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What is Trolling Fishing?

Table of Contents

Trolling fishing is a type of fishing technique. People use it to catch different kinds of fish, like mackerel, sardines and tuna. Trolling is usually done with a boat. Because the boat moves while you are trolling, you can cover a larger area when trying to find fish.

In the context of fishing, when people say they are trolling, they mean that they are moving around a certain body of water with their boat and using a line with several hooks on it in an attempt to catch one or more fish. Anglers move around with their boat by using a trolling motor.  Trolling motors power boats to up to 100 pounds of thrust. Which is more than enough to move big boats such as pontoon boats. 

Trolling is a different kind of fishing from bottom or still-fishing and pole or rod-and-line fishing. When you do trolling, your target fish stay near the surface of the water because they can’t tell whether an object is a lure or their food going by very fast. This makes it easier for people doing trolling fishing to catch fish that are larger than those caught with other kinds of techniques. 

History of Troll Fishing

The history of Trolling Fishing dates back to the aboriginal people of the Pacific Northwest, who were trolling for food long before European settlers arrived in Canada.

The Nuu-chah-nulth, known as the aboriginal people of what is now Vancouver Island, began trolling for salmon over 4,000 years ago. They used hand made wooden fish hooks attached to fine fishing line which was wound around cedar spools. The trolling technique is thought to have been inspired by an old world trolling technique used by people living on Asia’s Pacific Coast that featured a single hook tied with a short length of line.

Trolling has also been recorded amongst Russian and Spanish explorers prior to Sir Francis Drake’s voyage around the world in 1577 – when he sailed through Nootka Sound and witnessed trolling by First Nations people.

Advantages of Trolling Fishing

The advantages of trolling fishing are:

  • Trolling is a very efficient way to fish: you can cover a larger area and therefore increase your chances of catching something.
  • When trolling, you don’t have to cast or throw the line yourself; it’s done automatically with your boat.


  • By trolling, you don’t need as many fishing lures as when bottom or still-fishing because lures go much further than lures thrown by hand. This means that trolling fishing lures are cheaper than those used in other types of fishing.


  •  You can troll from any kind of watercraft: boat, kayak and even an inflatable raft for shallow waters. Most people use small boats for trolling like dingies and runabouts for this type of fishing though .

Disadvantages of Trolling Fishing

The disadvantages of trolling fishing are:

  •  Weather conditions can affect your entire day when it comes to trolling. If the weather’s bad and your boat can’t go out, you can’t fish.


  •  Boat traffic is also a disadvantage for trolling fishing. If lots of boats are trolling in your area, the chance of catching something is very small.


  •  Trolling is an expensive technique when you compare it to other kinds of fishing. For example, in trolling you need more equipment than when bottom or still fishing – You need to plan your trips with care if you want to avoid competing with other  boats or watercraft.


  •  You may not catch any fish at all when trolling. This is because you need to consider the depth of the water, which makes it harder to find fish that are there.

Equipments Used for Trolling

1. Trolling Rods

There are different types of fishing rods suited for trolling. The most common rod used for trolling is the spinning rod, which is 7-8 feet in length. A longer rod provides greater casting distance and power, so it’s favored by experienced anglers trolling large bodies of water.

2. Reels

There are certain reels for trolling, known as “conventional reels”.  They can be a level-wind or a bait-casting reel. They are much bigger because they have to handle the much heavier line weights used for trolling. Conventional reels (trolling reel) also come with much stronger gears and larger spools, which is why their price is higher than that of spinning reels. You might be wondering whether or not spinning reels can also be used for trolling. Spinning reels can be used for trolling, however, they are not ideal for trolling. This is because of the design of the reel. The spinning design is intended for catching fish that are still, or moving slowly. This means that if you were to use a spinning reel to troll with, there are some setbacks. For example, if you were trolling around rocky edges/waterfalls, trees, weeds etc., it would be very difficult to get your line into where the fish are at without getting snagged on rocks or plants.

If you try fishing with a spinning rod and reel while trolling using this method will likely result in backlashes due to tangles on plants and rocks along with possibly losing gear because of how easy it is to snag up. Although this isn’t common when most people think about trolling rigs they assume it’s all flat water, if you fish in rivers or any thing with a current the river bed is not flat it’s filled with rocks and plants.

