What is Trolling Fishing? [Guide for Beginners]

What is Trolling Fishing

Trolling is in a way different than other popular fishing techniques because it requires a moving boat. This makes it fun and adventurous for both beginners and experienced anglers.

Choosing the right depth and location is not easy, and that is the main reason why many anglers have no success when trolling. But, same as with any other fishing technique (spinning, jigging, etc.), knowledge has much bigger influence than luck.

Trolling is a fishing technique where baits/lures are dragged through the water from a moving boat. Anglers can use one or more lines, and practice this technique in both freshwater and saltwater. Important thing here is to know the water depth and bottom contours to avoid any kind of boating accident.


 

Although it may sound simple, trolling requires thorough preparation and equipment selection. There is a lot of possibilities and presentation tactics, depending on a specie you are trying to catch.

Keep in mind that trolling is not allowed everywhere, so always check the local rules and regulations before you launch your boat into the water.

To know more about what is trolling fishing exactly, and how to choose proper equipment, read the following chapters.

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What is Trolling Fishing? [Fast Definition & Meaning]

Trolling is a fishing technique where anglers use baited hooks or hooked lures to catch fish by dragging them trough the water with a help of a boat. Except for choosing the right fishing gear, anglers must carefully choose the boat and the engine, especially if fishing in smaller (freshwater) locations at lower depths.


 

Loud and powerful boat engines will scare the fish. Of course, if you are trolling for tunas in the ocean, this is not a problem. I will tell you more about trolling motors and equipment in the following chapters.

One or more lines can be used, although beginners should go for one or two to avoid tangling and confusion. Special equipment exist that is used to sink the bait, spread the lines, and make trolling as efficient as possible.

The best thing about trolling is that you can cover more water than with any other technique, and that makes it extremely efficient.

Is Trolling Fishing Legal or Illegal?

This question has a very broad answer ...

Some venues do not allow boats, so of course, trolling is not legal at these places. But, even if the boats are allowed, you may need to have a certain motor to be able to use it for trolling. It all depends of a location and local rules and regulations.

Let’s assume that you have a legal boat and it is ok to use it, you must comply with the baits/lures regulations, hooks allowed, and of course, check what kind of fish are you allowed to catch.


 

I know that these regulations may seem like a nightmare, but the goal is to keep a healthy fish population for the future, and to make sure that all anglers can fish safely and happily.

Depending on a country you are fishing in (and this is important for those who like to fish on vacations), you may need a boat licence/insurance and similar. Every country in the world is different and check the local laws.

Also, many of these rules are a subject to change, so check the up-to-date info.

What is Trolling Fishing - Rods

What Trolling Fishing Gear Do You Need?

Depending on a location and fish species you are catching, the list of your trolling fishing gear may vary a lot.

ROD

You can use different trolling fishing rods, depending on where you do it and what fish you are catching. For freshwater or inshore saltwater trolling, anglers use a variety of rod types, including their jigging rods and similar. The most important feature is the rod stiffness. It has to be stiff, not just because of the fish, but because lures create certain resistance when pulled through the water.

For larger fish when trolling in saltwater, anglers mostly use very stiff and strong rods, about 7 ft long. Keep in mind that the rod is going to be placed in a holder, and it is going to bend a lot when the fish is hooked. This is why for bigger fish specialized rods are made, that have line guides with rollers, that reduce friction when fighting a large fish. Other trolling rods have turbo guides, that are lighter and made for slightly smaller predators.

Of course, majority these heavy rods have line guides on the upper side, and are not made for spinning reels.



REEL

Same as with the rod, you can use the one you have for freshwater. But, baitcasting reels are much better. They give you better control and hold more line.

Anglers sometimes use trolling reels or baitrunning reels that look similar to baitcasters. These are not used to cast the lure, but to just lower it into the water. When trolling, casting is not necessary. Some of these reels are very sophisticated, and have all kinds of features, like measuring the line length deployed. Of course, they are not mandatory, but can be useful if you are trolling for large predators like tuna.

Some of those specialized reels are 2 speeds, but again, for anything smaller than a tuna, this is not necessary. Beginners targeting smaller fish can get away with a regular baitcaster.

Additionally, trolling fishing reel needs a powerful and dependable drag system to be able to withstand a lot of pressure. Avoid cheap and flimsy models.



BOAT AND MOTOR

When talking about what is trolling fishing, I have to mention the boat. It is the most expensive thing you will need, and it will have a large effect on your success.

For trolling, your boat needs strong and dependable rod holders, otherwise you are risking losing your rod, and you probably don’t want to find out does it float or not!

When offshore trolling, you need a larger and stable boat with powerful engines, but when you are on freshwater, having a powerful boat with a loud and big motor will be the main reason why you are not catching any fish.

Trolling motors are frequently used for this, although they are not the main boat propulsion. These engines are small, electrical, and much quieter. They also cause less disturbance to the water, and work excellent in lakes and waters that don’t have strong currents. Their biggest flaw is that they are too week to fight against strong currents, so using them in some rivers may not be the best idea.

