Most fishermen don’t get their start in fishing by whipping out the trolling gear and hauling in fish. No, if you are like me you might have caught your first fish on a bobber and a piece of worm. You start with the basics and move towards the complicated. Much like a mixed martial artist, you start with punching, kicking, wrestling, and then move on to Jiu-Jitsu or other more technical forms of fighting.
And so it is with fishing. Sure, anyone can cast a line behind the boat and kick the motor in gear. Well, you are trolling. But, what I want for you is to turn you into a “black belt level troller” (running 6 or more lines like a well-tuned symphony).
So let’s get started!
The focus of this article will mainly be based around trolling for freshwater species like walleye, bass, northern pike, musky, and even panfish like crappie (which tend to suspend and most fisherman overlook trolling for panfish).
We’ll cover rod, reel, and line selections and how to spread lures out using planer boards to cover big swaths of water for roaming fish. If you stick around to the end. (I’ll share some of my trusty lures with ya).
Picking a rod
In most trolling scenarios, a super sensitive rod is not needed. I won’t be asking you to purchase 6 — $300 hundred dollar rods. Typically, rods for trolling fall into the $40-$100 dollar price range.
The Cabela’s DepthMaster® Trolling rods are a solid option for getting started in trolling. They have models from 5’ to 12’ long for a variety of techniques.
When using planer boards I prefer a 8-9’ trolling rod. These rods start at $34.95 and are an economical choice.
You can also pick trolling rods based on different types of techniques such as: lead core, planer board, downrigger, and dipsy diver.
Other brands of rods you might want to check out include: St. Croix, Okuma, Penn, Berkley, and others.
Finding a trolling reel
For over 20 years I have relied on the Daiwa Sealine SG Line Counter Reels Model SG27LC3B. Some of these reels are over 15 years old and still kicking. They are however a little pricey coming in at $109.99 at most retailers (but they hold up for years).
Another option would be the Daiwa Accudepth Plus-B series.
Coming in at a little less $70 bucks, I’ve had good luck with these reels as well.
Most dedicated trolling reels have a line counter on them which aids greatly in getting your lures back down the exact depth to where the fish are located (make sure your selection has a line counter).
Of course, there are many other reel options including those from: Shimano, Okuma, Cabela’s, Penn, and others.
Selecting the right line
Depending on the species of fish you are after the right line may “make or break” your fishing trip (pun intended).
The line that I personally use for most of my planer board trolling is Berkley Trilene XT in 10 pound test.
The reasons are two-fold.
First, when using the Precision Trolling app, the diving depth for all the crankbaits are calculated using Berkley 10lb XT (and Berkley Fireline) so you can easily replicate their measurements to get your crankbaits to the correct depth the fish are holding.
I have reeled in everything from little bluegills to 45” inch musky with 10lb XT. If I was specifically targeting bigger fish like musky I might choose a line test from 30-80lb.
Day in day out 10lb line works great.
The second reason Berkley 10lb XT works well is that it is a monofilament line. Mono stretches some (shock absorption when fighting fish) and the clips on your planer boards “bite” well into it.
If you decide to use a superline such as Berkley Fireline, often the line will slip in between the pads on the board, creating frustration on the water. Some anglers will wrap the line around the clips to prevent this, but I find it tedious in 3 foot waves.
Using planer boards to spread lines and cover water
The last part of the system is picking out a good planer board. These little “devices” attach to your line after you have let your lures out a set distance. Once that is done the beveled front of the board pulls your bait out to the desired distance.
I’ll typically troll with 6 lines, with 2 people in the boat, in my home state of Wisconsin. Make sure to check the number of lines allowed per person in your state.
Offshore planer boards are a solid option for getting set up trolling. I like the original OR12 model. These come in right and left models (for both sides of the boat).
We are nearing the end and you are probably wondering what my favorite baits are for trolling. The lures I am about to share with you are some of my lucky baits that always seem to find their way into a fish’s mouth.
These baits primarily work very good for walleye. But, I have caught crappie, perch, bass, northern pike, white bass, catfish, and musky on them (so they flat-out work).
The crankbaits I reach for first
- Rapala Husky Jerk (tennessee shad size 10)
- Rapala Shad Rap (chrome perch size 7)
- Berkley Flicker Minnow (purples hues are hot, size 9)
- Berkley Flicker Shad (gold is dynamite size 7)
- Storm Smash Shad (purple in size 6 or 7)
If you find yourself wanting to take up a new fishing technique this year give trolling a try. It is a nice change of pace from watching a slip bobber float in the breeze all day.
Except now you can watch 6 or more boards waiting for one to “drop back out of line” from the rest of the bunch. When this happens you know you have a fish on. Simply reel up your line, un-clip the board, and reel your fish into your waiting net man or woman.
You might just get hooked on trolling after you discover the power of covering lots of water fast.
Avid fisherman Nick Gaede is the Community Manager at Line & Sight (http://www.lineandsight.com), a portal for all things fishing – from tactical how-to’s to entertaining video clips to opinions.