Trolling might be the “bread and butter” for walleye and trout anglers but utter the word “trolling” among bass anglers and prepare for some dirty looks. In all my years of bass fishing, I have never seen a hard-core bass angler target largemouth by trolling.
That got me thinking. Is there a place in a bass fisherman’s arsenal for trolling tactics or do bass addicts only prefer casting jigs, worms and spinnerbaits for a reason?
So, can you successfully troll for largemouth bass? Yes. Trolling for bass with crankbaits, swimbaits and spinnerbaits is a highly effective method for efficiently locating bass holding to deeper structure or along submerged weed lines. While trolling for largemouth may be against the rules in tournaments, it is fair game for the casual angler.
It seems that not everyone is a fan of trolling. In fact, many bass anglers find it down right boring. However, from my own experience and research, using trolling techniques in the right conditions is a skill worth learning to drum up more largemouth on your next fishing trip. Keep reading to learn everything about trolling for bass.
To troll or not to troll
When you think of largemouth bass, you probably envision submerged stumps, docks and heavy weeds as their primary home. Well, you’re not wrong but it’s been pretty well demonstrated that the home range of bass extends well beyond the shallow edges of a lake.
Nobody has done more to scientifically establish deep water structure trolling for bass than Elwood “Buck” Perry. Considered the father of structure fishing for bass, Buck Perry consistently showcased his Spoonplug lures and the power of trolling to find hidden pockets where bass are overlooked.
Trolling for largemouth likely gets its bad wrap because it is prohibited in all major bass tournaments. Some would argue that it’s banned from tournaments because it is too successful but a larger contributing factor is it’s just not “cool”.
Most pro anglers get endorsed by tackle companies to showcase new lures and nothing shows off a lure like flipping it toward a log and yanking out a tournament winning fish. Pinpointing fish and making a slick cast with the latest lure craze is sexier than trolling.
But let’s be real. Maintaining endorsements and looking cool just isn’t necessary for most bass anglers who simply want to catch more fish. There will be times when casting doesn’t produce and trolling might be the ticket to turning a slow day into a fishing trip to remember.
Best time of year to troll for bass
Bass certainly spend a lot of time in shallow water. Spring, early summer and fall provide the perfect temperatures for essential bass forage near shallow structure.
For the most part, cold blooded bass can tolerate water temperatures from 50 to 85 degrees without too much trouble. As long as the food is available, largemouth will eat.
When the conditions are right, you can consistently find bass lurking among typical bass structure along shallow edges and casting your favorite bass lure is hard to beat. However, all bets are off once big bass head to deeper water in search of favorable temperatures and more oxygen.
The summer and winter seasons drive bass into deeper water in search of stable oxygen levels and comfortable temperatures. Not to mention, most prey sources like shad also tend to move to those same locations. These are the times to break out the deep diving cranks for trolling.
The exact depth bass end up depends on your region but 15 to 20 feet is not uncommon. In other lakes, bass might end up in 25 feet or more of water. Just remember, bass strongly relate to structure like humps, hard to soft transitions, deep weed lines and points.
Trolling in the summer can really pay off during mid-day between the morning and evening bite. It’s typical for bass to retreat to the depths once the sun starts beating down on shallow waters.
Water clarity plays a role on bass movement as well. Clear water generally means bass move deeper than they would in stained water.
Trolling lures for bass and when to use them
Bass fishing purists might argue that trolling is a lazy way of fishing and requires less skill than casting for bass. Yet, anyone who trolls for other species of fish can attest to the difficulty of mastering the skills associated with trolling.
There are many variables to consider when trolling for fish, including bass, in order to entice a strike. A major part of trolling is depth control. Pretty much any lure can be trolled but refining your lure choice to match the conditions and target depth separates anglers who catch fish from those who don’t.
A few lures come to mind when trolling for largemouth bass: crankbaits, swimbaits and spinnerbaits. Let’s take a look at each type of bait and see when you should be tying each one on.
My first choice of bait to troll for deep water bass is a crankbait. You have to keep your bait in the strike zone and cranks are the most reliable way to find aggressive open-water bass.
They also let you feel the bottom as you troll around promising structure. Occasional “ticks” let you know you’re in the zone and you can adjust the depth by reeling in line or letting more out.
