Excerpt from Big Game Fishing Journal (January/February 2006) written and updated by The Canyon Runner Team
Thirty or so years ago, only a select few trolled spreader bars, and those were mostly heavy-duty bars trolled with dead mackerel for giant tuna. Then someone came up with the idea to try and troll these bars in the canyons for tuna. After the first few tries, it became obvious that they could not be trolled at the same speed as the other lures and baits in the pattern, so it was back to the drawing board. What was found was that lighter material for the bars enabled the bar itself to be elevated to the surface of the water when trolled from outriggers. In addition, switching over to eight plastic shell squid instead of eight natural baits allowed these lightweight bars to be trolled at faster and faster speeds. Continued redesigns mediated some of the other problems around the development of the original bars. For example, some people worried that with all those lures the fish had only a one in eight chance of eating the lure with the hook in it. So, they added hooks behind each trailing squid. The first double header of 50-pound yellowfin that tore the bar in half took care of that theory, but it took bite after bite with tuna consistently coming up and eating that trailing bait before people got comfortable with using just one hook.
And now look where we are today (i.e., 2006 when this article was originally published), spreader bars are made up of anything from stainless spring steel to titanium and can be trolled at speeds up to 10 knots. They can have dozens of plastic squid or other lures of different sizes and colors. Probably 95 percent of the boats that fish the Northeast canyons from Virginia to Massachusetts have at least one spreader bar in their arsenal (In 2021 – that’s more like 100 percent of boats have at least 2-3 in their arsenal). In fact, spreader bars are being used around the globe as teasers and as standard lures in many trolling patterns. How did this change come about? Simple – those on the cutting edge 30 years ago took a chance on spending day-after-day, trolling these early bars until they found something that worked. The theory behind spreader bars is obvious - trolling more lures in a close pattern should resemble a school of bait and entice gamefish to come into your trolling pattern and feed. The observations that developed this theory are also obvious, we all want to find the bait because we know we will find the fish so why not at least imitate a big bait pod (such is the way of the dredges people are now using today on marlin-just a further refinement of a good theory stemming from the use of spreader bars). The key is someone got out there and experimented day-after-day until they found something that worked, and they stuck with it while turning away from previously successful methods to find something better.
Experimenting offshore can be excruciatingly difficult. Particularly with weather, shortened seasons, and with runs offshore lasting four to five hours and a I00 miles, it is hard to experiment with unproven techniques when you only have a handful of days to fish. This is where we as a charter boat have a significant edge since we are out there 100+ days a year. We can try something new and if we don't catch, we know we can get back out there the next day and have another shot at it. Being on the water day in and day out is the key to success of any fishermen, as none of us are born with the knowledge of how to load up on tuna or get marlin to take a bait. We are only the fishermen that we are because of the experiences we've lived through and trying new and different methods and techniques before finding what works. While a lot about fishing can be read about in books or taught on land, the only real way to excel is taking those lessons to the edge and putting them to work to test their validity.
And now look where we are in 2021 – the lightweight spreader bars have been surpassed by the side-tracker bars. This innovation, which came about around 3-5 years ago, once again highlights the importance of more baits in the water means more fish should be attracted to your pattern. Side-trackers allow you to troll basically two more spreader bars in your pattern and to get them way out to the side of the boats in clean water – adding something to the pattern that we’ve really never seen prior to their innovation – which is lures constantly out in clean water and not in your wake. And they are deadly. So what’s the next innovation in lures in the next 3-5 years – who knows??? But we bet someone is trolling it behind their boat right now trying to get a bite.