I’ll be the first to admit, fishing is not easy. With so many variables to consider, it’s a small miracle when we can consistently catch fish while trolling. Everything from water temperature, time of day, depth, lure color and line choice can impact your ability to catch fish. One of the most important variables to consider is trolling speed.
Picking the perfect trolling speed is one of those critical things we all seem to struggle with at one point or another. However, with some basic guidelines and a little experimenting, perfecting your trolling speed doesn’t need to be so difficult.
So, what is the best trolling speed? The best trolling speed depends on several factors including the type of fish, water conditions and lure choice. In general, trolling speeds between 1.5 and 2.5 mph, as measured by GPS, are a good starting place for most species like walleye, trout and salmon.
However, for our purposes a guess just isn’t good enough. We want to catch fish efficiently and consistently and I bet you do too.
That’s why we have put together a comprehensive article that outlines the ideal trolling speeds for 11 of the most popular game fish. Not only will you get the numbers you want but we’ll share some of our best trolling tips along the way.
Best trolling speeds
Let’s start with a quick chart that summarizes the optimum trolling speeds for 11 popular game fish. Keep in mind that these numbers are more than random guesses. The trolling ranges and trolling speeds listed are compiled from expert advise, years of personal experience and plenty of research.
|Species||Trolling Speed Range||Best Trolling Speed|
|Walleye||0.5 to 3 mph||2.0 mph|
|Lake trout||1.0 to 3.0 mph||1.7 mph|
|Brown trout||0.8 to 2.5 mph||2.2 mph|
|Rainbow trout||0.6 to 2.5 mph||1.5 mph|
|Tiger trout||0.8 to 2.5 mph||1.2 mph|
|Kokanee||0.8 to 2.0 mph||1.8 mph|
|Coho salmon||2 to 4 mph||3.3 mph|
|Chinook salmon||1.5 to 3.5 mph||2.5 mph|
|Northern pike||2.0 to 4.0 mph||2.4 mph|
|Muskie||1.5 to 5 mph||3.0 mph|
|Crappie||0.5 to 1.2 mph||0.7 mph|
This chart certainly serves as a handy guide and a good starting point, especially when trolling somewhere new. However, there are many more variables to consider. Now we can take a closer look and pin point the best trolling speeds for your current situation.
Lure choice and trolling speed
Trolling at the right speed largely depends on the lure at the end of your line. Many anglers new to trolling think there’s some sort of “magic” speed that induces fish to strike. That’s just not the case.
The best trolling speed for any species is the one that gives your lure irresistible action as it moves through the water. While 1.5 to 2.5 mph creates enticing action for crankbaits, trolling a worm harness with a smiley blade might deliver better results going slower than 1.2 mph.
Fishing with attractors like dodgers and flashers should also be a consideration when choosing a trolling speed. Dodgers and flashers are used to attract fish to your bait but they won’t be as effective if you don’t know how speed affects their action.
Troll too fast with a dodger and it starts spinning. Troll too slow with a flasher and its lethargic spin fails to draw in fish. As a general rule of thumb, troll dodgers at 2 mph or less and troll flashers over 2 mph.
Finding the optimum trolling speed for whatever setup you are using is simple. Follow these steps to get your lure action just right.
Use the trolling speed chart to find the ideal speed for your target species and maintain that speed. GPS makes this task much simpler. Otherwise, use your best judgment.
Lower your trolling setup along side the boat just beneath the surface and check that the lure action is good. Make sure dodgers are dodging and flashers are spinning.
With your gear still beside the boat, slightly decrease the trolling speed and see if it improves the action. Then, increase your speed above the ideal range and decide if that provides a better presentation.
Once you set a speed that delivers good lure action, test the affect of some small “S” turns. This will give you a good idea how your gear will behave during turns that slow down and speed up the lure.
If the lure looks good beside the boat during small turns at the speed you’ve picked, start trolling.
