Options for Paddle Trolling

Keep a hook in the water and open up your options.

A kayaker trolls for pelagics near-shore.

Any time you paddle out to your favorite fishing spot, you cover water that could hold the catch of the day. Trolling increases your chances to catch more fish, but also presents a few challenges to the kayak, canoe or paddleboard angler.

For most paddlers, a rod holder mounted forward of you conveys some advantages over a rear mount rod holder. For one, it allows you to watch your line for weeds and small fish that might get hooked. Nothing kills your chances of catching a fish more than pulling weeds or a small fish on your lure. The front mount also allows you to get to your rod faster when a fish strikes.

Going from trolling to fighting a fish has its challenges. Let’s say that you are trolling along the beach with your rod in a rear holder and a smoker kingfish hits. You put down your paddle and try to take the rod out of the holder only to find that the pressure from the king makes it hard to get the rod out. You are thrown off balance as you turn to grab it. Your forward motion quickly turns to reverse and you are now able to get your rod out of the holder. This all can happen in a few seconds. From the time you put the paddle down to the time you get tight is all in the fish’s favor of shaking the hook. (The same mechanics present a good argument for trolling only one line from a kayak.)

With a rod in a front holder you are able to keep more of your balance as you lean forward and use your weight to get the rod out. This can save you valuable seconds and could be the difference between a good fishing story and a prize catch. If you are using a pedal kayak, like a Hobie with a Mirage Drive or Native with a Propel drive, keep your rod in your hand or in a front holder. Remember to keep pedaling and keep pressure on until the fish in under control.

Paddle boards are the exception. Trolling with a front mount rod could end up with the board doing a 180, throwing the angler off balance and off the board. The board would be towed by the fish to The Bahamas with no way for the angler to chase it down. Use a rear holder and always use a surf leash attached to the board and your foot. A strong strike could knock an angler off even if the rod is trolled off the rear of the board.

Never troll in waters that have heavy boat traffic. Especially avoid trolling in inlets or channels. Boats may not know you are trolling and will run over your line. Inshore trolling is mostly done as you paddle from your put-in to your fishing destination. It may be a short paddle or over a mile long. Even a short troll is worth the effort. Many times you will be paddling over shallow oyster and grass beds. Pick a lure that will work in the depth you will be paddling. Suspending baits like the MirrOlure MirrOdine are a good choice. If you stop, the lure won’t sink to the bottom and snag, but will float in the strike zone instead. Shallow-running crankbaits, such as the various Rapala X Rap models, come with depth ratings to help you determine what’s feasible for the waters you’re fishing. Jigs are another great bait for an inshore troll. In grassy or weedy waters, try a weedless-rigged soft plastic with a paddle tail.

A selection of diving plugs, a swim bait and lures to cover the water column trolling.

Offshore kayak anglers may cover miles of water to get to their destination. This opens a variety of opportunities to troll on the way out and the way back in. Reels with 300 yards or more of 20- to 30-pound-test line are recommended, due to long runs from large pelagics. Larger lures like Rapala Magnums and Bomber Long A’s are a good choice. They will run a few feet to 12 feet deep depending on the lure and your speed. Deep-diving lures like Mann’s Stretch 25 are a favorite for anglers looking for kingfish, but the deepest divers, with their broad planing lips, create a lot of drag that can wear you down and slow down your paddle. For some, it is worth the effort. Kayaks with foot-power drive units offer a great amount of torque along with speed; they make trolling deep-diving lures almost effortless.

Natural baitfish such as ballyhoo can also be trolled with good success—inshore as well as off. Snook, seatrout and tarpon are surprisingly fond of ballyhoo, as well as other needlefish and other estuarine species of similar profile. Ballyhoo waiting for deployment should be kept in a small cooler, ice-cold but separated from the melt-water. An aluminum baking pan resting on ice is a good place to store a half-dozen ballyhoo. FS

First Published Florida Sportsman November 2013