Kayaking and trolling is a match made in fishing heaven. Kayaks are stealthy, maneuverable and endlessly customizable. Combine these features with the benefits of trolling and you are nearly guaranteed to catch more fish.
Trolling is all about covering water. The more fish that see your bait, the more likely you are to get a bite. Trolling in a kayak involves more than most novice kayak anglers think. Even so, it is not as hard as it seems. Plus, the more simplified you keep your setup, the easier it will be to master.
Whether you use a paddle, pedals or electric motor on your kayak, there are some crucial skills you need to acquire to troll like a pro. Luckily, you came to the right place. We’ll share all our favorite tips to elevate your kayak trolling game on the water. Let’s get started.
Trolling by kayak type
Before you even start trolling, it’s a good idea to think about the kind of kayak you have. There are a lot of different trolling techniques but no one type of kayak can do them all. Therefore, the best way to setup an effective method of trolling is to match it to the style of kayak you are using.
Some kayak types are better suited for light tackle trolling or long line trolling while some can be outfitted with small downriggers. It all depends on how your kayak is powered. We’ll go over the three main types of kayaks and how to catch more fish from each of them.
Trolling with a paddle kayak
Paddle powered kayaks are what most people start out with. Your forward momentum is powered by nothing but muscle and stamina, which not all of us have in abundance. While it is possible to troll and catch fish in a paddle powered kayak, it is not always easy.
Only certain trolling tactics will work in a paddle kayak. It doesn’t matter how strong you are or how fast you can paddle. Trying to manage a fishing rod while paddling at the same time can get frustrating really quick. In order to get the best trolling results with a paddle kayak, stick to a setup that doesn’t require a lot of moving parts.
After years of trolling for trout, kokanee, walleye and salmon from a paddle powered kayak, we recommend limiting yourself to the following types of trolling setups:
- Light spinners or worm harnesses
- Long line trolling with flies, crankbaits and spoons
- Small lake trolls or dodgers with minimal weight
- Trolling setups using only one rod
Don’t bother trying to troll with divers, large weights, big dodgers or more than one rod. Those types of setups cause way too much drag which makes it tough to maintain the proper speed and direction while you paddle.
It’s also incredibly difficult to put your gear out as you paddle if the trolling setup is too heavy. The best trolling setup for a paddle kayak is one you can cast behind you or that won’t sink too fast and get snagged on the bottom while you let line out.
Here is our beginning to end process for trolling with a paddle kayak.
Start paddling your kayak to build up speed in the direction you intend to troll. Once you build up some momentum, it’s time to get your gear out.
If you’re using a spinner, spoon or crankbait, cast it straight behind the kayak as you move. Then, put your rod in a rod holder and continue paddling to maintain speed. You can pause long enough to let more line out if needed.
If you’re using a lake troll or kokanee dodger that you can’t cast behind you then keep your rod in the rod holder while you paddle to build up speed.
Once you have enough forward velocity, you can put the paddle down and let out some line. Let it out at a controlled rate. Don’t free spool. As the kayak starts slowing down, close your bail or lock the spool and start paddling again to correct your course and regain speed. Repeat this dance until you are satisfied with your lure depth and distance behind the kayak.
Trolling with a pedal kayak
Your trolling options really start to open up if you are using a pedal powered kayak. Unlike a paddle kayak, a pedal kayak keeps your arms free to handle your fishing gear. Most pedal kayaks easily maintain good trolling speeds with minimal effort on your part.
Pedal kayaks designed for anglers, like the Old Town Sportsman PDL 120, have accessory tracks for mounting rod holders and fish finders. The drive system on most pedal kayaks are also incredibly powerful. That means you can troll further and longer with heavier tackle.
A pedal kayak gives you the freedom to target larger fish or troll in deeper water with divers and heavy weights. There is still plenty of drag to contend with but it is much easier to manage in a pedal kayak. You can even troll two rods with relative ease.
Trolling in a pedal kayak is much simpler and a lot less frustrating once you get a system in place. Here is our approach to trolling with pedal power.
Even in a pedal kayak, you need to first line up on your desired course and build up a little speed before you let the trolling gear out. We like to first place our rods in the rod holders and lower the trolling gear a few feet into the water before we start pedaling.
Once you reach the right trolling speed take your rod out of the rod holder and start letting out your line slowly. Continue pedaling the entire time. You may start to notice your kayak dragging toward the side with your trolling setup. Just correct your steering slightly to compensate.
After you reach the desired depth, put the rod back in the rod holder. If you’re trolling with two rods, now is the time to let out your second line. Follow the same process but remember to correct your steering again since the drag is now equal on both sides of the kayak.
