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Temperature & Speed At Depth

Mark Romanack

The author lives and dies by water temperature when
 targeting trout and salmon. The Fish Hawk is widely accepted
 as the best tool for monitoring critical data including
 trolling speed at depth, water temperature
 at depth and surface water temperatures.
            Recently a friend asked me how important a speed and temperature at depth probe is to open water trout and salmon trolling. I think I shocked him when I said if forced to choose between a sonar unit or a speed, depth, temperature probe I’d pick the depth probe every time.
            Trout and salmon are so temperature sensitive it’s possible to target these fish by simply finding layers of water that are at the preferred water temperature. For my money the best tool for this job is the Fish Hawk X4+ Depth or the new X4D that uses bluetooth technology for monitoring and saving data. These invaluable machines measures trolling speed at depth, water temperature at depth and also surface water temperature.
            All of this critical fishing information is achieved using a transducer based signal that eliminates any need to transfer data through an oversized downrigger cable. A small probe mounts just above the downrigger weight and communicates with a transducer mounted to the transom. The data is in turn viewed on an LCD screen that can be mounted at the helm or any convenient place in the boat. With the X4D models anglers can view this invaluable information on their smart phone or tablet.
            I generally mount the LCD screen on the Fish Hawk right next to my downrigger. This way when I’m moving the downrigger weight up and down in the water column, it’s easy to monitor temperature breaks and thermoclines.
            A short break away cable is mounted to the downrigger weight and the probe. This way if the downrigger ball hangs on bottom and breaks off, the probe is not lost.
            The Fish Hawk is useful for finding warmer water early in the season when the main lake temperature is icy cold. During the warmer part of the year the Fish Hawk again is invaluable for finding cooler bands of water that typically concentrate salmon and trout.
            The Fish Hawk is also invaluable for monitoring trolling speed at the ball. Often due to subsurface currents the speed the boat is moving over ground at the surface is much different than the speed the downrigger balls and other gear are moving at depth.

            Most trolling gear is speed sensitive, so knowing exactly how fast the gear is moving at depth is another critical piece of information anglers can’t get without the help of the Fish Hawk. The Fish Hawk is also a durable piece of equipment that will last the average angler a lifetime. Easy to use and accurate, the information the Fish Hawk provides is every bit as valuable as that provided by a sonar unit.

Drop Dead Drop Shot Set Ups

Mark Romanack

         The drop shot rig may be the best thing to happen to bass fishing since the spinnerbait. For anglers who love to fish light line, the drop shot set up is deadly.
         Recently on a trip to Waterfalls Lodge near Spanish, Ontario the Fishing 411 crew got the opportunity to fish drop shot rigs for both shallow and deep water smallmouth. We learned a trick or two from Bryan Darland, the store manager of Jay’s Sporting Goods in Clare. Bryan also happens to be a very talented fisherman and smallmouth are his favorite species.
Bryan Darland of Jay’s Sporting Goods is a
smallmouth bass fishing expert. His expertise helped
 the Fishing 411 crew get onto and catch
some world class smallmouth in Ontario.

