In last week’s column, Trolling for Dummies, I covered the basics of choosing, rigging and positioning trolling lures in your spread. For part two of the series, I met up with Capt. Jimmy Decker, a professional guide and expert offshore angler, and asked him to explain the tackle and techniques that he uses when trolling from a private boat.
Whether trolling from a client’s yacht or on his 24-foot Everglades center console, Decker likes to keep his tackle simple. His trolling gear is made up of four Penn International VS12 two-speed reels full of 30-pound high-vis yellow monofilament and mounted on 7-foot Penn International or Bluewater Carnage rods rated for 20- to 50-pound line.
“I’ve never hooked anything trolling in Southern California that I couldn’t land on 30-pound line, so I don’t see any reason to fish with anything heavier,” he says. “Sure it might take me an hour to land a 150-plus-pound striped marlin, but it’s definitely a fun way to spend an hour.”
In tournaments, Decker will troll with even lighter line. “A few years ago, I was competing in a light-line tournament and caught a 52-pound yellowfin tuna on 12-pound line. Trust me, once you spend a few days trolling with 12-pound, 30 starts to feel like rope,” he says.
Decker rigs his 30-pound “rope” with a 12-foot wind-on leader of 80-pound monofilament with a snap swivel on the end to attach the lure, which has its own 3-foot-long leader. “Having a heavy wind-on leader is key when you’re fishing with light line as it gives you the ability to handle the fish at boat side without worrying about breaking it off,” he says.
Decker’s lure choices depend on what species he’s targeting. “If I’m paddy fishing or looking for tuna, I’ll normally run a couple of tuna feathers on flat lines two or three waves behind the boat and I’ll run a couple of marlin jigs in the outriggers four waves back. If I’m marlin fishing, I’ll just replace the tuna feathers with marlin jigs.”
Decker’s go-to marlin jig is the Seven Strand 1220, a 12-inch lure with an angled head that is no longer in production.
“I fish the 1220 because I have confidence in it, but any good swimming head jig will work,” he says.
Decker also fishes with colors he knows work. “I always run the same colors — pink, black-and-purple, mackerel and Mean Joe Green. The fish will usually bite one of them.”
With the jigs chosen and the rods rigged, it’s time to go fishing, but make sure to do your homework first. “The night before any offshore trip, I’ll check the SST (sea-surface temperature) shot on www.fishdope.com, looking for temperature breaks in the area that I plan to fish. A sharp temp break normally means there is a current break in the area and those current breaks tend to have paddies and bait on them.”
Once he arrives in the area that he intends to fish, the first thing Decker does is slow down and look for signs of life.
“I look for birds, bait, porpoises, whales or anything that indicates that there might be activity in the area. If I pull up and find zero signs of life, I won’t even bother putting out the trolling rods,” Decker says. “Some guys like to troll around while they look for the right conditions, but I don’t do it because it takes way too long to cover any distance when you’re running at 7 knots. It’s better to run fast until you find a fishy looking area and then start trolling.”
Regarding trolling direction, Decker had this to offer: “When fishing a current break or some other open-water area, it doesn’t seem to matter which direction you troll, so I’ll normally just troll downhill for the sake of comfort. The only time I’ll troll in a certain direction is when the sun is very low on the horizon and then I’ll troll into the sun as it seems to produce more bites.”
Decker trolls at 7 knots but warns that not all boats troll the same. “You need to find the right speed for your own boat and you can use your lures to determine that speed. A swimming marlin jig trolled four waves behind the stern should be popping every five to eight seconds. So start at 7 knots and play around with your speed slightly until you find the right balance. For example, the perfect speed on my boat is 7.2 knots in calm water.”
Then there is the issue of lure placement. “The biggest mistake that I see guys making is that they put their lures too far back and run the boat too fast when trolling from a small boat. On the big yachts and sport boats you need to troll further back to get the lures running at the back end of the prop wash, but the back end of the prop wash is a lot closer on a small boat,” Decker says.
When trolling around high spots, Decker follows a specific strategy. “If I’m fishing a spot like the 14 Mile Bank, I like to troll across the high spot from several directions and then work the areas around the bank. For example, I’ll troll across it from northwest to southeast and then once I’m a half-mile or so past it, I’ll make a loop and run across it again from south to north. Then repeat the process from northeast to southwest and so on until I’ve covered the entire bank and the waters around it,” he says. “If I get bit running a particular direction, I’ll normally make another pass in the same direction to see if I can get another bite.”
If you’d like to spend a day learning directly from the master, you can contact Decker through his website at www.fishingwithdecker.com.