Trolling for brook trout on ponds and lakes: 14 tips to increase your catch

Brook trout are, by far, the most-popular salmonids caught in Maine waters. Many approaches are available to catch these beautiful fish during the open-water season, such as spinner fishing, worm fishing, or fly fishing. Trolling is an additional and highly-efficient way to target brookies on ponds and lakes because it, by definition, is an active approach that covers a lot of water in a relatively short amount of time. I highlight below 14 tips to increase your odds of catching more brook trout using this technique. The information is derived from my own personal experiences of trolling for brook trout in Maine waters over many years. Keep in mind that the general principles presented below are universal and will apply wherever this beautiful creature makes its home.

 

 

Trolling for brook trout in early spring when ice is still present. You'll likely have the pond all to yourself!

Trolling for brook trout in early spring when ice is still present. You’ll likely have the pond all to yourself!

 

 

(1)        Troll soon after ice-out and well into fall: Brook trout are cold-water creatures which actively feed in water temperatures ranging from 32°F up to about 65°F. Most Maine anglers focus on catching brook trout through the ice in the winter and in open water when spring blooms in May and June. I’m always amazed, but delighted, at how few people troll for trout in April or throughout the fall. Get out on the water to troll for brook trout right after ice out and also in October and November. You’ll most likely have a pond or lake full of hungry brook trout all to yourself!

 

I trolled this tiny pond for brook trout in Baxter State Pond

I used a canoe to troll this tiny pond early in the morning for native brook trout in Baxter State Park, Maine

 

(2)        Love the smaller brook trout ponds: Trolling conjures up images of large deep lakes fished with big expensive boats and heavy electronic down rigging equipment. Nothing could be further from the truth!! With exceptions, I do much of my trolling for brook trout either paddling my canoe or using my 12 ft/8 HP aluminum boat on water bodies that cover much less than 100 acres… Hence, trolling doesn’t require fancy equipment and can be practiced by anyone who owns a small craft.

 

A fish finder is a must in order to locate submerged structure in a lake of this size...

A fish finder is a must in order to locate submerged structure in a lake of this size…

 

(3)        Use a fish finder: Proper trolling requires a fish finder in order to find underwater structure (see next tip) and minimize the chances of getting stuck on those structures. There is nothing worse than wedging a trolling weight in between submerged boulders… Knowing the exact depth at any one time also allows one to quickly raise the lures to avoid getting hooked on the bottom. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve caught plenty of brookies trolling without a fish finder, but the odds always shift in my favor if I understand exactly how deep the water is and what structure lurks below. We’re not talking about fancy electronics either. A fish finder costing less than $100 will do just fine. Note also that I don’t use a fish finder to “find” fish but only to check water depth and locate structure.

 

(4)        Troll over structures: Brook trout are strongly attracted to underwater structure such as boulder piles, steep drop-offs, sunken islands, submerged wood, and aquatic vegetation. These features provide great ambush sites, offer shade and protection, and attract numerous prey items. Using a fish finder is the only consistent way to pinpoint most of these key features.

 

(5)        Re-troll over a structure that produced a hit: I can’t tell you how often this tactic has worked for me over the years. More often than not, hooking a brook trout will not be a “random” event. The trout likely hit because the lures passed over a submerged feature that held the fish down there in the first place. So, if I get a hit, I make it a point to figure out why by using the fish finder and then turn the boat around and troll right over that same area again, and again. Odds are better than even that I’ll catch another trout in the same general area. I certainly have caught brookies 10-15 ft below the surface while trolling for landlocked salmon in the spring over a featureless expanse of deep water, but I consider that random luck.

 

This sliding-hook rig keeps the bait fish alive and lets it swim straight and true!

This sliding-hook rig keeps the bait fish alive and lets it swim straight and true!

 

(6)        Live bait or artificial lures? Artificial lures work well for catching brook trout, but don’t forget to use live baitfish if it is legal and you have the chance to do so. Let’s face it: live bait looks and swims like the real thing, which is why it works so well! A good live-bait rig consists of a 3-ft long piece of monofilament with a small terminal treble hook and a sliding single hook above it. This set-up is called a “sliding-minnow rig”. These rigs are sold pre-made. Or you can construct your own by searching YouTube for “sliding snell knot”. Place one of the hooks of the terminal treble hook into the baitfish’s anal vent and use the sliding hook to pierce its upper lip. Adjust the distance and tension between the two hooks such that the baitfish swims straight when pulled through the water. Use a small live minnow measuring around 2”, but not much longer than that. Bigger bait fish will significantly decrease your catch rate when it comes to brook trout.

 

These brook trout lures have worked well for me. The two smelt-imitating streamer flies will consistently catch brookies in lakes that have smelt populations.

These brook trout lures have worked well for me. The two smelt-imitating streamer flies will consistently catch brookies in lakes that have smelt populations.

 

(7)        Choose the right artificial lures: The available choice of trolling lures for brook trout in tackle stores is large, but typically boils down to spoons of different shapes and colors. I personally like the Mooselook models. Adjust the size of the lure to the expected trout population: I’ll use smaller lures when trolling for native brookies in a small pond and switch to larger lures when trolling in a larger lake. I’ve also noticed that reds, yellows and oranges appear to work well with this species, although bronze and silver are also popular.  

