By Jason Mitchell
Editor’s note: The author, Jason Mitchell hosts the popular outdoor program Jason Mitchell Outdoors, which airs on Fox Sports North (9:00 am Sunday). More information can be found online at www.jasonmitchelloutdoors.com
Historically, trolling structure come mid-summer was “big picture thinking” in that we chose long contours and consistent break lines where we could put lures behind the boat and go. Because of the amount of line behind the boat, we needed room to work for trolling to be effective. Large flats and or a long consistent contour line was a perfect candidate for trolling crankbaits. Big spots were perfect for trolling along with situations whenever fish were scattered or suspended.
Over the past few years however, I find myself trolling small tight locations that I would never have dared before by using the bow mount trolling motor in conjunction with heavy snap weights that fish below the boat down into water as deep as forty feet. Don’t have a name for it… Don’t know what other people are calling it but I can tell you that this trolling system is deadly effective and is changing the way I fish deep structure come mid-summer.
Trolling strategies come midsummer continue to evolve in part because of the advancements in GPS mapping. Better contour maps and faster processers enable more precise boat control. I started running the Garmin GPS Map 7410 this season which has an incredibly fast plotter. Regardless of what unit you run, a nice feature for fishing a specific feature on a piece of structure is the color option that allows you to highlight a specific depth range.
This in conjunction with using the bow mount trolling motor to pull the boat versus pushing from the rear with a kicker motor allows the boat to turn sharper where all you essentially have to do is trace the contour by watching your plotter. Pulling the boat versus pushing the boat allows you to turn the boat sharp and follow extremely tight contours at faster speeds.
Regardless of how good of boat control you have however, if there is a lot of line behind the boat whether you are long lining deep diving crankbaits or using lead core, the lures are way behind the boat and don’t necessarily take the same path that the boat takes. The heavy snap weight system allows you to put the lures right below the boat so that the lures stick right to the contour as you trace it.
The key for this system to work extremely well is to use enough weight. I will often use five to six-ounce snap weights. The whole system is fast in that I can get a couple of rods out into twenty-five feet of water as an example in a mere handful of seconds whereas letting out lead core would take several seconds.
On most inland water where there aren’t any zebra mussels, the lead between the lure and the snap weight only needs to be a rod length which speeds up the set-up time even more dramatically. When you can get away with the shorter lead, a simple fixed option like a three-way swivel can be used in conjunction with a large crank bait snap where one end of the snap is attached to the weight and the other end is attached to the three-way swivel. When the water is extremely clear or where there are zebra mussels, it seems like the fish dictate that you have a longer lead and monofilament is often necessary.
Mille Lacs is in interesting case study in that I used to run a braided leader behind my lead core but now I catch more fish by running a longer mono leader.
The entire snap weight structure program is simple. Drop down until you hit the bottom and crank up line until you can feel the crankbait vibrating. If you are marking fish higher off the bottom, simply crank up the weight higher off the bottom. The lure essentially runs about the same depth as the snap weight when using the shorter lead.
The advantage of this system is that you can fish through locations fast and turn around faster after you find fish. We often find ourselves just doing a figure 8 over a school of fish where we can go over the fish and immediately turn back around to go through them again. Irregular contours can be followed extremely effectively and because the setup time is so fast, anglers can troll much smaller and tighter locations.
Whereas a traditional trolling speed might range around two miles per hour, what I find with the snap weights is that a slightly slower trolling speed can be extremely effective where I often move at about a mile and a half an hour but what happens is that the lures speed up and stall with every turn.
Because you don’t have a prop turning at the back of the boat and because of the sharp angle the line takes below the boat, we can run rods off the bow of the boat and out the back of the boat when we run four lines, much like how you would run bottom bouncers and spinners when trolling with the bow mount.
If you do have to troll against the waves or across the waves where the bow mount struggles to hold, you can also use the kicker motor for forward propulsion and simply steer with the bow mount but I often find that under most conditions, I can pull the boat for a long amount of time at a mile and a half an hour with most twenty-four and thirty-six volt trolling motors.
Where this system has been productive for me is deep rock structure when the fish will tightly hold on one specific ledge or depth range. Following the sharp edges of reefs or deep primary points is simple and fast. Equally effective on both reservoirs and natural lakes, the simplicity and efficiency of this trolling system can enable you to catch more walleye this season.