Dealing with strong winds and large waves while trolling is an inevitable fact of fishing, especially when fishing on the Great Lakes, huge reservoirs, or large inland lakes. It can be frustrating for even the most avid angler when fishing during these less-than-desirable conditions as bobbing in waves impedes boat control, and lure proper presentation is difficult to achieve.
Unless you have the right gear and go with the flow, that is.
First, as I discuss trolling in wind and waves, please realize I am not talking about sticking it out when storms suddenly brew, or attempting to fish in dangerous seas, which in either case anglers should not be on the water. I am, however, talking about trolling when a steady wind blows and the waters are fishable without risking your life.
With that said, I’ve had to fish some pretty rough waters during my 20-plus years as a professional tournament anger. All throughout the United States, from the giant reservoirs of the West, to those in the southeast, to all the Great Lakes and Lake St. Clare and huge Canadian waterways, I’ve rock and rolled amongst hefty waves in them all.
During tournaments, catching walleye was a must. No matter where in the world I was fishing, the lessons learned were the same: Boat control, including precisely following breaklines and other structure, and maintaining accurate trolling speed are of the utmost importance. Using the right lures on the correct gear is equally as vital.
When trolling in large waves, obtaining the best boat control boils down to two things: Always troll with the wind, and, use accessories to take the surge out of the boat.
Trolling with the wind is the most important. You are able to maintain your speed better when motoring downwind than if you were bucking waves head on. Also, when heading into the wind, gusts of wind will grab the nose of your boat, whether it’s aluminum or fiberglass, and spin you off course.
An when attempting to troll into the wind, you are continuously fighting to stay on a particular path rather than paying attention to the little details that are so important to catching fish. Your catch rate will suffer.
When I’m trolling in windy conditions, I’ll reel in all my lines and crank up my 250-hp Mercury Verado at the end of my trolling pass, and motor my Lund boat back up wind to where I want to begin trolling and start all over again. Reeling in is a waist of time, you say? Not in comparison to enduring a trolling pass into the wind, all the while trolling with improper boat control and at varying speeds.
Once at the head of my trolling pass I’ll turn the nose of my Lund downwind, shut off the Verado and crank up my 9.9-hp Mercury kicker motor. I’ll adjust the motor until I achieve the correct speed, and then deploy my lures and Church Tackle in-line planer boards for the next pass.
But a boat surging—that is, slowing while going up a wave and surfing at high-speed down the other side—plays havoc on lure action. While some surge is okay (just enough to add a little speeding up and slowing down of the lure), heavy surge that makes the lure come to a complete stop and then rip forward is not.
To reduce boat surge, I’ll tie off two small drift socks near the bow of my Lund, one each side, attached to the forward/side cleats, making sure the socks reach back to about mid ship. In small boats, one large drift sock tied off at the bow and allowed to deploy directly under the boat, near the stern, just ahead of the outboard’s prop, will have the same effect. Maintaining trolling speed is easier with drift socks deployed, as well.
With my rods in rod holders, I’ll keep my hand on the throttle of the Mercury kicker at all times so I can make immediate adjustments to speed and steering.
From this vantage point, I can watch the screen of my Lowrance all-in-one sonar/GPS, mounted on the dash so that I can keep an eye on my depth, speed, and plotter at a glance. And I always have a Navionics mapping program chip inserted into the card reader.
With a Navionics mapping program showing in the background of my Lowrance GPS, I know right where I am at all times and am able to follow breaklines with precision. I also know well ahead of time how the breakline lays ahead of me and which way I’ll have to turn to follow it.
Lures And Line For Decreasing Surge
Both crankbaits and spinners (crawler harnesses) are good choices when trolling in large waves. But I put more thought into choosing lures for trolling in windy conditions than just rummaging around in my Plano tackle totes for any ol’ lure.
When trolling crankbaits in windy conditions, I’ll choose ones with big bodies and large diving lips as these have more resistance in the water and surge less than smaller ones with little lips. Examples of lures I often use when trolling in large waves are Rapala’s Down Deep Husky Jerk, Deep Tail Dancer, or their new Trolls-To-Minnow.
I also use spinners with larger deep-cupped blades as these, too, have more resistance in the water. Crawler harnesses with size-4, -5, and -6 Colorado blades such as Northland’s Mr. Walleye Crawler Hauler have the flash and vibration that attract walleye from afar, and pull harder than smaller blades, especially those with different shapes.
Using the right line, too, will make trolling in wind easier. One property of monofilament, such as Berkley XT (Extra Tough), for example, allows it to have plenty of stretch (as well a tough exterior that resists abrasions) and the line stretches and contracts and acts as a shock absorber between the rod tip and lure.
Clip-on weights, such as Church Tackle’s Flex Clip Weights, can be attached to line about the middle of however much line you have out, and the lift and fall of the weight as the boat rushes forward and back will reduce the amount of surge at the lure.
Lead core line is effective for reducing surge, too. Both crankbaits and spinners work well when being pulled behind lead core. Lead core dose not stretch, but bows as the boat stops and goes, thus the lure slows and speeds up but not with an erratic stop and go motion.
Sufix has a new lead core line, in 10 color sequence for letting you know how much line is out, in 12- through 36-pound test. Generally, I suggest using lead core no lighter that 18-pound test, as this test (and heavier) has the maximum amount of lead in it sinks at the greatest rate.
All In All
If trolling in strong winds and large wave has frazzled you in the past, just remember the aforementioned tips and tricks: Always troll with the wind and use drift socks for better boat control and speed management. And use larger lures with lots of water resistance, use equipment that will take up the slack as the boat surges, and you’ll catch more fish.
Mark Martin is a touring walleye tournament pro in the Anglers Insight Marketing (AIM) series (aimfishing.com), who lives in the southwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Check out his website at markmartins.net.