By: Gary Buchannan Posted On: 2009-01-24

Trolling is towing a lure behind a moving boat or canoe. Like still-fishing, it doesn't have much appeal to an active angler who isn't content to just "set," although it does give him a change of scenery as he trolls around a woodland lake or river. And if it's just exercise he's interested in, he can always row or paddle. But with the increasing popularity of outboard motors, almost everybody who trolls uses an outboard. And, surprisingly, experiments have proved that in water deeper than 10 feet a passing outboard motor doesn't alarm a fish the slightest bit. As a matter of fact, some species are attracted by its white wake. Trolling does have two definite advantages, no matter how many fly-casters, bait-casters and spinners frown on it—it enables an angler to cover a lot more water, and it enables him to find the haunts of the fish. After he's found them, he can use any fishing method.

Rods, Reels and Line

All tackle isn't suitable for trolling. For example, spinning tackle isn't very good, although some anglers use it with limited success. One of the reasons is that a fish seems to wallop a trolled lure harder than a cast one, then he immediately streaks away with it like a jet. And spinning line is too fragile to withstand such punishment. It's even too weak to hold the sinkers that usually are necessary in trolling. Even if it were stronger, the spinning reel isn't designed to protect it against a running fish. When a fish strikes your trolled lure, he can pull line from your reel in only two ways: when the pickup is released in casting position, in which case the line is completely free and he can take all of it in one swish; or by turning the spool against the drag, but the drag is only an emergency device. If set loose enough for a fish to take out line without snapping it, the drag would also be too loose for you to reel in the line, or to have any control over it. Spin-casting tackle has similar disadvantages. But bait-casting tackle is perfectly suited for trolling; fly-casting tackle is all right for small fish.

For large fresh-water species such as the Largemouth and Small-mouth Black Bass, the Pike family and large Trout, use a stiff 5 or 5^ foot bait-casting rod—a shorter, even stiffer one for big salt-water fish. The line strength will vary according to the size of your fish, from 10-pound-test for Black Bass to 30-pound-test or more for Muskies and Striped Bass. It's best to choose a trolling line that's stronger than your casting line because when the strike occurs it usually takes you by surprise and the strain on your tackle is greater. The main thing to remember about line, however, is to have enough of it. Your reel should be the bait-casting kind large enough to hold at least 100 yards of line of the required strength, even more for Stripers. In addition, use a wire leader between your lure and line when you're trolling for the toothy members of the Pike clan. You'll need sinkers, also, to take your lure down to the fish's depth. The "spindle" sinker attaches directly to your line above the lure, but if a heavier one is needed, use a "dipsey." Tie it to the line, about 3 feet above the lure, by means of a weaker line about a foot long. Then, if it snags, you can break it off without losing your lure.

Trolling with fly-casting tackle will provide you with plenty of action where there are panfish such as the Sunfishes, Bluegill and Perch, and the small salt-water species. Even small Rainbow and Brook Trout will hit when conditions are right. But use a heavy fly rod because it will take a beating. And make sure there's plenty of backing line on your fly reel. A 5-pound-test level leader will be strong enough, and if you need a sinker, use a split-shot or a wrap-around.


For large fresh-water or salt-water fish, use any of your deep-swimming bait-casting lures, adding sinkers ahead of each to get it down deep enough. In very deep water, luminous lures are good. Spoons are always fish-getters, especially when a strip of prepared pork rind is added to the hook. For large Lake Trout and the monster Rainbows of Lake Pend Oreille, a favorite trolling lure is a spinner that is sometimes called a "Christmas tree" because it looks like part of one—a series of large, flashing spinners and colored beads a yard long with a feathered treble hook or a baited single hook trailing them. A dead minnow or shiner, tied on a hook with some thread and fastened behind a spinner, is one of the best fish-getters. For panfish trolling with a fly rod, use a midget plug or spoon or a small spinner with a brightly colored fly behind it. Worms, small minnows or insect bait must be attached to small spinners, also, in order to attract panfish to them. Then they're killers.

How to Troll

fishing lesson Since trolling is a kind of exploring, unless you already know some good spots to troll over, try everywhere possible on a lake, river, or salt-water bay. Sunken weeds are promising, as are rocky bars that extend into the water from a point of land. Channels are also good spots. When you've gotten a strike while your lure was passing over a certain spot, make a large circle so you'll pass over it again. If you get fish from it, make a note of it. Chances are it's one of their haunts.

fishing lesson

Depth is important in trolling and easy to regulate, but the selection of the right depth is often simply a guess. How do you know how deep to make your lure swim to be close to the bottom, when you don't know how deep the bottom is ? Of course, in places where the depth is known, the problem is solved. You can regulate the depth of your lure by three means: by the speed of your boat (the faster you go, the closer to the surface your lure will troll), by the length of line you let out (the more line, the deeper the lure), and by the weight of the added sinkers. While trolling, you can vary two of these means to vary your lure's depth— when you come to a shallow bar or weed bed, speed up your motor and reel in some line to make the lure ride higher; when you're past the shallows, slow down and let her out again. Be careful of sharp turns; while a boat is turning, the lure turns in a much smaller circle, its forward motion slows and it sinks. In general, you should troll at least 100 feet of line.

fishing lesson Always troll with the click button of your bait-casting reel (or fly reel) in the "on" position so the line will be free for the fish to take when he strikes but won't be completely without a drag. If at all possible, keep your rod in your hand while trolling; don't lay it down to rest against the boat's gunwale because a sudden strike might snap its tip, or even yank it entirely out of the boat. Many a good rod has been lost to a Muskie or big Striper. There is no need to jerk your rod to set the hook when a fish hits your trolled lure; he hooks himself on the strike. An exception might be the iron-jawed Muskie; in his case always set the hook a few times—just to be sure!

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