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Troll the Great Lakes On Your Own

Essentials To Fill A Cooler with Fish

by Lake-Link Staff

When it comes to Great Lakes trolling for walleyes or salmon/trout, no matter what body of water you choose to troll, there are four must-haves and thousands of wants after that.

First, know that you can absolutely fish the Great Lakes with an 18-foot or larger boat, rods & reels, planer boards, leadcore line, a selection of lures, basic sonar/GPS mapping, and accessories like PFDs and good lighting.

Trolling the Great Lakes On Your Own: Essentials To Fill A Cooler with Fish.
You don't need a giant boat, although charters are always a good idea when the weather is iffy - or you want to learn from pros like us!

But I encourage you to give it a shot on your own. Properly prepared, trolling Superior, Michigan, Erie, Huron, and Ontario with family and friends from your own boat doesn't have to be intimidating, as long as you exercise common-sense.

(1) Boat
First and foremost, you need a boat. The best boats for the Great Lakes are 18 feet and bigger with enough horsepower on the back to get up and go when you need to. There will be times when weather moves in and you need to vacate fishing grounds for the safety of shore.
The best boats for the Great Lakes are 18 feet and bigger with enough horsepower on the back to get up and go when you need to.
Besides a tuned-up and reliable outboard, it's also a good idea to have a kicker outboard on your boat. First, you can dial in your trolling speed better with a smaller motor; second, you don't go through as much gas; and third, it's insurance if you have issues with your main outboard and you need to get back to shore.

(2) Rods, Reels, & Line: Planer Boards & Dipsy Divers
Second, you need rods and reels to catch fish. Depending on your expertise, there are thousands of different rod, reel, and line set-ups to choose from. For my walleye setups and board rods, I prefer a 7-foot medium-power St. Croix Eyecon paired with an Okuma Coldwater Line Counter reel. These rods are short enough to put in my boat rod lockers for storage and travel, but also have enough backbone to pull my Off Shore Planer boards. You can also control fish better by not having a super long rod to control.

For my Dipsy Diver rods, I like to use longer rods to spread things out a bit. For my inside divers, I prefer 9-foot Medium-heavy power St. Croix Onchor rods -- and for my outside divers, I use heavy power 10' 6" St. Croix Onchor rods with Okuma line counter reels for exact placement.

In terms of the amount of line out and bait dive curve, I always want to return to the column of water I am having luck with. Remember: Consistency is key to success on the Great Lakes. Honesty, most of the time speed and location play more into filling coolers with table fare than specific lure types or colors, but you will discover certain baits, shapes, actions, and colors that produce more fish than others - and this will change daily, sometimes hourly.

(3) Lure Choice
There are countless lures to choose from, which can be a bit confusing. Again, the most important thing is trolling speed, but walleyes, salmon, and trout will show preference toward specific lure types and colors.

Light lures run differently than heavy lures. What's working on one side of the boat might not be working on the other, like regular vs. king-size spoons -- so pay attention when you start catching fish. Are they biting fast or slow? Are they biting big or small? Early in the summer, fish will feed on smaller baits that match forage size, then go on to larger baits, onto king size, then even bigger baits as the predominant forage grows.

A newer craze than spoons and plugs is using Flasher Flies. Rig the fly 18-24 inches behind a 8- to 10-inch paddle. Start at 30 inches and shorten the leader as the water warms up. Fish are more lethargic in cold water, so start trolling slow and speed up as season progresses and the water warms. If you run flies, the longer the lead, the more lag and lack of activity from the fly.

The newest craze lighting the technique is the Yakima Spin-N-Fish. Here is a video so I don't have to explain. It's the hottest up and coming setup in the Midwest. Anglers have been running it out west for salmon for years!

(4) Basic Electronics
Once you have the boat, rods, and baits in place, it's time to start dialing in your trolling game, learning how to deal with the wind, current, and everything in between. A Fish Hawk Trolling TD will help save you thousands of hours in learning curve and put fish in the box a lot quicker.
A Fish Hawk Trolling TD will help save you thousands of hours in learning curve and put fish in the box a lot quicker.
A Fish Hawk Trolling TD will help save you thousands of hours in learning curve and put fish in the box a lot quicker.
You also need a 2D Sonar - no fancy forward-facing sonar - just high-quality sonar that works in greater depths. Lowrance, Humminbird, Garmin, and Raymarine all make good stuff. Mapping is also important, which is offered with all of the above graphs - from CMAP, to Navionics, to Lakemaster.

Get Out There!

The biggest factor in learning to troll the Great Lakes is taking things slowly and keeping an eye on the weather. There are a lot of bites close to shore, but weather and wind can move in quickly.

Also, make sure your main outboard and kicker are in good working condition, your batteries are charged, you carry a jumper in case the starting battery goes dead-and always, always go out with a full tank of gas - not to mention personal flotation devices, a throwable, and proper lighting for early morning and evening fishing.

Good luck! And don't forget a big cooler (or two) and ice for your fish!

Trolling the Great Lakes On Your Own: Essentials To Fill A Cooler with Fish.
Trolling the Great Lakes On Your Own: Essentials To Fill A Cooler with Fish.

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