Louisiana Sportsman Magazine Louisiana Sportsman featured stories Louisiana Sportsman Magazine
Trolling for Treasure
With steel line or lead line and these savvy techniques, you can catch monster trout while other anglers watch.

By RUSTY TARDO

The author caught the biggest trout of his life — this 6-plus-pounder — while trolling the MRGO in May.
The author caught the biggest trout of his life — this 6-plus-pounder — while trolling the MRGO in May.

You should have seen the look on George Thore’s face. I walked into his tackle repair shop on St. Bernard Highway in Chalmette, handed him a perfectly good 6-foot, 6-inch Daiwa casting rod, and told him to cut about a foot and a half off of it.

“You can’t do that; it’ll ruin the action,” he quickly responded.

Actually, he said a few other things about the type of person who would chop up a perfectly good rod, but I’ll not repeat that here. Reluctantly, and with a good bit of grumbling, he did what I asked and topped off the stubby stick with a wide tip.

I paid him for his labor, added a 6500C Abu Garcia off his used equipment table to the bill, and just smiled when he again asked me why I made him ruin a good rod.

“I’ll tell you later,” I promised.

So, George, now I’m telling you and the rest of the world why I did it. And, why I’ve done it twice more since then!

I did it for trout. Lots of trout. Big trout. Big trout, when nobody else is catching them.

And that brings up, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.”

It started with a call to Ike Torregano, over at Tite’s Place in Slidell. I was looking for an old-timer who trolled with lead or steel line, like they used to do many years ago. I remember hearing about it; old salts in small skiffs, chugging slowly along the bridges, trolling for trout, and catching plenty.

I wanted to see it done, see the baits they used, see their tackle, learn their technique. If possible, I wanted to do a story on it, which I thought our readers would find interesting. I told all this to Ike, who said he’d call if he could put me onto someone who trolled and wouldn’t mind spilling the beans.

But Ike never called. And time passed.

Then, recently, I got a call from a fellow who identified himself only as “Uncle Bill,” from Mississippi. He said he got my name from Ike, and wanted to know if I was still interested in trolling.

“Yes indeed,” I instantly replied.

“Well, I’m catching plenty big trout right now, and I’ll take you and show you everything I know,” he said, “and I don’t care if you do an article about it or not.”

That was music to my ears, You see, there are people who won’t tell us where they’re catching fish, or how they’re succeeding when others aren’t, because we tell our readers, and then their secret spots are soon chock-a-block with boats.

And I was full of questions.

“Where do you want me to meet you? Tite’s? Are we trolling the bridges? The Twin Span? The Trestle?”

“Naw, they’re too crowded with boats right now. I’ve been fishing the Ship Channel out of Bayou Bienvenue, and the trout are running big,” he said. “Me and a few friends are bringing our boats down later this week, and I’ve saved a seat for you if you want to come.”

That was one invitation I wasn’t going to pass up.

A couple days later, we motored out of the Gulf Outlet Marina in Uncle Bill’s 14-foot aluminum flatboat and headed down Bayou Bienvenue toward the Ship Channel.

I felt funny, almost naked, on the trip because Uncle Bill told me to leave all my rods and tackle at home.

“You won’t be needing them,” he declared, “and I’ll have a set-up rigged and ready for you.”

I knew we’d be doing a different kind of fishing, but I still felt unnatural without my gear. I always drag two or three rods with me on any outing, along with my omnipresent Lew’s black bag full of tackle I nicknamed “the toybox.”

I always take the toybox with me whenever I go out to play on the water. Hence, my “naked” feeling.

Once we passed the Boh Bros. wharf, Uncle Bill slowed the boat and handed me a short, stubby rod, topped with an Abu Garcia 6500C. The reel was loaded with 90 feet of steel wire line, backed with a thick braided line behind it. A barrel swivel connected the wire to a heavy monofilament leader that had a sinking MirrOlure tied to it, and to the MirrOlure was 2 1/2 feet of mono with a large treble hook hidden inside a plastic squid. It was quite a sight.

Obviously, you couldn’t cast such a thing, so the technique for getting it all in the water was sure to be interesting.

Uncle Bill had an identical set up, and as he plopped his MirrOlure overboard, I did the same. He gunned the motor, and we let the line play out until all 90 feet of steel line was spooled out. Uncle Bill slowed the boat to trolling speed, and we began our patrol along the rocks lining the Ship Channel.

“At the speed we’re trolling, these lures will swim about 10 to 12 feet down,” he explained. “That means you have to watch your depth sounder carefully. If you get into water any shallower than that, you might snag the bottom, and that’s a problem with steel line. The idea is to stay in water 12 to 15 feet deep, just along the drop off.”

“Uncle Bill” uses steel main line, and ties it to a MirrOlure. On back the MirrOlure, he ties a length of mono and a treble hook dressed with a soft-plastic squid.
“Uncle Bill” uses steel main line, and ties it to a MirrOlure. On back the MirrOlure, he ties a length of mono and a treble hook dressed with a soft-plastic squid.

The 40-horsepower Yamaha putt-putted us along at a slow but steady pace as we sat there, stubby rods protruding out, every now and then moving them in a slight waving motion.

This was a far different way of fishing from what I’m accustomed to. No casting, no bouncing the bait, no retrieving, no popping a cork — it almost didn’t feel like fishing.

We passed a few boats that were anchored along the rocks, their anglers casting and retrieving, and eyeing us suspiciously.

Just as I was feeling like I should be among them, Uncle Bill said, “Got one!”

His stubby rod had a dramatic bend in it, and he ordered me to reel in my line immediately.

