Trolling Wire Line for Big Bass & Blues

Want big bass? Think deep! Top fishermen have long known that to catch the biggest stripers, you’ve got to get a bait or lure down to where they are holding, especially if you want to score during the hot, bright mid-day hours when most stripers are chillin’ near the bottom.

One of the best methods of presenting a lure to low-lying lunkers is the time-honored technique of trolling with wire line. Not only is trolling wire a great way of getting a lure into the payoff zone, it also lets you cover a lot of territory, which is helpful for locating fish on a long rip or over a large section of rocky bottom.

Wire-Line Rods & Reels

The easiest way to get started in wire-lining is to have a tackle shop put together a wire-line outfit for you. It’s money well spent, and you’ll likely get a few good tips on how and where to fish the outfit. The basic setup starts with a 4/0-size trolling reel, such the venerable Penn 113H Senator, Daiwa 400H Sealine or Shimano TLD 20. The rod is typically 6 – 7′ and rated for 40- to 60-pound-test line. Wire-line rods normally feature special tungsten-carbide guides that resist grooving caused by contact with the wire, plus a roller tiptop to prevent kinks.

Wire line comes in either stainless steel or Monel. The latter is more expensive, but easier to work with, as it’s more supple and therefore more resistant to kinking. Both Monel and stainless wire are available in different strengths, but 40- to 60-pound test is adequate for most situations.

Spooling Up

Before spooling on the wire, fill the reel halfway with 60-pound test Dacron. On the end of the Dacron, use a Palomar knot to tie on a small, low-profile swivel, such as a SPRO Heavy Swivel, in 180-pound test (size 3). Now connect the wire to the swivel using a haywire twist. Lastly, flatten the wire loop by compressing it with pliers.

An even sleeker way to connect the Dacron and wire is to first tie a short (1′-2′) Bimini twist in the end of the Dacron. Next form a small loop in the end of the wire using a haywire twist. Pass the end of the Dacron loop through the haywire loop and back over the entire reel to form an interlocking loop-to-loop connection, then do it again. This connection  is super strong and will pass easily through the rod guides when you let all the wire out and when you reel it in. A third way of connecting wire and Dacron backing is to use an Albright knot, although this knot is slightly more bulky.

How Much Wire?

How much wire do you need? Unless you are fishing in water over 20′ or in very strong current, you can generally get by with 150′ (figure on roughly 1′ of depth for every 10′ of wire let out). Given a moderate current and a slow trolling speed (less than 3 knots), letting out all 150′ of wire will get a 2-ounce parachute jig or tube lure down to about 15′.

If you plan on fishing deeper than 20′, you’ll need to spool up with 300′ of wire. In this case, many wire-line pros use two 150′ sections, connected by a 3′ “bridge” of 60-pound Dacron. This lets you fish shallow areas by letting out only 150′ of wire and jigging on the Dacron bridge instead of directly on the wire, which can weaken the wire and cause grooves in the rod guides. Also, it’s cheaper to replace a 150′ section of wire than an entire 300′ length!

There are several different brands of wire available, but Malin offers its Monel and stainless wire in pre-marked versions, which makes it very easy to gauge how much wire you’ve let out. The wire is marked with low-profile plastic beads every 50′, which lets you know by feel just how much line is being let out. For example, if you want to get the lure down 15′, simply let out 3 markers worth of line.


Leader Logic

Once you’ve got the wire on your reel, you’re ready for the leader. Most pros use 10′-15′ of fluorocarbon when fishing tubes, plugs and spoons. Parachute jigs typically are fished on 5′-6′ feet of leader. If you’re fishing over sandy bottom, you can use 40-pound-test leader, but in rocky areas go with 60- or even 80-pound to guard against chafing.

You can connect the leader to the wire via an Albright knot or a low-profile swivel, such as the aforementioned SPRO Heavy Swivel. Either way, make sure your knots are well formed and cinched down tight. On the end of the leader, tie on a 150-pound-test ball-bearing snap swivel to prevent twists in the leader and wire and to make it easier to change lures. A ball-bearing snap is critical when using tube lures, which spin when pulled through the water.

