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What Is Trolling Fishing?

In this concise article, you will gain a clear understanding of the concept of trolling fishing. Exploring the definition and technique behind this popular form of angling, you will discover how it differs from other methods and the various advantages it offers. By unraveling the intricacies of trolling fishing, you will be equipped with the knowledge to enhance your fishing experience and achieve greater success in reeling in your prized catch.

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Table of Contents

Explanation of Trolling Fishing

Trolling fishing is a popular method used by anglers to catch fish. It involves trailing a baited line behind a moving boat. This technique allows fishermen to cover a larger area of water and increase their chances of catching fish. Trolling fishing is known for its versatility and ability to target a wide range of fish species. Whether you are a novice or experienced angler, trolling fishing can provide an exciting and rewarding fishing experience.

Definition of Trolling Fishing

Trolling fishing is a method of fishing that involves dragging baited lines behind a moving boat to entice fish to bite. The baited lines, also known as trolling rigs, are typically attached to rods or reels. As the boat moves forward, the baited lines are pulled through the water at varying depths to attract fish. Trolling fishing can be done in both freshwater and saltwater environments and offers anglers a chance to catch a variety of fish species.

Brief History of Trolling Fishing

Trolling fishing has a long history and can be traced back to ancient civilizations. The practice of trolling for fish was first recorded in ancient Greece, where anglers used handlines attached to the sterns of their boats to catch fish. In the 19th century, trolling fishing became popular in North America, particularly in the Great Lakes region. Anglers began using small boats equipped with rowing oars to drag lines with hooks and bait behind them. Over the years, trolling fishing techniques and equipment have evolved, making it a widely practiced fishing method today.

Differences Between Trolling and Other Fishing Methods

Trolling fishing differs from other fishing methods in several ways. Unlike stationary methods such as shore fishing or still fishing, trolling involves moving the bait through the water to attract fish. Trolling also allows anglers to cover a larger area of water, increasing the chances of encountering fish. Additionally, trolling fishing can be done at various speeds, depths, and with different types of bait, making it a versatile method for targeting different fish species. This sets it apart from methods like fly fishing or ice fishing, which have more specific requirements and techniques. Overall, trolling fishing offers anglers a dynamic and exciting approach to fishing.

Process of Trolling Fishing

Setting up the Fishing Gear

Before embarking on a trolling fishing excursion, it is crucial to set up the fishing gear properly. This includes selecting the appropriate fishing rods, reels, and lines for trolling. Trolling rods are usually longer and more flexible than traditional fishing rods, allowing for better control and greater distance when casting and retrieving the line. Matching the right reel with the rod is essential to ensure smooth line retrieval and proper drag control. For trolling fishing, anglers often use level-wind reels that distribute line evenly on the spool. Additionally, the fishing line should be strong enough to handle the potential weight and fight of larger fish species.

Choosing the Right Fishing Location

Selecting the right fishing location is essential for trolling fishing success. Factors such as water temperature, depth, and structure play a crucial role in determining where fish are likely to be located. Fish tend to congregate around underwater structures, such as reefs, drop-offs, or points, as they provide food and shelter. Using accurate navigational aids and maps, anglers can identify these structures and target them while trolling. Additionally, monitoring water temperature and adjusting the fishing depth accordingly can contribute to a more successful trolling experience. Researching local fishing reports and consulting with experienced anglers can provide valuable insights into ideal fishing locations for trolling.

Deciding on the Proper Speed for Trolling

The speed at which the boat moves while trolling is another crucial factor in attracting fish. Different fish species have preferred swimming speeds and feeding patterns, and adjusting the trolling speed accordingly can improve the chances of a successful catch. As a general rule, a trolling speed of 2-6 miles per hour is commonly used, but it may vary depending on the targeted fish species and environmental conditions. Using a GPS or a speedometer can help maintain a consistent speed while trolling and allow anglers to replicate successful trolling patterns in the future.

Casting and Retrieving the Line

When trolling, casting and retrieving the line properly is key to attracting fish. The baited line should be placed a suitable distance behind the boat, allowing the lure or bait to move enticingly through the water. The distance can vary based on the size of the boat and the desired fishing depth. It is important to ensure that the line is fully extended and not tangled before starting to troll. The retrieval of the line should be done smoothly and steadily, mimicking the movement of live bait. A slight variation in speed or direction during retrieval can often entice more fish to strike. Monitoring the line for any signs of movement or tension is crucial for detecting bites and responding accordingly.

What Is Trolling Fishing?

