The basics of trout trolling
  |  First Published: July 2007

There has always been a perception that trolling for trout is a little boring, very basic and you don’t need a lot of skill to actually catch fish. All you have to do is tie a lure on, chuck it into the water and wait for the fish to bite. If only it were that easy!

The fact is, to be successful as a troller you of course have to have some sort of boat but you also have to know what you are doing with the boat and your tackle. In reality, assimilating all the intricacies of trolling is probably more involved than learning to fly-fish.

If you have spent a little time with the basics of trout fishing, and by that I mean a little bait fishing and spinning, I expect you have some sort of basic knowledge of trout and their habits.

When I run my trolling clinics, the first thing I tell anglers is that they must understand the fish they are about to target. You must know all about the fish’s habits; where it likes to live, what it likes to eat and all that sort of stuff.

When you fish for trout you must not just target trout – you must target ‘brown trout’ or ‘rainbow trout’. Each fish has different habits and hangs out in different areas and quite often eats different food.

It is said that brown trout are mainly bottom feeders and rainbow trout are mostly surface feeders. That can be just one important difference if you are going to successfully target specific trout species.

Of course there are a lot of variables to any situation and simple things like the weather and water temperature can have an effect on how you fish. Seasons also change the way particular fish behave.

In Lake Jindabyne we have four species of fish to catch, rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout and Atlantic salmon. All of these are individual species and each behaves differently so if you want to catch one particular species, you have to know all about the species and its habits. If you don’t know what area the fish likes to live in, how can you expect to catch it?

When trolling, it is important that you take many different variables into account before you even think about putting a lure on.


You have many different questions you must ask yourself. What am I trying to catch? Where will I catch it? What does the fish like to eat? What is the weather doing? Is it an overcast day or a sunny day? Should I be using a bright lure or a dull lure? Should I even troll a lure or should I troll a bait? Is the water warm or cold? Are the fish on the surface or deep?

All of these questions and many more will have to be answered before you start to troll.

When you do start trolling, you have to ask yourself – What depth should I fish at? What speed should I troll at? Are the fish in close to the edges or are they out wide in the open water?

So many questions to answer and only a good troller will understand why he or she is fishing in a particular area in a particular way.

When setting up for trolling it is important to have a boat. What sort of boat doesn’t really matter. I have even seen people trolling from a paddle boat – a well-set-up paddle boat, but still a paddle boat.

A canoe will do or, if you have the money, you can spend it on an outfit with a main motor and a trolling motor. An electric motor is great for trolling. The old-timers who fished Jindabyne when the dam was filling had fantastic success trolling lures from a rowboat. I am totally convinced the erratic speeds and jerking motion caused by rowing is what made these anglers so successful.


Surface trolling, or flatline trolling, is what most anglers do when they troll for trout. Surface trolling is just what it sounds like – trolling lures or baits in the surface layers of the water. It is very effective when the fish are on top but not so good when the fish go deeper.

There are many ways to troll a lure or bait deeper. Trolling sinkers, paravanes and such weights, through to lead-core lines and downriggers are all part of a successful troller’s arsenal.

A newer innovation is the planer board, which allows you to troll wide of the boat very much like an outrigger. A trolling board can take lures up to 30m to the side of a boat so the boat does not spook the fish.

All of the above methods have their day. You don’t always use lead-core lines and you certainly don’t always use downriggers to get lines deep but these are very important methods and any serious troller will have a downrigger and maybe even a planer board.

A downrigger is a very important piece of equipment over the Summer months when trout lie deeper than conventional flatline trolling lures will reach.

Lead-core lines are almost a must for trolling for trout and can be used with great success at any time of the year, even in Winter.

If I had to advise on the basics for trout trolling, I would have to include at least a lead-core line and I would strongly advise a basic downrigger for Summer fishing.

Unfortunately for the wallet, a good depth sounder is also required if you are going to use a downrigger. You just can’t do without a good sounder if you are going to downrig; try to do without one and you are going to lose a lot of tackle.

If you spend around $600 or more you should be able to get a good sounder that will do the job.

And if you want durability with a lifetime guarantee then I think all the experts would agree that a Scotty downrigger is the go.


It really doesn’t matter what season I am fishing, I always seem to start with two surface lines from the boat. I select a lure colour that I think is suitable for the conditions and then cast it out.

If it’s before sunrise, I troll the lure 30m from the boat and increase that distance to 40m or 50m as the day gets brighter.

I start trolling close in to the lake edge, in about 3m of water.

As the day gets brighter, the fish move away from the shallows and this is when I go to lead-core lines, firstly at two colours and then to three or four colours. The colour of the lead-core changes every 10m and drops the travelling depth of the lure by about a metre, hence the reference to ‘colours’.

By now, given that it is a sunny day, I would be out in 10m of water or even deeper and it would be 10am or 11am. As the day gets later, towards sunset, this whole process is reversed.

By close to dark I would be back in the shallows trolling surface lines.

If it was the height of Summer and the surface water was over 20°, I would also have been using downriggers set to 10m (with the same colour of lures that I had been using earlier) from about 10am to 4pm. This is when the fish are out deep, usually around the thermocline, a distinct boundary layer between waters of differing temperatures, with the warmer water usually on top. The thermocline is usually between 8m and 12m down in January or February period and rises or disappears as the season progresses through to mid-Winter or later.


Lure colours should also change through out the day when trolling.

The old principle, bright colours on bright days and dull colours early, late and on dull days is a good rule to apply when trolling for trout.

Pink and orange lures are also good Winter colours when the fish are thinking about spawning. The eggs of trout range through these colours and each fish has a natural instinct to attack its competitors’ eggs so its eggs have more of a survival chance.

With a good quality sounder, you will be able to track the downrigger bomb and trace the depth of the thermocline. You can even watch fish rise up and look at the lure if it is close to the bomb and in the transducer cone view.

I can tell that something is wrong if the fish are looking at the lure and swimming away without a strike. I would then play with lure type, colour and even trolling speeds until I get success.

It’s just so important to have a good sounder for successful downrigging and I can’t emphasise that point enough.

Trolling is boring? Don’t think so! Trolling is for people who want to consistently catch fish and they earn every one!

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