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May 01, 2013

Dredge Fishing from Center Console Boats

Small-boat fishermen take a tip from offshore captains for more fish in the spread.

[Be sure to click through all the images in the gallery above.]

"They’re the hottest things in the fishing-tackle world right now,” says Harry Vernon III, of Capt. Harry’s Fishing Supply in Miami, an ardent offshore angler. “Anglers who troll aboard small and midsize outboard-powered boats now realize what the big-boat guys have known for decades: Dredges raise fish!”

“Dredge” is the generic name for a spread of subsurface teasers pulled off the ­transom, clear-vinyl strips ­emblazoned with reflective fish decals, or a school of hookless artificials creating a virtual ball of bait.

I’ve been pulling a pair of dredges behind my center console for several years. I’ve had fish come right to the teasers, where we’ve baited and hooked them either on a pitch bait or flat line.  

Pulling dredges behind small or midsize boats with a one- or two-person crew is challenging, but well worth the effort. And despite what some newcomers to dredge trolling might think, there’s way more to the tactic than just picking a dredge and towing it behind your boat.

Grand Illusion

Numerous manufacturers offer a range of styles and sizes of teasers. When ­selecting one, or a few, think in terms of colors and sizes of teasers that will best ­attract the fish you seek. 

I’ve been pulling two StripTeaser 105 fish dredges — one from each transom corner — clear, durable strips with holographic baitfish images (choices include squid, ballyhoo or sardinelike baits) affixed to them. When deployed about 20 feet back and several feet deep, they light up the water behind my boat, like two large schools of baitfish ­undulating in a tight ball. When I’m seeking dolphin offshore, I tend towards sardine-like images, which I feel mimic flyingfish, a key forage of dolphin.

Strike Point (, another company in this market, offers double-laminated holographic fish strips (ballyhoo or sardine), along with high-grade-steel and -titanium collapsible dredge bars. The images come in blue, pink or silver, and in models ranging from 28 to 156 fish images.

In addition, Strike Point offers streamlined trolling skirts and lures in various sizes, colors, and combinations to help “dial in the tease” when predators are selectively feeding on a specific bait, i.e., flyingfish, bullet bonito or chicken dolphin. For example, it offers Mylar bullet/Mold Craft Tuff Hoo combos with a Split Tail Mackerel ­trailer, as well as straight Tuff Hoo dredges and Split Tail Mackerels. A number of other companies also offer fine-tuning options such as plastic mullet, mackerel, squid and flyingfish. 

Dial It In

Sometimes dredges become anemic, like when game fish go on selective feeds. This is where sharp dredge trollers make critical adjustments, and deploy teasers that mimic the size and style of the abundant forage fish. If dolphin, tuna or sailfish are feeding on small flyingfish, you’ll likely raise more with dredges sporting small, ­plastic flyingfish, streamlined trolling lures in the size and colors of those flyingfish, and sardinelike holographic images. The same strategy applies with sailfish in close and when ballyhoo are schooling heavily, and marlin and even wahoo when bonito, skipjacks, and small tuna are abundant.

Prime Position

Large boats with towers have a great advantage, because their dredges can be deployed farther back and deeper, while still remaining in view from the bridge or tower. Many small and midsize vessels lack that benefit. 

The technique, sans tower, is to position the dredges as far back as you can and still see them; the objective is spotting fish coming up on them, and being able to quickly adjust a flat-line bait or pitch out another bait while the fish is on the dredge.

On my boat, I position the dredges 20 or so feet back, and five to 10 feet down; they’re back and deep enough so they’re not in heavy prop wash. I believe that some prop wash helps attract fish, perhaps lending the illusion of a feeding frenzy. So when you factor in the dredges just behind and below that commotion, my surface teasers (i.e., spreader bars and/or daisy chains) in clean water to the outside of the prop wash and dredges, and a full spread of baits, it’s easy to understand how fish are coaxed in for a closer look.