Spinning reels are also known for being lighter weight than their counterparts making them easier to use in the case of trolling where you will be working your rod over time trying to keep tension on your line. Spinning reels are designed for quickly casting out a bait and having a fish take it without much resistance due to the reel’s very fast gear ratio. This can be ineffective when used for trolling because small fish won’t offer enough resistance when biting onto the bait while bigger fish will result in very minimal catches when they don’t put up much of a fight when biting down on baits.


3. Lines

Monofilament is the best choice for trolling because it’s thin, light and has a low stretch rate when compared to other lines. Monofilament can get you away with 20-30lb which is enough to cover all sorts of fishes such as mackerel, flatfish, tuna, prawns and shrimps. There are others as well such as using fluorocarbon and or a strong braided line.

Freshwater vs Saltwater Trolling

Freshwater Trolling

When it comes to freshwater trolling, there are a variety of techniques and equipment specific to this type of fishing. In fact, trolling in freshwater can provide anglers with an opportunity for multiple kinds of fishing from catching trout at night to trying your luck catching catfish during the day. Since freshwater trolling covers such a wide area, it gives you a chance to experience different types of fish all over North America depending on where you’re located.

For those who have never been freshwater trolling before, it’s important that you know what type of fish you’ll be aiming for since they require different types of equipment. For example, if you want to catch trout or salmon then lures will work great while live bait is the way to go when trolling for bass or panfish. There are different lures for freshwater trolling including spoons, plugs, jigging spoons or minnow-imitating lures. Many freshwater anglers prefer to use wire line when fishing for walleye because it’s less likely to get bit off by the smaller fish that the walleye seek out.

When you’re fishing in freshwater trolling, there are a few general tips that work well all around the nation since every state has different types of fishes depending on whether they’re near oceans or lakes. One general rule of thumb is to slow down your boat during hot summer months to catch cooler water species like trout or bass while speeding up your boat during cool winter months so you can catch warmer water species like walleye. Also, try to avoid getting your lines tangled up by bringing deep-diving lures that will get down faster and smaller lures that will help you keep your line tight.

When freshwater trolling, there are two general ways of fishing; on a run or on a drift. A run is when the boat moves along while the angler at the back throws out his/her line. When fishing on a drift, your boat does not move and you cast your line ahead of the boat while letting it flow downstream with the current for about 10 minutes before moving on to another spot. To ensure that you’re able to catch plenty of fish while freshwater trolling, make sure you go out during both day and night time hours since some species like trout are more active during the day while others like catfish are known to bite better at night.

Saltwater Trolling

In terms of saltwater trolling, the concept is very similar to freshwater trolling. The idea is to value “trolling” or slowly moving fishing bait through the water at a steady pace with the aid of boat movement. When it comes to saltwater trolling, many varieties of species can be targeted like tarpon, billfish, or even large sharks. With this form of fishing, speeds are usually recorded at a one-half mile per hour for tarpon and billfish and two miles per hour for shark trolling. However, as mentioned, speed can be adjusted depending on what you are after, weather conditions, and boat size.

One of the main differences between freshwater and saltwater trolling is that saltwater trolling requires a larger variety of equipment in order to make it successful. An example would be a wireline for trolling large deep diving lures, downriggers for reaching deeper depths where fish may lie, outriggers that add casting distance and spreads powerful baits over a much wider area, or spreader bars that cast baits much further than by-hand.

When it comes to saltwater trolling equipment, rods tend to vary between 60 and 80 inches in length and use medium or heavy action. With this kind of rods, anglers should be targeting large fish that will fight hard. Reels should be large enough to handle line weights from 20 to 100 pounds with a capacity of two-hundred yards of a 50-pound test line. Also important would be braided lines or monofilament mainline used along with a wire leader made out of stainless steel or titanium of 40-80 pounds strength rating.

Line-Spreading Trolling Devices


Outriggers are poles that can be attached to a boat’s side and have fishing rods fitted on them. They’re also known as “spreaders“.

Many fishermen prefer to use outriggers to spread the lines in different directions, which increases the trolling distance.


A downrigger is a device attached to the bottom end of fishing lines used for trolling. It’s especially helpful when targeting fish that live close to the base (deep-water fish like tuna, marlin and wahoo).

The downrigger uses weights to lower the line until it reaches the desired depth, which means you can stay in one place and move a lot of line through the water.

If you do not have a downrigger, there are alternative ways on trolling without one. All you’ll need is a rod, reel and line.