“We’ll have an unholy mess if these steel lines get tangled,” he explained.

I reeled in, grabbed the landing net and dropped a 4-pound trout in the boat. I was starting to feel better about this trolling!

We repeated the procedure of setting out the lines, gunning the motor, letting all 90 feet of steel line play out, and then slow-trolling along the rocks.

Within minutes, Uncle Bill had another trout on the line, another 4-pounder. We repeated the procedure time and again, each time with the same results. At times, we’d both have a trout on at the same time, and the trout kept getting bigger.

Initially, we were catching 4-pounders, but we ended the day with six trout weighing over 6 pounds each, the largest a 6.8-pound whopper that inhaled my MirrOlure. We had several in the 5-pound range, and an assortment of 2- and 3-pounders as well. This trolling thing quickly made a believer out of me.

The amazing thing was, most of the other anglers on the water seemed to be catching very little. We’d make a courteous curve around them so as not to disturb their fishing, but I didn’t see any of them putting any fish in their boats.

“It kinda works that way,” Uncle Bill explained. “I’ve noticed that on days when we do real good trolling, the anglers who are casting do poorly. But the vice-versa is sometimes true, too. When they’re doing real good casting, sometimes we have a slow day trolling.

“But overall, I believe we put a lot more fish in the boat trolling than they do casting, and I find that trolling is far more consistent. We catch fish, big fish, plenty fish, when nobody else is catching anything. And we catch them all year long. Winter, summer, spring, fall… it doesn’t matter.

“And you know what else? I can troll along the Ship Channel even on very windy days, when nobody else thinks the fishing will be any good. They stay home, or worse yet, at work, and I go home with limits.”

Uncle Bill talked like a man who was letting me in on long guarded secrets. And he was enjoying it. There was laughter in his voice. Not slapstick guffaws, but the chuckling, subtle kind of laughter that is enjoying letting the cat out of the bag. He was telling a story that needed to be told, and he was getting a kick out of telling it.

It was a bit humbling. Here was a fellow from another state teaching me how to catch fish in my own backyard. But I was an avid student, soaking up everything he said. I studied his gear, and I tried to think of ways to improve it.

“What about using lead-core line instead of this hard-to-deal-with steel line,” I asked?

“Lead line will work,” he replied. “It’s a bit heavier than the steel line, so I wouldn’t spool on as much of it. Twenty to 30 feet of it will probably be enough to get your bait down. It is a bit easier to use, and several of my buddies troll with it successfully,” he said.

My mind was racing.

“What about trolling with monofilament, tied to a deep-diving crankbait?” I asked. “You could rig it with a plastic squid trailer the same way you rig the MirrOlure. I’ll bet that would work.”

“Plenty people troll with monofilament line,” he replied, and for evidence he pointed to a big bay boat trolling toward us, with a familiar looking face behind the wheel. When we passed, I recognized the operator as Capt. A.D. Geoghegan.

Geoghegan was trolling tandem-rigged “terror tails” on monofilament line behind his big boat.

“Doing any good?” I asked in the typical angler’s greeting.

He and his partner each held up a couple of big trout to demonstrate their success.

A camaraderie has built up among the MRGO regulars. They have the technique down to a science, and help each other to get on the fish.
A camaraderie has built up among the MRGO regulars. They have the technique down to a science, and help each other to get on the fish.

Obviously, you can troll with monofilament, too.

“Big boats generally have trouble trolling for trout,” Uncle Bill quipped as we passed. “But if you noticed, he was trolling with his kicker, a 10- or 15-horsepower outboard mounted on a transom bracket. Otherwise, the big outboard motors push you too fast to troll, even at their slowest speed. You can throw out a sea sock or a 5-gallon bucket to slow you down, but you have to be careful to keep it away from your trolling lines.”

“What about trolling the bridges in the lake?” I asked.

“Do exactly the same thing,” he answered. “There’s just a lot more boats out there to avoid right now.

“Actually, you can troll anywhere where the water is deep enough. You could probably troll the entire length of this Ship Channel. Just hang along the rocks, watch your depth sounder and try to stay in 12 to 15 feet of water. I prefer trolling where I know the bottom is pretty flat because rocks, logs or ridges on the bottom can snag you.

“Mostly, I just troll up and down these rocks near Boh Bros. until I catch my limit. Why fix what ain’t broke?”

We ended our day early, with more than 30 whopper trout in the box.

A couple days later, I was back again. This time in my own boat, rigged and ready to try trolling with a few innovations of my own.

I used my normal 6-foot, 6-inch rods, standard casting reels and monofilament line. One I rigged with a MirrOlure and plastic squid trailer just like Uncle Bill’s. The other, I rigged with a deep-diving crankbait and a plastic squid trailer.

The trailer is important because when I fished with Uncle Bill, we caught just as many trout on it as we did on the MirrOlure. And once, we caught a trout on each lure at the same time.

But my innovations flopped. My long rods bent way too dramatically the whole time we trolled. We couldn’t get my big 250-horse Mercury to troll slowly enough to be effective. I tried putting it in and out of gear to slow our troll, but that only caused my deep-diving lure to grab the bottom and break off. Unfortunately, it was the only one I had.

And the MirrOlure rig? It trailed behind us, on the surface. Without the lead line or steel line, and at the speed we were trolling, it wouldn’t sink.

And that brings us back to where we started.

I went to George at GT’s Tackle to have a rod shortened. I bought a used Abu 6500C from him while I was there. I ordered lead-core line and a spool of steel line from my Bass Pro catalog.

Now if I can just figure a way to slow this big 250 down. Maybe if I troll against the current?