Trolling the Trestles

Combine a small boat and these simple techniques for big trout all summer long.

I pulled out my hand-held GPS to check our speed. Once all the satellites kicked in, it registered the incredible velocity of 2.4 knots. That’s right, two point four.

We were moving at a snail’s pace down the east side of the train trestle spanning Lake Pontchartrain. I was aboard Uncle Bill’s brand-new, 16-foot welded-aluminum flatboat, and the continual drone of the 60-horsepower Yamaha behind us let us know it was doing its job.

Uncle Bill is something of a throwback. He’s cut from the old mold of anglers who aren’t impressed with the number of ball bearings in your newest hi-tech reel, or the 7-foot length of the latest big-dollar composite rod. He fishes the same way he learned how to half a century ago, and with equipment that could be called anything but high-tech.

“I still use the old Ambassadeur 6000 or 6000C,” he said. “They’re pretty much bullet-proof. They hold up under all the abuse I give them with this steel line. I widen the line guide on them to make room for a small barrel swivel to pass through without hanging up. Other than that, I spray them down with WD40 occasionally and wipe them off,” he quipped.

He mounts them on short, sawed off fiberglass rods with wide steel guides. The wire line he spools can act like a saw and cut through just about anything else. You see, Uncle Bill doesn’t cast. He trolls. He putt-putts along the bridges in the lake, doing all of 2.4 knots, dragging a MirrOlure 52M about 100 feet behind him.

He ties about a 3-foot length of 30-pound-test to the eye of the last hook on the MirrOlure, and ties it to a trailer of some kind. Last year when I fished with him, he was using an avocado- or motor oil-colored B2 Squid as a trailer. This year, he had one rod hooked up with a chartreuse/tiger stripe Chug Bug trailer, and he said the big trout had been pounding it.

Uncle Bill, who likes being incognito and won’t give out more than that for his name, was already at Tite’s Launch on Highway 11, and his boat was in the water when I arrived. This time I brought two rods of my own, one spooled with the wire line that Bill believes in, the other with heavier but easier-to-use lead line. I had MirrOlures and trailers rigged up on both of them, and I was eager to test them along the bridges.

Bill cranked up the Yamaha and headed toward the south shore. Along the way, we passed several other small boats that were already trolling the Trestle. Bill recognized all of them by sight if not by name, and asked each one what they’d caught so far.

Each replied with a shrug, a smile and a few words to describe their success. There was a good camaraderie among the trollers, but none had had much success putting trout in the boat this morning.

We were about two-thirds of the way to the south shore when Uncle Bill slowed the boat to trolling speed and turned it back toward the north shore. He said his usual procedure is to troll the east side of the bridges. If he gets into some good action, he turns around and trolls that area again.

He will occasionally troll the west side or middle of the Twin Spans if nothing is happening on the east side. But he says the Trestle has a lot of trash on the bottom of the west side to snag your deep-running lures, so he avoids it.

There are several very important things to know before you head out to troll with wire or lead line. The first is do not ever try to “cast.” If you think mono or braid can bird-nest, you wouldn’t believe what wire can do.

Instead of casting, you press your spool release button, plop your bait into the water and let the drag from the water begin to pull the line out. Once the line starts to spool out, gun the outboard and let the wire or lead spool out until all of it is out. That’s another key.

“You should have 90 to 95 feet of wire or lead on your spool,” Uncle Bill said. “Tie that to a small barrel swivel and use 30-pound braided line as a backer. Once that 90 to 95 feet spools out, let another 10 or 15 feet of the backer play out and then start trolling. This will keep your bait about 100 feet or so behind you, and it’ll run at a 10- to 12-foot depth,” he said.

I realized immediately that I didn’t have enough lead line spooled on my reel. I used a 12-pound-test lead line with a 20-pound monofilament backer.

“Too light,” Bill said. “Your lure won’t run deep enough, and that light mono will quickly break off.”

I decided to put away that rig until I could get home and redo it according to Bill’s advice. I broke out my wire line rig and went to work with it. This was the first time I used it, and immediately had a problem. The wire kept hanging up in the reel’s line guide when I tried to let it spool out. The problem was my knot tying the wire to the backing was catching the line guide. I didn’t wrap the wire tight enough and consequently, it was unraveling and sticking in the guide. Also, I didn’t widen the line guide on my reel enough to make room for the swivel and knot to flow through. After several tries and repeated hang-ups, I was discouraged.

But then Uncle Bill caught a fish.

“There he is,” he exclaimed as his rod arm yanked backwards. “A nice one.”

He fought the fish, and I quickly reeled in and grabbed the net.

