Precision Pedal Trolling
Don’t waste precious time on the water, fish your way from spot to spot and discover new frontiers
By Noel Vick
There’s a locally known spot on Lake of the Woods nicknamed “Broken Axle.” Oddly, it’s a featureless area on the main basin with no apparent fish-holding structure. So why name it? Years ago, an all-terrain ice fishing transport busted an axle on the spot while motoring to a popular reef. Of course, the fishing clients decided to drill holes and fish while awaiting a backup vehicle. And as legend has it, they caught the snot out of the walleyes. Broken Axle has become a frequent stop for area guides ever since.
The tale has a direct correlation to pedal-driven kayak fishing. The moral of the story is quit high tailing to the next spot; instead, troll to it, and quite possibly discover your very own unmapped treasure trove. Be sure to name it, too.
We’ve all watched bass anglers fan-cast while inching along with an electric trolling motor. Certainly, the same can be done from a pedal kayak. But one thing you don’t see are bass boats trolling and pulling baits. Cardinal sin? Many believe so, and trolling is indeed not allowed in most tournaments. But for the rest of us, trolling is perfectly legal and highly effective. So, lay aside your pride and reap the bounty.
With a pedal driven kayak, you literally have more authority over boat speed and control, too. Turn in an instant, go into reverse with a kayak like Hobie’s Pro Angler or Outback with reversible fins, coast with the wind, or quickly speed up the troll. Certain kayaks afford that much agility.
Trolling is one thing, however, precision kayak trolling another. And for every species and condition, there is a style of trolling and a selection of gear that fits the bill.
Hardbait Trolling for Bass
Hardbaits – crankbaits, stickbaits, wakebaits and lipless baits – all have times and places for kayak trolling. The wide array of styles, sizes and depth ranges available surely accommodate every conceivable fish-holding level of the water column.
For years, I’ve plied Arkansas’ abundant reservoirs via my Hobie Mirage Pro Angler 14. Much of that time has been spent trolling for suspended bass. In fact, my best days – often 30-fish plus – resulted from trolling.
Surely, you can blind troll, or cover spans between structure as monitored with GPS mapping, but to truly refine the troll, depth and fish finding electronics are a must. My Hobie is garnished with a 9-inch Raymarine Axiom. Its screen size is ideal for unstrained viewing and the definition from the unit’s four available sonar channels – including RealVision 3D – is spellbinding.
For suspended bass, tie on a crankbait that rides slightly above midway through the water column, basing specific selection on a lure’s maximum running depth. So, if you’re over 30-feet of water, choose something that runs from 10- to 15-feet.
Mark the top of the school as you come through fish, and choose a bait that rides just above their snouts. It’s no secret that fish, especially suspended bass, rise to the occasion. Driving a lure through the center of the school can disturb them.
Your next consideration is gear. Employing the right tools is vital, particularly the rod. Choose nothing shorter than 7-feet, and longer is even better. The added length yields three advantages. Firstly, it lays lures further port and or starboard from the boat, which is important on turns so line doesn’t wrap back around on vertically stored rods and other gear in the back of the boat. Secondly, after you get hooked up, you need a solid 7-feet to dance a fish around the bow. Lastly, for the most part, longer rods have more give in the tip section. This is especially important upon first impact. If too stiff, fish can tear away, especially at higher trolling speeds.
By far, my favorite trolling rods for bass are St. Croix’s Mojo Glass series. Featuring the company’s exclusive integrated Poly Curve (IPC) mandrel technology and constructed of 100% linear S-glass, these moderate-action rods set effortlessly and automatically on the troll, sweeping with the strike and yielding the right amount of resistance to snare and hold fish.
Glass rods are especially effective when paired with braided line. I spool exclusively with Daiwa’s J-Braid x8 in 30-pound test, an affordable and clean reeling line. Narrow-diameter braids better slice the water to achieve maximum diving depth. To that, braid doesn’t arc like monofilament or fluorocarbon, which diminish connectivity between you and the fish, lessening hooksetting power and eliminating the ability to see the lure’s action as telegraphed by the rod tip. I need to know my lures are running true and not fouled… all the time.
Completing the connection to the bait, I tie in a 2- to 3-foot section of fluorocarbon leader material, finishing with a snap. The fluorocarbon leader bestows invisibility, keeping the fish’s attention on the lure. Certainly, you can tie the leader directly to the bait, but with the likelihood of frequent bait changes, snaps accelerate the process. And, in my opinion, snaps maximize lure action.
All styles of reels will work for kayak trolling, but none better than conventional round reels. They yield total trolling control. Line deploys smoothly and spools back up in an orderly fashion. Conventional round reels also position perfectly in rod holders, like the H-Rail Rod Holder on my Hobie, and offer utmost power during the fight. Daiwa’s right-priced Millionaire Classic UTD (MCUTD250) is a great choice.
I’m a believer in long-lining when it comes to kayak trolling, the lure a minimum of 150 feet behind the boat. This helps the lure achieve its deepest dive and improves your odds when fish are wary in exceptionally clear water. Long-lining is encouraged no matter what species you’re after or the predominant depths.
Something else to consider regarding depth curves… The fullest depth as rated on lure packaging and manufacturer websites is generally based on casting with monofilament line. Inherently, because of their narrower diameter and subsequent reduced water resistance, braids bust the curve and plunge deeper, often substantially.
To that point, I physically test running depths and categorize my tackle box as such. Testing means taking a bait with a reported running depth and comparing it to reality. For example, with your electronics, mark a span of water in, say, 15-feet. Troll a lure labeled with a maximum depth of 15-feet, and betting odds say it’ll knock the bottom. So, continue trolling deeper and deeper until you clear the bottom. That is the lure’s true running depth for this application.
Proper trolling speed can be determined quite simply as well. For my exploits, 1.5 to 2.5 MPH is the established range. Exact speed dictated by how fish react. Faster also means driving the bait slightly deeper.
That brings me to specific lure selection. A great starter kit includes Rapala’s DT (Dive’s To) Series. Not only do they catch bass, the clever collection was designed for easy choosing. The DT-16, for example, is rated to reach 16-feet. Now I can tell you a DT-16 easily achieves 20-feet when trolled with the above-mentioned equipment. Again, supporting the notion of testing running depths in real time.
My personal stash includes several other brands and models, too. LIVETARGET’s Shad Crankbait is a verified bass destroyer. Available in two-sizes, the anatomically spot-on crankbait is often my go-to choice. Bagley’s precision balanced, balsa-built Sunny B is a true-running fish catchers as well. Bandit 200 and 300 series round out my essential collection.
Where legal, Alabama or spreader rigs are easily trolled by kayak, too, and can be wickedly successful on suspended bass, as said schools often roam in search of shad balls. With the identical rod, reel and line combo, drop the rig back and begin pedaling. Realize that running depth is 100% dictated by rate of speed and overall weight of the rig. So, you’ll be letting out a lot less line. 1- to 1.5 MPH is the preferred window of speed. I typically run a rig off the port side in a rod holder while working a swimbait, like a 4-inch Z-Man’s SwimmerZ, to the right.
Although bass-centric, the essentials of the prescribed techniques translate to striped bass, hybrids, even suspended walleyes, freshwater trout and salmon, only refining your lure selection.
Summer is the time to find your own Broken Axle and expand your kayak fishing horizons.