by Doug Johnson
It’s that time of year. The leaves are starting to fall, Ducks are gathering up for a trip south, Kids are back in school, the lakes empty out, the first killing frost has happened, water temperatures are falling fast. All this means that the tullibees, and whitefish will be thinking about moving into shore in preparation for their annual spawning run. When this happens big muskies begin to travel in search of these schools of prime forage. With a little bit of knowledge you can be there to intercept their travels. It’s Fall trolling time!
The type of trolling that I do on LOTWs and on other shield lakes is probably unique to the shield lakes, that have tullibee (cisco) populations and is quite different than trolling a basin on a small Wisconsin lake, or a large open water lake or river system. I don’t spend much time fishing open water, and when I do I rarely catch anything. What I’m doing is trolling structure that will eventually serve as spawning areas for tullibees. Muskies will be traveling in these areas and are aggressively feeding in the fall.
Here’s what I do. The areas I troll are usually fairly large islands that are somewhat close to areas where tullibees are found. Tullibees are cold water fish, so they usually need water that is over 25-30 feet to survive in the summer months. I usually start to look in areas that have fairly deep water, it’s not absolutely necessary that real deep water is real close by, but it helps. Tullibees will swim long distances, and move into shallow water areas once the water temperatures drop into the 50’s. I look for inlands that allow me to troll fairly close to shore and maintain water depths from 8 to 15 feet. In general the closer I can stay to shore and keep my boat in 8-15 foot of water the better I do.
Once you find areas that you are able to troll you need to be set up with the correct equipment. Because you are trolling rocky shores there’s a great possibility of your lure snagging on the bottom. To increase your chance of not getting snagged it helps greatly to use a long soft tipped rod which allows the lure to “bounce” rather than stick. The rod you use will make a great deal of difference in your success. You should use line counter reels (Okuma’s work great) as that makes setting the lines easier and accurately. I use 100 lb test Spiderwire Stelth line, but any of the new super lines in 80-100 lb test are fine. You’ll need about a four foot leader of at least 90 lb test. I’ve been using
130 lb fluorocarbon or 150lb 19 strand stainless leaders, with good snaps and swivels. Both work well and are easy on the fish, and are necessary to prevent your line from fraying on the rocks.
The lures we use are also very important, both from a fish catching standpoint, and from a snag proof standpoint. The best lure that I’ve found for shield lake trolling is the 10” Jake. Somehow, the lure is by far the best “bouncer” off rocks that I’ve found. Also a greatly added feature is that it is also a great fish producer. I would guess that 95% of all the fish I’ve caught trolling the past 15 years or so (whenever Jakes first came out) have been caught on Jakes. They flat out work! I do use some other lures, 8” and 10” Believers, and 10” Stalkers also catch fish. Favorite colors vary from year to year, they all seem to work at times.
The actually fishing is a lot harder than it looks! You need to be constantly watching your depth finder and well as the shore line. Sometimes the shore line will forecast a possible boat or motor rock problem, but sometimes it doesn’t. The biggest problem with shield lake trolling is close encounters with the Canadian shield. It sometimes takes many runs around the same structure to get a feel for what you need to do to safely get your boat around with out hitting something, and several more times to figure out how to present your lure properly to the fish. I usually troll some where around 4MPH, but slow down and speed up as necessary to get over rocks and around points. With 10” jakes I usually run around 40” of line on the inside rod and 50” on the out side rod, and vary this some with the lure used.
Trolling sounds boring, but it’s sure not in the Fall. My best catch rate (fish/hour) is when doing this, my best size average comes when doing this, and four of my five biggest fish have come while Fall trolling. It’s a great way to catch the biggest muskie of your life.