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Chasing Golden Trevalley on the Magnetic Island flats.


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Thursday 14 July 2011

Trolling for Spanish Mackerel (Part 2 of 4)

(part 1) (part 2) (part 3) (part 4)
Article by Nicko_Cairns

Trolling Times

I find that the best trolling times are before the sun has risen too high in the sky (remember that Macks don’t have eyelids so they generally go deep during the brightest times of the day), and later in the afternoon. A general guideline is to start trolling just as the morning light starts creeping over the horizon until around 9-9:30am. On overcast days this time zone can be extended considerably, especially on very dull days. In the afternoon the best times are from approximately two hours before sunset until the sun has completely set, so from around 4-4:30pm in North Queensland. Remember that Macks have excellent eye sight and don’t be afraid to troll until the light has completely passed. Again, on very bright days this window is smaller and on very overcast days this window is bigger. There is always the exception to the rule and I’ve caught a couple of Macks at midday when targeting Coral Trout.

Wire or Mono?
I have tried straight mono, multi-strand wire, plastic heat-bonded wire and single strand wire. These days I steer clear of straight mono, heat-bonded wire and multi-strand wire, I exclusively use single strand copper coloured wire. Mono works very well but you will lose lures/baits. I feel sorry for any Mack that has to swim with a lure sticking from its gob so avoid using just mono, plus I rarely lose a lure/bait-rig anymore. Multi-strand wire works but I find that single strand gets a better hit ratio. I’ve tried different lengths of wire and find that around 30cm (1 foot) of wire is plenty, especially when you adhere to the hook-up techniques mentioned later in this article. The fish will generally hit toward the rear of the lure/bait and I generally don’t stop the boat, so there’s no need for meters of wire. Note that in the Torres Strait many fishermen use very heavy single strand wire in long lengths, attached to long lengths or rope AND they often bag out! So ignore the wire myth and use single strand wire. If you aren’t getting hits you haven’t found the fish so move rather than over-thinking your rig.

One word of caution, never use bright swivels or anything silver on your terminal tackle, always use black swivels or your lure/bait loss will be much higher. The flash of swivels definitely attracts macks and often Macks are found in numbers, competing for food…and your bright flashy swivel. Check your lure/bait after every hit, obviously you’ll require a new bait each time but you may require new wire. If in doubt, change it. I’ve found that I usually get multiple fish on single strand wire without any problems; it’s more solid than most people think. I generally use a swivel at the end of my braid, connected to a Hawaiian snap clip: ( I use the 152lb model as it’s large and easy to use. This is the only type of snap clip that I use anymore; fish simply can’t undo this clip. I highly recommend getting your other snap clips and giving them to a mate, they simply lose fish. Macks can hit your bait/lure at phenomenal speeds, so only the best terminal tackle will do.

Attached to my Hawaiian snap I have a one foot single strand copper colour which is haywire twisted onto the lure/bait rig. Now this may cause some arguments but I generally don’t use a mono leader at all anymore, basically by using braid straight to wire it removes any chance of slack line during the hook-up, shock leaders etc are designed to flex and lessen the impact where a lower drag setting can do exactly the same thing without introducing slack line into the equation. Just my opinion and it works for me, however I’ve had much better hook-up conversion rates with this rig than with any mono in the equation. I do still have one reel rigged with mono but mainly as I haven’t gotten around to getting it spooled with braid, I will sometime but I still use it fairly often, although usually as a back-up combo. So in summary I have a doubled section of braid of approximately 30cm long, this is attached to a black swivel, the black swivel is attached to a Hawaiian snap clip which is attached to my wire. The wire is then obviously attached to a lure, or to a bait rig. So when I want to change a lure or the bait rig I just undo the Hawaiian snap and replace it, simple. I realise that most people want a shock leader so by all means use one but unless you are fishing really shallow reefs, or stopping your boat this is unnecessary in my opinion.