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Types of Trolling Fishing

Planer Board Trolling

Planer boards are widely used in trolling fishing to increase the coverage area and target more fish. These boards are attached to the fishing line and can be deployed to the sides of the boat, carrying the baited lines away from the boat’s path. By spreading out the lines, planer boards allow anglers to cover a wider area and present the bait to a larger number of fish. Planer board trolling is particularly effective in situations where fish are scattered and not concentrated in one specific area.

Downrigger Trolling

Downrigger trolling is a popular method for fishing at specific depths. Downriggers are devices attached to the boat, which lower the fishing line and bait to desired depths. This technique allows anglers to precisely control the fishing depth and target fish at different levels of the water column. Downriggers are especially useful when fishing for species like salmon or lake trout, which often inhabit deeper waters. By adjusting the downrigger’s depth and monitoring the fishing line, anglers can effectively present the bait at the desired depth and increase their chances of success.

Outrigger Trolling

Outrigger trolling involves using outriggers, horizontal poles attached to the sides of the boat, to position additional lines away from the boat’s path. This technique is commonly used in offshore trolling for larger species such as marlin or tuna. Outriggers provide additional space for baited lines, preventing tangles and increasing the coverage area. By spreading out the lines, outriggers allow anglers to present the bait over a wider area, increasing the chances of attracting fish.

Flat Line Trolling

Flat line trolling refers to the practice of trolling with lines attached directly to the boat, without the use of additional devices like planer boards or outriggers. This technique is commonly used in situations where fish are feeding closer to the surface or when targeting species that prefer to strike at shallow depths. Flat line trolling offers simplicity and ease of setup, making it a popular choice for anglers looking for a straightforward trolling method.

Lead Core Trolling

Lead core trolling utilizes a specialized fishing line composed of a lead core surrounded by a durable outer casing. The lead core adds weight to the line, allowing anglers to present the bait at specific depths without the need for additional devices. By attaching lures or baited lines to the lead core, anglers can effectively target fish at different depths within the water column. Lead core trolling is particularly effective for trolling in deep waters and can be used to target a variety of fish species.

Equipment Required for Trolling Fishing

Important Fishing Gear

To engage in trolling fishing, certain essential fishing gear is required. This includes fishing rods, reels, lines, and terminal tackle. Trolling rods should be long and flexible to allow for better control, casting, and retrieval. It is important to choose a rod that matches the targeted fish species and the fishing environment. Trolling reels should have a sufficient line capacity and smooth drag system for efficient line retrieval and proper control over the fish. The fishing lines used for trolling should have a suitable strength and be resistant to abrasion, as they will be subjected to the stress of pulling baited lines through the water. The terminal tackle, including hooks, swivels, and leaders, should be chosen to match the size and behavior of the targeted fish species.

Additional Equipment for Convenience and Efficiency

In addition to the basic fishing gear, there are several additional pieces of equipment that can enhance the convenience and efficiency of trolling fishing. Trolling boards, such as planer boards or release clips, can be attached to the fishing line and expand the coverage area for baited lines. These boards help keep the lines separate and prevent tangles, allowing for a more organized fishing experience. Rod holders can be mounted on the boat to securely hold the fishing rods while trolling, freeing up the angler’s hands for other tasks. Depth finders or fish finders can provide valuable information about underwater structures, fish activity, and water temperature, aiding anglers in identifying the most productive fishing locations.

Safety Equipment Necessary for Trolling Fishing

In any fishing activity, safety should always be a top priority. When engaging in trolling fishing, it is essential to have the necessary safety equipment on board. Life jackets or personal flotation devices (PFDs) should be worn by all individuals on the boat, ensuring their safety in case of an accident or unexpected circumstances. It is also important to have a fully stocked first aid kit readily available in case of any minor injuries. Additional safety equipment may include a fire extinguisher, distress signals, and communication devices such as marine radios or cell phones for emergency situations. Regularly checking the weather forecast before heading out and being prepared for changing weather conditions is also crucial for a safe trolling fishing experience.

Maintenance of Trolling Fishing Equipment

Proper maintenance of fishing equipment is essential to ensure its longevity and optimal performance. After each trolling fishing trip, it is recommended to clean and rinse the fishing rods, reels, and lines with freshwater to remove any salt or debris. This helps prevent corrosion and extends the lifespan of the equipment. Inspecting the fishing lines for signs of wear or damage and replacing them if necessary is important to maintain their strength and integrity. Periodically lubricating the reels and checking the drag system ensures smooth operation and longevity. Storing the fishing gear in a cool and dry place, away from direct sunlight, further prolongs its lifespan and reduces the risk of damage.

