5 Tips for Deep Sea Trolling

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Hey there my fellow fishing enthusiasts and welcome to my post where we will check out my 5 tips for deep sea trolling this year.  If you are like me and love some good offshore trolling you will know that it can be a fantastic yet challenging experience. 

And like other fishing techniques, trolling can make or break your day, depending on how well you execute it.  So for those of you looking to get out there amongst those fast moving monsters, here are some things I have learned along the way to help you out.  Let’s have a look…

What is deep sea trolling

There are a number of variations to describe this however for the purposes of this post we are talking about the process of catching fast moving pelagic species such as Wahoo, Tuna or Striped Bass from a moving boat.

Here the line is pulled through the water as an attractant to fish that cruise around looking for prey.  Success can be had with both lures and live bait and generally requires a larger reel and plenty of line that can be released as you move about.

tips for deep sea trolling - trolling reels with lines out

Tips for deep sea trolling

So let’s check out our tips for deep sea trolling below…

1. Know what is out there

In the offshore areas that we fish in, we often need to adjust our trolling techniques based on the species that we are chasing.  For example, when chasing Mack Tuna in the cooler months, we use big popper type lures on a fast moving boat.  Then for Spanish Mackerel in the Summer, live bait and a slower troll is key.

So in short here, know what you are chasing in that area and do some research into the best techniques to use for them.

2. Identify the right location

And once you know what you are chasing, as with all fishing, there is no point in throwing a bait or lure over the side and driving around in hope.  If you are new to the area, checking with locals is always a good first option, however if not, use your sounders to locate the following depending on the species you are chasing:

  • Rocks, reefs, and wrecks – There are deep sea fishing opportunities abound on rocks, reefs, and wrecks. These structures provide a haven for all species in the food chain and a place for fish to hide from strong ocean currents making them good for both “bottom bashing” and trolling.   Faster moving fish also cruise these areas so trolling over the top of them can definitely work.
  • Hills and sea mounts –  Under water hills and troughs cause diversions in current that create ideal offshore trolling spots for fishers.  These current often affect water temperature, light level or salinity that can provide more favorable water conditions for fish.  They also ‘push’ schools of bait fish through them too.  When fishing near these structures, keep an eye out for surface variations such as ripples, rips, or tide lines that may indicate changes in water temperature, salinity, clarity, or current.
  • Canyons and continental shelves  – As with hills and troughs, you can also locate fish in the deep canyons, gorges, and cliffs that define the Continental Shelf.  Here, pelagic sport fish such as billfish and wahoo will hunt the upper half of the water column when changes in structure, current, and temperature force nutrient-rich water up from the deep to fuel the entire food chain. Birds and baitfish are good activity indicators here and fish will often be visible feeding on the surface.
  • Kelp forests and beds – Kelp forests can be found in temperate and polar coastal oceans worldwide, but they are most common along the California coast.  These underwater forests are densely packed with kelp plants, a type of rapidly growing brown macroalgae that provides one of the planet’s most productive and dynamic ecosystems.  Anglers typically begin their kelp forest fishing by free lining live or dead baits from or drifting boat. If you don’t get any bites by free lining your baits, try gradually adding weight to your rig until the fish start biting.
  • The ocean bottom –  Whilst not often considered a good area to troll due to the risk of snags, the ocean bottom may have exposed rock, coral, or debris in coastal areas closer to shore.  Usually, most saltwater anglers prefer weighted fishing in these because there are dozens of different fish species found there, and these areas are frequently easy to access.  However, soem trolling with a wwighted lure of bait can often work well here too.
tips for deep sea trolling - man holding mackerel

3. Gear up properly

One of the key things to remember when it comes to trolling is that if you do manage to get a hold of a fish, it is going to be a big one. This means that you will need to have some gear that can handle the initial hit and fight of a fast moving and harder fighting fish. Here are the equipment and gear that you should secure before heading on to the deep waters:

Rods – A typical trolling rod should:

  • Be under 6-7 ft as at this length they are easier to manage within the confined spaces of a boat
  • Have a heavy, medium heavy or medium power with a medium to slow action (unless you plan to jig with it as well)

Some come with guides to allow for the seamless release of the line as well.

Reels – Trolling reels are a source of contention among anglers however many opt for the overhead lever drag-style as they hold a lot more line with greater drag facility.  That said, I often use a Shimano Baitrunner for trolling and find it works a treat as well.

Outriggers – Should you be trolling for especially large fish (such as Marlin or Sailfish for example), then you may be looking at outriggers instead.  Outriggers are long poles that are attached to the sides of the boat with a large line and lure that is released and dragged from the side of the boat.  These are however only usually found of vessels specifically built for the purpose. 

At the end of the day, I have personally seen successful trolling on both overhead and spinning type reels – and to be honest, even the odd handline.  However in all cases, the gear and line must be large enough to handle a large catch!

Check out these: Deep Sea Trolling Rod and Reel Combos

4. Use variation

This is another tip that is common with almost all fishing types in that if you are not getting any hits, then you may need to implement some variation.  This can include:

  1. Lures – Large baits and brightly colored lures that can be seen from a distance are typically used in offshore trolling for saltwater gamefish.  Take a good arsenal of  plugs, spoons, sticks and poppers with iridescent dusters, soft plastic skirts and nylon trolling lures to attract gamefish from a distance.  If one doesn’t work, swap it out and try another.
  2. Live bait – match it to what is found locally however if that doesn’t work, sometimes the oil trail released by dead bait will work better instead.
  3. Boat speed – Those new to trolling frequently make the mistake of remaining at the same speed and direction. Trolling your bait in a straight line at a constant speed and rpm can result in a strike however if not, changing your trolling speed and course to keep things interesting. Sometimes a half knot or less is enough.
  4. Bait depth – Even if you know most of the fish are holding at a specific depth, having a line or two running shallower and a line or two running deeper can in my experience often work a treat. This is achieved by using smaller jig heads or adding a sinker to your line.

Check out these: Best Lures For Deep Sea Fishing

tips for deep sea trolling - woman holding mackerel

5. Look for birds

This last one may seem a little strange but it is a definite go to for us if nothing appears to be around. Here we constantly scan the horizon for frigate birds, boobies, shearwaters, terns and other birds feeding on the ocean’s surface.  This means there are baitfish around, and of course where there are bait fish, there are game fish too.

Coastal birds are skilled at locating baitfish schools and bait balls. Find the birds, and you’ll almost always find the fish.


And there they are, my tips for successful deep sea trolling. I would be pleased to know how this article helped you, and as usual,  let me know of your experiences here.

Also, please do not hesitate to comment below if you have any questions, concerns, corrections, or would like me to check anything else out for you.

Until next time.

Have fun


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Hi, I'm Paul

I am a passionate fishing, camping and four wheeled driving hobbyist who researches, tests and educates around issues and equipment relevant to them.

I am by no means a professional however my passion is to assist you in making informed decisions about buying and using awesome gear that will give you the best chance of success at whatever you are doing for the best price.

Please get in touch if you have any questions.