Troll Fishing 101: The Ultimate Guide of Catching More Game Fish!

Are you tired of the same old fishing routine and looking for a fresh way to catch your next big one? You could try getting into Trolling Fishing. 

This exciting technique has been used for centuries and has become a favorite among fishermen for its versatility and effectiveness. 

In this post, I’ll take you through the ins and outs of trolling fishing, from its history and essential gear to its unique tactics and the variety of fish species you can catch. 

Get ready to shake up your fishing game and try your hand at trolling. Let’s get started.

What is Troll Fishing?

Trolling fishing is a technique of fishing where baited lines are drawn through the water to entice fish to bite. This method is popular for catching game fish like sailfish, marlin, and tuna, as well as predatory fish like barracuda and walleye. 

Trolling can be done in both freshwater and saltwater environments, using a variety of boats and fishing gear. It’s an exciting way to fish that is incredibly rewarding and patience to master.

Why Is It Called Trolling?

Everyone knows what “Trolling” is these days. 

But what does trolling mean in fishing? The term “trolling” comes from the Middle English word “trollen,” which means “to roll.” It originally referred to the act of dragging a baited line through the water while rowing a boat. 

Over time, the word evolved to include the use of a motorized boat and the addition of multiple lines. 

Today, trolling fishing is one of the most popular methods of fishing in the world, and it continues to evolve with advancements in technology and fishing gear.

History of Trolling Fishing

Trolling fishing has been around for centuries, with evidence of it dating back to ancient Rome and Greece. 

In the 19th century, trolling became popular in North America, where anglers used sailboats to troll for salmon in the Great Lakes. 

The introduction of the motorboat in the early 20th century revolutionized trolling fishing, making it possible to cover larger areas of water and catch more fish. 

Today, trolling fishing is a thriving industry, with recreational and commercial fishermen using advanced equipment like sonar, GPS, and downriggers to enhance their catch.

Is Trolling a Good Way to Fish?

Trolling fishing can be a highly effective way to catch fish, especially if you’re targeting game fish or predatory fish. 

However, it requires a good understanding of the water you’re fishing in, as well as the right gear and technique. 

Rules of thumb like trolling with the tide and using the right speed and bait can greatly improve your chances of success. 

Overall, trolling fishing is a challenging and rewarding way to fish that’s well worth trying if you’re a fishing enthusiast.

What Fish Are Caught By Trolling?

Trolling fishing can yield a wide variety of fish, depending on the location, time of day, and type of bait used. 

Here are some of the most common catches you can expect when trolling:

  • Mahi-mahi: These brightly colored fish are popular in warmer waters, such as the Caribbean or the Gulf of Mexico. They can be caught using a variety of bait, including ballyhoo, squid, or even lures. Learn our detailed guide on Trolling for Mahi Mahi
  • Barracuda: Barracudas are a popular game fish that can be found in both saltwater and freshwater. They are aggressive predators and can be caught using a variety of bait, including lures and live baitfish.
  • Sailfish: These large game fish are found in warm waters around the world. They are known for their incredible speed and acrobatic jumps, making them a popular catch among sport fishermen.
  • Wahoo: Wahoo are another popular game fish that can be found in warm waters, such as the Caribbean or the Gulf of Mexico. They are known for their speed and can be caught using a variety of bait, including lures and live baitfish.
  • Salmon: Salmon can be caught by trolling in freshwater or saltwater environments. They are often caught using lures or live baitfish and are popular among both recreational and commercial fishermen. Learn More About Trolling for Salmon
  • Trout: Trout can be found in freshwater rivers and lakes throughout North America. They are popular among recreational anglers and often caught using lures or live baitfish. Learn 7 Best Tips of Trolling For Trout
  • Mackerel: Mackerel are a popular catch in both saltwater and freshwater environments. They are often caught using lures or live baitfish and are known for their speed and strong fighting ability. Check our comprehensive guide on Trolling For Mackerel
  • Tuna: Tuna are a popular game fish found in warm waters around the world. They are known for their size and strength. Anglers typically use lures or live baitfish to catch them.

