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Slow, Slow, Slow Your Boat

Reduce your speed for effective livebait trolling.

Trolling bags slow boat speed and stow easily when not in use.

Livebait trolling is deadly for a wide variety of pelagics, but in order for it to work, you have to get your boat speed down to a crawl. With a couple of big V6's on the transom, that can sometimes be problematic. Troll livies even slightly too fast and they begin to flip and spin, and their effectiveness is over.

The best trolling speed for most baits used for sailfish, kings, dolphin, blackfins and the like is 1.5 to 2 knots, based on my experience. This gives the baits maximum lifespan, and seems to result in the maximum number of strikes.

Of course, most boat speedometers are useless in measuring speeds this low. You need a GPS to tell you when you've got it right. And what you soon find when you start measuring your speed at minimum rpms is that most offshore boats won't go this slow without a little help.

The easiest tactic to slow a boat with twin outboards is to put one motor in the slowest forward idle speed, and shut off the other but leave it down in the water. Shift this motor into reverse, but leave it shut off; the prop won't spin, and it creates a lot of drag, slowing the boat. (You have to compensate slightly in the steering due to this drag on one side.)

If you have triple outboards, you can slow the boat even more. You run the center motor at idle speed, and shut off the two outside motors and shift them into reverse—you get twice the drag, and it's equally balanced on each side so does not create steering problems.

If you run a single engine boat or need to slow your twin or triple even more, “trolling bags” may be the answer. This is the same thing as a drift anchor or drogue chute, but only the stouter versions are suitable for slowing down a boat under power. The bags are typically made of heavy canvas or nylon and look like a large funnel when opened by water pressure. You attach the bags to the gunnel cleats (best to use one on each side so the drag is equal) and they fill with water and drop your speed significantly. Price is $60 to $70 each for those with 40- to 50-inch diameters, the best sizes for slowing offshore boats.


Don't hang the trolling bags off the transom because they will interfere with your trolling lines or maybe get caught in the props. It's best to hang them well forward so that they stay clear.

Best trolling speed for most baits is 1.5 to 2 knots.

Using the bags is simple; you attach the main rope, typically 5⁄8-inch nylon, to a cleat, hold the bag slightly open and dip it into the water. It immediately fills with water and you let it go to slide back into position. When you hook a big fish or you're done fishing and want to retrieve the bags, you pick them up by the “tail,” the small end, and simply empty them out; don't try to hand-over-hand them from the front because the weight of the water won't allow you to move them. If you only want to invest in one bag, you can hang it from the bow eye and it will stream aft more or less in the center of the boat, requiring fewer steering adjustments than otherwise.

Boats with large trim tabs can use them to advantage to slow the boat, too. Simply put the tabs all the way down, and they create a drag at the stern while also pushing the bow of the boat deeper in the water; both effects slow the hull down.

Livebait trollers who run inboard boats can have trolling valves installed in their transmissions to slow the speed to less than two knots. A push-pull cable is installed to open and close the valve; have it placed close to the throttle lever on the console.

When you open the trolling valve, some of the transmission's fluid is allowed to bypass the pressure plates. This causes the transmission to slip, and slows the boat. I thought the valves might cause transmission damage due to the slippage, but after 15 years of use on one of my boats I've never had a problem, so I guess they do not.

One thing you do have to remember with the trolling valves is that they must be pushed all the way closed before moving out of idle speed; powering up with the valves open can definitely damage the transmission.

You can also control your boat speed by simply adjusting the direction you troll. Trolling into a strong wind or current can considerably slow your boat. Trolling with wind and current increases your speed over the bottom; consider both factors as you set your course.

In short, there's a lot you can do to slow your boat to just the right velocity to let all those high-speed gamefish catch up to your baits.


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