How to

Trout Trolling for Dummies

Basic Lure Fishing

Trout trolling can be a bit like rocket science with downriggers, side planers and lead lines, but BUSHY likes to keep it simple. If you know how, it is possible to succeed with some old fashioned flat line trolling.

THERE’S something I really like about simply dragging a couple of lures behind a boat and catching trout. It’s probably a little unfashionable in this high tech era, but it still works if the conditions are right, and sometimes just cruising around a big high country lake without much on your mind has a good feel to it. Setting the rods and lures is dead easy and when a strike does come along you can pull the other lines in to fight the fish without major dramas. Fighting the fish is a lot more exciting as well when you hook them on light tackle.

There are times that flat-lining won’t work, such as in mid summer when the water heats up in our trout impoundments, but I find that it work well more often than you might suspect. Most of my flat-lining has been done in Lake Jindabyne and Lake Eucumbene. I like to fish Jindy anytime in winter and Eucumbene in spring and early summer, because the water temperatures are generally fairly low at those times, and trout are often within 15 or 20 feet of the surface.

Flat-lining is not rocket science, but you can improve the odds of catching a fish by applying a bit of logic to your fishing. One thing you can do is to cover a couple of different depths by simply trolling one lure that runs shallow and one that runs deeper. If two or more anglers are in the boat, you can run more lines and more variations on depth. In NSW you can run two lines per angler but any more than four lines out usually results in some kind of mess anyway. With four lines in the water you can run one with a very shallow lure to cover fish patrolling close to the surface, you can run one that gets down to two metres or so, and then you can run two of the deepest lures you can find.

Four lures allows you to show the fish a range of colours as well. I have no real fixed ideas on colour for trout, but I have done well enough with a spread that includes a couple of drab natural colours and a couple of hideously bright orange or pink lures. Basically I like to give the fish a bit of a choice and let them work it out for themselves.


Try to troll a family of lures that works at a similar speed. For example, Flatfish need to be trolled dead slow while Tassie Devil style lures can handle a bit more speed. If you try to troll both of these lure styles at once, at least one of them will not catch fish as well as they should, because the speed range will be wrong. Minnows and crankbaits are very popular with trout trollers, partly because they will work at a fairly wide speed band of about 1.3 knots up to 2.6 knots. For this reason and because it is easy to find deep ones and shallow ones, I tend to favour them for my flat-lining.

Things have changed a bit in the past couple of years as far as outboards go and now it is a lot easier to troll with a main powerplant. I run an Evinrude E-TEC 90 on my boat and it will troll all day at speeds as slow as 1.7 knots. If I head into the wind then it will troll even slower! This low speed and quiet performance make flat-lining with your main powerplant a very relaxing and effective pastime. I generally aim to troll at about 1.7 knots (which is about 2mph or 3.2kph), but I’m not fussed if I go a bit quicker or slower with the minnows and crankbaits I use. I do tend to use my GPS as a guide to how fast I am trolling, but before I owned one I seemed to do well enough with a bit of gut feel and by taking note of the way my rod tip was vibrating. It’s surprising how well you can judge an effective trolling speed just by watching the way your lure is making the rod work. Trout must be funny critters though, because sometimes they break the rules and take lures that are going way faster than they should. This has happened to me enough times to be significant, so if you are having a tough day, try upping your speed so the lures are just about out of control. Sometimes this tactic really belts rainbows. Apart from the GPS, my boat also has the luxury of a Minn Kota electric trolling motor which I use for trolling Flatfish really slowly, and occasionally when fish retreat into the depths, for trolling with Ford Fenders. I must say, though, that I spend a lot of time on the main motor with the deep divers thudding away out the back just because it’s easy and effective.

