Trolling is a highly popular saltwater fishing method in which a boat is utilized to pull a bait or lure – or a combination of baits and lures – through the water to attract and catch fish, as opposed to casting and reeling, drifting or fly fishing. Often, lures and baits are trolled at precisely determined speeds and depths using specific techniques, depending on the species being sought. In most cases, artificial lures are used in saltwater trolling, though live or cut bait can be effective for certain species or fishing conditions.
Trolling is especially common when fishing for large open-water predators such as billfish, tuna and other roaming, nomadic game fish that don’t necessarily relate to any specific structures or nearshore bottom conditions for significant lengths of time – if ever. It allows anglers to fish these large areas of water in the least amount of time. Trolling for big game and other offshore species is most commonly employed several miles from shore in waters along the edge of the continental shelf, well outside the sight of land, often in or near the major ocean currents, such as the Gulf Stream, North Atlantic Drift and California Current.
Trolling is an equally effective and widely used tactic for inshore species such as bluefish, barracuda, snook and many others. Inshore trolling occurs in the shallower water of the continental shelf from which land is continually in sight. It is targeted toward smaller, non-pelagic species that are residents of that inshore area or species that migrate to shallow water at various times of year.
In addition to the species being sought, the primary difference between inshore and offshore saltwater trolling is the size of the tackle and boats required, as well as the amount of equipment and accessories. Offshore trolling demands large boats (generally 30 feet and over) and large engines (250 horsepower and over) to reach offshore destinations; heavy tackle to land big fish; and in many cases, expensive sonar, navigation and communication equipment. Inshore trolling requires smaller boats and engines, lighter tackle and less sonar and communication equipment.
Whether offshore or inshore, the most critical factors in trolling success are placing the lure where it is most visible to the targeted fish species and producing lure action in a manner that attracts game fish. Most fish are particular about how and where they feed and will only strike lure or bait that that behaves in a specific way. Therefore, the angler must understand the size, color and style of lure the fish is seeking and present it in a realistic manner through proper depth and movement through the water. Much of this ability comes through experience and experimentation.
The term “trolling lures” describes the family of saltwater lures that, in most cases, can be used only when trolling, because their design makes them impractical for casting and retrieving or jigging. Like virtually every type of lure, trolling lures are specially engineered to imitate the looks, behaviors and sounds of natural prey. However, because of the size of prey they are designed to imitate, they are generally much larger than conventional casting lures. Likewise, most are built to move through the water at higher speeds than any reel could produce.
Trolling lures vary in construction, size and function based on the type of game fish for which they are used. In many cases, they will closely match the movement or appearance of specific forage in a game fish’s diet. But many trolling lures don’t resemble anything found in nature; instead they produce action designed to trigger feeding instincts that result in strikes.