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How to Setup Trolling Rig for Small Boats

Small boats are perfect for trolling.  They are easy to maneuver, great for finding a perfect fishing spot, and they can cover a lot of water. But what is the best way to set up your small boat for trolling?

This is a question that has been asked by many anglers in search of the best way to go about setting up their small boats. Most people consider trolling with their small boat as more of an afterthought; it happens whenever there’s room available on the boat (or perhaps you were only planning to fish one or two rods), and therefore no real consideration goes into how it should be done.

We’ll break down the different components of your small boat and explain the best way to set them up for trolling, whether it be in fresh or saltwater.

Why Trolling is a Great Way to Catch Fish

First, let’s take a look at why trolling is such a great way to catch fish.

Trolling, in its simplest form, is fishing behind or under your boat while you travel at slow speeds. The relatively slow speed allows time for the bait to get down deep and suspend in the proper zone (usually around 100 feet).  The trolling motor pushes this suspended bait through the water where hungry game fish are lurking below. As they chase after it, your line gets tight and you set that hook!

Trolling allows anglers the opportunity to cover serious amounts of water in search of active fish. It’s not uncommon for someone fishing from their small boat with only one rod to troll several miles throughout an afternoon before finding active feeding fish and setting up for a day of epic fishing.

Small Boat Trolling Setup

Now that you understand the basics of trolling, let’s look at how to set up your small boat for this thrilling method of angling.

For Beginners: Get a Plan

We’ll begin by looking at the best way to set up your small boat for trolling if you’re just getting started and haven’t done so before. This is always a good idea when trying something new: create a plan and follow it, don’t wing it.

The first step in this process should be to determine what sort of fish you’d like to catch; this will help you decide how long you need your rods (and therefore wire leader strength) as well as what depth range they should be rigged at.   For example, if you’d like to catch some large striped bass here on the east coast, we suggest using a 15-pound test line and rigging your trolling rod with leaders anywhere from 30′ – 120.

Choose Your Fishing Location

Before setting out on your adventure, make sure you know where you plan to fish. Whether it is a local pond, lake or river; pinpointing your location on navigational charts (if necessary) can save lots of time and frustration when trying to put together your trolling setup.

The last thing you want is to be out on the water ready to troll and realize you forgot something back at the truck!

Kite Cluster Rod Holders

We recommend Kite Cluster Rod holders for a number of reasons.  The first is that they allow you to quickly and easily change out your trolling rods without having to un-rig them from the boat or water – just pull it right out of the holder, insert another rod and release! They hold strong in all types of conditions, including choppy waters and they don’t damage your boat’s hull when not in use.

We suggest using between 3-5 Kite Cluster Rod holders on your small boat; this will give you plenty of options for where you can place your fishing rods while trolling so you don’t have to worry about spooking the fish and losing any action. Highlighted below is a setup we use often: two on each corner (one high and one low), plus the center rod.

Planer Boards

Planer boards for small boats are great because they allow you to get your baits deeper in the water column, therefore attracting more fish that are feeding down below.

To help counterbalance the weight of planer boards on small boats, some anglers choose to use snap-in swivel planers. These make it easy to bring the board up when not in use and drop it back down while trolling.

Long Line for Trolling

Long-lining for small boats is another great way to get your baits deep in the water column and keep them there until you need to reel them in.  You still use a trolling rod with this setup, but instead of rigging it with wire leaders and hooks, attach a spool of line (we suggest 30-50 pound test Power Pro braid ) directly to your fishing rod.

Long-line can be successful during all four seasons of the year, whether you’re chasing a few big walleye on a cool summer day or trolling for smallmouth while the bass are spawning in the spring.

Short Line for Trolling

When short lining for small boats you’ll rig your trolling rod with a spool of heavy mono or fluorocarbon line (we suggest 30-50 pound test Power Pro braid ) and apply baits directly off the end of your fishing rod.

This can be an effective way to troll for large fish in deep water.

Mobile App for Trolling on a Small Boat

We recommend downloading the Navionics application for your mobile device before going out on the water. This allows you to mark important spots that you want to troll by, take photos and then mark them as a waypoint right from your phone or tablet.

This Navionics app can plan your activities out, so you can effectively work different spots throughout the day. Simply mark your waypoints, take a photo of the spot and save it as a waypoint. This allows you to find that exact location later if need be.

If you do happen to get out on the water without marking any spots with Navionics first, don’t worry! You can always take photos along the way and have those saved as well.