Fine tune your trolling speeds
Even if you are trolling at the ideal speed and the lure action looks great, catching fish is still not guaranteed. But don’t get discouraged. All it takes is a bit of fine tuning and some experimenting to find the sweet spot.
Fish behavior varies wildly from day to day. One morning they may be super aggressive and hit any lure at any speed. The next day they may only chase a slowly trolled bait.
Figuring out what they want today is the key to more hook ups. Assuming you have the depth set right and the lure action dialed in, it’s time to experiment with speed.
More than once I have found myself sucked into the trap of trolling in a straight line at one speed. Many uneventful hours in prime water can go by this way, so add in some “S” turns to give your presentation some variation.
“S” turns are especially useful with multiple rods in the boat. Rods trolled on the inside of the turn simultaneously slow down as rods on the outside speed up. Countless hookups occur during turns and you can get an idea of what fish prefer based on which rod gets hit more.
Adding in turns, both sharp and wide, lets you test a whole range of speeds at once. If most of the fish are caught on the outside rod during sudden bursts of speed during a turn, try increasing your overall speed on the straight stretches.
How to measure trolling speed
Spouting out numbers for ideal trolling speeds is great but unless you can actually measure your speed it’s tough to replicate successful tactics from day to day. Without a doubt, electronics have come along way to help anglers bring a bit of science into fishing.
Most fish finders like Humminbird, Garmin and Lowrance units come with built in GPS that accurately measures trolling speed. Keep in mind though that GPS measures speed in relation to the ground. If you are fishing anywhere with significant current your relative speed in the water might be much different. In those situations, use your best judgement to gauge true speed.
On most lakes without current, GPS units are quite accurate for general purpose trolling.
Luhr Jensen makes a mechanical speed indicator which gives accurate speed measurements, even in areas with current. You can also purchase paddlewheel adapters that connect to fish finders and record speeds relative to the water. However, we find that these are cumbersome techniques and have limited benefits over GPS.
Sometimes finding the right trolling speed is a matter of watching your rod tip. Like we’ve said before, the action of your lure determines the best speed for trolling. When your gear is in the water, watch the rod tip to see how speed is affecting its presentation.
The way we do this is to watch the action of our lures beside the boat and make note of how it translates to pulses on the rod tip. Now, each time you send your bait behind the boat, look for the same movement on the rod tip. This gives a good indication that you’re going the right speed.
Trolling tips for specific species
No two species of fish are the same and there is not one trolling speed that catches them all. Whatever your favorite species is, we have a few more tips to help hone in your trolling skills.
There are several ways to troll for walleye and each method catches fish. Whether you like slowly trolling a bottom bouncer and worm harness or ripping cranks along mid-depth drop offs, implement a couple of these tips to boost your catch rate.
All fish are influenced by seasonal changes, but walleye seem particularly prone to wild fluxes in behavior and feeding habits.
Pre-spawning activity is usually the time for jigging but trolling has its place. Target pockets of warmer water near inlets and channels as fish stage for spawning. Troll worm harnesses behind bottom bouncers or floating Rapalas on a three way rig as slow as 0.8 mph. These same tactics work on lethargic post spawn walleye as well.
Trolling really kicks into high gear for summer walleye. Start trolling at speeds of 2.0 mph and adjust as necessary to encourage strikes. Most anglers drag around crankbaits like Berkley flicker shads and Rapalas in 20 to 30 feet of water, focusing on transitions and weed edges. Summer walleye are aggressive and trolling up to 3.0 mph is sometimes the hot ticket. Once again, incorporate the “S” turn when trolling to change up your speed.
When most people think of lake trout they think of deep water and slow trolling. While this is certainly true when summer heat drives them down to the cool depths, winter, spring and fall often yields lakers in relatively shallow water.
Deep water lake trout move slightly slower so trolling speeds around 1.7 mph are great in 80 feet or more of water. Once cool water opens up the rest of the water column, their aggression turns up a notch. Sometimes cool season lake trout readily strike lures trolled as much as 3.0 mph in less than 30 feet of water.
