When you hear the word “trolling,” what do you think of? Fishing for salmon in the Great Lakes? Targeting marlin and sailfish in the open ocean? Hunting grouper over our nearshore reefs? Trolling can be all of these, but it’s much more versatile than that.
Trolling is nothing more or less than putting a lure or bait behind or beside the boat and slowly idling forward. You can troll with a single rod or multiples, and you can adapt trolling techniques to target just about any gamefish you might want to catch.
There’s no specialized equipment required to get started trolling. You don’t even need a trolling motor to troll — most of the time, your main engine will do just fine. If you spend time boating through no-wake zones, you may even be missing some good trolling opportunities on a regular basis. Why not toss a bait out behind you and make the most of it?
You don’t need to buy a rod just to troll with. You can use your regular gear (though if you were getting one just for trolling, you’d get one with a softer tip for more shock absorption). The reel will actually make a bigger difference.
Ideally, you want a dual-drag reel (like a Shimano Baitrunner). When you put the rod in the rodholder and start idling along, you need to have a fairly loose drag. Otherwise, when you get a strike, you’re risking one of three things: An immediate breakoff, the rod flying overboard, or the fish’s lips getting ripped off.
With the dual-drag reel, you can use the light drag setting for trolling and at the literal flip of a switch engage your fighting drag — kind of the best of both worlds.
Monofilament is good for trolling because it has a bit of stretch, and you need some stretch when you’re trolling for shock absorption. If you choose to use braided line, you’ll need to use a longer leader because braid doesn’t stretch at all. I’d suggest 3 or 4 feet of mono, and maybe 6 feet if you want to use fluorocarbon. I think fluoro isn’t really necessary for trolling, though —it’s hard for fish to see your leader in the turbulent water behind the boat.
There are a number of baits you can troll with. Most of the time, lipped plugs are the best choice. These lures come in a huge variety of brands and styles, designed to dive as shallow as 6 inches and as deep as 50 or more feet.
How deep a lipped plug will dive depends on several factors: The size of the lip (generally, bigger is deeper), your trolling speed (faster is usually a little deeper), distance from the boat (farther back is deeper), and what kind of line you use (braid is thinner, so the lure goes deeper). Many lures are made to dive to a specific depth, and some come with instructions from the manufacturer how to achieve that depth.
It’s very important that you not go too fast while trolling a lipped plug. If you go too fast, your lure will swim too erratically or even spin out of control, neither of which has much fish appeal. Most plugs will have the best action when you’re running at about 800 to 1,100 rpm — about 4 mph.
When you’re in the idle zones, of course, you’ll be trolling at idle. Most lipped lures will still have a decent wiggle at these lower speeds. When you’re trolling with a strong tide, sometimes you need to go a bit faster to get the right action out of your bait.
A lot of anglers want to put their baits too far back behind the boat. When you’re trolling in the canals or in open shallow water, 20 to 50 feet behind the boat is about right. It’s surprising how often fish will eat right in a boat’s prop wash. In fact, many fish seem to have learned that a passing boat can disorient prey or displace it from the bottom. I’ll bet you never thought you were ringing a dinner bell the whole time you were driving through the Harbor, did you? Use that to your advantage.
When you’re trolling, be considerate of other anglers. Just because you’re under way and dragging a bait, you don’t have the right to get in someone else’s way or pull your lures across another angler’s line. Always be aware of what’s ahead of you as well as what’s going on behind you. And don’t assume everyone else will automatically realize you have a line out.
Trolling can be a fun way to catch fish while also enjoying a nice boat ride. It’s a great way to introduce a non-fishing spouse or friend to angling, and it can also be very productive. It’s definitely not a bad thing.
Robert Lugiewicz is the longtime manager of Fishin’ Frank’s (4200 Tamiami Trail Unit P, Charlotte Harbor) and a co-host of Radio WaterLine every Saturday from 7 to 9 a.m. on KIX 92.9 FM. Contact him at 941-625-3888.