Trolling With Lures

trolling diagram

Trolling is a fishing method where you fish from a moving boat, dragging your bait or a hooked lure through the water. You can have as many lines in the water as you want – just use the same method for all of them. The general idea is to make the fish believe your bait is their natural prey swimming by.

You can use many different types of lures when you’re trolling, such as plugs, swimbait, spinner bait, spoon lures or surface lures – just let the boat do the job of moving the bait. Trolling with lures is a great way to catch large game fish, such as marlin and tuna.

Where to troll?

Trolling is great because it’s very versatile. You can go trolling in rivers, lakes or even in the ocean – anywhere the water is deep enough for your boat to move through.

When looking for a good trolling spot, pay close attention to two things. First, try to get as close to the fish as possible by finding a school of baitfish. You can do this by watching for birds that are circling overhead, checking for floating weeds, or by using sonar.

Second, make sure your bait gets to the right depth. You’ll want your bait to sit at the same depth as the fish you’re trying to catch. To figure out just how deep to set your bait, you can use a few tricks, some of which require fancy equipment. We’ll get into more details about these tricks and various trolling equipment in a later section.

How to Rig Trolling Lures for Freshwater Trolling

To be successful at trolling, you’ll need to use the right rod and learn how to rig it correctly. For example, if you plan to troll for walleyes in water that is 70 feet deep, you’ll want to rig your rod for downrigging to have the greatest chances of success. Crappies, on the other hand, like to gather in the mid-level depths, which means you’ll want to use a simple flat-lining rig.

The depth at which your lure will land depends on several things, such as how heavy it is, how much line you’ve let out, how fast you’re trolling and the thickness of your line. You can set up several different rigs at the same time to see which one works best.

How to Rig Trolling Lures for Saltwater Trolling

If you’re trying to catch fish that swim at the middle-depths of the ocean, also known as pelagic fish, trolling with lures is a good option. By trolling near these fish, you can trick them into thinking your bait is their natural prey and trigger their urge to bite. Generally, when most people go trolling in salt water, they put several lines out at different distances from the boat.

The bad thing about saltwater trolling is that it can get expensive. Due to the corrosive nature of the saltwater, you may need to purchase many sets of lures, which can add up very quickly. If you’re looking to save money, you can try making your own lures.

When it comes to trolling, there’s no perfect speed. If you’re trolling natural baits like mackerel, ballyhoo and mullet, you’ll want to aim for 4 to 7 knots, depending on the roughness of the sea. You’ll want to go a bit faster – 7 to 9 knots – if you’re using artificial lures or plugs.

Essential Gear

Regardless of whether you’re fishing in a lake or trying to catch ocean-based giants, you’ll still need the same tools in your fishing arsenal. First, you’ll need a supply of quality reels, rods and tackle. Then, you’ll need riggers to help get your bait to the correct depths.


You can have anywhere from two to six rods on a trolling boat, each with its own spot and holder. If you plan to go freshwater or inshore trolling, you can use just about any durable rod. However, if you plan to go offshore fishing, you’ll need more specialized gear that can handle bigger fish, such as a 6 ½ to 7 ½ foot heavy-duty rod.


Your rod isn’t the only thing that needs to be specialized when fishing for large, saltwater fish – you’ll also need a special reel. That’s not to say you don’t need a good reel if you’re freshwater fishing, just that it’s especially important when aiming for larger fish.

If you’re deciding between a spinning or conventional reel, note that conventional reels generally allow you to use more line, which is essential for trolling. But there are more things to consider when choosing a reel.

Today, a lot of fishermen like to use line-counting reels so they can easily hit the same depth over and over again. There are a lot of different line-counting reels to choose from. There are even electric reels that have LCD screens; however, most people don’t need anything this high-tech.

If you’re looking to catch a species of fish known for putting up a fight, like tuna, you’ll want to get a two-speed reel. This will allow you to switch your reel with a single click to a faster speed – something that comes in handy when you’re battling a huge fish. With two-speed reels you’ll also have more power to pull when that large fish you’re fighting dives deep into the water.

If you’re in the market for your first trolling reel, you don’t need to break the bank. Simply look for something that has a good “clicker” and can handle the fish you’re after. A clicker is a device that makes a clicking sound when you have a fish on the line. Since that sound could mean the difference between catching and losing your fish, you’ll want to make sure your trolling reel is equipped with one.


Trolling lines are not one-size fits all. It’s a good idea to have monofilament (mono) if you plan to troll at higher speeds. The stretch and shock absorption abilities of mono will help when you’re trying to catch large game fish.

Braided lines, on the other hand, are much stronger and smaller in diameter and tend to be less buoyant than mono. This will help keep things smooth when trolling your baits in deeper waters.