Trolling with a motorized kayak
Electric powered kayaks are game changers for today’s anglers. One of the best motorized kayaks is the Old Town’s Sportsman AutoPilot 120. With an integrated Minn Kota trolling motor, you get every feature avid trollers need. AutoPilot navigation, Spot-Lock and i-Pilot remote driving will definitely make trolling as easy as it gets.
Managing your gear and even a downrigger is blissfully simple. Just set your course and speed then Autopilot will keep everything running as you drop your setup down to fish.
There really isn’t any more to it than that. For those of you who love trolling all day on the water, make sure you splurge for a high quality lithium ion battery. At least a 54 Ah is a must to troll all day but 100 Ah is ideal. We highly recommend Dakota Lithium batteries for kayak fishing. Be sure to take a look at our full Dakota Lithium battery review.
To make trolling on a motorized kayak even smoother, properly outfit your accessory tracks with fully adjustable rod holders that keep your rods within easy reach. In most cases, you’ll need extensions on them so you don’t have to constantly lean forward to grab them.
Essential tools to boost your success
Properly outfitting your kayak with the right tools for trolling is the only way you’ll consistently be successful. Anyone can troll for fish but not everyone catches their limit. A few essential additions on your kayak will truly boost your catch rate.
- Fish finder: Nothing elevates your game like good electronics. Often times, finding fish is the toughest part of trolling unless they are feeding at the surface. Just about any fishing kayak can have a fish finder installed. Humminbird fish finders are our favorite and the Helix 7 series is perfectly suited for kayak anglers.
- Solid rod holders and mounts: All that heavy trolling gear coupled with hard hitting fish put some serious strain on a rod holder. Don’t skimp on rod holders or extension arms. YakAttack Omega Pro Rod Holders are an awesome addition to your kayak trolling setup. These are fully adjustable and hold up well against savage strikes from any species, including salmon.
- Extendable landing net: There’s no point investing all your time and money into a kayak trolling setup only to loose every fish at the boat. A long trolling rod combined with a long stretch of trolling tackle makes it hard to get fish right up to your kayak. Get a good adjustable net that extends far enough so you can reach the fish.
- Gear storage: By far, the most frustrating part about kayak trolling is the clutter in your boat. Take our word for it, invest in good gear storage and tackle bags so you can keep your stuff organized and out of the way.
- Fish storage: If you are keeping fish, you’ll need a place to put them. We’ll give you a hint, avoid the stringer and use a cooler bag. You can learn all about where to keep fish in a kayak by checking out our recent article.
- Trolling rods and reels: There are loads of trolling rods to choose from but not all are good enough to bother with. If you troll for trout or kokanee from your kayak, you won’t want to miss our top picks for the best trolling rods.
As you gain more experience trolling from a kayak, you’ll learn what gear you need and what you don’t. If something doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to switch it out for something that does.
Best trolling techniques for kayaks
As we mentioned earlier, matching your technique to the kayak you have is important. Don’t expect to be able to troll for salmon in 120 feet of water using a downrigger with just a paddle kayak. Instead, optimize your trolling techniques to fit your kayak.
Some of our favorite and most successful trolling methods are the simplest. The following setups prove to be less of a hassle in a kayak and they will help you catch more fish.
- Trolling Spinners: Small spinners are some of the deadliest trolling lures for stocked trout. Early spring and fall are the best times to troll with spinners in a kayak. Go baitless or tip it with a nightcrawler to entice more bites. Vibric Rooster Tails and Panther Martins are killer choices.
- Lake Trolls: Lake trolls, or gang trolls as they are often called, are top performing trolling rigs for rainbow trout. They create plenty of flash and catch countless fish every season. They are especially easy to handle in a kayak. We usually add a wedding ring spinner on the end to seal the deal. You can add a small banana weight above the troll to get extra depth if needed.
- Dodgers: Trolling with dodgers is a common method for targeting kokanee and trout. Use a sliding sinker rig with 1 to 2 ounces of lead to push your gear deeper where suspended fish hang out.
- Long Line: Long line trolling often incorporates lead core line instead of weights to troll with flies, light spoons or spinners. In the world of trolling, this is a finesse approach. With a kayak, long line trolling can be highly effective when fish are ultra finicky but take care to control your turns to avoid snagging debris or gear from other boaters on a crowded lake.
Problems you’ll encounter
Unlike a conventional fishing boat, kayaks present some additional challenges when trolling. You can certainly overcome them but you should be aware just the same.
By far, the most difficult situation kayak anglers face is wind. Wind makes staying on course and maintaining speed all but impossible. Light weight kayaks get pushed around easily by 5 to 10 mph winds. Sometimes playing the wind to your advantage is the best practice. Try to keep it at your back and watch your speed closely.
