The basics of trolling for fish

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, August 19, 2015

People in general, view trolling with great diversity. It seems to be the accepted common practice for catching many species of fish, and shunned and even “against the rules” for other species.

Trolling in lakes for Walleye, Crappie, Muskie, Trout, and many other fish including salt water fish is just understood as the norm, maybe even the most used method especially in certain times of the year. Trolling for Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, to many a bass angler, is not an option, boring, unfair, and in most tournaments, against the rules.

I guess I’m old enough or simple minded enough, that, if it’s legal, and it catches fish, I’ll do it. (Noodling excluded!) Yes, I have my preferred ways to catch fish, but I certainly don’t feel I’m a step above someone because I use a certain method. I actually enjoy fishing different techniques. It gets me out of the doldrums of routine I guess.

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Anyway, trolling in itself varies greatly. There are several ways to troll. Let’s look at some that I have experience with, and take a brief overview of some that I do not have experience with.

Flat line trolling is the method most people use. It simply involves letting line out behind your boat without any weight and pulling the line with your big motor, trolling motor, or paddles (trolling with kayaks is more popular than you might think). The type of bait you troll greatly affects the depth of the lure, also the amount of line you have out, line size, and boat speed all factor in.

Most people troll in the 2-4 m.p.h. range, as that’s how fast their boat goes at idle speed. Crappie fishermen generally troll much, much slower using an electric trolling motor, and at the other end of the scale, Muskie fishermen sometimes troll 5+ m.p.h.

You can control your speed with a few tricks. One is to trim your engine up if you have power tilt. You can also get a trolling plate that attaches to the foot of your motor and can be released down to block the propulsion of your prop, and although not as popular here in the south, you can pull a drift sock to create drag through the water (a rope tied to a five gallon bucket with the lid off is an affordable way to slow drift).

Most baits trolled flat lined will only go about 1-4 ft. deep, even if you let an excess amount of line out, but flat lining deep diving crankbaits can get baits down as deep or deeper than they are rated for. Some Crappie and Catfish anglers will put lead weights on a flat line and almost create a mini downrigger if you will, getting the bait down deeper without a lot of line.

The amount of line put out depends on the fish’s mood. If the fish are aggressive, shorter lines might actually be an advantage as you tend to lose fewer fish on a shorter line. But if the fish are spooky, more line behind the boat will sometimes mean the difference between some bites and no bites.

There is another option to flat line trolling and that is to use planer boards. These get your lines out to the side and away from your boat. This allows you room to troll more lines, and sometimes catches fish that are spooked by the engine noise. Most are bright colored and have strike indicators to help in detecting bites. You clip them on your line ahead of your bait, and as you let them out they track farther and farther from your boat.

The downside to planer boards is they are somewhat aggravating to use, since you have to stop reeling in a fish and take them off, and its hard to get a good hookset as the resistance of the board is all the fish is pulling against.