Most anglers who fish from a boat usually do so while at anchor or drifting slowly. This can be a very pleasant way to spend a day on the water, but most sailors would prefer to be actually sailing. Fortunately there is another way, which lets you have your cake and eat it, namely trolling.
NB: Trolling can also mean fishing by means of working a line up or down a stationary vessel, but here I’m referring to trailing a line behind a vessel while underway. Also, this is not to be confused with “trawling” which is towing a line with baited hooks attached at intervals, or towing a trawl net.
You may think that trolling is just an activity for slow-moving vessels, but that’s not necessarily the case. Certainly, if you’re trolling for trout on a lake, you’ll just be rambling along at a couple of knots. However trolling is also an excellent way to cover a large expanse of water at high speed. For example, if you’re trolling for tuna, go fast, as these agile predators can swim at 40 knots! I hooked this beauty of a bluefin tuna while sailing at 7 knots, which is barely fast enough to attract a tuna’s attention.
Manufacturers provide selection guides, so I’ll just focus on some principles:
- Size: As fly fishing folks say, “match the hatch”, which means to match the natural food source that your target fish species is currently feeding on. Often that means using use small lures for small fish, and big lures for bigger fish; but not always. Giant tuna sometimes go for tiny lures!
- Color: While some fish are choosy others will bite at anything that catches their eye. For example, a cheap chrome or plastic lure can sometimes be more effective than a fancy, realistic lure.
- Swimming action: Some lures are designed to swim in a twisting, wiggly fashion. Others are designed to swim in a relatively straight, tight fashion. Further the action may change from a gentle, wobbling motion at slow speed to an erratic, splashing motion at high speed.
- Depth: Different fish hunt at different depths, some on the surface, others deep below.
Another option is to use so-called “skirt” lures (shown below), which emulate squid, albeit some alien fluorescent variety, not seen in nature. Species such as tuna find them irresistible (at least sometimes).
The second approach is to use a lure which is designed to dive to a given depth, typically specified on the packaging. Such lures often feature front “bibs” which act as mini hydrofoils forcing the lure underwater. Below is the Yo-Zuri Hydro Magnum, which can be pulled from 4 to 9 knots and dives 7 to 9 m (23 to 30 ft). It has a tight swimming action, that emulates a fast moving prey. The bibs need to be really tough; the best ones are made from the same polycarbonates used in bullet-proof glass. (Scratches courtesy of the tuna that have chomped on it.)
Here are my top trolling tips:
- Deploy a mix of lures. Fish, like humans, have moods and will at different times feed at the surface or below, and be attracted to different lures.
- Adjust the length of line between your boat and the lure until the lure swims well. For example, a skirt lure should alternate between being on the surface and short periods of diving. If you can't get a lure to swim well, try another lure instead.
- Regularly retrieve lures to check they have not snagged marine flora (seagrass, seaweed, kelp, etc.). Bibless lures tend to snag less often.
- Keep lures well away from spinning props.
- Sleep on board the night before, then set your alarm clock early so you can be out trolling at the crack of dawn - the best time for many fish species.
- Birds circling an area or feeding on the surface is a telltale there are also fish feeding nearby. They have excellent eyesight and from their elevated position they can be your virtual crows nest in the sky.
- Ensure rod holders are securely fastened; if attached to fiberglass, use bolts, not screws. I like the Railblaza system shown below.
- For longer trips, keep a vacuum sealer on board to seal in the freshness of your bounty, as they preserve much longer than ziplock bags. (I use this Dometic product which runs on 12V DC plus mains AC.)
Vacuum sealed whole Australian Snook.
PS Hooked Up Magazine has this excellent article on trolling for southern bluefin tuna.