Open Water Power Trolling

         Open water fishing can be difficult. When fish are tight to structure, slow presentations can be used to target specific spots. However, when fish are suspended up and scattered it’s a different story. Trolling methods offer ways to present more baits to more fish. Longling pulling jigs, longlining crankbaits and pushing cranks are three ways to target and catch these fish. One more method, we will call Power Trolling, is another aggressive way to target these fish and the method we will feature this month.

Power trolling is an in-your-face tactic to attack open water fish. Heavy weights, big spinner jigs and fast speeds in the 1.0 mph range makes it possible to cover a lot of water with multiple baits.

Power trolling is an in-your-face tactic to attack open water fish. Heavy weights, big spinner jigs and fast speeds in the 1.0 mph range makes it possible to cover a lot of water with multiple baits.

What is open water? Fishermen consider it to be water without cover. There is no standing timber or other cover coming up high in the water. Open water might be a 20 foot deep flat without cover, or, it could be a 30 foot flat with the bottom loaded with stakebeds and stumps but leaving the top 20 feet water open.

Power Trolling Basics

            Avid outdoorsman and Mississippi crappie fisherman, Les Smith, says power trolling isn’t for everyone but it’s one choice that works great in the Mississippi lakes and should work in many waters across the country.

Johnson Fishing

            Smith says power trolling isn’t doesn’t work for everyone. The heavy weights and long poles requires strength. People who are not strong cannot physically handle it. Plus, it’s a lot of hard work that some fishermen don’t want to do.

            “I’ve tried a lot of different equipment and have found the following works best for me. Driftmaster rod holders are strong and allow easy access to poles. I run them on a rack designed to fit my boat and be very strong. The poles are Wally Marshall Troll-Tech 16-footers. Each pole is strong, has a great backbone and the tip holds up to the heavy weights. I run high-vis line above the water because I want to see the line move. Once under the water I run a Seaguar Red Label leader, 15-pound test. The line doesn’t stretch a lot under the heavy weights. I run an I-Pilot trolling motor to run the boat so I can fish.”

            Smith says, “My rigs are identical. I’m a fanatic about having everything consistent so I have a sewing mat with graph lines. I measure my lengths so everything stays uniform. I start with a barrel swivel then come down two feet and do three overhand knots. I have a six-inch leader for the top hook. I come down two feet to where I put my weight on the line I add a bead underneath to keep it from falling down so it leaves the weight free. The bead keeps it from cutting my line. Barrel swivel is next. I come down one foot to the next jig.”

            He notes that two jigs on top with the weight on bottom is very popular and works but the bottom weight often slaps the boat when bringing a fish in. The sinker in the middle helps reduce the dings to the front of the boat. Also, it’s safer having the sinker in the middle.

            “I’ve tried many different rigs, baits and sinkers. They all have different advantages. I’ve used 1-ounce to 12-ounce sinkers and found the 3-ounce is the ideal compromise for my style of power trolling.

Open Water Power Trolling

“All of my setups have spinners. Road Runners work fantastic. So do walleye jigheads with big heads and hooks. I have a 1/8-ounce on top and 1/4 on bottom. I use Muddy Water, along with a few other brands of bodies, and a Ziptailz skirt. Favorite colors include pink at Enid, lime-chartreuse at Grenada and orange-chartreuse at Sardis. A lot has to do with water color. If I could only have one color in Mississippi that works on all waters it would be the Blue Disco in the Muddy Water bait.

Catching Fish

            Smith says power trolling works all year long but works best when fish are not tight to cover. But when the fish get out in open water he says he can catch more fish power trolling than with other methods.

            “I generally go 1.0 mph using my I-Pilot trolling motor. The power trolling works so well because it’s using jigs fast but on vertical lines. Most of the time I’m following a ledge or channel, something difficult to do if longlining. We can run up on the ledges, turn around and head to the other side. Fish are often laying on the sides of the ledges. Finding balls of shad is another key ingredient so watching electronics for depths, changes in depths, shad and fish are all important.”

A typical ¼-ounce Les Smith power trolling jig.

A typical ¼-ounce Les Smith power trolling jig.

            Smith starts with a wide variety of baits at the beginning of the day. When he catches fish he pays close attention to the type bait and color. A few fish on a particular color has him putting a few more of the same colors on other poles but he also keeps a few other colors out all the time in case the pattern changes.

            Two tweaks are very important for him. One is blade type and size. He prefers a large blade. His favorite is a dimpled willow leaf. Another is Ziptailz skirts. He says the umbrella skirt has a rubber insert making it easy to slide up on the jig and makes it easy to change colors without removing the jighead.

Bait Modification Smith likes the additional bulk and action offered by a Ziptailz skirt. He modifies the skirt by clipping off the three outer tabs on the rubber making it easier to get it on a jig and so they don’t interfere with the spinner action. The skirt offers a bigger profile and adds more color to a jig.

Bait Modification
Smith likes the additional bulk and action offered by a Ziptailz skirt. He modifies the skirt by clipping off the three outer tabs on the rubber making it easier to get it on a jig and so they don’t interfere with the spinner action. The skirt offers a bigger profile and adds more color to a jig.

            “The bottom line is that power trolling offers better bait control. The downside of longline trolling is I have to make long turns and sweeps. With power trolling I can make an immediate turn. Both power trolling and longline trolling work together if you want to do both.

“This technique works great into the fall with ledges, humps and drop-offs all being good spots to fish. I like to look for tight contours meaning sharper drops. I’m looking for deep holes next to timber. When you see the fish stacked up on the graph you know you should be getting a bite.”

More Power Trolling Tips from Les Smith

            * “I use a No-Knot so I do not tie directly to the jig. I find another color is working I can remove a head or setup and pop another one on without tying. It’s bam-bam and I’m going again.”

            * “What you think should work doesn’t always work. Stagger the bait depths. Let the fish show the depths where they are active. Also, you might catch a lot of fish at 12 feet but catch bigger slabs at 18 feet.”

            * “Boat traffic varies day to day but when fishermen see you raising the poles they will come over to fish your spot. Power trolling is an advantage over longlining when going around crowds of boats. Pleasure boaters are more difficult to deal with because they go all over the lake. The best thing is to have your fish caught and off the lake by noon.”

            * “Smith says fish move a lot. Be prepared to try different areas until you form a pattern.”

Final Thoughts

            Power trolling requires a relatively expensive setup, requires a fisherman to be healthy and strong, and is work. Longlining jigs or crankbaits is easier. However, for those who make the choice to power troll, there are advantages and rewards of pushing large bladed jigs out the front of the boat. Boat control for following channels and ledges, good bait depth control and active, large, bladed jigs are a few of the primary advantages.

Manufactures/Products Mentioned

*Driftmaster driftmaster.com; *Muddy Water Baits at grizzlyjig.com; *No-Knot  at basspro.com; *Road Runner ttiblakemore.com; *Seaguar Line  seaguar.com; Lew’s Wally Marshall Poles mrcrappie.com; Ziptailz  ziptailz.com.