Anglers who specialize in trolling live bait have a strange relationship with fish. On one hand, live baiters are trying to catch the biggest fish in the sea. On the other hand, they have to make nice to the live bait for any chance at success. The two sides of this equation mean that storing, rigging and fishing live bait is one of the biggest challenges in kayak fishing.

Hobie associate product manager Howie Strech is lucky to work and fish in San Diego, California. He is an expert at slow trolling live Pacific mackerel, the best way to catch blisteringly vicious California yellowtail. Strech has seven pro tips on live bait trolling to share with Kayak Angler readers.

7 Secrets To Live Bait Trolling

1 Don’t skimp on your bait rigs

For live bait anglers, the day starts with catching bait. Many times, figuring out the bait is more difficult than catching the target species. Strech puts as much attention into his bait rigs as his big-game gear.

“Learn to identify bait schools on the fish finder,” Strech starts. Once he locates bait, he uses a multi-hook Sabiki bait rig to catch mackerel. “I cut off some of the hooks to make it easier to handle in the kayak,” he advises.

2 Handle bait with care

He is most careful when handling the bait. “I never, ever touch my bait until I put it on the hook,” he insists. He uses a dehooker to remove the bait from the Sabiki rig, dropping the whole rig into his live well so the bait doesn’t fall onto the deck or overboard.

Strech even avoids contact when he’s baiting up, using a small bait net to scoop up a freshie. “Get the bait on the hook quickly without squeezing it to death.”

kayak angler prepares to fish for California yellowtail by trolling with live bait
“Never, ever touch the bait,” Howie Strech stresses. | Feature Photo: Jeffrey Fortuna

3 Use the right live well

Maintaining the proper size live well and filling it to capacity will keep livies happy all day.

4 Troll slowly and strategically

Strech is equally careful while trolling the bait. “I don’t want to stress the bait by going too fast,” he explains. If the bait is dragging on top of the water or spinning, Strech knows it’s time to slow down.

Since slow trolling doesn’t allow the angler to cover as much water, Strech focuses on the most productive areas and searches for working birds or floating kelp to set his strategy. “Note productive areas on the GPS and return to fish them again,” he suggests.

5 Fool fish with light tackle

Heavy line, light leader and small hooks are the friends of live bait anglers. To best a 40-pound yellowtail hiding under a patch of kelp, he uses 65-pound braided line. But fooling the sharp-sighted fish requires 40-pound fluorocarbon and a 1/0 hook.

angler holds up a California yellowtail caught by trolling live bait
Light leader and a small hook equal big California yellowtail. | Photo: Jeffrey Fortuna

6 Apply pressure with lever drag

Using light tackle to best ocean predators requires next-level battle skills. A reel with lever drag allows the angler to accurately apply more pressure during the fight. As the fish gets closer, the angler can slightly increase the pressure. When the fish goes on a blistering run, lighten up. “And always keep the bow pointed towards the fish,” Strech adds. Dragging the kayak sideways puts too much stress on the angler and the line.

To give his bait more freedom to swim, Strech uses a perfection loop to connect the hook to the leader. He explains, “It’s a strong knot and the loop allows the bait to swim naturally.”

7 Don’t get your lines crossed

Monitoring the baits is like watching children. Trolling more than two lines is reckless. If tangles shut down the operation, go down to one bait. A single bait in the water is better than two baits in a tangle.

Strech watches for the baits to get nervous. “I can anticipate a bite by feeling the way the bait swims,” he says. Watching his lines, holding the rods, Strech will even pedal backwards while trolling live bait so he can keep an eye on the action.

This article was first published in the Fall 2019 issue of Kayak Angler Magazine. Subscribe to Kayak Angler Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

“Never, ever touch the bait,” Howie Strech stresses. | Feature photo: Jeffrey Fortuna




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