Finish the laker season in style with precision trolling
I was never much of a troller until I began to spend my summers on Madeline Island on Lake Superior. I still love to cast swim baits to the smallmouth bass in Chequamegon Bay. It doesn’t get more fun than feeling the bite of a huge northern pike that grabbed the jig you were snapping through a big bed of cabbage. But if you want to catch the lake trout, salmon, and brown trout, you better learn to troll.
My son Brent is actually my model when it comes to perfecting the art of precision trolling. He is the master. Brent is laser-focused on keeping the downrigger balls at the perfect depth, which for lake trout is generally a foot off the bottom. For suspended salmon and brown, he keeps the lure just a foot above them.
This often means constant adjustment, which I rarely see other anglers do. I’ve been out on many a boat where the downrigger balls were sent down to a depth that was “close” to the bottom, but no bites were generated because the lures, because they were not close enough. With Brent manning the downriggers we always have the lures in the zone.
A recent example happened just a few days before the season was closed early in the region around the Apostle Islands. We began by trolling the north side of Madeline Island. We started in 90 feet, worked out into 100 feet, eventually straining depths out to 140 feet without a bite and seeing nothing on the sonar. “Let’s move into 65 feet of water,” Brent said. I cautioned that the bottom is pretty erratic in that region, but Brent insisted we try it.
My son stayed on the downriggers while I called out the depths, and we had a limit of nice lakers in less than an hour.
Lures make a huge difference and if something is not working it comes off in 20 minutes. When we discovered the lakers on “The Flats” were not hitting spoons this past summer, Brent tied on a narrow, white crankbait to mimic the smelt he figured they were foraging on, and on another rod he used a small spoon for a dodger in front of a spin-and-glow he tied onto an 18-inch leader behind the spoon. It took us 90 minutes to find the fish, but once we did we had a limit fast.
His leaders are fluorocarbon. His search areas are tight quadrants that get covered by tightly choreographed trolling passes. The lures get switched out until the right one is discovered and that becomes the dominant presentation. The balls are constantly monitored to stay in The Zone. All of this results in a cooler full of fish.
Brent’s mother, Rae, my wife of almost 50 years, also has been bit by the trolling bug. Whenever Brent and I plan a trip we always take our good-luck charm along. It seems like every time Rae starts looking up new recipes to prepare lake trout a fish pops the lure off the ball. Brent has now been relegated to the job of net man as Rae is the designated reeler. Trolling with downriggers after all, is much more successful as a team sport.
For the rest of the summer now I’ll be heading into the Chequamegon Bay to do some casting for bass and pike. The Wisconsin DNR closed the lake trout season early this year on August 15th in the Apostle Islands region (WI-2) of Lake Superior . You can still hunt them in most of Lake Superior’s waters until the end of September so add some precision to your trolling and finish out the 2021 season in style.