         The first day on the water the folks at Waterfalls Lodge treated us to fishing one of their remote lakes only accessible by ATV. After about an hour long ride on a side by side and two quads, our crew pulled up to one of Ontario’s hidden gems. We loaded our portable sonar and fishing tackle into three small boats and set out to find some smallmouth.
         The first thing we noticed was the surface water temperature was 80 degrees! For northern Ontario water this warm is unheard of. Immediately Bryan started thinking we would have to look deep to find active smallmouth. We rigged up with 1/2 ounce drop shot rigs and tipped them with an assortment of split-tail minnows and three inch do-nothing style worms.
         The first place we tried was a small rocky island. Within casting distance the water depth ranged from about six feet to 25 feet. We simply motored slowly around the island keeping the boat in deep water and watching the sonar for fish. When we spotted fish it was a simple task to drop down on individual fish and catch them. This strategy worked so well we started calling it “see fish -- catch fish” because almost every smallmouth we marked was in a biting mood.
         The deep water theme held up all day and we boated countless smallmouth in the 1.5 to 2.5 pound range on drop shot rigs.
         The next day we loaded our bass gear into the Fishing 411 film boats, a pair of identically rigged Starcraft STX 2050 multi-species aluminum boats. Our destination was a place called the Whaleback Region of Lake Huron. We launched at the Spanish, Ontario public access and motored about 20 minutes west to a cluster of islands not far from where the Whaleback Channel empties into Lake Huron.
         The Lake Huron influence kept the water temperatures here a little cooler, but the surface temperatures were still in the upper 70’s. It took several hours to develop a pattern, but late in the day we came to the conclusion that most of the bass were holding in small patches of cabbage weed adjacent to good rock structure.
         Not only do cabbage weeds provide bass cover and shade, they also release oxygen into the water a bonus when fishing in warm water conditions.
         Again the drop shot rig shined as the best way to penetrate the weeds. We casted into openings in the weed growth, reeled up the slack line and simply vibrated the rod tip to give the plastic a little action.
The author holding a nice Whaleback smallmouth
 caught near Spanish, Ontario during the
 filming of an episode of Fishing 411 TV.
         The drop shot rig is versatile enough that it can be fished in both shallow and deep water situations. By simply switching out the plastics used an angler can give bass a lot of options to consider. Some of the most popular plastics include split tail minnows, do-nothing worms, small flukes, three inch worms, tubes, beavertail grubs and hula grubs all work well on a drop shot rig.
         We spooled up using 10 pound test Maxima Braid 8 as our main line and tied our drop shot rigs to 10 pound test Maxima Ultra Green Leader Material. A No. 2 drop shot hook is tied to the Ultra Green leader using a palomar knot. Remember to run the tag end back through the hook eye so the hook is positioned at a 90 degree angle to the leader. Also it’s important to leave about 12 inches of tag line when tying the palomar to attach to the drop shot weight. The other (longer) end of the leader is double uni knotted to the braid.
         This set up allows the drop shot leader to be reeled right up into the rod guides for safer and better casting accuracy. Anglers have a number of options when it comes to drop shot sinkers. We opted for pencil style weights because they don’t hang up in rocks as much as the ball or bell shaped weights. The other advantage of the pencil style drop shot weight is they can easily be trimmed to lighten the weight if necessary.
Jake recently enjoyed his first visit to the
 Whaleback region of Lake Huron.
 This Great Lakes fishery is protected by
 a ribbon of islands that allow anglers access
 to world class fishing all summer long.
         Smaller sizes of the pencil weights are available, but I generally buy 1/2 ounce size weights and trim them as necessary for fishing shallow water.
         Anglers who don’t want to tie up their own drop shot rigs using the palomar knot can purchase drop shot hooks pre-rigged with a swivel above and below the hook. This makes it easy to tie on the necessary leader and dropper lines.
Waterfalls Lodge

         The Spanish, Ontario region is part of the Algoma Country Tourist Bureau and is located about two hours east of Sault Ste Marie, Ontario along Highway 17. We stayed at Waterfalls Lodge ( a full service fishing camp right in the middle of Ontario’s top smallmouth waters.
         Waterfalls Lodge is located on a chain of four lakes rich in smallmouth bass and walleye fishing opportunities. Each cabin is provided a 16 foot Starcraft boat complete with sonar, electric motor, electric start outboard and aerated livewell.  Anglers who want to fish the Whaleback region of Lake Huron will need to bring their own boat.


              Mark Romanack

           In the world of fresh water trolling, boat speed varies a great deal depending on the time of year and target species. In a typical year I’ll troll as slowly as .75 MPH and sometimes as fast as 5.0 MPH. 

