If you haven't tried trolling for bass, you're really missing out. Here's why:
Last updated: September 17, 2022
By: Brandon Sanders
Fishing for big largemouth bass is a challenge.
Sometimes you win big—and other times, you can’t seem to get a bite.
That’s the challenge that we love, because you never know what one more cast holds!
There are many ways to go largemouth bass fishing. All too common is fishing the docks and trees but rarely do we engage in trolling for bass.
Despite its lack of popularity, trolling is a highly effective way to fish for bass when the conditions are right. Being able to cast out a line and then sit back and relax as the action of the bait brings in the bass is a secret loved by too few anglers.
Let’s learn more about trolling for largemouth bass—how it works, what you can do to optimize your success, and the key factors you need to consider.
Ready? Let’s go! 👇
Trolling for bass is a generally uncommon technique, but that doesn’t mean it won’t yield success when the weather and conditions are right.
Trolling with spinnerbaits will be most successful in the middle of the day in deeper water. This is because, as the temperature rises, bass will move to deeper water where the temperature is lower.
Trolling with crankbaits is also a common technique.
Trolling in shallow water is best when bass are feeding, typically at dusk or dawn.
Trolling is a highly efficient way to catch largemouth bass. Casting behind the boat and letting your bait swim along as the boat moves will expose your bait to more water and therefore catch more fish. Make sure that you match up the area you are trolling, the time of day, and the lure you are using so that you can be effective.
Trolling, by definition, is the practice of carefully searching an area for something. In the context of fishing, trolling helps to locate fish. What is more, it is extremely easy to do.
An aspiring trolling fisherman simply needs to cast out behind their vessel and then engage in some sort of locomotion by whatever means they have available. Trolling can be done behind a kayak, a jon boat, or even a larger bass boat, as it works the same way regardless of vessel.
One of the key things to consider when fishing in general, but especially when trolling is what depth should be fished. Oxygen levels, water temperature, location of structure and prey all play a major factor in determining what depth of water bass will occupy.
When trolling, this is a top consideration since depth will play a large influence on the speed of the boat, the distance behind the boat fished, and what lure is appropriate to fish with. Depth is the number one variable that the fisherman needs to account for when trolling.
One of the classic situations that call for trolling is when the fish are exceptionally deep, but congregated into schools. This often happens when the temperature has reached its extremes in the middle of the day.
Using dodgers and planer boards is crucial for getting to these depths. Once there, trolling spoons and crankbaits are a longtime favorite for striped bass anglers, but largemouth bass respond to them as well.
Keep in mind that with deeper water, you’ll need to release plenty of line from your reel. If not, your lure won’t be able to reach the level of depth where the bass will be. The faster you troll, the more line you’ll have to release to allow your lure to fall to deeper water.
Trolling the surface can also be a very effective way to catch fish. This is especially true when bass are schooling and pushing baitfish to the surface.
As the baitfish move to the surface, bass will follow, as such baitfish represent part of the typical bass diet. Always remember that the best place to find bass is to first find out where the bass’s prey are currently located.
Topwater baits, soft plastics with little weight, or stickbaits can be trolled over the surface mimicking the action of baitfish breaking the surface as they evade predators. This will trigger a response in bass that are already feeding and chasing baitfish in a similar manner.
A trolling planer board is a device that allows for multiple lines to be fished from the boat simultaneously. This helps optimize your fishing efforts by increasing the number of lures in the water and increases your chances of catching fish.
Once the fishing line is in the water, a planer board is attached. As the boat moves forward, the planer board pulls the line further to the left or the right depending on which type of board is being used.
As the balancing point between the tension of the board pushing out and the line pulling down is met, the planer board stops. The end result is room enough for multiple fishing lines to be fished simultaneously.
Trolling is especially effective when the fish have moved off to deeper water. Thinking like a fish will teach you to prioritize the water temperature just as much as the food that is available in a given stretch of water.
As the temperature rises, so does the difficulty the fish has in breathing that water. Therefore, when the sun gets high, they move down deep.
Between the times of 10 am and 4 pm, the sun is beating down on the water and warming the shallows to the point where no bass wants to be there. Often there is some sort of bottom topography or structure that they congregate around.
This structure often becomes the ideal target to troll through. Setting dodgers and multiple planers to navigate right past or through this structure with spinnerbaits or crankbaits can often revitalize some of the slowest times of the day.
A properly equipped tackle box for bass fishing should include lures and equipment for trolling. While the needed accessories of trolling aren’t sexy and can run more on the expensive side, they are often a one-time purchase that will be used for years.
Planer boards, dodgers, and divers are often cut and retied over and over again. This allows your tackle purchase to be more of an investment rather than an expense.
A note on recovering from snags. Fishing will always come with hanging up on all manner of litter in the water. Yet, with trolling this is even more prevalent due to the large areas being covered.
Therefore, it pays to be prepared to recover from lost lures and damaged lines. Keeping a “utility” box of these items to compensate for snags, wear and tear, and other fouled-up tackle is essential to being effective when trolling for bass.
