“Fish on!” was heard by everyone in the boat as first one of the big rods and then the other bent almost double! More than a hundred feet back and about 25 feet below the surface of the water, two big stripers had just engulfed the long, deep-running crankbaits, and these were just two of nearly thirty striped bass that had been encountered during a five-hour guide trip.
When surface temperatures surpass the 80 degree mark, the thermocline in deep, clear lakes starts to take a definite form. This change in the chemical and thermal makeup of a lake has a profound impact on the striped bass population, and deepwater trolling becomes an extremely productive method to catch great numbers of concentrated stripers.
Normally, the ideal trolling depth during hot weather seems to be 20 to 40 feet, but the exact depth is always decided by where fish are seen on a quality graph recorder. In the past, the best method for reaching this perfect level that lies between the hot surface water and the top of the colder thermocline was to use leadcore line and a one-ounce bucktail jig with a 4-inch plastic trailer. Downriggers were also an option, but they posed another problem. One could easily attach the line to the release mechanism and put it at the desired depth, but the weight of the larger bucktail jigs that we ued had an uncertain effect on the true trolling depth. Also, both the leadcore and the downrigger have built-in encumbrances that have an adverse effect on the purity of fighting a fish.
Therefore, a few years ago, knowledgeable anglers began experimenting with larger, diving crankbaits to catch congregated striped bass during the hot days of summer. What we learned has extremely simplified the fishing and has increased the fun factor tremendously!
Mann’s Stretch Series Crankbaits for Trolling-Photo by Bill VanderfordWe found that even during an extremely hot summer, the thermocline in most of the lake seems to stay somewhere between 25 and 45 feet. Therefore, to be successful, we had to find crankbaits that would run consistently near or slightly above those depths. Much trial and error led us to the Mann’s series of Stretch, 20+, 25+, and 30+ diving lures. All of these lures incorporate the Davis System Lip, which allows the lure to dive almost vertically to its maximum depth on a particular diameter of line, and they will track true at speeds up to 10 knots.
The most used of these three sizes is the Stretch 20+, which is designed to run at slightly more than 20 feet on 12 pound test monofilament line at 150 feet behind the boat. The heavy duty Stretch 25+ is equipped with larger, stronger, saltwater hooks, and can run at different depths on several line sizes. When trolled 150 feet back, the 25+ will be at 30 feet on 12 pound line, 25 feet on 17 pound line, and 22 feet on 30 pound test line. Also, the much larger, but not often used, Magnum 30+ will run 40 feet deep at 150 feet behind the boat on 30 pound monofilament.
This whole endeavor was greatly enhanced by using light saltwater baitcasting reels with a line counter matched to Castaway trolling rods. These reels easily hold plenty of line, have a visual counter to see the exact distance the line has been released, and are capable of handling a more than 30 pound fish. The rods can endure lots of punishment, are sensitive enough to see a strike, and have plenty of backbone to fight a large fish.
If you can keep the trolling speeds down under 3 knots, this method is also quite successful for catching black bass, white bass, and smaller stripers during the hottest time of the year. If the fish decide to go deeper as the summer heat rises, one can still put the lure at the proper depth with a little help from a downrigger or by adding a weight 6 feet above the lure, and continue catching fish until the fall turnover begins during September or October.
Though many live bait techniques and other trolling methods are quite successful during the summer months, deepwater trolling is more fun. The technique may not be to everyone’s liking, but for those who just want to enjoy the lake and have a chance to catch a big striped bass, it’s an uncomplicated way to be productive.