I always try to vary the distance that my lures run from the boat – I set at least one back at 70+ metres, and I will run one quite short at maybe 15m. I have had fish take lures as close as three metres from the boat so maybe they don’t worry too much about boats or motors anyway. I mainly vary my distances to avoid tangles and to cover as wide an area as possible with the lures just to increase the chances of a fish seeing one of them. Having said that, if I had to bet a heap of money on which lure was going to be belted next, I would still pick the one furthest from the boat!


I’m really fussy about getting the lures back in the right position, so I rig my lines with braid which is easy to see, and then tie quite a long length of leader (around 15m) to it. With this rig I can easily return a lure to its correct trolling position after a strike. For example, you can set a long lure by letting the braid out until the end of it just touches the water – this will put your lure in about the right place to nail a fish. If you catch a fish, run the line back out until the braid is just touching the water again, and the lure just has to be positioned at the same distance from the boat as it was when you caught the fish. When you want to run a lure closer to the boat, just run it out until only a few feet of braid shows outside the rod tip. With this system it is dead easy to keep control of your lures and to return them to the strike zone without having to guess at a distance. Do not underestimate this little trick – if your lure has just been eaten by a fish, it’s very likely to be eaten by another fish if you can return it to exactly the same distance from the boat, because this will make the lure run at the exact same depth and have the exact same action as it did before. Trust me – it is worth the few minutes it takes to rig the high-vis braid and long leader.

Always try to adjust your rod holders so the tips of your rods are close to the surface of the water – I know this is not possible with some holders, but having the rods low does two important things. Firstly it allows your lures to run just a bit deeper, and secondly the wind will not blow your lines all over the place and cause tangles.

After a lot of trial and error I am satisfied that light leaders make a big difference to the numbers of fish you catch. Tie good knots and you can get away with a maximum of six pound test leader. All the fish in this story were caught on three pound leader, which sounds a bit extreme, but there were plenty of boats out there complaining about a slow day, while our basic methods did okay. I honestly don’t know why the light leader works so well, but it might be that the lures just go a bit deeper on the light stuff. Maybe I’m a bit simple, but I don’t even care why it works – I just know fish get on the end of light line, so I use it and then panic a bit every time a big trout gets on!

I know that plenty of trout are caught on line that would land Jaws but in my book, lots of trout beats some trout.

I do have a great sounder on the boat and I use it to look for both fish and bottom terrain. Strangely enough I often catch fish in stupid places in the big lakes and I really don’t know why. Maybe I am just not big on theories, but I do know one thing about trout – where there is one, there will be others! If you do manage to catch a fish, don’t be in a hurry to leave the area. All the stuff you read in serious trout articles does work – weedbeds, rocks, drop-offs, plankton clouds and all sorts of other features are good spots to try, but I catch a hell of a lot of fish way out in the depths when I am just snooping along. I just set a good trap, wander about the place in a nice relaxed fashion – and then flog the area to death wherever I hook a fish. I apologise for this being a bit too simple but it works.

Just a quick word on safety before I leave you to it: The big Snowy Mountains lakes are very dangerous places if you let your guard down. Make absolutely sure your boat and you as skipper can handle the conditions if a sudden blow comes up, because the penalty for a mistake

on mountain water is usually death. If you fall in or capsize – you will probably die of hypothermia within a few minutes. There is a school of thought that any style of waders should not be worn in boats on the big lakes, and that is probably a fair call. As you can see from the photo on page 71, my mate Browny feels he has a better chance of surviving in a tight-fitting pair of neoprene waders.

You can be sure he has weighed up the choices and made an informed decision. The bottom line is that you should realise that the big lakes are potentially dangerous and you have to be bloody careful not to fall in or capsize.

Well, I guess that is about it – you really don’t have to be a rocket scientist to bring home a few trout to go in the smoker, and you don’t need a heap of complicated gear either. What you will need is a good white wine, some salty crackers, a couple of lemons and some cracked pepper, You might need a smug smile as well because the trout from these big lakes are every bit as good as imported smoked salmon and you just might have to eat some if you just drag a few lures around!

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