Trolling from the yak
  |  First Published: August 2016

About 30 years ago, when I was a young tackle rat, as opposed to the older tackle rat I am these days, I picked up three cheap hardbodied lures from the boat show and loaded them into my tackle box ready for a weekend away with the family.

Arriving at our holiday destination, I showed my mate the treasure in my tackle boss; 10cm long minnows, silver in colour, one with red on top, another blue and the last black, each fitted with two trebles. We hatched a plan to troll them from his little tinnie on our Alvey reels and mono line, targeting areas where we had caught flathead previously.

The rest is history… we caught a bunch of flathead to about 65cm in length and were damned to a life of being obsessed with shiny lures, how they swim and what they catch.

We also learnt a valuable lesson about buying quality lures as one-byone, the hook attachment points were ripped from the lures by the mouths of hungry flathead, and we’d call it a day with only one hook remaining on the last lure. I still have one of those hookless lures somewhere in my shed, a souvenir of a life changing experience for a couple of young anglers.

This experience led to many years of kayak and canoe trolling for species such as bass, golden perch and cod in the fresh, to tailor, barra, flathead and a range of pelagic species in the salt. One of the most memorable captures being a 71cm grunter landed by a mate in a small Brisbane creek when it hit a small hard body lure trolled behind the canoe. The fish ran a few metres back into the mangroves, braid rubbing as it went and after some fancy rod work and canoe manoeuvring, we were both shocked at what surfaced beside the canoe. We still talk about this freak capture and with no camera on board, we made the call to take it home to get a couple of photos and it didn’t go to waste, baked whole in the Weber.

Anyway, excuse my reminiscing, let’s get back on track. Trolling hardbodies has produced fish for many years and proven deadly on species such as barra, bass, flathead, cod, mackerel, tuna and many more, with many surprise techniques springing up in recent years, such as trolling for snapper.

Trolling a lure behind the kayak, that is designed to represent a baitfish, produces a stack of surprises though and we have often landed up to eleven different species in a session. Whether it’s trolling to and from your fishing destination, trolling to locate schooled fish and then switching to soft plastics or another technique, or a dedicated lure trolling session, there are a few things you need to consider.

Rod Holders

When trolling short distances to your fishing spot in a pedal kayak, you may prefer to hold onto the rod and work the lure by pushing the rod tip forward and then allowing the rod to drop back to perpendicular with the kayak. For longer trolling sessions though, and for paddle kayakers, a rod holder is the preferred option. Many kayaks have rod holders behind the paddler, however these are not really suitable for trolling as the rod tip is high above the water, reducing the lures diving depth and also the anglers ability to see the rod tip moving to ensure the lure is swimming correctly and monitor strikes.

Mounting an adjustable rod holder on the side deck of the kayak, in front of you, allows you to monitor the action of the lure, removing weed or quickly sorting the lure if it fouls and accessing the rod easily if you hook a fish or snag. Installing a rod holder mount on the kayak allows you to switch the rod from one side to another to fish particular structure. If you are only mounting a rod holder on one side of the kayak, consider which hand will be working the rudder if using a pedal kayak.

I have witnessed a few epic fails when setting up rod holders on kayaks, so before you drill a hole to mount a rod holder, ensure that you get out on the water and make note of where your paddle or pedals track when propelling the kayak. There’s no point mounting the rod holder, only to find your feet crashing into the rod butt or your paddle stroke shortened and awkward because you haven’t mounted the rod holder far enough forward.


Lures vary greatly in terms of size, colour, diving depth and profile. The old saying ‘match the hatch’ rings true and it’s worth carrying a selection of lures that match the baitfish found in the area that you’re fishing. Many lure manufacturers have made lure selection easier by noting the diving depth of the lure on the packaging. Consider the species you’re targeting and depth of water you’re fishing and then select a few appropriate lures, remembering that when trolling from the kayak the lures may not dive as deep as when trolling at faster speeds from a boat. Don’t be afraid to swim a lure that is designed to run a little deeper when kayak trolling.

You can also regulate the depth and, to a degree, the action of the lure by varying the distance that you troll it behind the kayak and you will soon get a feel for how much line to let out when trolling different lures. If you have a sounder on your kayak, troll your lures through a sandy section or other snag free area and you can experiment with speed and the amount of line you have out to work out the approximate diving depth range of your lures. This understanding allows you to more effectively drive your lures in and around structure.

A loop knot or snap clip is often the preferred option for attaching a hardbodied lure, as it allows the lure to swim more freely, maximising the swimming action of the lure.

Anglers often have their favourite colour lure, but it’s worth having a few different colours in the kit and I will swim a natural colour in clear water and on bright days, switching to a darker colour, a lure with a bit of gold in it or with contrasting bars on the sides in dirty water, and if all else fails a lure with some fluoro pink or chartreuse in it will often switch on a bite.

Lure Retrievers

It is almost inevitable that you will find yourself snagged at some point. Tracking back over the top of the lure in the opposite direction to your troll, will see many lures pop free from the snag. If the lure is still snagged, you can try loading the rod up, grabbing the line above the reel and pulling it sideways to add more pressure and then releasing the line as you drop the rod tip, effectively shocking or sling shotting the lure backward off the snag.

If all else fails, it’s out with the lure retriever, such as a Tackleback, rigged on a handline with enough venetian blind cord to reach the snagged lure. The lure retriever is slid down your line and either the weight shunts the lure off the snag, the wire mechanism or chain grabs the trebles on the lure, or you now have the strength of the venetian blind cord to lift the old crab pot, log or other structure… sometimes with a fish still attached! For those fishing shallow water, a lure retrieval pole is an option and can be strapped to the side of the kayak when not in use.


I’m still a massive fan of soft plastics, because of the ease of landing and handling fish, with only a single hook point to avoid. When trolling hardbodies, you need to respect those two or three trebles, ensuring that you are carrying a net, preferably one that is hook and fish friendly, a set of lip grips to secure the fish, avoiding damage to it and yourself, and finally a set of pliers to make treble removal quick, easy and safer.

Whether you are wishing to make your paddling time to your favourite fishing spots more productive, cover ground and find the schools, or get active and hunt a few fish, trolling from the kayak can be a fun and effective technique that produces a wide range of fish species.

See you on the water…

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