These are suitable for very small boats that should never be used offshore. Many saltwater anglers that fish near the coast use regular outboard engines to travel to the fishing spot, and then switch to trolling motors to move within a fishing area.



OUTRIGGERS

I already mentioned some specialized items used for trolling and this is a first one. These are basically long poles that are used as line holders, and are mounted on the sides of your boat.

Outriggers are used to create distance among lines, and to allow you to present your lure outside of the wake that your boat motor creates. Although very efficient, they are not needed for inshore or freshwater trolling, or when trolling with just one line. There is a clip to release the line when fish bites.

DOWNRIGGERS

These devices are similar to outriggers, but are used to lower your line and spread the baits. There is also a clip that releases it when fish gets hooked so that you can fight it.

Weights are used to lower the line, and unlike outriggers, downriggers can be used in all waters.



PLANER BOARDS

These are boards that hold your line to spread it and you can use numerous ones, depending on how many lines you are fishing with. Some even have indicators in form of flags to inform you when the bite occurred. Freshwater anglers like them because they are much cheaper than previously mentioned tools.

Anglers can use a lot more items when trolling, and that also depends on the conditions and a targeted fish. For smaller fish you can use nets to land them, while for larger ones, like tunas and sharks you may need harpoons, ropes, and similar specialized tools. It is hard to give the exact list because trolling covers a broad spectrum of conditions and fish species.

What is Trolling Fishing - Gear

What Is Better: Mono or Braid Line for Trolling Fishing?

Again, this depends on a lot of factors. If you are trolling inshore or in freshwater and you are using gear that is not specialized for trolling, you can go with what you have. Trolling fishing line has to be long enough, without any damage, and strong enough for a fish you are targeting. It also has to be compatible with the reel and the rod.

Offshore trolling anglers frequently use mono because it is almost invisible and stretchy. When trolling, stretchiness serves as a shock absorber, which is important when powerful predators hit. It reduces sudden impacts on your rod.

But, braided has some advantages too. It has a smaller diameter, so you can have more line length on the reel. Additionally, braided lines sink and work much better than mono when you have to present your bait at larger depths.



How Much Line Should You Let Out When Trolling?

Line length depends on how deep do you want your lure to go, size of the lure, and some other factors like your boat speed.

There is no precise formula to calculate this, so I will give you a few examples so that you can figure it out ...

Let’s say that you are freshwater trolling for walleye, and you are using crankbaits. If the fish is relatively shallow, around 7ft deep, you will need to choose a lure that dives into this depth (various types exist, like shallow, medium, and deep diving ones).



To present this lure in the right depth, far enough from your boat, you will need to release about 100 ft of line. If you want the same lure to go shallower, use less line length. But, if you want it to go deeper, switch to deep diving lure.

If you want the same lure to dive at a said depth, around 7 ft, but you want to release less than 100 ft of line, you can add weights to lower it. The goal is to get your bait as deep as it needs to be, weather you release 100 or 110 ft.

Some anglers have a “formula” they use, mostly for offshore trolling, but keep in mind this is not always accurate. It gives you an estimate ...

FORMULA: If your boat is going 5mph, you are using 50lbs line, 5lb weights, and you released 50ft of line, your lure will be about 5 ft underneath the surface.

But this goes for ideal conditions, and does not calculate the currents or wind.



What is the Best Lure or Bait for Trolling Fishing?

Best trolling lures are the ones that are interesting to targeted fish species. So, what is best for walleye, is not the best for tuna. Luckily, you have a variety of options.

In freshwater, you can use lures that are commonly used for spinning or baitcasting. Spoons, soft plastic, and crankbaits will work for fish species that are frequently caught with them. Those are walleyes, bass, or trout.

Skirted lures are another option, suitable for bigger fish, especially in saltwater. Dead or live bait in form of squid or baitfish are also excellent for saltwater, and you can even combine cut bait and artificial lures. Combination is a great presentation because it involves visible colours and motion of artificial bait, with the smell and natural appeal of cut bait.

Unfortunately, skirting lures for large fish are quite expensive.



What Kind of Fish Can you Catch Trolling?

Trolling is excellent for a variety of freshwater and saltwater predators.

Any fish that is willing to chase a tasty looking prey can be caught when trolling, if you make the right presentation. Here is a list of most commonly caught species:

FRESHWATER

• Walleye
• Trout
• Bass
• Salmon

SALTWATER

• Tuna
• Blue Marlin
• Billfish
• King Mackerel
• Mahi Mahi
• Sailfish
• Barracuda
• Wahoo
• Snapper

Although freshwater trolling has some advantages, including cheaper and more versatile equipment, saltwater trolling for large fish is much more adventurous and exciting, maybe even a little bit dangerous.

Yes, catching a walleye is great, but it can’t really be compared with heavy-duty trolling and fighting a tuna!

What is Trolling Fishing - Fish

What is the Difference Between Trolling and Trawling?

Trolling and Trawling, despite the similar name, are not the same thing.