Spinner baits mimic baitfish in their appearance while their large blades work as dinner bells for bass. The arm of the spinner bait not only holds the blade but also works as a natural deflector to things it could snag on. Given these attributes, spinnerbaits are a prime choice for trolling.
When selecting a spinnerbait, it is easy to get confused by the number of choices in blade design, length, and color. Colorado blades produce more pressure at lower speeds but are less effective at high speeds. Willow blades work better at high speeds and are more likely the appropriate trolling choice for this reason.
Use a spinner bait when fishing woody cover and the fish are primarily feeding on baitfish. This allows the best attributes of the spinnerbait to be seen. With their single hook protected by the blade arm, they are less likely to hang anything but a fish.
Crankbaits work by using different-sized lips to dive to a controlled depth. Sporting menacing treble hooks, they will manage to snag any fish they come into contact with. Their internal rattles and menagerie of color choices make them ideal for trolling.
Since the size of the lip of the crankbait sets the depth it will run at, the fisherman can target exact depths and know that the crankbait will dive to that depth and stay there. This is extremely useful when trying to target certain bottom topography like humps, drop-offs, or ledges.
Use crankbaits when fish are suspended or otherwise located at a very specific depth. Color choice should match the water color. Dark dull colors are best in water with low light penetration, but light, shiny, reflective colors match clear water.
Soft plastics, specifically swimbaits, provide great action when trolling. Given their natural buoyancy and single hook, they are ideal baitfish imitators in shallow water. Swimbaits come in a wide array of colors and sizes so that the most appropriate choice can be made for fishing.
Employ swimbaits when the fish are remaining shallow, but are largely unresponsive to other presentations. The main advantage of a swimbait is to allow fishing of large swatches of shallow water strike zones in a relatively short amount of time. They have the added benefit of being very weed and snag resistant which is important given the depth they are operated in.
An alternative to swimbaits, though not an ideal trolling bait, is the bass jig. With their large skirts and trailer worms, the action of a bass jig can be very enticing to a bass that is looking for an easy meal. Given their usefulness in almost any bass fishing scenario, they should always be on hand when fishing.
There are several important factors to keep in mind when trolling for bass. It’s not as easy as throwing a trolling motor on a boat and hitting the water. Keep the following considerations in mind.
A trolling motor gives the angler superior control over the boat without having to use the outboard. This is incredibly useful as not only does it save gas, but it is also far more peaceful and simple. Trolling with a trolling motor is the preferred method for most bass fishing scenarios.
Selecting and installing a trolling motor can be difficult and confusing. If a trolling motor is going to be used for trolling primarily, the higher voltage motors should be given preference. Larger voltages allow for longer life and higher speeds when trolling.
Trolling motors have also hit an inflection point of innovation. GPS-enabled trolling motors can allow you to chart where you want to troll, control them remotely, and even hold a specific point. If selecting a trolling motor for trolling, deeply consider getting a GPS-enabled model so you can take advantage of these new features.
Trying to decode the local habitat and living conditions for bass can be challenging, but a fish finder can help. A fish finder will allow you to see what is happening below the boat and make decisions based on real-time information. Knowing what is actively going, where the fish are at, and what the bottom actually looks like will make trolling much simpler.
Depth and water temperature are two of the most crucial pieces of information that a fisherman needs and a fish finder will provide. Having that available in real-time will inform the depth that needs to be trolled as well as where. The water temperature in particular, once an angler understands how much it shapes a fish’s behavior, can be the most crucial information garnered from the screen of a fish finder.
The transducer for the fish finder is the antenna that actually grabs the information displayed on the fish finder’s screen. These transducers can be mounted either on the transom or the trolling motor itself. Depending on how trolling is going to be performed, a fisherman will need to mount it accordingly.
One of the primary disparities between fishing from a kayak or a boat is the element of speed. Obviously, a kayak is slower and demands more to travel at speed than a boat. Luckily, the best speed for trolling is not outside of the reach of a kayaker.
Finding the correct speed for trolling depends on depth, lure, and current. In a boat, the best speed is determined by what it will take to get the lure to the fish. Yet, in a kayak, the speed that must be trolled will be relatively fixed and the proper presentation must be achieved by adding or subtracting weight and distance behind the boat. This is why the most popular kayaks used for bass fishing are lightweight, stable, and come with some added technology for maneuverability, such as an advanced pedal system. It's also beneficial to add one of the best trolling motors for kayaks as this will bring kayak fishing to the next level.
Trolling speed should also take into account the current that is being fished. A boat may only be going a few miles per hour, but if going against the current the lure will be traveling extremely fast relative to any fish it passes. Bass specifically doesn’t appreciate anything above 4 mph so special attention must be paid so the lure doesn’t exceed this speed relative to them.