You don’t need a huge variety of crankbaits either. A few natural colors and white work well in clear water and try fire-tiger, orange or chartreuse in dingy water. I prefer Shad-raps with an emphasis on sizes that cover a range of diving depths. Size 5 through 8 cover a range of 5 to 15 feet.
Start shallow when trolling cranks and work progressively deeper until you find the fish. A common tactic is to troll until you hook up with a bass and throw out a marker or mark a waypoint on your fish finder. Then, start peppering the area where you caught the fish with precision casts using standard lure presentations. If you can’t stir up any more bites, continue trolling.
Many bass lakes in our neck of the woods are reservoirs lined by long, featureless, rip rap banks that hold nice sized largemouth. Casting soft plastics or flipping jigs is effective but one of the most efficient ways to locate small schools of bass is to troll along the bank with swimbaits.
Swimbaits provide a lot of flexibility in presentation and allow for an angler to impart a little action while trolling.
We like using 3/8 to 3/4 ounce heads with a 4 or 5 inch swimbait. Once again, color choice depends on water clarity so have a few on hand to cater to daily conditions.
Simply cast behind the boat and slowly troll along the bank. Impart the occasional rod pop to entice a reaction strike and maintain bottom contact as you feel your way over rocks.
Trolling swimbaits is all about feel and with practice you can cover water and bring way more fish into the boat on days with difficult conditions.
As far as search baits go, spinnerbaits rank among the top. Walleye anglers also recognize the effectiveness of spinnerbaits and employ long line trolling techniques that catch plenty of fish.
They are weedless by design and give off a fair amount of flash and vibration that draws attention from far and wide. Get one anywhere near an aggressive bass and you’re all but guaranteed to catch it.
You need heavy spinnerbaits to troll for bass around deeper structure and weed beds. Half or 3/4 ounce is sufficient. Go for the willow leaf blade in gold or silver if you have a choice. Tandem blades work better when more action is desired.
I find color to be less important but natural colors and white or silver for clear water is the standard approach. Again, fire-tiger, chartreuse, orange and green are better in stained water.
Depth control when trolling with a spinnerbait is challenging to master. I was unable to find any reliable diving curves like there are for crankbaits. Unlike swimbaits, you want to stay just above the bottom to avoid snagging.
A line counter or carefully pulling out line in measured increments is the best way to duplicate success. You can also let out enough line until you hit bottom while trolling then reel up several feet to lift the bait off the bottom.
The hunt for structure
A key component of trolling for bass is sticking to structure. Largemouth lurk around structure for a reason. Structure attracts forage prey and gives cover to predators as they sneak in to feed.
Structure for bass can be anything from weed beds in 15 plus feet of water to rock piles, sunken logs, rock points and transition zones where silty bottom meets rocky areas.
With today’s fish finding electronics, finding structure is easier than in Buck Perry’s day when the depths remained a mystery. Use your electronics to find likely spots.
Keep in mind that bass are unlikely to travel long distances. Most often you can troll for them in deep pockets adjacent to the shallow structure where you usually catch them.
For bass, it’s not a matter of traveling to the other end of the lake during summer and winter to find food and tolerable water temperatures, it’s only a matter of changing depth.
Largemouth typically travel the same paths from deep water to shallow feeding grounds and they usually correlate with structural zones. Target these areas for trolling and you’ll certainly boost your catch rates.
Other common questions
What rod do you need to troll for bass?
You don’t need any special equipment to troll for largemouth bass. You can even use the same rod you cast and flip jigs with. However, when a bass strikes while trolling, a more limber rod will prevent the hooks from tearing their mouth.
Can you troll for bass from a kayak?
Trolling for bass from a kayak can be amazingly successful. As an avid kayak angler myself, I have had good success trolling for bass even along shallow structure. The stealth of a kayak helps avoid scaring fish and you can get the trolling setup tight to cover. Although maintaining speed, and therefore depth, is a challenge with a paddle kayak.
Whether you like trolling or not, it can be an excellent way to quickly find largemouth in deep water during summer and winter. If catching fish is your goal and you’re not afraid to buck the trend then put down your casting rod and give trolling for bass a try this season.