Trolling with Plugs – an Effective Fishing technique!

Trolling with Plugs – an Effective Fishing technique!

trolling with plugs

This article will thoroughly cover trolling with plugs. This is an extremely effective fishing technique that can be used on almost every game fish species, from small bluegill to giant tuna. Capt Jim Klopfer is a charter boat captain in Sarasota, Florida. He uses trolling with plugs often on his trips to help clients locate and catch fish.

Read Capt Jim’s article on the best walleye trolling lures

Trolling is simply the fishing technique where anglers slowly move the boat along while pulling lures or baits behind. This is an efficient way to fish as anglers can cover a lot of water along while presenting lures at multiple depths. Trolling is done extensively in freshwater and saltwater.

trolling with plugs

Plugs are hard bodied lures, usually made from plastic. Most have a lip on the front. This lip determines the depth to which the plug will dive along with the action that the lure will produce. Plugs are available in just about every size and color imaginable, making it easy for anglers to match the available forage.

Trolling fishing tackle

Tackle requirements will run the gamut when trolling with plugs. It will depend on the size of the fish being targeted as well as the plug and gear needed to present the lures. Ultralight spinning tackle is fine for trolling with tiny plugs for bluegill and crappie. Conversely, heavy tackle will be needed to troll big plugs in deep water for larger game fish.

trolling for Spanish mackerel fishing

Top trolling plugs;

  • Rapala X-Rap Extreme Action Slashbait

  • Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow

  • Reef Runner Walleye

  • Flatfish

  • Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap

  • Rapala Shad Rap Bandit

  • Walleye Storm Hot-N-Tot

  • Rapala Husky Jerk

  • Mann’s Stretch 30

  • Bomber Long A

Trolling with diving plugs

Sarasota snook fishing

By far the easiest method to use when trolling with plugs is to simply tie on a plug and start driving around. It really is that easy! Plugs are available in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. Most float on the surface then dive down when pulled. Line diameter and the distance behind the boat are both factors which will affect the depth at which the plug is presented.

Trolling with shallow diving plugs

There are many fishing applications where trolling with shallow diving plugs can be very productive. In freshwater, trolling a small plug along a weed line will produce crappie and bluegill. The same technique works with larger plugs on pike and musky. Shallow diving plugs are effective in open water for rainbow and brown trout as they often feed close to the surface.

top freshwater species

Capt Jim uses a shallow diving plug to troll with often on his fishing charters. This works very well in Florida where he fishes as much of the water is less that ten feet deep. This is an excellent technique to use to locate fish in larger areas where they are spread out. Striped bass, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, false albacore, ladyfish, trout, jacks, snook, and other species will be caught trolling with shallow diving plugs.

Anglers can purchase Capt Jim’s E-book, “Inshore Saltwater Fishing” for $5 by clicking on the title link. It is 23,000 words long and covers tackle, tactics, and species.

This technique is very easy to employ. Anglers simply tie the plug on the line, let the line back behind the boat, then start driving a tad above idle speed. Counting back as the line is played out works well. Ten seconds is a good place to start. Anglers trolling multiple plugs should vary the distance behind the boat that the lure is let out. Spinning tackle is fine; the same outfits used for casting will get the job done.

Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing

Capt Jim’s favorite shallow diving plug is the Rapala X-Rap Extreme Action Slashbait. He uses the 08 size most often as it matches the local forage. Olive and Ghost (white) are his favorite colors in saltwater. In freshwater, he likes gold and firetiger.

Click to shop Amazon for Rapala X-Raps

Strategies for trolling shallow diving plugs

Once fish are located, anglers can continue to troll that area or thoroughly fish it casting live bait or lures. The same plugs on the same rod and reel combinations used for trolling can certainly be used to cast and retrieve as well. Capt Jim likes to troll into the wind where possible. That way when a strike occurs, angles can reel the lines in and the cast while drifting back through the area.

best northern pike fishing lure

Shallow diving plugs also work very well when fish are seen working on the surface, both in fresh and salt water. White bass and striped bass will exhibit this behavior in freshwater while bluefish, striped bass, mackerel, false albacore, jacks, and ladyfish will do the same in saltwater. The best approach is to skirt the edges of the school and not drive right through them, this will often put the fish down.

Trolling with deep diving plugs

Trolling with deep diving plugs is similar to using shallow diving plugs, with a few exceptions. The plug is tied on the line without and hardware, and pulled behind the boat. However, depth control is much more important as anglers are working structure and cover in deeper water. Points, channel edges, deep vegetation, and humps are all prime spots.

top freshwater fish species

While spinning tackle can be used, in most situations light conventional tackle is a better choice. Deep diving plugs put more stress on the rod and reel, the spindles on spinning reels are not meant for that. Conventional reels are available that let anglers know exactly how much line is out behind the boat. This is quite handy when fishing multiple rigs.

Trolling with deep diving plugs is used more by freshwater anglers. There are applications where saltwater anglers do this, such as trolling for grouper, striped bass, and other offshore species. However, freshwater anglers extensively troll deep diving plugs for walleye, trout, salmon, and other species.

walleye fishing

Capt Jim’s favorite deep diving plug is the Rapala Shad Rap. It is available in a wide variety of sizes for every game fish, from small panfish to giant pike.

Click to shop Amazon for Rapala Shad Raps

Trolling with lipless plugs

There is a third family of plugs; lipless crankbaits. These are lures that vibrate and rattle when retrieved or trolled. They do not have a lip, the depth is controlled by how deep the lure is allowed to fall through the water column. They work very well in open water, but depth control is more difficult. Also, they do not float, so anglers trolling multiple lures need to constantly keep the boat moving.

crankbait fishing

The number one lipless crankbait is without a doubt the Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap. They basically invented the lure. Rat-L-Trap lures come in a variety of sizes and colors and are terrific when fish are feeding on shad and other small silvery fish. Chrome with a blue back is Capt Jim’s favorite color.

Using weights when trolling with plugs

Weights are often used by anglers trolling with plugs. There are several situations where this is a good approach. Shallow diving plugs work well when fished at most depths. However, they will only dive a few feet on their own. Sinkers can be used to get the plug down to the desired depth.

One rig is to use an inline trolling sinker. This works well, but changing the weight takes longer. Another technique is to use snap on weights. These are very handy and makes it easy to quickly change weights and thus the depth of the lure. Anglers use a 3 swivel of some sort with a 3′ to 5′ leader followed by the plug. A regular or 3 way swivel can be used. The weight is simply clipped onto the swivel rung.

Trolling with planers and plugs

Anglers can also use planers when trolling with plugs. They must be plugs with smaller lips, otherwise the planer will “trip”. Dipsey Divers are the best example of this. Anglers can adjust the depth while also getting the plug to run off to the side. In saltwater, anglers use larger planers for trolling plugs in deeper water, though more often spoons are used.

Trolling with downriggers and plugs

Downriggers are devices used to troll multiple lines at different depths with fairly precise control. They were invented in the Great Lakes region for trout and salmon. This gets a bit complicated with special and expensive gear. This is a subject for another article.

In conclusion, this article on trolling with plugs will help anglers better utilize this effective technique!




Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay waters. Capt Jim has been creating an writing articles about fishing for decades, contributing to many regional and national publications. He also lives part time in the North Carolina mountains where he fishes for trout and other species. Capt Jim Klopfer is a wel rounded angler with 50 years fishing experience, and he loves to share what he has learned with other anglers!

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