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What You Need to Know About Trolling Speed and Bait Position

Tips and techniques to get the most out of your trolling time

What You Need to Know About Trolling Speed and Bait Position

Adding skirts or small lures in front of baits will let you pull them faster and will decrease the rate at which they wash out.

Guest editorial by Captain Anthony DiGiulian, via the International Game Fish Association

Trolling with baits or lures is one of the most popular methods of catching offshore fish. There are many techniques that must be learned in order for you to get the most out of your trolling time.

Bait Position and Distance Behind the Boat

fishermen hold up gag groupers caught while trolling lipped diving plugs
Pair of gag grouper caught on Rapala Magnum lipped plugs during the filming of Reel Time Florida Sportsman.

Every boat is different and you should make your boat your own study. Proper distance for most boats will be anywhere from 20 feet to 150 feet behind your boat. Whether you have inboard diesel or outboard gas engines, your power dictates the distance you troll your baits and lures.

Start by positioning your baits or lures closer to the transom and move them back as you observe what they look like. It is very important to log what results you get with baits at different distances and to make adjustments according to sea conditions, types of lures or baits being used and what type of wake your boat produces.

It is also important to set up your spread with a staggered pattern. This means that you are trying to create a school of bait fish in your wake and you want to cover as much area behind the boat as possible. By staggering the baits you can make your spread look bigger and you will find that different bait and lure positions are prone to getting more action than others. You can use the waves that your wake produces as a guide in picking proper bait/lure position. Try to position baits or lures in “clean” areas. These are places in your wake where the water is not disturbed by air bubbles. This will give game fish a clear view of your spread. Your boat is your biggest fish attractor when trolling, so try to keep your baits close enough so that they are related to the boat's wake.

Trolling Speeds

Yo-Zuri Bonita trolling lure in purple and black
The unique color combination of the Yo-Zuri Bonita and extra-tight swimming action make it especially attractive to wahoo and tuna; run it at 6-15 knots behind a trolling lead or even on a flatline.

As with distance, speed will vary from boat to boat. The main idea is to have all your baits and lures working together as a unit. You want lures to be trolled fast enough so that they are creating air pockets in front of them and have a bubbling or popping look to them. This is commonly called a smoke trail. The type, size, shape and weight of your lures will also determine how fast or slow you can troll. Some lures are made for calm water and others for rougher conditions. Pick lures that match the size of your tackle as this will also affect how well you can get the lures to work. It is important to have similar lures that all work well together. Common lure trolling speeds will vary from six knots to 12 knots. Log the rpm, speed, conditions, types of lures and positions so that you can get it right each time you troll.

Nomad DTX Minnow
The Nomad DTX Minnow is built not only to dive 40 feet into tuna, wahoo and grouper territory, but also to swim straight time and time again thanks to a uniquely self-centering eyelet.

Baits are commonly trolled at slower speeds. For skipping or surface baits, they should be breaking the surface and splashing without spending too much time in the air. If the baits are tumbling they are being pulled too fast. Adding skirts or small lures in front of baits will let you pull them faster and will decrease the rate at which they wash out. Adjusting the position of your outrigger pins, higher or lower will also help you to get your baits to perform at their best. When pulling swimming baits, make sure they are weighted correctly for the speed you are trolling.

Two fishing rods in rod holders while trolling
Two rods pinned to an outrigger are easy to handle, especially on a sportfish.

For outboard owners, a good tip is to troll on one engine. You will want to go the same speed as if you were on two engines, but you may find that fish will be more attracted to your spread because of the vibrations and noise outboards produce. Remember to switch engines so that you don't build up uneven engine hours and create more stress for one engine or the other. It is also much easier to log your rpm than your speed and as with lures you should log everything related to your speed. Common speeds for baits are three knots to seven knots.

Finally, it is important to know the species you are fishing for. Some fish respond to faster presentations and others like slower presentations. If you know and understand the basic biology and feeding habits of the fish you are stalking, you can create patterns, spreads and speeds that will give you a better chance of catching more fish on the troll.




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