Trolling for trout
Trolling is New Zealand’s most popular method of catching trout. In New Zealand’s most utilised freshwater fishery, Lake Taupo, anglers trolling or harling from slow-moving boats catch 90% of the trout taken each year
Trolling and harling are essentially the same, but the tackle used and the depth of water fished is different.
Harling refers to towing a lure or fly, or both, behind the boat in shallow water. Harling can be practised using ordinary monofilament line, or one or more sinking flylines, to take the harled lure/fly below the surface.
Trolling takes place in deeper water, using specialised tackle that takes the lure deep. Lead-core line is commonly used, taking lures to a maximum depth of around 15m, and some anglers use heavy wire line (monel or (rarely) copper wire) to fish up to 30m deep.
Harling is possible using flyfishing gear, light spinning or baitcasting tackle, or special harling rods equipped with centre-pin reels. It’s a reasonably sporting way to catch trout.
Lead-core and wire lines take a lot of dragging through the water and take much of the sport out of catching trout, so many anglers welcomed the introduction of downriggers a few years ago. Downriggers use a heavy weight equipped with a tackle-release system to deploy an angler’s gear deeper than is possible with any other method. When a fish bites, the special clip releases the line so the angler can play the fish off the rod.
Light baitcasting or spinning tackle and 3–5kg monofilament or superbraid line is suitable for downrigger fishing for trout. Extra-long downrigger rods with whippy tips are available, some with guides spiralling around the blank. Fished correctly, the line is tensioned against the release clip so that the rod tip touches the water while fishing. When a fish bites and trips the release clip, the rod whips up, taking up slack line and maintaining contact with the hooked fish. In the Taupo fishery, downrigger cables are restricted to 40m in length, allowing anglers to fish water around 30m deep.
Traditional trolling tackle uses reasonably heavy, stiff rods to cope with the drag of lead-core or wire lines. They’re equipped with large centre-pin reels, or sometimes multiplying boat reels familiar to sea-fishers, to hold the bulky lead-core or wire lines, plus backing. Rods for wire lines are particularly sturdy.
Deep trolling is necessary in summer and autumn when trout and salmon move deep to escape warm surface water; harling works best in winter and spring, particularly when recovering fish return to the lakes after spawning in the rivers.
Apart from the methods used to deliver the lures or flies, the principle behind harling and trolling are similar. Anglers generally fish the edge of a weed line or bottom contour, trying to ensure their lures are within a metre or two of the bottom.
When harling, it’s often possible to see bottom features in clear, shallow water and position the boat accordingly. When deep trolling, a sounder is invaluable, especially when using a downrigger. Abrupt changes in bottom topography must be acted upon immediately, or there’s a risk of losing your terminal tackle, or worse, catching the downrigger weight on the bottom, which can be dangerous and is certainly expensive should the downrigger cable snap.
Trolling is more often undertaken using lures, though many successful trollers add a fly to the rig, either in front or behind the lure. Popular lures include spoons, Cobras, Tasmanian Devils, Flatfish and others.
Harling is more often conducted using only flies. Popular patterns include Parsons Glory, Grey Ghost, Ginger Mick–almost any streamer pattern that imitates smelt–Woolly Buggers and various Killer patterns. Harling anglers also do well fishing Cobras or spoons like the ever-popular Toby.
Trolling for trout