Which brings up another tip: If two lines are out and somebody catches a fish, reel in the other line immediately. Bill says if the fish you’re fighting gets tangled in the other wire line, you’ll have a mess you’ll probably never untangle.

Uncle Bill’s fish was a solid 3-pounder, and his rubberized net kept the MirrOlure’s treble hooks from getting hopelessly tangled. And just like on our previous trip, the trout took the trailer rather than the main bait.

“Probably two out of three fish you catch will be on the trailer,” Bill said. “And sometimes you catch a fish on both lures. Now that’s really something, when you have two 5-pound trout on the end of your line. If that happens today, net the first one that comes up and I’ll lift the second one into the boat,” he said.

“Will do,” I answered, hoping I’d get the chance to do just that.

As we trolled the bridges, Uncle Bill commented on the cloudiness of the water in the lake. It was almost brown in color, muddied up from several previous days of high winds.

I noticed that we were catching up with the boat trolling ahead of us.

“A lot of them troll slower than I do,” Uncle Bill said.

We were only doing 2.4 knots; they had to be doing only one point something! That explains why I’ve had trouble catching anything while trolling in my own boat. With its monster 250-horsepower Mercury, I can’t go slow enough.

“For this kind of fishing, I think a small boat has a clear advantage over a bigger one,” Bill quipped. “It’s more agile and more maneuverable. When the fishing is good, there are quite a few boats around the bridge, and you have to maneuver around them.

“Also, there’s less wind resistance with the smaller boats; and besides all that, you can troll all day and still burn very little gas. You notice that most of these guys are out here trolling alone? Not that I advise that, but if you fish often, trolling all day with a big outboard will cost you plenty — a lot more money than many of these guys could afford.”

I observed each of the trollers as we passed them. Sure enough, all of them were small boats, 14- to 16-foot. Some were powered by 15-horsepower engines. Others had 25-, 40- or 50-horsepower outboards.

Most fished the same way Uncle Bill did, putt-putting along at 2 knots or less, and snugging up so close to the legs of the bridge you could literally reach over and touch them.

But there was one glaring exception to this rule. When we returned to the dock, I watched as a couple of anglers prepared to head out in a 20-foot aluminum deep V. It was an inboard-powered, northern-style boat, like those I’ve seen used for trolling in the Great Lakes for big freshwater lake trout and cohoe salmon. These guys were going to troll the bridges with a spreader — two 10-foot rods, and two 5-foot rods, one of each on each side.

I asked how fast they trolled the bridges, and one of them replied, “1 knot!”

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see them in operation, but it seemed to me that it’d work. It wouldn’t be as maneuverable as the small boats, but what you lost in maneuverability, perhaps you’d make up for by having four lines in the water at a time.

Trawling season poses another obstacle in the form of muddy water. Sometimes the water can be cloudy on the surface and clearer underneath, but trawling season often makes it muddy all the way to the bottom, and trout are unlikely to feed under such conditions.

Uncle Bill says you can run and hunt along all the bridges for some clearer water, but if none can be found you’re simply out of luck.

“Sometimes we get a lull in the action for a short period of time when all the shrimp trawlers are out in full force,” Bill admitted.

Even so, all things considered, Bill is persuaded that he can catch fish more consistently by trolling than others can by casting.

What’s more, he’s convinced that the overall size of fish caught by trollers is larger than what casters catch.

He might be right. We left the lake, trailered the boat and headed to Bayou Bienvenue in pursuit of cleaner water. The full parking lot at the launch testified that the action was on in the area.

Uncle Bill headed straight to the Ship Channel and slowed down at the rocks on the west side of the Paris Road Bridge near Boh Brothers. There were at least 50 boats anchored along the rocks, casting live shrimp, live croakers and soft plastics. We saw several of them pull in trout.

The steady line of parked boats left little room for us to troll, but wherever we found an opening, we took it, and the fish were there.

“There he is,” Uncle Bill would exclaim as another hefty trout tried to disjoint his arm at the shoulder. I’d reel in and man the landing net, or switch rods with Uncle Bill and give him the net for a change. I noticed at least a half-dozen other boats trolling the area also, most of which Uncle Bill didn’t recognize.

“Nobody trolled this area until you wrote that article on it last summer,” Bill said. “Only a few of us knew what to do. Now everybody knows, and we’re getting a lot more traffic out here.”

But there was no complaint in his voice, only observation.

And if you’re observant, you’ll likely see me out there — putt-putting along, short rod in hand, a big smile on my face, loading up the ice chest with speckled trout.

About Rusty Tardo 372 Articles
Rusty Tardo grew up in St. Bernard fishing the waters of Delacroix, Hopedale and Shell Beach. He and his wife, Diane, have been married over 40 years and live in Kenner.