Trolling with sown bait is a time-honored Maine tradition for catching salmonids. This highly-effective approach can be used with both fresh bait or dead preserved (e.g., frozen, salted, pickled) bait.
Live bait, and smelt in particular, are difficult or impossible to find at your local bait dealer in the summer. The alternative when trolling for salmonids in the summer, therefore, is to use either dead baitfish or lures (e.g., spoons or streamer flies). A dead sown baitfish, if prepared as described in this blog, will provide a much more realistic profile than an artificial lure. Don’t get me wrong here: I’m not implying that artificials don’t work, far from it. After all, I’ve caught way too many salmon and trout trolling with spoons and streamer flies over the years. What I am saying though is that a baitfish, even dead, is more natural-looking than an artificial lure and therefore increases the odds of catching the fish we so desire. I suspect the major reason that the Maine fishing rules only allow for artificial lures when fishing for salmonids in ponds and lakes in southern Maine after October 1 when those fish are getting ready to spawn is because the real thing is so much better at fooling them than artificial lures.
Personally, I prefer using a sliding minnow rig if my baitfish is alive. The reason is that a live baitfish will remain alive for a long time on the sliding minnow rig, and will therefore really look and swim like the real thing down below. On the other hand, one just can’t sow a live baitfish as described below and expect it to stay alive for long! So, my preference is to use the sliding minnow rig with live bait and the sowing technique with the stiffer dead bait.
Finally, over half a dozen different techniques have been developed to sow a baitfish. Each one gets to the end results slightly differently. The approach I discuss below was taught to me by a Maine old-timer. I find it quick and extremely easy to implement, and simple to teach. So, here it goes.