Your lure should be far enough away from the boat to not get tangled with other lines or the prop on the boat itself. The actual distance from the boat will vary depending on the depth needed to achieve, the number of lures out, and the water conditions. The angler should always be evaluating if these conditions are being met and adjust accordingly.
Speed and depth are often linked. However, depending on the type of lure being fished, this could be a confusing relationship. If fishing a lure that sinks, the faster you go the more shallow the lure will run. However, if you are fishing a floating crankbait, the reverse will be true. Speed should be selected to achieve the depth desired.
There are also several different categories of fishing line to choose from, but they’re not all ideal for trolling. Braided line works better for long distances, deeper depths, and heavier fish since it does not stretch, has little memory, and is extremely strong. However, monofilament is the preferred line if staying shallow.
Different lures have different actions, imitate different things, and present different challenges. The angler should select a lure that will reach the appropriate depth, imitate the bass’s natural prey, and be of the right color for the water. A wrongly selected lure fish correctly still will produce no fish.
Choosing to troll with the right line is also critical. Long distances, high speeds, and great depths will cause monofilament to stretch beyond use. Most trolling applications will call for the braided line that gives very little to the conditions trolling will subject it to.
One of the best tips for bass fishing from a mobile vessel is to only bring with you what you are going to use. The limited space onboard demands proper preparation and planning to be done before the kayak is even loaded. If trolling, it is advisable to have one rod and tackle box dedicated to the venture to maximize space.
Bottom topography is crucial to fishing in general and even more so for trolling. Navigational charts, maps, and fish finders are all excellent ways to gain some clarity on bottom topography. While this may be the most overlooked aspect of bass fishing, it is often one of the most critical.
Grass and other aquatic vegetation is the start of the food chain the bass sits on top of. Not only does it feed the creatures that the bass prey on, but it also puts oxygen the bass needs in the water. Finding the vegetation will often be synonymous with finding bass.
Structure littering the bottom such as old trees, stumps, or man-made debris provides ambush sites for bass. Special consideration should be given to the opportunity that structure presents. This is especially true when it sits on some bottom topography that allows for access to deep and shallow water with vegetation close by.
Trolling is a sure-fire way to locate and catch fish. It is an effective technique to have in the bag of tricks for when the fishing slows down in the middle of the day.
While fish are less likely to expend energy chasing potential meals, trolling simply brings the meal directly to them. This can break the lethargy of the noon-day bass and induce strikes when there are simply none to be had using other presentation techniques.
Every angler should be familiar with trolling techniques, when to use them, and how to effectively employ them successfully.
Trolling for bass works, but it is more effective at certain times of the year. Knowing and understanding the season when bass spawn and where you are in relation to that time will help pattern their behavior and make trolling more effective. Taking into account the time of day, water temperature, and structure are also critical to success while trolling.
You should go to the optimum speed to set the correct depth of the lure when trolling. The speed of your boat while trolling is one of the most critical components of the operation. Too fast or too slow will move your lure outside of the strike zone and you will merely be wasting gas.
Yes, trolling for bass is certainly possible. It is especially helpful to install a trolling motor on a kayak as the level of paddling or pedaling required to troll effectively is a bit much for the average kayaker. All of the same rules apply to include needing proper speed consistently. Remember, the bass don’t know or care that you are in a kayak.
You can troll with a crankbait! When you consider what largemouth bass eat, trolling with a crankbait is ideal for catching schooling bass as they prey upon schools of shad and baitfish. Of the different types of lures used in trolling, the crankbait is the most well suited.
You can troll with a spinnerbait! This is specifically effective with large willow blades as they produce a large amount of pressure and flash. This makes the bass think they are hitting a school of bait fish, rather than just a single baitfish.
In general, you should troll 20-150 feet behind your boat. However, different situations will cause the optimum distance you should troll behind your boat to vary. Normally, there is no need to troll past 75 feet behind your boat.
You should troll with, against, or across the current in order to make the best presentation to the fish. In high current situations, it will prove difficult to get the correct action by trolling with the current and far too fast to troll with the current. Therefore, cutting across the current will be ideal in those situations.
The best fishing line for trolling will likely be braid due to the lack of stretch and memory in the line. However, at slower speeds and closer distances, the benefits of a monofilament line can still be enjoyed. The trolling speed, depth, and distance will be the biggest determining factor in what type of line should be used.
You can troll with any lure, but not every lure is good when trolled. It will be difficult to do better than the classic spinnerbait, crankbait, or swim jig. Certain rigs for soft plastics are not appropriate at all, such as a Texas rigged worm, but can still be done if desired.
You can absolutely troll a river. Consideration should be given to your setup. Unless using a properly outfitted vessel, fishing a river from a kayak may prove to be especially difficult in rivers with alot of current, debris, or turns.
About the author: Brandon Sanders, who goes by BBSanders, is a freelance outdoors writer that enjoys hunting and fishing across the world. He is a combat veteran of Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other smaller deployments. He lives in East Texas in a small cabin with his wife and two dogs. You can learn more about him on his own website, here.