One of the main draws of trolling is simply the amount of water that can be covered efficiently. One of my favorite techniques is to troll until I find a few fish, and then stop and work the water more thoroughly through casting or mooching/jigging the area.
So to get started, let’s address some of the issues that will come up in trolling no matter what fish you are targeting.
Rod and reel
For trolling I find conventional reels (baitcaster) a much better choice if you own a pedal driven kayak like the Hobies or Native “Propel”. Letting line out is more controlled, which helps to prevent tangles. If you have a paddle kayak, I think spinning gear is easier to troll in many ways. It is easier to cast quickly, and since you are not under constant propulsion, I find I tangle less when I can cast my gear out to begin the troll.
I know a lot of folks who prefer long, limber rods for trolling. I am exactly the opposite. I prefer stiffer, shorter, fast-action sticks to insure that when a fish hits, the hook is set by the kayak and not impeded by the slow action of the rod not delivering enough force to the hook point.
Obviously the tackle varies by species of fish targeted, and there are important considerations.
First, the overall length of your trolling gear must be shorter than the total rod length. In other words, when you reel your line as far as you can, the leader length to your hook cannot be longer than your rod or netting a fish is almost impossible. While this is true whether you are trolling or not, in my experience the only time it really comes into play is trolling because of the typical set ups we use.
In Alaska, the typical setup consists of a flasher/dodger, followed by your bait or lure of choice. Of course you need to get the gear to proper depth. We utilize trolling sinkers for depths up to 25’, divers like the Deep Six to 40’ and downriggers for anything deeper, or when depth control is critical.
I’m not sure where else in the world they use a flasher or a dodger for trolling, but I do believe they serve a purpose. Most people think it is there to attract the fish - which is true. But I feel equally important is that once the fish nears the bait/lure, the fish believes the flasher/dodger is a competing fish and therefore will attack the bait more aggressively.
There are two general types of flasher/dodgers. My favorite for kayak fishing is the inline flashers like the Big Al’s “Fish Flash”. The inline flashers spin around the same axis as the line. This not only typically means less drag, but also a sinker or diver can be attached directly to the flasher helping to shorten the overall length from weight to hook.
The flashers and dodgers that do not spin in line have their merits. They tend to create a larger disturbance in the water, which means more vibration that attracts fish. They also will impart action to action-less lures like flies and hoochies. Though not necessary, I highly recommend you give it a try. There are a variety of sizes to fit a wide range of applications.
For the most part, trolling is literally dragging your bait/lure around till you get a strike. The one advantage a kayak has is that typically you fish only one line. This allows for a wide variety of presentations that a power boat pulling multiple lines cannot make. For example, when you turn, the lure slows and drops. You can edge right up to a structure and turn sharply without fear of tangling.
Another trolling technique is something I call “power mooching”. Here a sinker is used rather than a diver or downrigger. Power mooching is simply trolling for a distance, then slowing down or stopping and allowing the bait/lure to fall. After it drops, you once again move forward causing the bait to rise. Then you repeat. It’s a combination of trolling and jigging. I have found this technique ultra-effective for a variety of species. Many times the fish will either hit as the bait falls, or immediately after the bait starts moving forward again.
Another variation that has proven to be successful is bottom bouncing. Here, I use fairly heavy weights up to one pound. I troll slowly while, as the name implies, bouncing the bottom with the sinker. The combination of the noise and the disturbance caused by the bouncing sinker is a very effective method of attracting fish.
Trolling can be as simple as dragging your favorite bait behind your kayak, but there are techniques and gear available that will up your odds considerably. The techniques I have mentioned above are used in the salmon and halibut fishery here in Alaska. However, I believe it can be relevant to other fisheries.
I would leave everyone with the thought that kayak angling is relatively new. Think outside the box; observe techniques from other regions, and see if they are applicable. Don’t get stuck in the old rut of powerboat trolling. While the basics concepts are the same, you can do much more off a kayak than you can a powerboat. Experiment and try new things!