Crankbait Trolling Setup and Tactics

DSC02746A few years back I ordered some deep diving crankbait blanks and painted them in a few of my favorite colors. I figured out that spotted bass pull off the bank in early summer and spend their days out in 20-30+ feet of water and usually there is structure near by. Sometimes the bass stay tight to the structure and other times they range out foraging for bait. When the fish are tight to the brush, I like to dropshot them with spottails or jig them up with small spoons. When the bass range out in search of food, that when I like to troll for them. It’s not as easy as just putting a crankbait in the water and taking off trolling it. There are certain things you need to check before you even start trolling. The most important is your line. I use 6lb test XPS fluorocarbon and dragging it over rocks and through structure can really scuff it up. You need to constantly check it for cuts and abrasions. Anytime fluorocarbon gets scuffed up it loses it’s transparency and the affected area needs to be removed. I check mine very frequently because the 6lb test isn’t very strong and the slightest flaw can lead to a break off when you’ve got a nice fish on and that can ruin your day. Another thing that is just about as important is how the bait runs in the water. A lot of times and bait is out of tune and needs to be super tuned to run at higher trolling speeds. A bait that is out of tune will run in large circles when being pulled at 2-3 mph. You want your baits to run straight in a successful presentation or you’re just wasting you time. A good way to check you baits is to start moving at trolling speed and drop your crankbait over the side, let out about 6-8 feet of line and watch how the bait runs through the water. If it doesn’t run straight , it needs to be super tuned. To super tune your bait, if it’s pulling to the left, you need to adjust the little ring attach point to the right and then check it again. Sometimes this can take some time, but the rewards can be great when you get it running straight.

I don’t know of too many points and humps on Lanier that doesn’t hold fish this time of year. We have a very healthy population of spotted bass on Lake Lanier, and you can just about find the fish on any point of hump in June and July. With this being said, the most important thing to look for is structure. Structure can be a buzz kill while trolling crankbaits so you want to avoid it at all costs. If I’m trolling and cross over a brush pile that I think the crankbaits will get snagged in, I turn the boat to try and avoid the structure with my baits. If I think that’s not going to work, I just put the boat in neutral and let the cranks slow down and float up towards the surface to avoid the structure all together. All of this takes practice and you’re probably going to hang a few baits from time to time. I really recommend having a plug retriever handy, and know how to use it. I’ve lost a few nice crankbaits over the years and it still stings every time I loose one. The key is to find the structure in advance and if it doesn’t look like an area that you can successfully troll, it’s time to move on. There are a lot of long flat points that hold fish but have very little structure and if your just learning to troll crankbaits, those flats would be a good place to practice.

There are a lot of islands out on the main lake and a lot of these islands have areas that are void of structure and these areas area a good place to look this time of the summer. Spotted bass will cruise around the islands looking for bait and I like to trolling these areas, especially at the end of points where the spots tend to gather. If I see the fish and feel like I can troll them up, I’ll circle around and drop my crankbait out the back about 150 feet behind the boat and point the boat right at the area I marked the fish. I troll my baits at the slowest speed possible with the big motor which is around 2 mph. A lot of time the crankbaits I use will start scrubbing bottom at around 22 feet and generally that’s where I get my bites. The little crankbaits have rattles and dig into the bottom which mimics a bait fish foraging along the bottom. Spotted bass can’t resist the sound and the sight of mud kicking up off the bottom and will attack the bait. Sometimes these strikes can be very aggressive and I like to hold my rod in my hand so I can feel the strikes. As soon as I hook up a fish, I put the boat in neutral and slowly bring the fish to the boat. If the boat is still moving, it adds to the pressure on the light fluorocarbon line, so you want the boat to slow down so you can handle the fish.

There are two colors that I like when I’m trolling crankbaits, my favorite is chartreuse and my second favorite is a blueback pattern. The spotted bass will generally react to either color.

Trolling deep diving crankbaits is a fun way to cover a lot of ground and it’s a lot of fun for the whole family once you learn how to do it successfully.

Trolling on 6-20-2012

Well, a lot has changed since my last outing during the Atlanta Falcons Wounded Warrior event. The fish continue to move further and further towards the main lake and the confines of deeper water. I found suspended fish this morning and also fish that were relating to shallow water with deep water near by. The fish that I was on today fed mainly on small pods of threadfin in 20-40 feet of water and suspended at the same depth over deeper water. I saw many schools of blubacks on the south end, but very few fish around the schools. I concentrated my efforts to creek channel pointsnear the mouth of the creek. The bigger fish were caught on a 1 ounce Blueback Troller with a blue and whate 4 inch paddletail. Chartruese and white jigs also produced fish this morning. Here’s a video of the Tackle and the fishing action.

Crib notes for Striper Trolling


On my leadcore rigs I’m using 50-100 feet of 30 lb Big Game for backing. Then I’m loading the whole spool of #27 lb test leadcore and I’m also using 30-50 feet of 20 lb Big Game clear mono for a leader. I used flouro leaders for the past 2 years and went back to mono leaders. I don’t think the leader type matters much (mono vs flouro). I’ve caught fish on both and don’t see a significant difference in the two. The only difference that makes mono a little better is the fact that mono is tougher than flouro. If I hang a good fish and he takes me to the trees, I’ve got more of a chance of getting the fish out with mono. It has more stretch and is more tolerent to abrasions. When you are using leaders at 30-50 feet at a time, a good mono is far more cost effective than using flouro.


I have one Accu-Depth 57LC and a Okuma Classic Pro for my leadcore reels. I don’t pay much attention to the line counter. I use colors to get the bait where I want it.


