Trolling “LITE”
Light Tackle Trolling Techniques 
Written By Captain Pat “T-Man” Renna
Owner T-Man Custom Tackle, LLC

Do you have experience trolling for stripers with wire or lead core lines? Or, maybe you’ve dismissed the idea of trolling up your catch because you don’t want to in-vest the time to learn new techniques or the dollars to buy dedicated equipment? If that’s the case, let me give you a little something different to ponder. How about trying to troll with light weight rod and reel combos loaded with braided line? It’s easy, relatively economical to get started and loads of fun! 
Pros & Cons
There’s no questioning the effectiveness of wire and lead core line set-ups when it comes to getting deep and scoring striped bass. However, they do have their drawbacks. Wire and lead core combos are typically heavy and difficult to handle. Because of the stout rods especially on the wire outfits, they take most of the fun and fight out of all but the biggest of stripers. In addition, these trolling combos are so specialized in their usage that they are dedicated to trolling only and consequently spend a lot of time stowed away somewhere on board. In fact, many people have told me over the years that they leave their trolling outfits behind on most days to save space in their boats or because they have a young/elderly crew that day who are not capable of handling the gear.
Enter the techniques and equipment of light tackle trolling. The light tackle trolling outfit consists of a 6.5 to 8 foot medium to medium heavy one piece rod with a fast tip and a strong backbone. This rod should be paired with a conventional style level wind reel loaded with 30 to 50 pound braided line. A good example is the Daiwa combo I use when chartering.  A 6’9” one piece Medium Heavy Action Saltiga Inshore Northeast Striper Rod (SA-ST691MHFB) and a conventional style Saltist (STTLW20LCHA) level wind reel with line counter. I load the reel with 40 pound Samurai braid. This type of equipment truly adds much more fun to the whole fish catching experience. Also, you’ll find that this combo is super simple to use and can be given to even the most inexperienced angler with confidence. And here’s the kicker, I actually use this same combo for fluke drifting, livelining eels and bottom fishing for scup, seabass and blackfish. So as you can see, a light weight trolling combo can be decidedly more versatile than the other heavier wire or lead core line outfits. 

Smaller thin profile tubes can take some big fish like this 40+ pounder 
Thin Profile Tubes & Lite Spoons
So, if we’re talking about lighter rod & reel combos, it stands to reason that we’ll have to downsize the offerings to match. One concern I always hear from anglers when I talk about downsizing is the idea that they can’t catch keeper size stripers on smaller tubes, spoons and swimmers. This is not true at all. Yes, I do catch a load of small bass when light tackle trolling, but I also get more than my share of 20 to 40 pound linesiders with an occasional 50+ using smaller profile offerings.
I personally like to use thin diameter un-weighted trolling tubes and light flutter style spoons made by T-Man Custom Tackle to get the job done with light gear. Garden hose diameter head weighted trolling tubes and heavy bunker spoons are not appropriate for this style of fishing. The question now becomes with all these light weight baits and no wire/leadcore lines, how do we get deep to where the stripers live? The answer is simple, by tying a “Quick Change Keel” in-line with your offering. This rig consists of a wire frame keel clip, a length of leader material and the lure, be it a trolling tube, spoon or any other favorite lightweight lure. I typically match the same pound test fluorocarbon leader with the test of my main braided line. Although I have not yet bought into using fluorocarbon leader material for every application, I am convinced that it can make a significant difference when trolling the shallows.
Using the System
Simply stated, the use of this “Trolling System” will allow you to fish down to productive depths when paired with light weight braided combos. The Quick Change Keel opens in an instant making it easy to change out the size of the egg sinker and adjust your depth. As long as you are prepared with a good selection of egg sinkers you’ll be able to effectively fish waters from 5 feet to 50 plus feet in depth. Of course, there are many factors which affect your ability to get your offerings to the desired depth. Boat speed, currents, wind direction etc… all have to be taken into consideration. The majority of the trolling I do with this system is done very slowly at 2-3 miles per hour on my GPS. I most often troll with the prevailing currents and run 100 to 175 ft of braid out behind the boat while varying the size of the egg sinkers to reach the desire depth. Most of the time, you will want to be trolling in the bottom 5 feet of the water column when targeting stripers. Basically you let out enough line & add enough weight to find the bottom and then back off a bit by reeling in a little line. 

For accuracy and repeatability it is important to reliably estimate how much line you have out behind the boat while trolling. Obviously, line counter style reels make this a very easy task. However, if you don’t have a line counter style reel to use there are other options. Braided lines are easily colored with a permanent ink marker. To do this, measure out 100 feet of line off your reel and color 3 feet or so of it with the permanent marker. You’ll be able to see that colored line coming on and off the spool and have a pretty good idea where you are from that point. Or you can just buy “metered” braid which is comes with a color change every so many feet similar to lead core. Another method is to set the level wind mechanism of your reel all the way to one side of the spool. Next strip enough line off your reel to make the level wind mechanism travel all the way to the other side of your spool. Now measure the amount of line that came off during this process. Let’s say it was 10 feet. Now you can simply count the number of passes your level wind mechanism makes while letting out your line. 10 passes at 10 feet per pass would be 100feet… Got it?  