What Is Trolling Fishing?

Choosing Bait for Trolling Fishing

Types of Bait Commonly Used

Choosing the right bait for trolling fishing can significantly impact the success of the fishing trip. Various types of bait are commonly used in trolling fishing, depending on the targeted fish species and their feeding preferences. Live bait, such as minnows, nightcrawlers, or shiners, is often favored by anglers as it mimics the natural movement and scent of prey, attracting fish to strike. When live bait is not available, artificial lures can also be used effectively. These can include spoons, crankbaits, or soft plastic baits, which are designed to mimic the appearance and movements of baitfish or other prey. The choice of bait largely depends on the target species and the specific fishing conditions.

Choosing the Right Bait for Different Fish Species

Different fish species have varying feeding preferences and behaviors, requiring specific bait choices to effectively catch them while trolling fishing. For example, salmon are often attracted to brightly colored lures or bait imitations that resemble small fish or baitfish. Tuna, on the other hand, prefer fast-moving lures or bait that mimics the erratic swimming patterns of squid or small fish. Lake trout are known to be attracted to flutter spoons or bait that imitates the movement of wounded fish. Understanding the feeding habits and preferences of the targeted fish species is crucial in selecting the appropriate bait for trolling fishing.

Prepping and Attaching the Bait

Once the bait has been chosen, it is important to properly prepare and attach it to the trolling rig. For live bait, it is essential to keep it alive and in good condition while trolling. Properly aerated bait containers or live bait wells can help maintain the bait’s vitality. Depending on the bait and fishing technique, using barbless hooks or modifying the hooks to avoid injuring the bait can increase its longevity and effectiveness. Artificial lures should be properly attached to the fishing line using appropriate knots, ensuring a secure connection. Checking the bait regularly during trolling to ensure it remains intact and attractive to fish is important for maximizing fishing success.

Popular Fish Species for Trolling Fishing


Salmon are prized targets for trolling fishing enthusiasts, known for their fighting ability and delicious flesh. There are several species of salmon that can be targeted while trolling, including Chinook (King), Coho (Silver), Sockeye, and Atlantic salmon. Trolling with lures or bait that imitates the natural prey of salmon, such as herring or anchovies, can prove successful. Salmon are often found near shorelines, river mouths, or in deeper waters, making them accessible to trolling anglers. The thrill of hooking a salmon while trolling is an experience that attracts many anglers to this fishing technique.

Blue Marlin

Blue marlin are renowned for their size, strength, and acrobatic displays, making them a prized catch in offshore trolling. Trolling with large, brightly colored lures or bait that mimics the movement of flying fish or other pelagic prey is a common strategy when targeting blue marlin. These majestic fish can be found in warmer oceanic waters around the world, particularly near underwater structures where they congregate to feed. The challenge of hooking and landing a blue marlin while trolling is a testament to the skills and perseverance of anglers.


Tuna are prized game fish that are known for their speed and strength. There are several tuna species that can be targeted while trolling, including yellowfin, bluefin, and albacore tuna. Trolling with lures or bait that imitate the movement and appearance of baitfish can prove effective in attracting tuna. These fish are often found in open waters, near floating debris, or around underwater structures. Tuna can be migratory, requiring anglers to adapt their trolling techniques and locations based on their movement patterns.

Lake Trout

Lake trout, often referred to as lakers, are popular targets for trolling fishing in freshwater bodies. They are known for their size and fighting ability, making them sought-after catches. Trolling with flutter spoons, spinners, or bait that imitates the movement of wounded baitfish is commonly used when targeting lake trout. These fish are often found in deeper, colder waters, such as the Great Lakes or other large inland lakes. Identifying underwater structures, such as drop-offs or reefs, can increase the chances of encountering lake trout while trolling.


Walleye are renowned for their tasty flesh and are a popular target for anglers engaging in trolling fishing. They are known for their preference for low-light conditions and are often found near structures, such as weed beds, drop-offs, or rocky areas. Trolling with lures or bait that have a slow, erratic action can attract walleye. Baits that imitate the swimming patterns and natural prey of walleye, such as minnows or leeches, are commonly used. Walleye can be found in both freshwater bodies and certain coastal areas, providing a versatile and accessible target for trolling anglers.

Striped Bass

Striped bass, also known as stripers, are a highly sought-after fish species for trolling fishing enthusiasts. They are known for their hard-fighting nature and are found in both freshwater and saltwater environments. Trolling with lures or bait that resemble the natural prey of striped bass, such as bunker or herring, can attract these feisty fish. Stripers often congregate near structures, such as jetties, rockpiles, or bridges, as they provide cover and food. Their migratory patterns and preference for specific water temperatures make them an exciting and challenging target for trolling anglers.