Brown trout garner a dedicated following among spring time trollers. They also grow to some impressive sizes which brings additional excitement to the chase. Spoons and shallow diving stickbaits are a favorite in early spring after the ice melts.
Ideal trolling speeds for brown trout range from 1.8 to 2.5 mph but 2.2 mph is a common starting speed. Early season browns hang in 20 to 30 feet of water along structure and drop offs. Covering water with erratic trolling paths puts your gear in front of more fish.
We like hand holding our rods when long line trolling with cranks or spoons. As we troll, we can add occasional pulses to the rod to create sudden movement that often triggers a strike.
Later in the season as brown trout move to deeper pockets, slow down trolling speeds and get the bait to the bottom.
As one of the most popular stocked game fish around, there’s plenty of trolling information available on rainbow trout. That’s why we are very confident starting with a trolling speed of 1.5 mph on most lakes we fish.
The only thing that governs how we adjust our speed is the water temperature. Temps in winter, spring and fall sit well below 45° to 50° F in most Pacific Northwest waters. Rainbows function well in cool water and stalk shallow flats for food. Long line trolling with small spinners up to 2 mph works well on these hungry fish.
On the other hand, summer heat drives trout to deeper, cold water and slows down their activity. Reaching them often requires additional weight or divers trolled at slower speeds well below 1 mph depending on the lure. Lake trolls by Luhr-Jenson followed by a wedding ring worm harness or hot shot make for a productive morning.
Mix a brown trout with a brook trout and you get an extremely aggressive tiger trout. These beautifully colored fish have gained significant popularity over the years. They fight harder than other trout species and are known to strike just about any lure that passes by.
Trolling for tiger trout is most effective at 1.2 mph but it mainly depends on the lure you are trolling. Shallow diving crankbaits, spoons, flatfish or gang troll setups work well at speeds around 1 to 2 mph.
As a baseline, troll around 1 mph and zig zag along contour breaks during low light hours. On pressured lakes you may want to long line troll large flies or spinners at speeds as slow as 0.8 mph.
Few fish are as picky about trolling speed as the kokanee salmon. These landlocked sockeye are full of spunk but getting them to commit to your bait is a challenge for sure.
Take a look at forums or listen to a few experienced anglers and most would agree that 1.7 to 1.8 mph is the trolling speed of choice for kokanee. There is of course, exceptions to the rule. The tight speed range of 0.8 to 2.0 mph works in most situations.
Kokanee trolling setups using dodgers trailed by small corn-tipped hoochies also present enticing action at this speed. Once you locate a school of fish, troll repeatedly through the school using the “S” turn method.
Coho and Chinook Salmon
From the Great Lakes to the Pacific Coast, salmon anglers are a breed apart. They target these fish with the best technology and tried and true tactics to bring home tasty fillets.
When going after coho, think fast (3.3 mph or more) and think shallow. Most coho trolling happens in 20 to 50 feet of water but don’t be afraid to drop down to deeper fish as you mark them on a fish finder.
Coho are hungry and aggressive and seem to prefer forceful action from flashers and trailing lures. One of my favorite coho lures is the Luhr-Jensen Coyote spoon in black and white.
We generally fish for chinook at slower speeds with a dodger setup. Trolling speed is less critical with chinook and 2.5 mph is a good starting point. These powerful fish can catch just about any prey so our speed is, once again, limited by the lure and dodger action.
Chinook also swim deeper so trolling heavy downrigger weights also limits speed and maneuverability.
Pike and Muskie
These big, toothy predators are high on the list for anglers seeking big trophies that strain even the most elite tackle to its limit. Trolling is often overlooked as a means to cover water and pinpoint prime stalking ground for muskie and pike.