            Early and late in the year walleye are best caught trolling at speeds ranging from .75 to about 1.5 MPH. Accomplishing these ultra slow trolling speeds is a job best accomplished with a bow mounted auto-pilot style electric motor. The MotorGuide Xi5 electric motor on my boat is a 36 volt model that produces a little over 100 pounds of thrust. MotorGuide also makes similar motors featuring 24 volt and 12 volt systems for medium to small boats.
For slower trolling speeds used to target species like walleye, the author
 favors an auto-pilot style electric motor like the MotorGuide Xi5 pictured
 here. This electric motor can also be used in combination with gasoline
 motors to dial in trolling speeds precisely and also to
help in navigation chores.

            When the waters warm up a bit, trolling speeds naturally click upwards a notch or two as well. In the late spring and throughout the summer months my average trolling speeds for walleye range from 1.8 to 2.2 MPH. At these speeds an electric motor simply doesn’t have enough electric power to last all day long. To accomplish these somewhat higher trolling speeds while fishing spoons and crankbaits, I opt for using a small gasoline kicker motor, fished in combination with an auto-pilot electric motor. In this situation I’m using the kicker motor to provide most of the forward speed and the auto-pilot electric motor primarily for steering and navigation to waypoints.
Small gasoline kicker motors like this one mounted on
 the author’s boat are very useful for generating
 slow to moderate trolling speeds.

            Early in the year trout and salmon fishing generally focuses on trolling speeds around 2.0 MPH or a little slower. Again the best way to accomplish these mid range trolling speeds is with a small gasoline kicker motor fished in combination with an auto-pilot electric motor.
            This set up lets me dial down my speed to about 1.8 MPH for fishing dodger and Spin n Glo combinations for trout or dial up the speed to 2.2 for spoon and plug trolling.

            Salmon fishing in the middle of the summer time is generally conducted at speeds of 2.0 to about 3.5 MPH. Spoons, meat rigs and body baits are the lures of choice and achieving these trolling speeds gets a little dicy with a gasoline kicker motor.
            A small gasoline kicker motor is certainly capable of pushing just about any fishing boat to 3.5 MPH. The problem is achieving that speed forces the angler to throttle the engine up to the point the kicker sounds like a jet about to take off!
            I find that using my V6 Evinrude G2 E-Tec I can troll at speeds from 2.5 to 3.5 no problem. The E-Tec is actually quieter than the kicker motor which makes the trolling experience that much sweeter. To help with navigation and to fine tune trolling speeds I also use the MotorGuide Xi5.

            The fastest trolling speeds anyone in the Great Lakes is likely to encounter focuses on summer time musky fishing. On average musky guides troll from 3.0 to 5.0 MPH. To achieve these faster trolling speeds I’m a big fan of using the primary outboard to provide the basic speed and again incorporate the use of an auto-pilot electric motor for navigation and fine tuning trolling speeds.

            Most of the trolling situations outlined here are best achieved using what I call the “two motor trolling” strategy. Using an auto-pilot electric motor in combination with either a gasoline kicker motor or the gasoline outboard enables an angler to troll at literally any speed.
Two motor trolling is a serious way of targeting all sorts of fresh water species.
The author often uses this strategy with an electric motor and
small gasoline kicker for slower trolling speeds or combining
the electric motor with the V6 for faster trolling applications.
The key to this system is having a large enough electric motor and high capacity batteries capable of trolling all day long. The largest deep cycle batteries currently available fall into the 31 group category. 

Here Kitty Kitty

Here Kitty, Kitty

Mark Romanack

Because I show cats the love,
 they follow me everywhere I travel.