What Is Trolling Fishing?

Trolling Fishing Techniques

Contour Trolling

Contour trolling is a technique commonly used in freshwater bodies, particularly in lakes or reservoirs with uneven or irregular lakebeds. It involves trolling along the contours of underwater structures, such as drop-offs, weed lines, or points, where fish are likely to congregate. By following these contours, anglers can effectively present the bait at different depths and increase the chances of encountering fish. Contour trolling requires knowledge of the lake’s topography and the ability to read depth finders or fish finders to identify these structure lines.

Structure Trolling

Structure trolling involves targeting fish that are associated with specific underwater structures, such as reefs, wrecks, or artificial reefs. By trolling around these structures, anglers can present the bait in close proximity to where fish are likely to be hiding or feeding. Structure trolling is commonly used in both freshwater and saltwater environments and can be effective when targeting species such as grouper, snapper, or bass. Identifying the location of these structures using navigational aids or charts is crucial for successful structure trolling.

Zig Zag Trolling

Zig zag trolling is a technique used to cover a larger area of water while trolling. It involves making a series of turns or zigzag patterns with the boat, causing the baited lines to move in unpredictable directions. This erratic movement can attract the attention of fish, triggering their predatory instincts and increasing the chances of a strike. Zig zag trolling is particularly effective when targeting species that are highly active or prefer fast-moving prey.

Precision Trolling

Precision trolling is a technique that requires careful control over the speed and depth of the bait during trolling. Anglers using precision trolling actively monitor the fishing depth and adjust their speed and line length to keep the bait at the desired depth. This technique is used to target fish that are suspended at specific depths or to imitate the movement of natural prey. Precision trolling often requires the use of devices such as downriggers or lead core lines to precisely control the fishing depth.

Hot Spot Trolling

Hot spot trolling involves targeting specific areas or spots where fish are known to congregate or feed. These spots can include underwater structures, such as submerged humps or drop-offs, or areas where currents or water temperatures change. Hot spot trolling relies on the knowledge and experience of anglers, as they strategically troll around these areas to increase their chances of encountering fish. Researching local fishing reports, consulting with experienced anglers, or using fish finders can help identify potential hot spots for trolling fishing.

Best Locations for Trolling Fishing

Trolling Fishing in the Ocean

Trolling fishing in the ocean offers anglers the opportunity to target a variety of fish species, including marlin, tuna, dorado, or wahoo. When trolling in the ocean, it is crucial to identify the presence of underwater structures, such as reefs, drop-offs, or seamounts, as these areas tend to attract fish. Additionally, offshore trolling often requires longer boat trips and careful planning to reach productive fishing grounds. Monitoring weather conditions and identifying productive areas through research or local knowledge can help increase the chances of a successful trolling fishing experience in the ocean.

Trolling Fishing in Freshwater Bodies

Freshwater bodies, such as lakes, rivers, or reservoirs, offer diverse trolling fishing opportunities. These bodies of water can be home to various fish species, including trout, walleye, bass, or pike. When trolling in freshwater, it is important to identify underwater structures, such as weed lines, drop-offs, or submerged structures, where fish are likely to be present. Freshwater bodies also require attention to environmental factors such as water temperature, water clarity, and seasonal patterns to target fish successfully while trolling.

Specific Popular Locations for Trolling Fishing

Certain locations around the world are known for their exceptional trolling fishing opportunities. For example, the Great Lakes in North America offer abundant populations of salmon, trout, and walleye, making it a popular destination for trolling enthusiasts. The coastlines of Hawaii are renowned for their trolling fishing for species such as marlin, tuna, and mahi-mahi. Other notable locations for trolling fishing include the coastlines of Australia, where anglers can target marlin and tuna, or the coast of Norway, which offers excellent trolling for salmon and trout.

Legal Regulations and Ethics of Trolling Fishing

Legal Restrictions and Permits

When engaging in trolling fishing, it is crucial to adhere to legal regulations and acquire the necessary permits. Fishing regulations vary by location and can include restrictions on fishing seasons, catch limits, size limits, and specific gear requirements. It is important to consult local fishing authorities, research fishing regulations, or obtain a fishing license to ensure compliance with the law. Responsible anglers prioritize the conservation of fish populations and ecosystems and understand the importance of following legal restrictions and guidelines.