Remember, it’s always a good idea to research the local fish populations and talk to other fishermen to get an idea of what’s biting.

Must-Have Gears and Devices for Troll Fishing

To make the most out of your trolling fishing experience, it’s important to have the right equipment. 

Whether you’re a seasoned angler or just starting out, having the right trolling setup can make all the difference in your success. 

In this section, I’ll cover what equipment is needed for trolling fishing, so you can have an exciting experience on your next fishing adventure.

Trolling Motor

A trolling motor is a vital piece of equipment for troll fishing. 

It’s a small, electric motor that attaches to the stern or bow of your boat. It enables you to move silently through the water while trolling, and comes in various sizes and power levels. 

You need to choose a trolling motor that matches the size of your boat and the weight of your cargo.

Rods and Reels

Specialized rods and reels are necessary for trolling fishing to handle the weight of the fish you intend to catch. 

You need trolling rods that are at least 7 feet long, with a medium-heavy to heavy power rating. Pair them with sturdy trolling reels that have a high line capacity and a smooth drag system. 

These will ensure you can handle large fish and have a successful catch.

Trolling Line

The right trolling line is a must for a successful catch. 

Braided fishing line is a popular choice because it is strong and thin, allowing you to let out more lines without sacrificing sensitivity.

A Monofilament fishing line is also an excellent option because it is easy to handle and stretches, which can help prevent your line from breaking.

Rigger, Outriggers, Downriggers, Planer Boards

Riggers, outriggers, downriggers, and planer boards are devices that can make trolling more effective. 

Riggers and outriggers attach to your boat and allow you to spread your lines out to cover more water.

Downriggers are used to keep your bait at a specific depth, while planer boards are used to keep your line away from your boat and help you cover a larger area.

Lures and Baits

To lure fish to bite, you’ll need lures and baits. Popular trolling lures include ballyhoo, squid, soft plastic baits, and skirted lures. 

When choosing bait, consider the fish species you’re targeting and the environment you’re fishing in. Having a variety of baits on hand is always a good idea to increase your odds of success.

With the right equipment, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a trolling fishing pro. These tools will give you the advantage you need to increase your chances of landing the big one. 

How to Troll For Fish

Now that we already know what troll fishing is Let’s find out how do you get started with trolling fishing. Here are some basics to keep in mind.

What are the Basics of Trolling?

To get started with trolling fishing, you’ll need a fishing vessel, fishing rod, reel, and the right bait or lure. You’ll also need a way to measure your trolling speed and depth, such as a speedometer or sonar. Other essential gear includes fishing line, hooks, swivels, downriggers, outriggers, and planers.

Where to Troll?

In general, you’ll want to troll in areas where predatory fish are known to congregate. These areas can include the pelagic zone, which is the open water away from the shore, and the littoral zone, which is the area near the shore. 

Look for areas where there is a change in depth or underwater structure, such as reefs or drop-offs.

Trolling Speed and Time

The speed at which you troll will depend on the species of fish you’re targeting and the type of bait or lure you’re using. As a general rule, a speed of 2-5 knots is a good starting point. 

However, you may need to adjust your speed depending on the conditions and the preferences of the fish you’re trying to catch. As for the time of day, early morning and late afternoon are often the best times to troll. 

To get a more detailed idea, you can check out our full guide on Trolling Speed.

How Far Behind a Boat Should You Troll?

The distance you troll your bait or lure behind your boat can vary, but a good starting point is around 100-150 feet. 

However, you may need to adjust this distance depending on the depth of the water and the type of bait or lure you’re using.

Do You Troll Up or Down River?

When trolling in a river, it’s usually best to troll with the current rather than against it. 

This will help your bait or lure move naturally with the current and will increase your chances of catching fish.

What Is The Best Fishing Line For Trolling?