            Ever meet a fishing snob? I’ve met plenty in my 30 plus years of professional fishing. Most of these people are good enough citizens, they just have a tendency to hate on certain species of fish.
            The Declaration of Independence says “all men are created equal”. Apparently fish don’t inherit these rights because a lot of fish species get little or no love from anglers. Here in Michigan there are lots of fish species anglers love to talk dirt about. Apparently from what I’m hearing lake trout are too greasy, sheepshead are too bony, carp destroy bass habitat, white perch bite before walleye can get a chance and the list of grievances goes on and on and on. 
            If one fish in particular gets “no respect” as Rodney Dangerfield used to say, it would have to be the lowly channel catfish. With a face only a blind mother could love, the channel cat isn’t going to win any beauty or popularity contests. What channel cats lack in good looks, they make up for in abundance and raw muscle.

            Pound for pound I’ve never fought any fish in fresh water that pulls harder than a channel catfish. A fisherman might imagine that because cats fight like bull dogs they would have at least a modest list of admirers. Nope, catfish will have to be content with being “bench warmers” in the dugout of life. 
            It appears that I might be the only angler who publicly admires the channel catfish. Admittedly these fish are long on slime and short on rugged good looks. What I like most about these catfish is they live in rivers and they are not shy about slurping up leadhead jigs.
            Everyone thinks of me as troller because I’m so deeply involved with the Precision Trolling Data apps and have worked for trolling companies like Off Shore Tackle most of my life. The truth is, I love all kinds of fishing and jigging is right at the top of my “personal favorites” list.
            Every year since Jake was  old enough to share my passion for fishing, we have traveled to the Saginaw River in May/June to target the seemingly endless supply of channel catfish the lower river attracts. During late spring these fish are spawning and hordes of fish from nearby Saginaw Bay pile into the river in mind boggling numbers.
            The rest of the year you can still catch all the channel cats you want in the Saginaw River. You see, cats love slow moving rivers with lots of forage species to pick from including alewives, gizzard shad, emerald shiners, crayfish and young of the year sheepshead. All of these critters and more are abundant in the Saginaw River. The lower Grand River and the St. Joe River are also channel catfish hot spots in Michigan.
Cats like this one are a dime a dozen at the mouth of the
 Saginaw River from early May through summer.
           Cats are level one predators who obviously love to eat fish. Ironically, my favorite bait for targeting cats is half a night crawler threaded onto a leadhead jig. I’m not sure that cats naturally eat a lot of night crawlers but I’m here to tell you if you put one on a hook and drop it to the bottom of the Saginaw River, a catfish will eat it.
            Over the years I’ve become a pretty good jig fisherman and much of that skill set has come from catching countless “non-target” species like cats, sheepshead, white bass, etc. I always tell people that to get good at anything requires practice and the best way to become a good jig fisherman is to spend lots of time on the water.
            Because our spring walleye runs are brutally short, the most practical way to refine your jig fishing skills is to spend time targeting those fish other anglers work at avoiding. At the top of my hit parade are channel cats because they stick close to the bottom like walleye, they bite with similar aggression to the walleye and the rods, reels and fishing lines I normally use for walleye fishing are perfectly matched to targeting cats.
            The truth to all this is that when it comes to fishing, I like catching fish and it’s not always easy to accomplish that goal with the glamour species like walleye, smallmouth and the like. Honing my personal jigging skills on unsuspecting catfish, makes it easier for me to get even when I do have the opportunity to jig up a few walleye.
            The gear is super simple. I use a six to six foot, six inch medium/light action graphite rod, married to a 25 series spinning reel, 10 pound test Maxima Braid 8 line terminated to a 24 inch leader of 12 pound test Maxima fluorocarbon line. At the terminal end a 1/4 to 3/8 ounce jig and half a nightcrawler.
The same rods and reels the author uses for vertical jigging
 walleye are ideal for targeting channel catfish.
 By practicing on cats, the author refines  his jigging
 skills so he can make the most of those brief
 spring walleye runs.

            That set up produces more catfish (and occasionally walleye) than a guy could want. So the next time you’re bored and want to catch a lot of fish, try a visit to the lower Saginaw River and take along a half a flat of nightcrawlers. You’re going to need them.