Ethical Angles of Trolling Fishing

Ethics play a vital role in trolling fishing, as responsible fishing practices contribute to the sustainability and preservation of fish populations. Anglers engaging in trolling fishing should prioritize the welfare of the fish they catch and practice proper handling techniques. This includes minimizing handling time, using appropriate landing nets, and avoiding damage to the fish’s gills or internal organs. Furthermore, anglers should respect the natural habitat and ecosystems by properly disposing of any waste or debris. Ethical trolling fishing involves releasing undersized or non-targeted species unharmed and adhering to catch and release practices whenever appropriate.

Catch and Release Practices

Catch and release practices are essential for the conservation and sustainability of fish populations. When engaging in trolling fishing, anglers should be familiar with proper catch and release techniques to minimize stress and maximize the survival rates of released fish. This includes using appropriate equipment, such as barbless hooks or circle hooks, which reduce injury and facilitate safe hook removal. Anglers should handle the fish gently, keeping it in the water as much as possible, and avoid overexerting the fish during the landing process. Documenting the size and species of fish caught through photography or other means allows for species monitoring and contributes to scientific research.

Recommended Practices in Trolling Fishing for Sustainability

To promote the sustainability of trolling fishing, anglers can adopt various best practices. This includes being selective in the fish species targeted, focusing on sustainable populations and avoiding overfished or endangered species. Additionally, anglers can practice responsible boat handling techniques, such as respecting no-wake zones and minimizing fuel consumption to reduce carbon emissions. Educating oneself on sustainable fishing practices, staying informed about local fishing regulations, and actively participating in conservation efforts, such as habitat restoration or fish tagging programs, are all ways in which trolling fishing enthusiasts can contribute to the long-term health and preservation of fish populations.

Benefits and Challenges of Trolling Fishing

Physical Benefits of Trolling Fishing

Engaging in trolling fishing provides several physical benefits. Trolling requires casting and retrieving the fishing line, which can improve hand-eye coordination, upper body strength, and flexibility. The physical exertion involved in trolling, particularly when battling large fish, can provide a cardiovascular workout and promote muscle strength. Spending time outdoors in a natural setting while enjoying the physical activity associated with trolling fishing can contribute to improved overall fitness levels.

Mental Health Benefits

Trolling fishing can also offer numerous mental health benefits. Being in nature and surrounded by water has a calming and therapeutic effect, reducing stress, anxiety, and promoting relaxation. The focus and concentration required while trolling can provide a distraction from daily worries and improve mental clarity. Trolling fishing also provides a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when successfully catching fish, boosting self-esteem and fostering a sense of joy and fulfillment.

Potential Difficulties and Challenges

Despite its many benefits, trolling fishing can present challenges and difficulties that anglers may face. Unpredictable weather conditions can impact fishing success and pose safety risks for anglers. Moreover, learning and mastering trolling techniques and identifying productive fishing spots can require time and experience. Various external factors, such as changes in fish behavior or environmental conditions, can affect trolling fishing outcomes. Additionally, trolling fishing can be expensive, as it often requires specialized equipment and maintenance costs. However, with patience, practice, and a willingness to adapt, these challenges can be overcome.

Solutions to Common Challenges

To overcome the challenges of trolling fishing, anglers can employ several strategies. Staying informed about weather conditions, monitoring weather forecasts, and making informed decisions about when to go trolling can help mitigate risks associated with unpredictable weather. Investing time in learning about trolling techniques, deepening knowledge of fish habits, and seeking advice from experienced anglers or fishing guides can enhance trolling fishing skills. By remaining adaptable and open to new fishing spots, techniques, and bait choices, anglers can increase their chances of success. Lastly, managing expenses by prioritizing essential equipment, focusing on durable gear, and properly maintaining fishing equipment can help reduce the overall cost of trolling fishing.

In conclusion, trolling fishing is a versatile and rewarding method of fishing that offers anglers the opportunity to catch a wide variety of fish species. From the process of setting up the fishing gear to choosing bait and identifying productive fishing locations, trolling fishing requires careful planning, knowledge, and skill. Understanding the different types of trolling fishing techniques, the equipment required, and the legal and ethical considerations are essential for a successful and sustainable trolling fishing experience. While trolling fishing presents its challenges, the physical and mental health benefits, as well as the thrill of hooking a prized fish, make it a popular and enjoyable fishing method for anglers worldwide. Whether you are a seasoned trolling fishing enthusiast or a beginner looking to explore this exciting fishing technique, with the right preparation and knowledge, you can embark on a fulfilling trolling fishing adventure.

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