We try to avoid windy days in paddle kayaks but a pedal or motorized kayak is much easier to handle in rougher weather. Be cautious and don’t over estimate your skill in the wind. It’s possible to flip a kayak when the waves get big enough.
Tides and currents
Saltwater tides and river currents are a powerful force. Using them to your advantage and avoiding the problems they cause is essential to improving your odds. In general, fish tend to move against the tide and current. More fish will see your gear if you troll across the current or tide.
Some days trolling against the tide works better but we still prefer cutting some sort of angle across the tide. It is less work and you’ll cover the most water that way. Just remember to pay attention to the relative speed of your lure.
Even the smallest spinners will have drag in the water which influences the movement of a kayak. With the rod pointing perpendicular to the direction of the kayak, drag has a tendency to pull your boat to one side. This is especially apparent with high drag setups like large lake trolls, salmon dodgers, heavy weights and divers. Downriggers also cause significant drag.
In a paddle kayak, drag is a major challenge and the reason for scaling down your trolling setup. It’s most noticeable once you set down the paddle to let out your gear. You can counter this pull by paddling harder on the side your rod points just before letting out. The slight turn caused by this keeps your kayak on a straighter course with the new drag until you can resume paddling.
In pedal and motorized kayaks, drag is of minor concern.
Can you put a downrigger on a kayak
Downriggers allow your trolling lures to hold at a specific depth where fish are suspended which is extremely beneficial. We have seen boats of all sizes with downriggers but can you put a downrigger on a kayak?
You can easily mount a small downrigger on a fishing kayak. Mount a downrigger on a kayak using the accessory track or use a solid, flat space to attach it. Pedal drive or motorized kayaks handle small downriggers without a problem. It is nearly impossible to manage a downrigger with a paddle kayak.
There are a few good downriggers compatible with kayak trolling. Both Scotty and Cannon offer a couple to choose from. Cannon’s Mini-Troll or Lake-Troll are worth considering. For you Scotty fans, check out the LakeTroller series.
Mounting a downrigger on a kayak will take some figuring out. There is a great article, written by Tyler Hicks, on how to mount a downrigger to a kayak. He also explains some other modifications you should make to get the most from a downrigger on your kayak. It’s a worth while read so check out the article here.
3 tips to kayak troll like a pro
At this point, hopefully we have given you a pretty good idea how to start trolling with your kayak. Regardless of what species you plan to target, here are a few more kayak trolling tips that will have you trolling like a pro.
Utilize a second rod
If it is legal to do so where you fish, take advantage of the opportunity to troll with two rods at one time. In a paddle kayak, two rods gets complicated so stick with one rod only. But for those of you in pedal and motorized kayaks, two rods is a huge benefit.
Two rods lets you experiment with different depths and trolling setups. That way, you’ll zero in on what fish want twice as fast. For trout and kokanee, we like to run one rod up shallow and the other at a depth where we are consistently marking fish on the fish finder. Fish near the surface usually don’t show up on a graph and fish holding at different depths don’t always feed at the same time. Divide and conquer and you’ll fill more limits.
Master your speed
Most anglers understand that trolling speed is important but it isn’t always easy to find that sweet spot. Some days fish are aggressive and prefer to chase fast moving lures and other days you need to slow it down. Finding and maintaining the best trolling speed in a kayak is a necessary skill to master.
One thing die-hard kayak trollers understand is the importance of good electronics. If you are serious about trolling, invest in a fish finder. Not only does it help locate fish, it accurately measures your speed. A hand held GPS or smartphone also works in a pinch.
Either way, knowing your trolling speed is the first step toward success. Varying your speed to find what fish crave on any given day is also important. Using S-turns or stop and go tactics all improve your chances of converting a curious fish into a biting fish.
As important as trolling speed is, what speed should you start at? Luckily for you, we tirelessly experimented with trolling speeds and wrote a comprehensive guide on the best trolling speeds for 11 popular gamefish. Read all about it before you go.
Take advantage of stealth
Arguably, the biggest benefit we have found with kayak fishing is stealth. Simply put, big boats scare fish. No place is this more apparent than in shallow water. Most anglers avoid trolling in shallow water because fish tend to hear and see them approach. A noisy motor, obvious wakes and a large looming hull will spook plenty of fish.
Kayak anglers have a much smaller presence on the surface. Kayaks are quiet and small so shallow water fish are less startled and return to feeding shortly after you pass. Take advantage of this fact and try trolling your kayak in shallow water.
Trolling in a kayak is a constant learning experience but well worth the work. Follow some of our advice and you’ll start catching more fish. Make your kayak trolling experience fun and productive.
Check out more of our How-to-Guides for other expert trolling advice and kayak fishing tips.