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Guide To Trolling Lure Spreads & Positions

For this guide, we've enlisted the help of Jack Tullius from Black Bart Lures to provide Rok Max customers with a guide showing how to setup & position trolling lure spreads & patterns. We stock a full range of Black Bart Lures so be sure to check out our range when you've finished reading this guide. Now, without further ado, over to Jack...!

I guess the best way to look at this is with one of my favourite sayings, “The beauty of fishing is that there is really no right or wrong". There are however some methods that have proven to be more effective than others. The most important thing is what you believe and have confidence in what you’re presenting.

The first thing that needs to happen is attracting the attention of the fish!  If you think about the biggest “teaser” you have is your boat and the profile or shadow it casts in the water as the fish looks up.  Have you ever been outside on a bright day and had a airplane passed over you, what happens?  You see this shadow and the first thing you do is look up to see what it is, the airplane got your attention!  Your boat is the attention getter and all we are trying to do is set the stage around the boat to get that fish to move in closer for a look, then get so excited about all the commotion caused by your baits.  So if I put my baits way back away from the boat (teaser) so do I lose some advantage?  I believe so, however there are times in areas that are heavily fished that the fish (I find this more true with tuna) become spooked and will stay a little deeper and yes, I think by maybe putting “one” back a little further can work well, but am I willing to risk all by putting the whole spread way back?  “The beauty of fishing is”… you know the rest.

So we are trying to get the fish excited and peak it’s natural instinct or prey drive. Think of it like playing with a cat, you have a toy that consists of a stick with a piece of string with a little feather or mock mouse attached to the end of the string.You set the mouse next to the cat and the cat shows interest as it eyeballs the mouse. You start to slowly pull the toy along the floor and the cat gains more interest, maybe even paws the toy but rarely does the cat jump all over it until you start move it quickly, jerking the toy around the cat just can’t help but go ballistic and attack, it’s a beautiful thing… prey drive!

By combining your boats (teaser) profile and selecting your lures wisely you can tip the odds in your favour, raise more fish to your spread which will give you more shots. That equals more fish to the boat. So here are some basic terms to best describe the spread layout and a few ways to make your spread the best it can be.

Guide to Trolling Lure Spreads and PatternsPressure Wave
The wave created behind the boat as it passed through the water, the distance between pressure waves varies depending on sea conditions. A good average distance on a 3-5 ft day is say around 15 feet so lure placement on the second wave would be around 30ft in this example. 2nd wave would be about 45 ft, 3rd wave 60 ft and so on. 

Lure Placement
Should be on the lower third of the wave like a surfer going down a wave face. The lure should be running briskly thru the water, but NOT jumping or skidding across the surface on a regular basis. We are looking for a pretty consistent lure dive then surface pop normally around 4-5 second intervals is a good tempo. You will have to make some fine adjustments and this can be done by adjusting the lure placement on the wave.  If you’re getting a slight skid try take a turn on the reel to move the lure lower on the face of the wave.  

Boat Speed
Let the head design work, too slow and it’s like pulling the toy slowing in front of the cat it maybe interest and paw at it but the brisk movement kicks that prey drive in high gear. How fast you ask? The average speed is somewhere between 7-10 knots depending on conditions. Slower on rough days, faster on calm days as a general rule.  A good trick to learn how fast is to set short positions first then adjust the speed of the boat to those lures.  You can see the shorts better and by using them as your tuning fork you will get the speed right just about every time.

Fine Adjustments
How you adjust accomplish this will depend on a few variables. Of course we have to consider the sea condition and how that affects the boat we are in. Also you have to look at the degree of angle we are pulling the lure from particularly in heavier seas.  If your having trouble keeping a lure running correctly from a outrigger position consider lowering the halyard to flatten the angle of pull. Slight adjustments maybe 6-10 inches at a time can have a big effect on how the lure swims.  Bart used to make us adjust just a few “inches” at a time … lower 2”… up 3” it would drive me crazy in the beginning of my limited knowledge but today I understand much better what a huge difference it can make.  It’s always the fine details that can make all the difference …watch the lures move and get them running as perfect as you can and you will be rewarded. If something is not working right and you can’t adjust it pull it and put out different bait that will work well in that position on that day. Don’t think for a second that because that lure caught a fish yesterday that it will do it today… it’s a new day with new conditions…don’t force it to work.     

General Lure Positions
I start my 1st lure on the left side of our boat and alternate back and forth in these positions creating a staggered spread. You can choose either side you like but in this example we are left first.

Short Corner
Closest to the boat, starts 2nd or 3rd pressure wave behind the boat you be the judge for these examples I will start on 2. I like this lure to be an angle faced lure and always the largest most aggressive of my hooked baits. The fish is interested in the boat all you are doing is setting the stage around it. Choosing which size angle depends on the size fish your targeting. Smaller fish smaller baits, larger fish I go with the big baits. Be reasonable in your size choice …I would not run a monster lure with a 11/0 hook if I was fishing for dolphin/tuna. There will be times that sea conditions might force you to run a jet or flat faced lure, the angle just won’t stay in the water without jumping or skidding. 

Long Corner
3rd wave, again an angle lure, not quite as aggressive, maybe slightly smaller in size. I want these closer lures to be swimmers darting back and forth, play with the cat. I am willing to gamble a little with aggressive movements in these short positions because if the fish misses the bait and doesn’t come back to that bait I know I have other lures following up behind and I still have a shot at catching the fish.

Short Rigger
4th wave, if you have outriggers great, if not no worries. I want this lure to be pretty calm and easy to catch. Normally a flat face or jet head is my choice for this spot. If the fish gets excited and misses my aggressive short bait, I want any easy target nearby.

Long Rigger
5th wave, This position would depend on if you’re running 4 or 5 lines. 4 lines: I want an easy target since this is the last lure in my spread. I highly recommend that it is a jet head with 4 line. 5 line spread; Size of this bait should be determined by what I am fishing for but normally I like a small angle, Mini 1656 angle or Pelagic Breakfast are perfect for this spot.  With a 5 line spread the thinking is I don’t want the back end of my spread to go to sleep with everything looking the same so spice up your presentation with a small angle.

Center Position
6th or 7th wave, Ok now is a great time if you want to slip one back you can. This lure needs to be the jet, pulls straight and easy to catch.  Anything too aggressive, the fish misses the bait keep in mind that the boat is moving ahead at 8-9 knots. This is you last shot make it count.

Hopefully these are some of the answers you are looking for, sorry to be long winded explanations but this will get you going down the right path. There is so much to learn and so many variables and of course this is the beauty fishing!

Guide by Jack Tullius, President of Black Bart Lures