Fundamentals: Trolling

Fundamentals: Trolling

When casting or vertical jigging from a boat, although your boat may be moved slowly by the wind, current, or your trolling motor, the boat essentially becomes your fishing platform, much like a dock. When you use your boat for trolling, it becomes part of your presentation, allowing you to cover a substantial amount of water in a short time. Trolling is an effective method for contacting fish when they are scattered on structure and for locating fish in open water and on expansive flats.

In its most basic form, trolling is simply pulling a lure through the water using the power of the motor on your boat. You start the boat in motion, release line from the reel until enough line has been let out for your bait to be at the proper depth, and then pull it along until a fish strikes your offering. Sounds easy.

But trolling, even if you have the right bait for the fish you're after, isn't going to do you much good unless you're in an area where fish should be, and your lure is at the right depth and has the right action to attract and trigger fish. Remember: Fish + Location + Presentation = Success. Let's say it's a late fall evening in Minnesota and you'd like to do some walleye fishing. You know that walleyes move shallow in the evenings this time of year as they chase minnows, and that trolling with a shallow-running minnowbait is an effective presentation. Just one problem — you know the likely location of the fish, but how do you make sure you're trolling through those locations and moving at the proper speed?


Time to turn on your depthfinder. Now, as your boat moves through the water, you watch your depthfinder (and look ahead to be sure you're not going to run into anything), so you troll through the depth of water likely to hold fish, such as along a breakline or over a flat. If you have a more advanced unit with GPS, you can watch your speed on the screen, adjusting speed of your bait if necessary. If you have a mapping feature, you can vary your depth and plan your turns so that your lure covers more water in search of fish. Your boat is now an integral part of your presentation.


If you don't have a depthfinder, use your maps to best determine what areas to fish. Landmarks can be a great help. Watch the shoreline area for clues as to what might be below the surface nearby. If the shoreline is steep, the water likely drops off more quickly than near a bank that is flat. Points usually extend out into the water. You can often see the tops of humps in clear water, offering clues to structure. You get the idea.


We've identified lures that work well when trolled, like spoons, crankbaits, and spinnerbaits. Most often these lures are tied directly to the line or connected to a snap on the end of the line or end of a leader if you're after toothy fish. Depending upon the size of the lure, you'll likely need a 61⁄2- to 8-foot medium-power, moderately slow action casting rod, and a reel spooled with 10- to 20-pound superline. Superlines, like braids and fused lines, to let you feel the vibrations of the bait that can also be detected by watching your rod tip. If the vibration stops and you know you don't have a fish, you've likely picked up a weed or leaf.

Trolling Rigs


Slipsinker and three-way rigs are effective livebait trolling presentations for walleyes, bass, trout, salmon, and panfish. With both rigs, you can drop the rod tip back when you feel a fish bite, allowing the fish to get the bait in its mouth, before you reel down and set the hook.

A variation of this involves the use of a "bottom-bouncer" for the weight. This upside-down L-shaped wire with a cylindrical weight in the middle of the bottom arm, ticks along uneven bottoms, rarely snagging. The mainline is attached to an eye at the top of the weighted arm, while a leader with hook (often with beads and a spinner) attaches to a swivel and snap on the shorter arm. The unique makeup of this rig allows you to move at higher speeds and over rougher terrain than with a slipsinker. This higher speed means that you can also use some lures, like minnowbaits, with this rig.

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