Lately I’ve purchased an EZ Twist (, this product is fantastic and I’m in no way sponsored or endorsed by this product. I can rig a bait/lure in around 30 seconds with this product and produce beautiful barrel rolls every time. I thoroughly recommend this product to anyone.

Possibly one of the most contentious issues amongst trolling fans…speed. I’ve tried various speeds and here are my thoughts. For bibbed lures I troll between 2-4 knots depending on the lure. I search for bibbed lures that will swim really well around the 2 knot mark. This means I can swim the same lures alongside a dead bait.

I watch the rod tip for indications of how the lures are swimming; the more vibrations through the rod tip the better. My favourite bibbed lure is a large (30cm) bibbed lure called the ‘GH Signature’ lure and only costs around $15 from my local tackle store. It doesn’t even need anything upgraded, it’s good to go straight from the box. This lure comes in metallic colours and ‘waggles’ nicely in the water at very low speeds, Macks seem to find this lure irresistible. See the below picture of one of these lures that has been destroyed after several outings. The last fish swam into the side of the boat hence the broken bib! I know, even fish can be uncoordinated I guess! Rather than swim this lure exclusively, I regularly swim it with other lures and so far it seems to be very effective amongst more expensive company. I generally don’t exceed 4 knots with bibbed lures though as I like the Macks to get a good look at the lure. With bibless lures this changes to at least 6 knots. These are different lures that definitely swim better at higher speeds.

You can swim bibless lures as fast as you’d like, up to around 12 knots or so for other pelagics such as Wahoo, however for Macks 6-8 knots is plenty. You can cover a lot more ground at these speeds and this can be a good option for trolling large reef edges, additionally some very large bibless lures are made from metal/lead and are heavy. Some of these lures easily troll around the 10 meter depth when given plenty of line, especially so on braided line. Ideally these lures should be trolled around ½ to ¾ of the water depth so Macks can attack the lure from underneath or parallel. Be cognisant of how heavy your bibless lures are and watch the angle of the line to estimate the approximate depth. If you are able to swim the lure near your depth sounder and you may see the depth on the screen. I have bibless lures for different depth, some wooden bibless lures sit just under the surface and some lead/metal bibless lures sink like the titanic.

Warning… you don’t want to be occasionally hitting the bottom as you would with estuary trolling or you’ll occasionally lose your lures to bommies etc. You also want to explore the area with slightly shallower lures first so there’s no unexpected bommies/pinnacles that will snag your lures. Additionally if you have charts of the area have a good look for potential trolling locations and also a to gain an idea of the general depth (remembering the tides). Give your lures a good wide berth of bommies/pinnacles, there’s no need to troll within a few meters of them, as previously stated the Macks have very good eyesight, 20 meters is more than adequate if the water is clean. If the water is dirty you shouldn’t be trolling there in the first place, go and find clean water! Those big pelagic eyes work better in the clean stuff. The only exception to this rule is when you have a convergence of dirty water and clear water, trolling in and out of the dirty water can make your lures/baits look like baitfish trying to hide.

Swim-bait speed
For swim baits (dead baits) I prefer a speed of around 2-3 knots, this allows the Macks plenty of time to see the bait and ensures that the hooks stay in the bait; if you troll much quicker the hooks generally tend to start to pull out of the bait, ruining its action and wasting the bait. There are plenty of dead-bait rigs available on the www, and in your local tackle store. I personally prefer the wog-head style rig with a nose-cone to secure the fish to the rig. Ask your local tackle store as there’s plenty of options, the easiest probably being the chin-guard style rig.

TIP: regardless of what you choose to swim, always check its action at the side of the boat. Lures that swim to one side may need their bib adjusted to avoid tangles. Baits that twist should be changed immediately. Also when changing direction always use large turning circles to avoid tangles, the larger the turning circle the better. Don’t be tempted to lob or cast these rigs into the water, let them run straight off your rod into the water, apply your drag momentarily and watch the swimming action. I do the same with my lures too to ensure a hook doesn’t catch the wire or my line.

  • Lure Colours
  • Braid or Mono
  • Hookup Techniques