Trolling around big spinners, shad raps and muskie spoons at 2.5 to 3.0 mph yields good results in pike and muskie waters. However, trolling for pike and muskie should be used as a one-two punch to boost your catch rates by nearly double.
Make repeated trolling passes near likely spots. Vary your speed with each pass until you eventually hook up. Then pause the trolling and start casting in the immediate area to capitalize on multiple fish.
Crappie anglers don’t utilize trolling as often as they should. We like to think of vertical jigging or slip bobber approaches for these early spawning slabs. However, once the spawn is over, crappie disperse and suspend over deep water, relating more to offshore structure than nearby spawning areas.
When locating crappie becomes a challenge, try covering water by trolling around crappie jigs. Slow speeds are crucial. Crappie don’t chase down prey for long distances so troll at 1 mph or less.
Just like vertical jigging, keep the bait above the fish since crappie mostly feed upwards to prey, not down. Troll as many lines as possible to vary your setup until you find the best positioning.
How do you troll slower
Once anglers learn what speeds they should be trolling at, they often realize their boats are not configured to go slow enough. Trolling with a powerful 115 horse 4 stroke at 0.7 mph is not always possible. Luckily, there are a few ways to lose speed without spending a fortune.
It’s nearly impossible to get larger outboard or inboard/outboard motors to idle low enough for trolling at slower speeds. By adding a trolling plate to the motor, you can cut speed and it doesn’t cost much to do it either.
A trolling plate is essentially a device that lowers a flat metal or plastic plate in front of the prop to redirect the jetted water. This is turn slows the speed of the boat. Trolling plates mount onto the motor’s hydrofoil and the plate is lowered using hydraulics or a mechanical method for trolling. It is raised up during cruising speeds.
Keep in mind that trolling plates create extra prop wash that can interfere with fish finder transducers.
Trolling plates are ideally suited for motors greater than 30 horse power and the Ironwood Pacific EasyTroller plate is by far the most popular option available on Amazon.
When your boat motor is at full idle and you need to bleed some speed for trolling, try out a drift sock. Never heard of it? Essentially, it’s like dragging around a large open bag to create resistance as you move through the water.
Different sizes are available depending on the size of your boat. Drift socks are securely attached along side the boat (careful to avoid getting it tangled in the prop) with the opening facing forward.
Steering requires constant adjustment since it creates uneven drag. Some people counter this by using two smaller socks with one on each side for balance.
Electric trolling motor
Most anglers think of trolling motors as a means to reposition boats for casting but even a larger boat outfitted with a trolling motor can use it for trolling. Even bow mounted motors can be used for slow trolling.
Back to back days of trolling may be a bit tricky since these motors deplete battery reserves quickly. Small boats under 14 feet are well suited for electric trolling motors. Just make sure you bring the charger on over night trips.
Shifting out of gear
Sometimes the only option to slow your trolling speed is to simply shift your motor into neutral for a bit. This is especially useful when fishing in areas with dynamic currents or when a stiff wind is blowing at your back.
Keep in mind that constant shifting is hard on equipment so use this method sparingly.
Investing in an auxiliary outboard is a bit pricey but if you plan on trolling regularly it’s the most efficient option. You can readily find small used motors for a reasonable price.
A small gas tank can run a small motor for trolling all day. It’s also nice to have as a backup should something go wrong with your main motor.
How do you troll without downriggers
The next trolling question anglers often ask is how do you troll in deep water without downriggers? Not everyone has the right boat, time or money to invest in downriggers. While they are an indispensable tool for hard core trolling, downriggers aren’t the only way to get bait into deep water.
On your quest to become an expert troller, check out our popular article on how to troll in deep water without downriggers. You’ll find plenty of helpful information and gear suggestions for reaching any fish below the surface.
There really is no exact answer for the best trolling speed for every species of game fish. It requires constant adjusting to find what fish prefer from one day to the next. However, by using the tips and chart we outlined in this article, you are likely to catch more fish and become less frustrated with your time spent on the water.