 

Two rods each fishing with two lures increases the odds of catching brook trout

Two rods each fishing with two lures increases the odds of catching brook trout

 

(8)        Double up on your lures: Here’s simple math: use two lures (if allowed…) to double your chances of catching a brook trout! The first lure is clipped to the actual fishing line, whereas the second lure is attached to the hook of the first one with two feet of monofilament. Make sure that the two lures have different color, size or shape so that the trout is presented with different choices.

 

(9)        Double up on your rods: Here’s more simple math: use two rods to quadruple (2 rods X 2 lures) your chances of catching a brook trout! I’ll use a spinning rod teamed up with a portable downrigger and an 8-weight fly fishing rod with lead core line when I’m fishing in a powered craft. I’ll switch to the fly fishing rod with lead core and a spinning rod fishing a few feet below the surface with several split shots clipped in front of the two lures when I’m paddling my canoe alone and cannot work with a downrigger. Make sure to fish those lures at two different depths, e.g., the lead core line 10 ft down (say one color and a half) and the downrigger placed 15 or 20 ft down. You’re now definitely stacking the odds in your favor!

 

(10)      Switch lures often: Avoid falling in love with one lure. Conditions on the water, such as temperature, time of day, season, light levels, cloud cover, or structure type, constantly change such that yesterday’s winning lure becomes today’s loosing lure. Start trolling with a set of lures and then switch them out if they don’t produce a hit within an hour. Try different colors, shapes, and sizes until the brook trout tell you what triggers their interest that day. This simple strategy can make the difference between getting skunked and catching trout.

 

(11)     Check your lures for vegetation: There’s no worse feeling than trolling for an extended period of time before retrieving your lures and finding out that they’re wrapped up in aquatic vegetation! All that trolling was nothing but wasted time… To avoid this problem, make it a point to bring up the lures if you have any suspicion at all that they may be fouled with vegetation. This issue is particularly pertinent when trolling < 10 ft deep, close to shore, or in shallow vegetated areas in smaller ponds and lakes.

 

This brookie was caught 15 ft down over 35 ft of water. It was just cruisin' around looking for a meal.

Your blog author with a brookie caught 15 ft down over 35 ft of water. This fish was just cruisin’ around looking for a meal.

 

(12)      Adjust your trolling depth: Brook trout, like all other fish, don’t have pupils in their eyes to regulate the amount of light that hits their retinas. They control this situation by physically moving up and down the water column in response to different light intensities. Everything else being equal, brook trout will descend deeper into the water column when light levels are high and will ascend up the water column when light levels decrease due to cloud cover, or because the sun sinks below the horizon in the evening. Brook trout will be shallower in the spring and fall when the water temperature is cooler, but will go deeper in the summer in search of cool water. Adjust your trolling depth accordingly.

 

(13)      Troll right up against the shore: In small ponds, I like to troll close to the shoreline in 10 ft of water or less when the temperature is relatively cold in spring and fall, particularly in the presence of sunken wood or submerged aquatic vegetation. This kind of structure, and the cooler water temperatures and lower light levels earlier and later in the year, will attract and hold brook trout in the shallows where they are easier to catch.

 

This gorgeous 21.5" (5.0 lbs.) smallmouth bass was caught by my son Joel at the end of November while trolling for brookies!

This gorgeous 21.5″ (5.0 lbs.) smallmouth bass was caught by my son Joel at the end of November while trolling for brookies!

 

(14)      Be ready to catch all kinds of other fish:  Trolling for brook trout using the techniques describes in this blog will likely yield many other fish species. Over the years, I’ve caught white perch, yellow perch, fallfish, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, pickerel, pike, brown trout, and landlocked salmon, among others. This “by catch” is a testament to the power of trolling. So, go out there, try it out and enjoy the great outdoors!

 

 

Was the information in this blog useful? I invite you to share your thoughts and opinions.

 

This beautiful 3.3 lbs. brook trout was caught on a Grey Ghost streamer fly

Your blog author caught this beautiful 3.3 lbs. brook trout while trolling with a Grey Ghost streamer fly.

 

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2 thoughts on “Trolling for brook trout on ponds and lakes: 14 tips to increase your catch

  1. I read all drove from Athens Georgia to fish in Athens Maine nlaws cabin to fish raining but fished all morning no bite at all
    I tried different depts and lures need help
    Conoe fishing in Wentworth pond ( iron bound )
    Do you know which lures work best and colors for this weeks weather a reply would be greatly appreciated

    • Hi Dave, Thanks for contacting the Amazing Fishametric. Copy and paste the attached link (http://www.maine.gov/ifw/fishing/lakesurvey_maps/somerset/ironbound_pond.pdf) for a depth map of Ironbound Pond (Solon, Somerset County). This pond is rather shallow (max depth = 10 ft). For mid-May conditions in that part of Maine, your best bet is to troll using small spoons (no bigger than about 2″; yellow/orange/red tints) 3-4 feet below the surface in 5 to 7 ft of water while moving parallel to the shoreline. Best of luck. Stan

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