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Trolling 101 The basics of trolling in freshwater and saltwater



Trolling speeds vary wide based on wind and current, species, and lures or baits used. Live baits need to be trolled far slower then lures, or the live baits become dead baits. Some lures such as spoons or spinners twist if trolled too fast, while bubblers do not bubble unless trolled fast. All that said here are a few general rules

Conditions: Wind and Curent, Turns

You will have to adjust speed due to conditions. For example, if the winds kick up off shore, trolling with a side sea can tangle lines, and you will need to troll slower to keep lures in the water and smoking. Against current, relative water speed is faster (GPS Speed added to current speed is lure speed, minus current when going with the current). Turns need to be long and graceful to avoid tangling lines if you have more than one line out. Essentially the lines form an arc as the lines try to follow your path. lines inside the turn also slow down, while outside lines speed up. The further out lines are, the longer in distance the turn will need to be. I usually tick off the turn by watching the compass, splitting the turn into 10 degree increments, and watching the lines straighten after each 10 degree shift. Essentially if the line is out 300feet, you will need to make sure each 10 degree shift is at least 100 yards in distance. Lots of lines mean you will need to multiply the distance by 2 or 3 times.

Click on this diagram for one example.

Note that sometimes you WANT to make a series of S turns to get deeper fish to strike. If it is rough, cut down on line count, and put out good hydrodynamic lures that run straight without twsting if there is chop (or swells to slow then speed your boat).

The Spread

The size of your boat, the availability of downriggers and outriggers, species, and conditions, dictate what you can troll.

As far as tackle size, reels should have lots of line, in the 300yd+ range (500yds for large open ocean fish, i.e. anything over 300lbs ). I use this formula to get a rough idea: (weight of average expected fish)*1.2*(1+speed of troll/5)*(1+diameter of lure or bait including lip in inches/5)...for mahi-mahi in Islamorada in the summer for example = 5*1.2*(1+8/5)*(1+1/5)= 20.2 lb tackle...which is about right. A few months later, 25lb tackle for the same fish (due to them and the mixed in tunas). This is really a minimum, but up to the angler and gear. If you want to use lighter gear, consider using the troll to bring in fish, then use a pitch rod with a bait, fly or lure. One would thing that only works in the ocean, but I have used it to use a flyrod pitch rod with 2lb tippet and streamer for rainbow trout in lake taneycomo, while trolling 4lb test and lipped plugs. The spread is really to bring fish in, and maybe get them to bite.

Most boats over 4 feet wide can troll at least 4 rods using outward slanted rod holders. Kayaks and Canoes and the like can usually troll 2 to 3 rods on a calm day. Rods on right and left (port and starboard) should be canted away from the boat and low enough not to touch waves. Down the center of the boat, one or more rods should be pointed straight back (seperated by at least 4 to 6 feet between rods). Stagger the center rods to avoid covering the same water. Additional rods can use a clip and bungie off the corners to keep the line low, and yet more rods strung off outriggers (or out-planners for slow trolling), and if going very slow, downriggers (stacked one line per 20 feet in depth, starting at the bottom). Leadcore and wirelines, and trolling weights add further options. To make all of this make sense, below are a series of drawings for some situations......

Maximizing a hit: the drill

Common Tactics

Where to troll

Anything out of the ordinary, whether by depth finder, map, or surface conditions should get a swing, as should bird or bait activity on the surface, or edges of weed beds and Sargasso/kelp paddies. Underwater humps have upwells and standing waves. Dropoffs and channels are fish highways. Kelp forest edges hold fish. Anything on the surface, such as a tide edge, color change, weedline, kelp paddy. Look for diving birds, surfacing fish, whales, dolphins, flying fish, or other baitfish. Grassbed edges can be very successful, though require a very careful troll..make sure only the outer edge lines get within 10 yards of the shallows and the boat does not go over shallow need to destroy habitat, or scare fish.

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