Braided fishing line is a popular choice for trolling fishing because it is strong, durable, and has a low diameter, which allows it to cut through the water with less resistance. 

A Monofilament fishing line is another option, but it tends to have more stretch and can be more visible to fish.

What is the Rule of 5 Trolling?

The Rule of 5 Trolling is a common rule of thumb for trolling fishing. It suggests that you should troll for five minutes at a certain depth and speed, then adjust your speed or depth if you don’t get a bite. 

If you still don’t get a bite after five more minutes, change your bait or lure and try again.

Pros And Cons Of Trolling Fish

Trolling fishing can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience for many anglers. However, it’s important to consider both the advantages and disadvantages before deciding if it’s the right technique for you. 

Here is a rundown of those advantages and disadvantages.

What Are The Advantages Of Trolling Fish?

Here are some of the advantages of trolling fishing:

  • Covers more water: Trolling allows you to cover more water than other fishing techniques, increasing your chances of finding and catching fish.
  • Target specific species: By trolling at specific depths and speeds, you can target specific species of fish more effectively.
  • Use a variety of lures: Trolling allows you to use a variety of lures, including live bait, artificial lures, and skirts, to attract different types of fish.
  • Less physical strain: Trolling is less physically demanding than other fishing techniques, making it more accessible to a wider range of anglers.
  • Can fish in rough waters: Trolling allows you to fish in rough waters, where other fishing techniques may not be possible or safe.

What Are The Disadvantages Of Trolling Fish?

All those advantages seem too good to be true, right? So, what is the problem with Trolling Fishing? 

Here are some potential disadvantages to keep in mind:

  • Expensive equipment: Trolling requires specialized equipment, including a trolling motor, downriggers, and other gear, which can be expensive to purchase and maintain.
  • Limited visibility: Because trolling requires you to keep moving, you may miss out on some of the sights and sounds of nature that come with other fishing techniques.
  • Can be less challenging: Some anglers may find trolling to be less challenging than other fishing techniques, as it requires less skill and finesse to execute.
  • Requires patience: Trolling can require a lot of patience, as you may need to wait for extended periods of time before a fish takes the bait.
  • Can be less social: Trolling is often a solitary activity, which may not be as enjoyable for some anglers who prefer to fish with friends or family.

Extra Tips For Trolling Fish

Trolling fishing requires careful planning and execution to ensure success. Here are some extra things you can keep in mind before you hit the water.

Choose The Right Species to Target

Before you start trolling, you need to know what species of fish you are targeting. Depending on where you are fishing, there can be a wide variety of options to choose from. 

Some of the most popular game fish for trolling include sailfish, marlin, tuna, wahoo, king mackerel, and salmon. Consider the water conditions and temperature to narrow down your choices and select the right bait and gear.

Vary Your Speed

To attract different types of fish, it’s essential to vary your trolling speed. Some fish prefer a slow and steady pace, while others are attracted to a faster speed. Experiment with different speeds until you find what works best for the species you’re targeting.

Use Different Lures

Fish can get tired of seeing the same lure over and over again, so don’t be afraid to switch up your lures frequently. Have a selection of lures with different colors, shapes, and sizes to keep the fish interested. 

Consider using soft plastic baits, fishing lures, or live bait such as ballyhoo or squid. Mix it up and experiment with different options until you find the most effective one for your target species.

Pay Attention To The Water Depth

Fish can get tired of seeing the same lure over and over again, so don’t be afraid to switch up your lures frequently. Have a selection of lures with different colors, shapes, and sizes to keep the fish interested.

Try Different Trolling Patterns

Experiment with different trolling patterns to see what works best for the species you’re targeting. Consider zigzagging, figure-eight patterns, or even trolling in circles. Varying your pattern can help attract more fish and keep them interested in your bait.

Go Trolling At Different Times of the Day

Fish have different feeding patterns throughout the day, so it’s a good idea to try trolling at different times to see when the fish are most active. Some species are more active during the morning or evening, while others are more active during midday.

