By Ed Truman

Trolling the year’s first open water can be a titanic experience for anglers in the Ice Belt states and providences. Dodging slow-to-melt ice shards and sheets, nearly hidden from the naked eye as they float within the lake’s shell, adds a dimension of difficulty.

But the effort made to motor slowly over such a ‘berg-ridden waterway is well worth the endeavor. The water is the warmest it’s been since skimming over last fall, and big trout and salmon are on the prowl more than ever.

Forage with narrow-shaped bodies such as herring, shiners and smelt often become the main meal for both species in this hemisphere, and trolling bodybaits (a term Northerners use for the longer, more -slender versions of crankbaits) is the way to catch them.
Not every bodybait has the right wobble to produce strikes in such frigid H20. It’s the super-slow trolling speed that hinders some models. A good bodybait must be responsive and provide a wide wobble when pulled in slow motion. Because of where the fish are positioned in the water column, buoyance also plays a big part.

David Rose is a fishing guide on the large, oligotrophic (deep, cold, clear) inland lakes along the 45th Parallel near Traverse City, Mich., and frequently fishes for fun and fine table fare on the Great Lakes. The trout and salmon species are numerous, including lake trout, rainbow, steelhead, brown and brookies, as well Chinook salmon, coho and even landlocked Atlantics. He only carries bodybaits this time of year.

“What most anglers fail to realize is, no matter the lure used, there is much more to trolling than just letting out line and hoping a fish attacks it,” Rose states. “Paying attention to trolling speed right down to one-tenth of a mile per hour, using lures that have plenty of action when trolled slowly, and understanding where those lures are running in the water column as well what they are doing [floating to the surface or sitting stationary] during a turn is crucial.”

First thing’s first for Rose, and that’s getting his boat moving about 1 mph, and then letting out few different type of bodybaits to determine fish preferences for that day. This doesn’t mean color pattern, which will be refined later, but to check a lure’s running depth and action.
In Michigan, anglers are allowed three lines per person, which makes starting out with a variety of baits easier. Use planer boards to spread out the first four lines to limit tangles and catch those fish spooked by the boat.

Rose runs lures that ride higher in the water column behind those outside planer boards. He prefers the Bomber Long A, with the B15A his go-to for these outside lines. While this bait will troll down to 6 feet, the slow speed and frequent turns keep it much shallower.

Behind his inside boards (which are still at least 50 feet from the gunwales) Rose connects deeper diving floating lures, like the 3-1/2-inch Deep Long A that submerges itself to 15 to 20 feet when trolled. The Bandit B-Shad is another productive slender minnow lure that works on these inner planers.
“Floating bodybaits have a lot of action, but not just when being pulled,” Rose claims. “The lures running on the inside of a turn, which slows them nearly to a halt, will literally ‘swim’ their way toward the surface before diving again once the boat straightens out.”

Rather than trolling in a straight line, Rose continuously maneuvers his boat in a zigzag pattern, which speeds up and slows down his baits. Sometimes, however, a lure sitting perfectly still will be what gets bit. This is where suspending bodybaits come in to play.

Rose puts out Smithwick’s Perfect 10 Rogues and Deep Suspending Rattlin’ Rogues on the lines that run directly out of the back of the boat. These baits will troll down to nearly 20 feet, but with this unusually slow troll speed don’t normally hit that depth. What they do, however, is stay at the depth they achieved during a pause or turn.

“Suspending bodybaits work wonders when the wind’s up and the boat surges,” says Rose. “It’s that stop-and-slow motion without the lure rising out of the strike zone that often gets the fish to bite.“

Use the lightest line you can get away with – the lighter the line the more action you get out of your baits, which is especially important going at these super-slow speeds. When using in-line planer boards, 10-lb test is perfect. Also, use a snap -- not snap-swivel -- to attach your lure to the line. A lightweight crankbait snap allows the bait maximum action, but a snap-swivel adds too much bulk and weight, and can hinder action.
long a
And always troll with the wind, and deploy one or two Lindy Drift Socks to slow your troll speed if the wind is pushing you too fast. Slow is key – no faster than 1-1/2 mph.

Begin with these different bait styles and a wide variety of color patterns, then adjust as the day goes on and the fish begin giving you hints of what will work best on that day. Bomber introduced some new color patterns in its Long A lineup last year, and they seem to really trigger strikes from trout and salmon (new pattern in picture at right).

Some days the fish want flashy chrome patterns, some days it’s super-subtle realistic looks, and other days it’s a blend of the two, which is what Bomber accomplished with these dotted patterns - a pattern that blends a bunch of baitfish looks. You’ve just got to give them a variety of choices and see which they like best.