free spool so it will yield line to a striking fish, yet have enough tension on the spool to prevent the shiner from taking line. There are some spinning reels with a “bait runner” type feature that will work, but a casting reel with a clicker button is a better bet. A casting reel without that feature will be effective if the spool tension knob is tightened down to the appropriate setting.
Once properly equipped, here are four pointers for best success.
1. Hook the shiner (5- to 7-inch wild shiners are the best bet) upward through the bottom of the jaw and out one nostril hole. Use a 5/0 wire weedguard hook (like the Eagle Claw) if vegetation is present. In open water use a 5/0 shortshank bait holder hook without the weedguard.
2. In depths less than 8 feet, add a small float 6 feet above the shiner. This will keep the shiner up and make it track straight. In deeper water delete the float and add a 1⁄8-ounce sinker 2 feet above the bait to get it down.
3. Set the trolling motor speed slow enough that the shiner can “swim” behind the boat and not just be “dragged.”
4. On the strike, stop the boat and let the bass swim 10 to 15 feet with the bait. Then, point the rodtip to where the line enters the water, reel down fast, and when you feel the weight of the fish, set the hook. You’ll have a lot of line out, and this will sweep the slack out quickly. Don’t be tentative. Go for it! If you get into a “feeling contest” with the bass, you’ll lose.
This technique works anywhere there are bass. But, there are three situations where it, well, shines brightest.
Try it during the spawning season on any lake that has manmade canal systems. Bass spawn in these, and the big females hold deep in the middle of the canals when they are not actually on their beds. Troll right down the middle.
Use it along the outside edge of weedlines or the edge of submerged creek channels. Fish a float bait tight to the weedline, and if it is a deep weedline, put a second bait outside of that sans float and with a weight.
The technique works like a charm over any deep weed-covered flat (like those found on Rodman and other lakes). You’ll be amazed at how many fish are out there roaming around in mid-lake, far from any bassy-looking shoreline.
It may lack some of the appeal of tossing a topwater at the bulrushes, but when obvious casting targets are lacking, slow-trolling shiners will find the bass, including some of the biggest fish you’re likely ever to hook with any tactic.