Use Downriggers for Deep Water Trolling

Downriggers are a useful tool for deep water trolling. They allow you to control the depth of your lures and keep them at a consistent depth. This is especially useful when targeting species that dwell in deeper waters.

Use a Planer Board for Shallow Water Trolling

Using a planer board can help you cover more ground when trolling in shallow water and increase your chances of catching fish. Planer boards allow you to run multiple lines at different depths and angles, making it easier to locate the fish.

Watch for Birds and Baitfish

Keep an eye out for birds diving into the water and schools of baitfish. This can be a sign that predatory fish are nearby, so troll around these areas to increase your chances of catching fish.

Pay Attention to the Weather and Water Conditions

The weather and water conditions can have a big impact on your trolling success. Pay attention to factors such as wind, water temperature, and currents, and adjust your trolling speed and depth accordingly.

Be Patient

Trolling can be a game of patience, so don’t give up too soon. Keep experimenting with different setups and techniques, and don’t be discouraged if you don’t catch anything right away. Remember, fishing is as much about the experience as it is about the catch.

By following these extra tips, you can increase your chances of success and have a more enjoyable trolling fishing experience. Just remember to always follow local fishing regulations and guidelines and to respect the environment and the fish you catch. 

Common Mistakes To Avoid While Trolling

Trolling fishing can be a highly rewarding and exciting experience, but it can also be frustrating when things don’t go as planned. Even the most experienced anglers can make mistakes that can cost them a big catch or even put them in danger. 

In this section, I’ll cover some of the most common mistakes that anglers make while trolling and how you can avoid them. 

By following these tips, you can increase your chances of success and make your trolling fishing trips more enjoyable.

Forgetting To Take Care Of Your Gear

Fishing lines, reels, and lures can get damaged over time, and neglecting to maintain them can reduce their effectiveness.

Before heading out, check your gear for wear and tear and replace anything that looks questionable. After each trip, rinse your equipment in fresh water and dry it thoroughly to prevent rust and corrosion.

Additionally, always make sure your fishing line is properly spooled onto your reel, and that your knots are tied correctly. A poorly tied knot can lead to lost fish and frustration.

Not Following Boat Etiquette

It’s crucial to be aware of other boats on the water when trolling and to follow proper boat etiquette. This means keeping a safe distance from other boats, not cutting in front of them, and not trolling too close to shore. 

Trolling too close to other boats or shore can spook fish and ruin your chances of catching anything.

It’s also important to be mindful of your boat’s wake, as it can cause damage to other boats and shorelines. 

Keep your speed in check, and adjust accordingly to avoid creating excessive wake.

Using the Wrong Lures

Using the wrong lures can be a costly mistake when trolling. 

Different fish species are attracted to different types of lures, so it’s important to use the right one for the fish you’re targeting. 

Pay attention to the species you’re likely to catch in the area you’re trolling, and choose your lures accordingly.

It’s also important to vary your lure colors and sizes until you find what works best. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different lures until you find the right one.

Ignoring the Weather

Ignoring the weather is another mistake to avoid while trolling. Bad weather can make for a miserable and potentially dangerous fishing trip, and it can also make it difficult to catch fish. Pay attention to the forecast and plan your trip accordingly. 

Windy days can make trolling difficult, while calm days with overcast skies can be ideal for catching certain species of fish.

Not Paying Attention to Depth

Fish live at different depths in the water, and trolling at the wrong depth can result in a frustrating and unproductive trip. 

Use a depth finder or fish finder to determine the depth at which the fish are biting, and adjust your lures and trolling speed accordingly. Paying attention to depth can greatly increase your chances of catching fish.

Using the Wrong Line Thickness

Using the wrong line thickness can cost you a lot of fish. 

If your line is too thin, you might lose the fish while reeling it in. On the other hand, if your line is too thick, it will create too much drag and scare the fish away. 