Simply zoom in on a map or chart and drop a pin where you’re fishing from, then drop a second pin where you’d like to go – an app like Navionics will allow you to plan out your trolling route before going out on the water which can come in handy if getting around small boat is difficult for someone in your group (like if there’s limited mobility).The app costs $14.99 per year in the United States and is well worth the money.

Fish Finders for Small Boat

Using a fish finder during trolling is one of the best ways to pinpoint where your baits are at. For small boats, you can mount it on top of the boat’s bow or stern depending on which way you plan to travel. If there’s limited mobility in the boat, mounting it on top might be best so that it doesn’t have to be moved often.

There are several different types of inline fish finders available for small boats, including transom-mounts and trolling motors. Make sure to check with your local fishing regulations before purchasing any type of fish finder – whether they are allowed may depend on what size, type, and weight of the trolling motor you purchase as well as how deep the water is where you’ll be looking for fish.

Small Boat Fishing Storage

When it comes to storing your fishing gear for small boats, make sure everything is easily accessible and not cluttered. You don’t want hooks or lures getting caught up on anything when you’re trying to get out on the water quickly.

You can use 6-gallon buckets with lids for storage, but larger totes are better because they can hold more equipment. It’s also a good idea to keep any tools that might be needed in case of an emergency, like a multi-tool tool. Using dry bags of various sizes is another great way to store your items – this allows them to stay organized while being easy to access at all times.

Preferred Small Boat Trolling Spreads

The preferred trolling spread is all based on making adjustments to meet the conditions of the day – whether that means altering where your baits are at, using different trolling weights or adding additional rods.

For example, if you know the wind will be pushing you around while you’re out on the water during winter, try setting one line off to each side (using two-rod trolling) instead of having all four lines off in front. This helps to keep your lures in an effective position for when fish are generally more active (when the water is cooler).

Some days might call for a heavier weight and no less line than normal – this could mean dropping down to 40-pound test instead of 50 with little to no change in the amount of line used. Even though heavy weights can be difficult to run through a downrigger, they can be a great way to help contribute to a large trolling spread. If you prefer to not use a downrigger for trolling, then you can just use a fishing line, rod and reel as an alternative.

Having several different rods and reels with the appropriate types of line for your area makes it possible to have a trolling spread that is as simple or complex as you want it to be – whatever works best for your crew!

Ideal Trolling Setup With Lures

The ideal trolling setup with lures for a small boat is to have four lines out in front of the boat, one line off each side and two-line trolling if possible. This gives you several different areas where fish can be along with additional coverage when necessary.

When fishing for salmon or bottom feeders like walleye, having at least 10 lures in your arsenal is ideal for covering different water types and depths effectively. For example, using both crankbaits and minnow plugs will allow you to cover any area that has a rocky/ledgey spot mixed with deep pockets of open water. Try mixing up which colors are used on each rod so that you don’t accidentally reel in the same lure over and over again!

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you troll for walleye in a small boat?

You can troll for walleye in a small boat by using a four-rod trolling spread, 40-pound test line, and minnow plugs.

You’ll want to start out on the outside of your spread and then let one line off each side after you feel like you’ve connected with some fish. Use a heavier weight to keep your bait as close to the bottom as possible.

How Far Behind The Boat Should You Troll?

If you’re trolling with a downrigger, you’ll want to have your lures about 10 feet behind the boat when in open water. In shallow water, you can have them anywhere from 2-5 feet – just make sure your lures aren’t being slowed down by any weeds or other obstructions!

Final Thoughts on Small Boat Trolling Setup

Setting up your fishing gear in a small boat can be an overwhelming process, especially if you’re just getting into sport fishing. However, if you take the time to learn which equipment will work best and then get yourself some high-quality lures and lines, you’ll find that everything falls into place more easily than expected.

When trolling for salmon and bottom fish like walleye or trout, having at least 10 different types of lures is crucial – so it’s important to use any chance you get to experiment with new baits! Additionally, try tying on a few live bait rigs when trolling for fish such as yellow perch – they aren’t very expensive and they help improve your odds of catching larger fish while also giving the smaller ones a chance to survive and reproduce.

Don’t be afraid of trying out different types of lines or weights either – chances are, you’re going to need at least two different setups for your boat anyway. Just keep in mind that most fish species can see color better than they can contrast with the background, so using neutral colors with dark highlights is best when setting up a trolling spread.

Spend some time practicing on a small scale before heading out on the water so you know what works best for your setup personally – don’t just rely on somebody else’s recommendations without knowing if they’ll fit your particular style!   If you pay attention to whether or not it worked (or didn’t), why it worked (or didn’t), how you felt when you were out there, and how it fits with the rest of your gear/lures – you’ll be able to figure out what works best for you and your boat in no time!

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