Spring Fishing: A Trolling Tactic That Works for Almost Every Species

Photo by Brian Grossenbacher

When the ice disappears and the water temperature starts to climb, many species of gamefish migrate to shallow water. Bass and walleyes head to spawning areas, pickerel hunt for emerging weeds, and trout, panfish, and pike utilize the transition zone between deep and shallow water to look for food. One of the easiest ways to cover water and hook a mixed bag at this time of year is flatline trolling. The best part is you can leave the weights and downriggers at home.

Just bring your favorite medium-action spinning or baitcasting outfit spooled with 8- to 10-pound-test mono, a few stickbaits, and a few spoons.

Illustrations by Steve Sanford

Keep It Close
Start by working depth-transition areas in 5 to 10 feet of water. To avoid bowing and slack, don't send lures any farther than 75 feet behind the boat. Since the water is still cold, maintain trolling speeds between 2 and 3 mph so sluggish fish don't have to chase a fast-moving lure.

Keep It Bent
When a fish hits, don't swing the rod for a hard set. The boat's forward movement should do most of the work planting the hook. Lift the rod straight up and give it a gentle tug just to make sure the fish is glued, and then start reeling.

Keep It Moving
Whoever is on the throttle should keep the boat in gear but slow it down enough to avoid breaking the fish off or forcing the angler to reel against the drag. Stopping the boat completely will often give the fish enough slack to spit the hook.