Published: Friday, January 2, 2015
We were trolling identical crankbaits from rod holders that sprouted form the bow corners of our
boat, hoping to ice a dozen or so late season white bass. My son and I had switched to the same
deep-diving Rapala after mine got two hits to none over his Hot’N’Tot, figuring we had dialed-
in to the baits the finicky bass preferred that late-autumn afternoon -- and hoping to double-up on
As we zigzagged over the school I could see ten feet below on the Humminbird’s screen, my lure
continued to get slammed by the silver-sided fighters, and I could see young Ethan get more and
more frustrated as his identical bait went untouched.
Feeling his angst, I asked him to reel in his bait and show me that it was running “true” at the 2.5
mph speed we were cruising. That’s fast compared to the sub-2 mph trolling speed we typically
employ when targeting walleyes earlier in the season, and I wanted to make sure the lure was
running straight and not turning to one side with the pressure of the fleeter speeds, and running
more shallow and less natural than intended. It was one of the first lessons I taught my son when
he was able to deploy baits himself, to let out a little line and watch the lure boat-side as it ran, or
give the bait a couple of practice casts and watch the lure as it approached to make sure it looked
“I checked the lure Dad; it was running great,” he said, exasperated and impatient with me for
implying that he had over-looked the important pre-fishing ritual.
Knowing the lure was running “true,” we traded sides of the boat, placing his rod in the “hot”
starboard holder where mine had received all the attention, and securing my rod in the port-side
holder. When trolling a shoreline with a steep break, sometimes the difference in depth from one
side of the boat to the other can be several feet and spell the difference between one lure getting
into the fish zone and the other – a dozen feet away -- being ignored. However, because we were
trolling back and forth over a rock pile offshore and directing the baits over the deeper water
and then across the rubble to find and prompt strikes from the roaming schools of white bass, I
wasn’t optimistic that the rod location “tweak” would pay off. I was beginning to wonder myself
why my presentation was working and my son’s was not when his lure snagged a rock, the rod
bent double, and his line snapped before we could throttle down.
“THAT was quick,” I commented, noting how easily the line parted. By switching to heavier
line when trolling, usually we have time to slow the boat and get into reverse as the reel’s drag
releases line in time to retrieve a bait that’s hung-up. “What pound test line do you have on that
“Six,” he answered rather sheepishly. “I didn’t want to have to switch over from when we were
perch fishing and thought the lighter line might help me get more bites since the water’s so
Compared to the 12-pound-test I was using to troll over the dumping grounds, the smaller-
diameter line Ethan had stuck with allowed his identical lure to run deeper that mine – putting it
too far below the view of cruising bass but at just the right depth to collide with the cover.
With the proper rig it didn’t take long for Ethan to even the odds catch-wise and he returned
home and happy angler, with a fresh appreciation for the all-important “small stuff.”
Such as that Uni-knot loop knot I taught him to use. A crankbait that’s supposed to wiggle will
do so with my more appeal when its attachment eye is threaded with a loose “Uni” loop rather
than clenched firmly with a tight-cinched knot. On the other hand, that tight-cinched Uni-knot or
a traditional clinch knot snubbed down around the eye is exactly what’s called for if it’s a right-
angled hook, with the eye coming out of the top of a jig head. By tightening down the knot with
the line perpendicular to the jig’s body the bait will hang horizontally in the water, presenting a
silhouette that better mimics the baitfish it’s supposed to simulate.
Proper knots and line size are a few of the tweaks that often mean the difference between a good
day and a great day of fishing. Sometimes, such details can make all the difference in the world –
as that world concerns angling, anyway.