Trolling in the ‘dacks with Christmas Trees

By Hillbilly Lures John Zeis

A very exciting way to catch a trout is to troll for them with Christmas trees, as we like to call them inside the blue line. (They are also called “lake trolls” and “cowbells”.) There is no doubt that at certain times of the year when trout are in cold water depths, the flash and vibration of Christmas trees will entice them to strike when other lures fail to trigger a reaction. Over the years, I have built hundreds of Christmas trees and custom lake trolls for fishing for everything from brook trout to heavyweight lakers. The following are my tips for trolling for brook, brown, rainbow, and lake trout.

The key to catching fish, no matter the size of the troll being used, is trolling at the appropriate speed to obtain good action on your trailing lure or bait.  A very good trolling speed at which to start at is between .8 and 1.7 miles per hour. I do not troll in strait lines but prefer small S turns. I also like to troll into the wind or across the wind, but never with the wind pushing me when trolling with trees. Too much speed will lead to a lower number of strikes. Some of the biggest Lakers I have caught were caught when I was trolling at very slow speeds.

One of my favorite Christmas tree setups for lakers involves running a 4-blade 415X troll with either silver or copper willow leaf blades and a two-foot leader with a flatfish behind it.  I have caught many trout on this setup, trolling tight to the bottom when the trout are deep. Some of my favorite colors of flatfish or kwik fish are rainbow trout, blue and silver, and black and silver. These lures have fantastic action at slow speeds.  I always run a 15-pound test fluorocarbon leader from the tree to the lure when targeting lakers ( with the exception of when I’m on Ontario.  There, I use 20-pound flouro). I run two Cannon down riggers off the back of my boat when running Christmas trees. I run one downrigger ball a foot off the bottom with the tree 10 feet back behind the ball. I run the second downrigger ball 6 to 8 feet off the bottom and 15 feet behind the ball.

When trolling on lakes with very good water clarity (or when in shallower water}, I run trees farther back behind the boat.  Spin and glow and peanut or wobble rigs are also part of my setup depending on what lake I am fishing.  When the fishing is slow I start changing colors until I find one that fish want. It is important to remember that the deeper you run the downrigger balls and the faster your boat speed the greater your blowback on the balls.  Also, some down rigger balls create more drag than others. The weight of the ball is also an important factor. When I start to mark pods of suspended fish on my fish finder, I like to turn the sensitivity up so I can see the ball trail on the graph.  Then I can run the trees right through the pods of suspended fish.

When trolling for rainbows, brown, and brook trout, I prefer to run a 315X Christmas tree with either a night crawler or minnow behind it. I run the nightcrawler on a 20-inch 12-pound fluorocarbon leader with two single hooks set up just like a walleye harness. The minnow rig is my go to for rainbows and browns. I run a 24-inch, 12-pound fluorocarbon leader with a size 4 hook through the mouth of the minnow and a size 12 red treble back by the baits vent hole. When targeting brook trout the setup is the same but the hooks can be smaller. A smelt is a preferred bait where legal. Salted emerald shiners also will work, as well as a fresh minnow.

My fishing partner Kevin Aird and his late father, Lawrence, were experts with Christmas trees. They caught an abundance of beautiful rainbows from Lake Pleasant and Sacandaga Lake while trolling with Christmas trees and the heads of night crawlers. These lakes were two of the best rainbow trout lakes in the Adirondacks until the rainbows disappeared in the late 90’s. Kevin and his dad trolled just fast enough for the blades to swish back and forth, but not to spin in circles. They ran a 24-inch leader behind the trolls with a long-shanked hook with an inch-long piece of night crawler pinched off just below the head.

Over years of experimenting with different lures and trees, I have found that on some lakes certain colors are superior to others. I have run Christmas trees off lead core line and even trolled them out of canoes. A very effective setup is to use a regular rod with a snap weight to get the Christmas tree down deep. A hand-held GPS or battery-powered small fish finder is recommended for keeping track of speed. Lastly, small trolls are deadly in the back country brook trout ponds and the hammered copper and brass bladed 315X has been a hot set up in recent years.

So there you have it. Use a carefully selected setup.  Troll at an appropriate speed. Bring home fish for supper. Tight lines!  John Zeis

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