With the trolling method, you can cover a larger area than with any other fishing technique by simply putting your line out and trolling around. However, if you want a better chance of success, you’ll need to use several lines. And if you use more lines, you’ll need riggers.


An outrigger is a long pole attached to the sides of the boat. Outriggers help with fishing by allowing you to use several lines at the same time and by helping to keep those lines apart, so they don’t get tangled. Outriggers also help keep your bait away from the engine and the churning water it leaves behind.

When a fish bites your line, the outrigger’s clip releases, making it so you can grab the rod and battle the fish.


The main difference between outriggers and downriggers is that the latter allows you to use heavy weight to lower your bait into deep ocean waters. Otherwise, the two are very similar. Much like an outrigger, a downrigger lets you keep your bait spread out and also has a clip that detaches when a fish bites your line.

Planer Boards

If you’re looking for something less expensive than a downrigger, try using a planer board. These small, floating devices help spread your baits and lower them into deeper waters. They work by allowing the fishing line to pass downward through them.

Most people use two to six planer boards at a time. The more you use, the better your chances of success. By using several boards, you can cover more ground and tell if one of your lines is falling behind.

With planer boards, it’s easy to see when you have a bite because your line is attached to a bright-colored flag that is tripped when the line moves. When the fish grabs the hook, the flag will go down, letting you know you have a bite. Depending on the planer board you buy, you can even change the spring to make it more or less sensitive to match the strength of the fish you’re trying to catch.

Lures and Baits

When trolling, the type of lure or bait you choose will greatly affect how many bites you get. Will you choose lures, dead bait, live bait or a combination of all three?

Shallow water, in which you generally troll at slower speeds, offers the advantage of being able to continuously get your baits to the same depth fairly easily. You’ll want to choose a lure that looks most like the fish’s natural food and troll it at the depth the fish swims for the best chance of success.

Some good choices for lures include spoons, soft plastics, skirted lures and plugs. If you’re after bigger fish, a skirted lure is a good choice, whereas if you’re trolling for smaller fish, you should use soft plastics. Plugs and spoons are the lures of choice for anything in between.

If you’re trolling in salt water, the best baits to use are mullet, squid, mackerel and ballyhoo. With these types of lures, you’ll be able to catch a large variety of pelagic fish. These baits may even score you some tuna, barracuda, wahoo or mahi mahi.

When trolling for larger game fish, offshore fishermen like to use pieces of cut bait together with skirted lures. The tail or skirt of the lure attracts the attention of the fish, while the smell of the bait tempts them to take a bite.

How to Troll?

The single most important factor when presenting your bait is your trolling speed. By trolling your bait at the correct speed, you’ll help it to look like the fish’s natural prey, which is crucial. But it isn’t as simple as just looking up a generic speed and trolling. There are no hard and fast rules for the exact speed to use.

Mainly, you’ll want to try to get your bait to move the same speed as the fish you’re trying to catch. However, there isn’t an exact science that will tell you how fast the fish are going to move. There are two main reasons for this.

First, the conditions of the water are going to affect how fast the fish swims. For example, if you’re trolling in an ocean or on a river, you’ll probably be dealing with some type of current. If you choose one speed, it won’t work the same when you’re moving downcurrent as it will when you’re moving upcurrent, so you’ll need to adjust your speed accordingly.

Second, fish don’t swim at one speed all the time – they swim at different speeds depending on what they’re doing at the moment. All they really care about is where they’re going to get their next meal – so you’ll want to focus on getting your lure or bait to look as appealing as possible. As you’re setting your bait, watch closely to see what it looks like when it’s moving in the water. If it’s moving too fast or erratically, slow down until you hit the speed that makes it move more naturally.

Change Directions

A mistake people often make when they’re new to fishing is to get accustomed to one speed or direction. While this can get you an occasional bite, you’ll have more success if you mix things up a bit. Try “turning a corner” now and then. This will make your baits speed up and come to the surface on one side of your boat and slow down and sink further on the other side. It will also change your direction, which will give you a better chance of success.

Trolling Speed

To start out, try trolling at a speed somewhere between 2 and 9 knots. At these speeds, you’ll generally have a good chance at catching fish like Marlin or other types of Billfish. If you’re trying to catch Wahoo, which are known for being faster, you’ll want to troll at around 10 to 12 knots. And for slower fish, like Tuna, aim for something in the 4 to 6 knot range.

Here are some tips to help you set your speed:

  • Go slower if you’re only using baitfish so they can swim at their normal pace.
  • Go further out if the ocean waters are rough and slow your speed down to get your baits into clearer waters.
  • Make sure the choppy waters of your wake aren’t interfering with the movement of your bait. You may want to choose an inboard motor if you plan to go faster because it creates less choppy water than an outboard motor.