When trolling for landlocked salmon and trout, you can catch plenty of fish on hardware like spoons, hootchies and plugs, but to take your game to the next level, try dragging brined-up baitfish!
Thereadfin shad, minnows, small plug-cut herring and anchovies all work well for his method and, when pulled through the water, a properly rigged bait gives off tons of flash…plus you have the added benefit of an offering that smells like the real thing too…because it is!
Here’s how to do it…
The first think you need to know about this technique is it is only as good as your bait. When you purchase frozen bait, be sure to get “tray” style baits – the kind that’s frozen side-by-side in vacuum-sealed trays. The loose, bagged baits are typically mushy and missing a lot of scales, which makes them a lots less effective. Unfortunately, for the purposes of this article, all I could find locally was crappy bagged shad (you can see in the photos that the fish were lacking big areas of scales). While this poor quality bait will work, I wouldn’t feel really confident using it…but for demonstration’s sake, it’s ok.
After you purchase good bait, you need to brine it up so that it stays bright and firm. Many folks have homemade brines that include stuff like salt, ice, distilled water, anise oil, powdered milk and Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing. While it’s fun to make up your own, let’s be honest here…who really has the time?
Instead, I buy a premade commercial bait cure and simply marinate my baits in it. No mixing…no fuss no muss. While several companies make such a product, I’ve had good success with Atlas-Mike’s Bright & Tight It’s a pre-mixed liquid cure that you pour over your baits and refrigerate for 24 hours. The next day, they’re done. The cure tightens the scales, firms the flesh and adds a nice shine. It’s also filled with amino acids, so the baits give off a massive scent trail.
Another cool thing about Brite & Tight is it comes in several different colors. Sometimes, the fish want natural colored baits, but they also seem to have a preference for color on other days. I generally use blue, green and pink.
When you go out fishing, be sure to keep your baits cold…mushy, warm baitfish don’t fish well! Store them in a plastic tub and keep the baits on ice all day for best results.
Okay, so the next thing you need to do is learn the sliding snell knot (YouTube it for plenty of demonstrations). This knot features a treble hook at the end of the leader, with an octopus style hook up a few inches. The forward (octopus) hook is tied so that it can slide up and down the line with a little pressure. The idea here is you run one point of the treble (size depends on the size of your bait) into the wrist of the fish’s tail. Then, the point of the single hook goes up and through the bait’s nose so that the point is riding up. Then, you put a slight bend in the bait by holding the octopus hook and gently pulling the leader.
Put the bait in the water next to the boat and check its action. You’re looking for a nice tight spin.
Now, before you start fishing, be sure you have a quality bead chain swivel 12-18 inches ahead of the bait. Since the shad or anchovy will be spinning, you need a swivel to keep the line twist to a minimum.
Now, you just troll as you would with spoons or spinners. You’ll have to try to figure out what the pattern is each day – sometimes the fish want a dodger or set of flashers ahead of the bait. Other times, they prefer it “naked.”
What you’ll find when fishing with cured baitfish is you will catch fish when all other rigs fail…and they often tend to be on the larger side!