Trolling in Rips

Miacomet Rip off Nantucket is an ideal spot to troll wire line.
Ideal shoal rip for wire-lining.

Wire line trolling is very effective along rip lines. Rips are formed when current flows over a shoal, ledge or reef, creating a zone of fast, turbulent water that places baitfish at a disadvantage over bigger, stronger predators. Stripers and bluefish line up along the rip line, usually hugging the bottom and waiting to pick off an easy meal drifting past overhead.

The downside to rips, especially big open-ocean rips like those off Nantucket and Montauk, is that they can be tricky (and sometimes dangerous) places to fish, so precise boat handling is a must if you want to score consistently. Some rips are marked by a faint line of riffled water, while others feature an imposing wall of tall, standing waves that require constant vigilance on the part of the skipper.

Mishaum Ledge in Buzzards Bay gives up loads of big bass to wire line trollers.
Ideal reef for wire-lining.

If you don’t know the location of a productive rip in your area, consult a chart. Look for spots where the bottom rises quickly from 20′ or 30′ to within 10′ of the surface (see examples). These are prime spots to troll wire. As long as there is current flowing over the depth change and the presence of bait, you can bet that stripers and blues will gather on the rip.

Trolling a Shoreline

Another good way to score with wire line is to troll parallel to the shore, following a depth contour or skirting large boulders, points and ledges that could hold fish. Generally speaking, trolling with the current produces the best results in this situation, as the fish will be facing into the current. In other words, they expect their food to be coming toward them, not sneaking up from behind.

Trolling with the current presents certain challenges, however, because it’s harder to control the depth of the lure. Plan on using less line and lighter lures than you would when trolling parallel to the current, as you would in a rip situation.

Wire-Line Lures

Andrus parachute jig.

You can fish almost any kind of lure on wire, but the most productive types depend on what the fish are feeding on, which often depends on the environment. Here are some general guidelines when it comes to lure selection, but the most important thing to remember, no matter what lure you choose, is to fish it “low and slow.” If you’re not tapping bottom from time to time, you’re not getting deep enough.

  • Parachute jigs are perhaps the most commonly used wire-line lures. They work very well in areas of sandy bottom, especially when squid, herring or mackerel are present. Parachutes feature a heavy lead head, a “reverse” skirt that pulsates when jigged through the water, and come in 2-, 4- and 6-ounce sizes. Be sure to try different colors and sizes, and always “sweeten” your jig with a long strip of pork rind (red and yellow are the top colors). Parachutes are usually fished on short rods, with the angler making the jig dart through the water in short bursts. This is typically done by pointing the rod tip at the water and making short, sharp sweeps—like using a broom.
  • Tube lures are another top producer among wire-line trollers, and are usually fished over rock or kelp bottom or over wrecks. Savvy tube trollers always place 1 or 2 seaworms on the rear hook of their tubes to add scent and taste. In fact, some anglers feel that the tube is simply a means of presenting a largely weightless worm to the fish. Popular tube colors include burgundy, black and red, although hot pink and fluorescent green can be effective on certain days.
  • Bunker spoons—large teardrop-shaped slabs of metal sporting a keel weight—work well when large menhaden and herring are prevalent. The key to fishing these lures is to troll them as slowly as possible, so the spoon wobbles and flashes like an injured baitfish. Some anglers use special extra-long rods for trolling bunker spoons. These 8-foot sticks feature a slow, “parabolic” action, and are generally left in the gunwale holders while trolling.
  • Umbrella rigs work extremely well when large schools or small baitfish such as sand eels, spearing or peanut bunker (juvenile menhaden) are on the menu. Umbrellas are typically rigged with small tube lures, metal spoons or soft-plastic shad bodies, depending on the prevailing forage. Attaching an oversized swimming plug to the center of the umbrella rig, so that it tracks behind the “school” of smaller baits, is a great way to score a big fish.
  • Plugs & bucktails: Other productive wire-line offerings include wide-lipped swimming plugs, big spoons, eelskin rigs and bucktail jigs.