Therefore, it’s essential to choose the right line thickness for the type of fish you’re trying to catch and the conditions you’re fishing in. You should also remember how much line to let out when trolling. The depth at which you want your bait or lure to swim will give you the right length.

Not Adjusting Your Speed

It’s essential to maintain a consistent speed while trolling. However, some anglers overlook the importance of adjusting trolling speed. 

When trolling too quickly, you risk spooking the fish and making them less likely to bite. On the other hand, trolling too slowly may make your lure less attractive to the fish. 

Keep an eye on your speedometer and adjust your speed accordingly to avoid this mistake.

Fishing in the Wrong Location

Another mistake many anglers make is fishing in the wrong location. 

Just because you’ve had success in a particular spot before doesn’t mean it’s always the best place to fish. Pay attention to the conditions of the water, such as temperature, currents, and depth, and adjust your location accordingly. 

Doing some research and asking locals can also give you a better idea of where the fish are biting.

Overlooking Water Clarity and Color

Water clarity and color can have a significant impact on trolling success. 

If the water is murky or has a lot of debris, it can be more difficult for fish to spot your lures. It’s important to choose lures that stand out in the water and adjust your technique accordingly. 

Additionally, different species of fish may be attracted to different colors, so it’s worth experimenting to see what works best in your location.

Trolling at the Wrong Time of Day

Another mistake is trolling at the wrong time of day. 

Some species of fish are more active during specific times of the day or night, and trolling during these times can improve your chances of success. For example, some predatory fish like to feed at dusk or dawn, while others prefer to hunt during the night. 

It’s essential to research the species you’re targeting and determine the best time of day to troll.


Can you troll in a lake?

Yes, you can troll in a lake. It’s a popular technique for catching various fish species such as trout, bass, and walleye.

Can you troll with a kayak?

Yes, trolling with a kayak is possible. Kayaks are ideal for trolling in small bodies of water like ponds and lakes.

What is the difference between trolling and trawling?

Trolling is a fishing technique where bait or lures are pulled behind a moving boat, whereas trawling involves dragging a net through the water to catch fish. Check out our detailed guide on Trolling VS Trawling

Do you use weight when trolling?

Yes, weights are often used when trolling to help the bait or lure reach the desired depth.

Do you set the hook when trolling?

Yes, you should set the hook when trolling, just as you would with any other fishing technique, to ensure that the fish is securely hooked.

What knot for trolling lures?

The most common knots for trolling lures are the improved clinch knot and the Palomar knot.

Can you troll for bass?

Yes, trolling is an effective technique for catching bass, particularly in larger bodies of water. Here’s our guide on Trolling for Bass

Can you troll fish for catfish?

Yes, trolling can be used to catch catfish, particularly in rivers and streams.

Is trolling fishing legal in the US?

Yes, trolling is a legal fishing technique in the United States, subject to any specific state or federal regulations governing the use of certain equipment or methods in certain bodies of water.

Where to Troll In The US?

The best places to troll fish in the US vary depending on the species of fish you’re targeting. For example, Lake Michigan is a popular spot for trolling for Walleye and Trout, while the waters off the coast of Florida are known for big-game fishing for Tuna and Wahoo.

Final Thoughts

So, should you try trolling fishing? If you’re looking to spice up your fishing routine, the answer is a definite yes. 

With its long history and the variety of gears and techniques involved, it’s a unique and exciting way to catch fish. Just remember, having the right gear and knowing the basics of trolling fishing is key to success. 

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different lures and techniques until you find what works best for you. 

And always practice responsible fishing by following local regulations and releasing any fish you don’t plan to keep. So what are you waiting for? Grab your gear, hit the water, and see what you can reel in with trolling fishing!

Anthony Jones
Anthony Jones

Anthony is an expert in fishing and trolling motor equipment, based in Austin. In his free time, he can often be found out on the water, perfecting his fishing techniques and testing out the latest gear.

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