Paravanes (underwater kites) are used as depth controlling devices for trolling.

The kite’s depth is controlled with a separate line from the fishing line, which allows you to keep your spread at precisely the desired level in the water. Paravanes are used in commercial tuna fishing operations.


Spreaders in trolling are similar to outriggers. However, spreaders are used for making the trolling lines wider and have 4 to 6 rods attached to them.

These lines can be stretched in different directions according to the wind direction, which makes it a great tool when facing a strong wind or when you want to troll in a certain pattern.

Planer Boards

Planer Boards are trolled devices that are attached to the fishing line. They work by pulling the board sideways behind the boat, which forces water along one side of it faster than the other.

This creates a difference in pressure between the two sides of the planer board, which then pushes it away from the boat at an angle. It’s much like how weather vane works.

Baits and Lures for Trolling

Trolling baits and lures are designed to look  and behave like fish, and they mimic the way real fish swim in the water.

The following baits and lures include:

1. Surface Lures

(jigs) which are the most common type used for trolling. They’re designed to imitate small fish or squid, and they swim on the surface of the water when trolled.

2. Plugs

(crankbaits) are another type of surface lure. They have a lip designed to dive beneath the surface as soon as they’re trolled, which means you can produce a variety of water movements to attract fish.

3. Swimbait

a soft plastic bait that  looks like a small fish, is attached to a lead head which is designed to make it dive down after being trolled. It’s good for targeting bigger species such as snapper and barramundi.

4. Spoon Lures

looks like  scoops. They’re designed to move in a side-to-side movement while trolling, which makes them imitate the movements of small fish like sardines and mackerel. Most spoon lures are made from plastic or metal.

5. Spinnerbait

which is a piece of wire bent into an upside-down “U” shape. The wire has several blades attached to it, and they make the lure spin around like a propeller when trolled. This type of lure is best for fast-moving fish such as salmon or trout.

How Do You Setup a Troll?

The right speed is important when trolling your bait.  Generally, for baits like plastics and jigs you want to troll them as fast as possible. However, if you’re trolling lures such as spoons or spinners then it’s best to slow down a bit.

Trolling speed is measured by how many miles per hour your lure/bait travels

A general rule of thumb:

  • For surface lures (plastics and jigs) keep the line tight at all times, and troll as fast as you can go. This shows fish that the bait is alive and fighting against the resistance of the water. If they see no resistance, they’ll know something is wrong and will probably swim away instead of eating your bait.

Water Conditions are important as well:

  •  If the water is rough, then it’s best to troll slowly. This will help you prevent losing lures or even tangling your lines.


  •  If the water is calm, then trolling at high speeds can be effective because there are no waves for fish to detect you behind.

Surface Conditions:

  • One condition that has an effect on trolling speed is the surface conditions of the water. Surface conditions refer to how choppy or smooth the top layer of water is. For example, if there are big waves in the water due to windy weather, then it would be best to lower your trolling speed in order to prevent losing lures or having your lines become tangled up with each other.


  • Be sure to change things up as well, as in you don’t need to stay at a certain speed and direction.  For example, if you’re trolling at 5 MPH and it seems like there are no bites coming in, then troll for a little bit and then switch speeds to 3 MPH or 7 MPH. Remember, you want to try to think how a fish would move in real life. 

Trolling Speed

The best trolling speed depends on the type of lures and bait you’re using, the water conditions, and how fast or slow your boat is moving.

  • For most types of plastic baits, it’s best to troll them at high speeds.
  •  If you’re using metal jigs or spoons, then it’s best if you lower your speed since they’ll react better with slower movements.

  • It’s also important to remember that different fish are attracted to different types of movement in the water. Some will want faster motion while others may prefer slower motion. It all depends on the personality of each fish species.

In general, trolling speeds at 8.5 knots is good all around.  This speed can be used for trolling deep, medium depth, and shallow. 8.5 knots is around 9.7 miles per hour.

For faster trolling speeds, it’s best if you use smaller baits or lures at lower depths since they react better to the water resistance produced by fast speeds.

If you’re trying to fish in deeper waters, then slow down your boat until around 5 knots of speed. This will prevent losing lures or lines that are being dragged behind your boat since there is less water movement compared to faster speeds.