For my downrigger reels I use Accu-Depth 47LC’s. I use 30 lb Big Game green line and a 30-50 foot 20 lb Big Game leader. I don’t really use the line counter for the downrigger applications either. I just run it out about 20-40 feet past the leader and hook it up to the ball.


All of my rods are Power Plus Trophy Class 7 footers (med heavy). They are tough and I’ve never had a problem with the rods. They are made for trolling 1/2 ounce to 2 ounce jigs. I’ve also used my Tiger rods for leadcore and downriggers. They work great also, just a little more flex than the Power Pro.


Lure selections:

This is the most important part to the equation. My rule of thumb is small artificials early in the summer and as the water temps warm to the warmest temps of the year my artificials get bigger. Some of my favorites through July and August are weighted swimbaits, one ounce, up to three ounce bucktails with curltail and paddletail trailers. Curltails seem to work well in June and July and Paddletails July and in August. I’ll also use some jerkbaits and crankbaits on the downriggers and leadcore. One of the most important aspects of using plastics and lipped baits is to make sure your baits are super tuned to higher speeds. Running small artificial plastic baits at 2-3 mph requires a straight hook line centered throughout the bait. This will allow the bait to run true through the water. It is very very important when hooking a plastic bait to a jig to make sure the hook line is straight and centered. A bait that is out of tune will run to one side or the other and a lot of times will run sideways in a non-effective presentation. The straighter the bait, the better chance of success. This also holds true, more so in lipped typed diving baits. You can adjust just about any lipped bait by slightly bending the attach eye of the bait in the opposite direction the bait is running, and then testing it at the correct speed. The best way to see if my baits are tuned is to drop the baits over the side while running at trolling speeds, run the bait back 5-10 feet and drop the rod tip in the water and watch to see if the bait follows the rod tip. If not, it needs super tuned.


At the depths that are being targeted,to me jig color is less important. I think that color tones are more important. Two tone baits work better for me. Flash is something that always helps in reaction strikes. I use a lot of flash on my jigs to help create a reaction. Sometimes flash helps for lethargic fish. Especially if fishing a group of inactive fish.






I always start out with a variety of baits at a variety of depths. With my leadcore I’ll run one leadcore at 150 feet to 175 feet behind the boat and a second leadcore at 200 plus. This equates to a bait running at 15-20 feet in depth and another at 20 plus depending on the weight of the bait. I’m usually running 1 or 2 downriggers with a variety of baits. If I’m running one downrigger, I’m usually concentrating on a basic depth of 25 to 30 feet with the bait trailing 50 to 100 feet behind the ball. Once again depending on the size of the bait determines the depth of the bait. If I’m running two downriggers I’m usually running one deeper bait provided the underwater trees allow. If I’m in the river cannel or deeper creek channel, there is usually no structure to the bottom, and I can run my baits deeper. Deeper is usually where the bigger fish hang out. Bigger fish are lazy and let the smaller ones do the work above while the bigger fish grab an occasional scrap or nearby fleeing bait. That is where my deeper downrigger bait comes into play. We generally catch bigger fish on the downriggers. When I’m trolling, I’m looking for active fish on the graph. Over the summer months the thermocline on Lanier usually sets up in July and the top is around 27 to 35 feet. The top is where the bait likes to hang out. They have the safety of being at the edge of the thermocline and they are still getting some oxygen rich water. That’s usually where the action is, right at the top of the thermocline. That’s where the stripers like to feed. Sometimes the stripers work together on a school of bait. A small bunch of stripers will attack the bait sending it scattering and lurker stripers nail the scattering bait from the outskirts of the main bait school. Because of this feeding scenerio, trolling single baits on leadcore and downriggers work well. The single jig looks like a fleeing bait as it goes through the feeding zone.

Right now the most popular feeding zone is 25 to 45 feet on Lanier. When I see fish feeding in the 35-45 depth I want to get my baits down to that area. I set my downrigger weights at 25 and 30-35 feet with a small jig and a larger jig. That’s when I start working the baits up and down. I believe that if you put action on your jigs and get them running up and down in the feeding zone you’re going to catch more fish. I achieve this by slowing, speeding up and turning the boat. Very Important: Keep in mind that you are pulling 275-300 feet of lead filled line. It takes a while for the action you create to get to the jig. You are actually putting waves in the leadcore line and it takes the waves a little while to get out to the jig. Start your action early and often.




Another important tactic I use is marking a school of feeding fish on my graph. As I get over the feeding fish, I’ll lay a mark on my GPS and work that area from different angles. Sometime you won’t get them the first or even the second time through so trying coming from different directions and varying speeds as you go. Very Important: Make sure you keep the baits in line with the fish you marked. I use dead reconing. I usually look at my heading and what’s behind me to stay in line and keep my baits in the right zone. I’ll make left and right turns but always coming back to the imaginary line I made to keep my baits in the right area.

Summer Trolling

Guys, it’s that time of year again. Usually around June 1st, I start checking around the south end of the lake for bait schools and stripers that are starting to relate to the deeper more oxygen rich waters of the summer thermocline. This is when a trolling pattern sets up and artificials are a great way to catch stripers during the hot summer months. Fishing with live bait in the summer can be a hassle. It’s hot, it’s a pain to try and keep your bait fresh and downlining bait for stripers in the summer can be just plain miserable. There’s another tactic you can use that keeps you moving and the best part is that you can drive right by the bait store without stopping for bait. A good way to learn more about summertime trolling on Lanier and our surrounding striper lakes is to check out my videos on my You Tube Page and look for the videos dated through the summer months.