The attitude of your rods when trolling will also make a difference in your ability to get down to the fish. I strongly suggest that you troll with your rods perpendicular to the gunwale of your boat and parallel to the surface of the water. This allows you to get down deep with less line out and keeps the lures in the strike zone more dependably especially in rough seas. I also think this rod attitude gives you a much better spread and it definitely improves your ability to monitor your rod tip for strikes or fouling. There are a variety of rod holders on the market which will let you achieve this “proper attitude” for trolling. You’ll also find yourself using this type of rod holder while drift fishing and even dead sticking on the bottom, so they are worth the investment.

Locations – Being Versatile
One of the really special attributes of light tackle trolling with the quick change keel system is being able to easily employ the technique in a wide variety of fishable waters. So it behooves the angler to be exploratory and experimental. I can tell you that over the years more than one of my charter clients have been amazed at the quality of striped bass we have trolled up in less than 10feet of water. Often times these shallow water fish are found very close to shore in areas most other anglers pass by regularly without ever wetting a line. For example, on a typical charter morning I will start by trolling in 6 to 10 feet of water along shoreline areas with just a small 1/8 to 1/4 ounce egg sinker on the keel. From there I like to hit some isolated rock-piles in 12 to 18 feet of water, so I just slip on a 3/4 ounce egg and I’m in business. Trolling these types of spots usually gets the skunk out of the boat in a big hurry. Eventually I’ll reach my target location along a reef or rip during a specific period of tide and I’ll fish hard in these areas covering various depths until I locate a concentration of fish. The majority of my bigger stripers come from these reefs and rips. While fishing these deeper waters I pay special attention to the slack tide periods when it’s easiest to maneuver my boat and deliver light tackle offerings over the honey holes and rock piles within the larger reefs and rips. On most days I find plenty of stripers in less than 30 feet of water and have no problem reaching them with 1 to 3 ounce egg sinkers on the keels. 

Remember this is all going to take some practice and a little persistence on your part is mandatory. The two most frequent mistakes I find people make when trying to master the techniques of light tackle trolling are #1 going too fast and #2 giving up to easily. Believe me once you get the hang of it your will enjoy a lot of success and share your skills with friends and family by putting them on some nice fish. 

A New Tool in the Box
It’s not often during your fishing career that you discover a technique that can add a new dimension of fishing to your arsenal, while positively impacting your catch rate. This may not be the case for every fisherman who attempts to do some trolling. But, I promise that most of you who give these techniques of light tackle trolling
anhonestchance, will find it enjoyable and rewarding. Remember I’m not suggesting this is the ONLY style of fishing you should do, it’s just another option.

So many advantages…

Conservation – Light tackle trolling as described here results in nearly zero mortality because 99.9% of the fish you catch will be hooked in the mouth allowing you to release them unharmed if you choose to do so. I have safely released thousands of striped bass over my light tackle trolling career.

New Waters – You’ll find yourself trolling shoreline areas and rock piles you have never fished before often scoring well in spots few other anglers fish. I guarantee that there are literally hundreds of light tackle trolling opportunities very close to the favorite spots you already fish. In fact, I bet you run right past a bunch of shoreline and rock pile spots on every trip out and back to the docks.

Fun and Challenging – With light tackle trolling gear you will fight theFISH not the GEAR. Honestly, with these light outfits even30 inch stripers are enjoyable to catch and the 30 pounders will provide an exciting challenge that gets your heart rate up there very nicely….

Less Gear – Once you incorporate this technique you’ll find that you can save some space and money because these light weight outfits aresomulti functional. Remember even if you invest in a line counter style reel for trolling it works perfectly fine for drift and bottom fishing. In fact you’ll find it comes in very handy for all styles of fishing.

Ease of Use – Let’s face it, when it comes to young kids or elderly fisherman it can be pretty tough to hand them a wire outfit and feel confident that they can handle it properly. But I haven’t found a child or a senior yet who can’t let out the line on one of these light tackle outfits and place the rod in the holder after only a few minutes of instruction.

I hope reading this article has gotten the wheels turning a bit for some of you. Light tackle trolling with this system is truly not that difficult to learn and the benefits are well worth the effort. I’ve been providing professional instructional charters for several years on light tackle trolling and I’m happy to say that many of my clients have incorporated the techniques into their own recreational fishing arsenal with great success. I hope you too decide to give it a try, I think you’ll be glad you did.