Recreational vs Commercial Trolling

The difference with recreational vs commercial trolling is how they use their lures and baits. Recreational fishing is what you would do for fun, while commercial trolling is targeted towards catching a certain species of fish.

Commercial trollers are not as concerned about how quickly or slowly they move, unlike recreational fishers who want to catch the biggest possible fish. Commercial trollers are more concerned with the size of their bait and how it’s used for each type of fish. They will know exactly which kind of lure/bait will work best depending on the area they’re fishing in.

Recreational Trolling

Recreational trolling was originally used by recreational fishermen who did not have access to boats and was confined mostly to shore-based anglers using casting techniques recognizable today as long lining.

Early recreational trolling was done with either lures or baited hooks, also known as jigs that were cast into the water. These techniques are still used today by recreational fishermen who troll in shallow water near to shore where there is a good structure to attract fish. Recreational trolling quickly grew in popularity in many areas of North America in the early 1940s when surplus military equipment became available for purchase after World War II ended. Some men found they could catch more fish using outboard motor-powered boats than they could with their old heavy wooden boats and sail rigs allowing them to go farther onto open waters where larger numbers of gamefish species lived. The use of engine power for propulsion meant anglers could cover greater distances searching for fish in a shorter period of time.

Recreational trolling was revolutionized in the early 1980s when scientists with Gulf and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils developed a device called a planer board. It was found this device could keep lures or baited hooks suspended beneath a boat at any given depth with or without an artificial attracting device, usually behind or to the side of the moving boat. Today recreational trolling is performed with many different types of boats utilizing many different types of attractants ranging from downriggers to fishing kites. Recreational trollers employ several techniques which include: long lining, casting techniques recognizable today as long lining; handling still, and wind-drifting or drifting.

Around the mid-1990s recreational trolling was revolutionized again with the development of sonar technology which allowed recreational anglers to see fish, reefs, and structures below the surface of the water from a boat. This is now one of the most popular techniques recreational trollers use to locate fish that will later be presented with baited lures or baited hooks.

Commercial Trolling

Commercial trolling originated in the early 1900s. It was first used by the Pacific coast trollers to catch halibut and Pacific cod from small, open seacrafts. As demand for fish increased, larger boats were being designed with a platform in front of the boat that allowed two or more fishermen to stand side-by-side while trolling for fish. In addition, the use of seine nets became popular because they can be towed behind a boat and have a much wider catching range than traditional long lines. However, it could produce tremendous bycatch if not pulled carefully through the water.

Commercial trolling serves two main purposes: one is marketing and the other is supply reduction/harvesting. Marketing’s purpose includes selling directly to consumers at dock markets as well as selling to restaurants, fish markets, grocery stores, and other distributors. The purpose of supply reduction/harvesting is mainly for market size regulation. Regulations across the United States are enforced by both federal and state laws. Some species that commercial trollers target include salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, herring, and most importantly tuna.

Commercial trolling boats range in length from 10 feet to over 50 feet long with the average being around 30 feet. They typically use gas or diesel four-stroke outboard engines or electric trolling motors powered by large batteries. Modern fishermen use different types of nets depending on what they want to catch; some nets are shaped like cones so will only catch fish swimming forward while others are shaped like a curtain so it will catch fish both going forward and backward. In addition, commercial trolling has helped the development of new technologies that have improved fishing methods as well as reduced bycatch. By using sonar tracking as well as global positioning systems, commercial trollers are able to identify their most productive areas and set their nets accordingly.

FAQ on Troll Fishing

How Much Line Should I Let Out for a Troll?

A good rule of thumb is to let out a minimum of 75m or 79 yds for each trolling rod you have.

What Common Fishes Can You Catch When Trolling?

Common fishes you can catch when trolling are billfish, barracuda, tuna, and mackerel.

Where Should You Troll?

You can troll out in deep waters near channels, reefs, or in the open ocean. You can also troll on a lake, and a river as well.

What is The Difference Between Trolling and Trawling?

The difference between trolling and trawling is that trolling involves a single line and multiple lures. Trawling, on the other hand, is an industrial method of fishing that uses large nets deployed from the back of a boat.

Final Thoughts on the Trolling Fishing

Trolling is a method of fishing that can be used to fish in any body of water, whether it’s a lake, river, or ocean. It lets you cover lots of ground at once and is suitable for multiple species of fish.

But remember to always change up your speeds and direction depending on the type of fish you’re trying to catch!