As already mentioned, trolling is dragging a bait/lure through the water by a moving boat. Anglers use lines, rods, and reels to do so.

Trawling is a fishing technique where a fishing net is pulled through the water behind a boat. A moving boat is the only thing these two have in common.

Also, trolling is a sport fishing or recreational fishing method, while trawling is commercial fishing.

Knowing what is trolling fishing and how it differs from trawling is important when learning or researching online. Some people confuse these two, and that is a mistake.

Can You Use a Spinning Rod and Reel for Trolling Fishing?

As I already mentioned, for some light trolling you can use almsot anything you already own, and there is no need to buy specialized equipment.

However, for saltwater, especially offshore trolling, anglers should get a suitable gear. When I say suitable gear, I don’t mean necessarily on baitcasting rods and reels, because spinning ones can also be used. Yes, baitcasting or even baitrunning reels and rods may be better, but some anglers prefer spinning.

Before, spinning reels were not big or strong enough for very large fish, but today, some very large and strong models exist, and those can be used even in toughest conditions. One of the examples is Shimano Stella, but that real has a hefty price tag. So, you can maybe check Sedona or Sahara?



For saltwater trolling with a spinning reel, you need minimum 25lbs of drag or more, around 400yards of 50lb braided line capacity, and high-quality reel parts, like a roller bearing to reduce friction and snapping risk when the line is pulled. This goes for bigger fish.

Of course, for small saltwater fish like sea trout or ladyfish, while inshore trolling, you can use other, smaller, spinning equipment. Make sure they are suitable for saltwater (corrosion) and have large line capacity. When it comes to freshwater trolling, spinning equipment can also be used, and you can use lighter setups than for saltwater.



Other Best Trolling Fishing Tips!

Knowing what is trolling fishing will not help you a lot if you don’t know how to do it properly.

So, here are a few important tips about trolling technique!

TROLLING SPEED

Trolling speed is extremely important when presenting your lure, and that speed is not the same for every fish.

Presenting a lure faster than a fish is willing to or able to chase is the biggest mistake anglers make, and it is also the hardest thing to learn.

If the bites are not happening, change the speed, and turn and change direction. Zig-zag movement is particularly useful. Same as with any other technique, the goal is to appear as natural as possible.

Considering how fast a fish can swim is fine, but you have to calculate the currents and weather conditions too. Observe the lure and go with a speed that makes it move in a natural way. If it is moving like crazy, you are too fast, if it is not making any motion and it is sinking more than going forward, you are too slow.

When freshwater trolling for walleye, you should move between 2 and 3.5 mph. For bass, you can go up to 4mph, and for trout a bit slower, 1.5-2.5mph.

When trolling in saltwater, adjust your speed to the fish species. Blue marlin will most likely to bite when traveling about 8 knots. Wahoo is faster, so you can go around 11knots. Tuna likes it a bit slower, so speeds around 5knots are the best. Of course, this is just a recommendation, and feel free to slow down or speed up a knot or two.



BAIT PRESENTATION

When trolling with live bait you must go slower to keep the bait alive and allow it to move naturally.

No matter the lure, if the weather is rough and you are using a lot of motor power to keep your boat going, present the lure further behind than you would usually do.

Observe the wake created by the motor and keep your lure either far away behind it, or even better, on the side of it. This is not usually a problem in freshwater when using small motors however, it becomes a problem offshore. Think about outriggers to prevent lure disturbance.

When freshwater trolling, twitch the rod from time to time. Steadily trolling across a calm lake makes the lure move in a too “perfect” way, and it doesn’t look natural. The same goes for inshore trolling in calm seas.

Present the bait crosscurrent. Many fish are turned into the currents so if you are going up or down the current you may be moving away from the fish.

While presenting it crosscurrent, the lure will stay in the fish sight for a longer time, and cross paths with multiple fish turned into the current.

LINE PLACEMENT

When fishing with more than one line, run them at different lengths.

Releasing all of them to the same distance from the boat is not optimal. Some should be closer, and some further away to create more natural look and to cover larger area.

The same goes for depth. Even of you are sure that fish are at a certain depth, let one line go a bit deeper and one a bit shallower than the rest of them, especially if you are fishing with 5 or more lines.

WEATHER CONDITIONS

Same as any other techniques, trolling works best in sunset or sunrise, or during cloudy days (at least in warmer months).

But, always check the forecast, and don’t try your luck just before the storm. Being on a boat when the storm hits is too dangerous.

What is Trolling Fishing - Lures and Baits

Conclusion

Now you know what is trolling fishing and what you need to succeed!

Its not easy to give a precise info because this technique can be used on different waters, for fish species that differ a lot.

To summarize, there are a few important things to consider and those are stiff rods and strong equipment, lures/baits that can dive to a certain depth, and enough line length on your reel! And of course, a boat!

Although freshwater and saltwater trolling work on the same principle, when it comes to the size of fish and equipment needed, these two vary a lot, especially when considering offshore trolling.

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