How to set a spread of trolling lures


Most anglers are under the impression that trolling involves throwing a couple of shiny lures out the back of the boat and driving along until a fish eats one! This is certainly not the case with anglers often confused by the daunting task of setting a spread of trolling lures. However if a few simple rules are followed some very effective trolling spreads can be devised and used to devastating effect!


1 – Choosing the correct lures to use – Choosing the correct trolling lures to use on the day requires some knowledge from the angler with regard to their target species. Knowing where to find your intended target and what it is likely to be feeding upon are crucial elements to all fishing success including trolling. Knowing where the fish are and what they are going to be eating is not always possible and this is the reason so many anglers carry so many lures with them. Matching the exact size, colour and action of the food source your intended target species is chasing could and will often mean the difference between success and failure when trolling. Research your target species and their feeding habits carefully and try to choose a style and colour of trolling lure that is going to replicate their favourite food source best. It is always best to purchase a couple of each model you think may work and test these out in the field so to speak. Once you have found the model in which your intended target species is most fond of you can then purchase a few more. This saves ending up with hundreds of lures that you thought would work but didn’t really. Quite often price plays an important role in lure quality and performance, cheap, flimsy offerings are more often than not rejected by most smart fish or simply do not cope with the shear power of larger specimens.


Types of trolling lures –

– Skirted trolling lures or pushers as they are some times referred to are generally used to target larger game fish species such as Mahi, tuna and billfish and come in many various colours, shapes and sizes. These lures can be trolled at speeds of up to 20 knots and are the fastest running trolling lure available.

–  Hard bodied trolling lures are designed to be trolled at slower speeds of around 1 – 6 knots and are generally used to target many species from fresh water trout to large, Spanish mackerel.


–  Bibless minnows or blades are a style of trolling lure that will swim at reasonable speeds that most hard body lures will not cope with and are especially good to use on rougher days when targeting pelagic species such as wahoo. They are also capable of being trolled amongst skirted lures at an average speed of  8 – 9 knots and more.


Teasers are also used to attract fish into lure spreads when trolling and are an incredibly effective method of attracting pelagic species from long distances. Large hard bodied, bibless and skirted lures can be used for this with large mirrored teasers also proving to be extremely effective.


2 – Connecting lures correctly – Connecting your brand new lure correctly before feeding it out into the unknown is crucial if you wish to get it and what has eaten it back on board. Once you have tied all your terminal knots joining the main line to leader and have a straight, cut off piece of nylon or fluoro carbon in your hand simply have a look at the lures towing or connection point to see if it has a split ring on it. The split ring allows the lures towing point to move around freely on it inducing maximum action into the lure and can be tied to using any effective terminal connection knot. If the lure has no split ring it must be connected with a loop knot or small, strong, wire, clip so the lures action will not be impaired. If a wire trace is being used ensure it has a small, strong, wire, clip to connect lures to. Short single strand wire traces are generally preferred for most trolling situations.

Skirted trolling lures are generally purchased pre rigged and simply require a good quality, ball bearing snap swivel to connect the wind on leader or main line to the lure leader. This is simply achieved by using a reliable, terminal, connection knot for lighter leader lines and by the crimping of heavier leader lines.


3 – Positioning lures correctly – Positioning lures correctly behind a vessel requires the combination of a few key elements. Lures should be positioned into the spread according to three key rules, they are the right size, shape and colour for each position.

1 – The shape of the lure – Hard body lures are generally very similar in shape and action throughout most models available today and will generally swim in a similar fashion no matter where you position them in the spread. Although they will swim slightly deeper the further back they are run. Most anglers try to run their lures as far back as possible, this is not always a good idea as most pelagic species are drawn to the noise of the vessels motors and the turbulent, white wash created by the propellers whilst trolling. Try to imagine what a crashing white, water feeding zone around a reef sounds like underwater and you should begin to see the similarities.

Skirted trolling lures come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and are designed to swim in many different ways. Very small to small skirted lures such as chrome jet heads are typically designed to be trolled at reasonably high speeds of around 10 – 12 knots and are made from heavy, metal or lead materials designed to keep them in the water during rougher weather conditions. Larger, resin head and soft headed pushers or skirted lures are designed for larger pelagic species such as tuna and billfish. Soft headed pushers are designed for smaller billfish and calmer sea conditions with the larger resin heads better for larger billfish and rougher weather. They are available in a huge variety of shapes, sizes and colours all of which will work well on their given day. Skirted lures with longish, angled head shapes are generally designed to be run further back in calmer sea conditions with the shorter, angled and cup faced pushers being run much closer or in rough weather conditions.


2 – The colour of the lure – Trolling lures come in a myriad of colour patterns and designs trying to replicate almost everything that swims, most simply attract anglers and their credit cards while some do actually catch fish. The main rule of thumb is that the darker the lure is the darker the water or sky should be to match it against and the brighter a lure is in colour the clearer the water or brighter the sky should be when it is used. This is just a general rule of thumb mind you and trying different colours and shapes around on different days is also a very productive method of producing quality fish whilst trolling.


3 – The size of the lure – Size is always important! Matching the size of the prey items your intended target species is feeding upon will increase your success rate immensely. Although this is generally the case in most trolling situations changing lure sizes will sometimes trigger fish into feeding when they don’t want to. Some strike at larger lure offerings due to territorial dominance while others are simply full of food and just feel like a smaller morsal to snack on. Trying new things when you are certain the fish are there will more often than not produce results!


Deciding how many lures to run behind a vessel is dependent upon two things, one, how many experienced anglers are on board and  two, the size of the vessel. As many as seven lures or more may be trolled at any one time depending on the size of the vessel and the amount of experienced anglers on board. However for those new to the trolling game the KISS principal – (keep it simple stupid)  might be slightly more appropriate. More often than not one or two lines in the water is more than enough for most trolling situations in both salt and fresh water locations around Australia. Trolling multiple lines requires that each individual lure be positioned at around 1 – 2 meters apart from each other to avoid tangles during tight turns. This is simply achieved by positioning the lure chosen to run farthest back into the spread  first before following suit with the rest. The opposite of this technique is used to retrieve the lures, closest lure to the boat first then the next closest and so on. Most experienced game fishing crews run a total of five skirted lures and at least one teaser whilst targeting large pelagic species such as tuna and billfish. These five lures are generally run in a similar pattern and are referred to as –

The short corner – the closest lure to the transom generally positioned at the base of the first pressure wave.

The long corner – the second closest lure to the transom, base of second pressure wave.

The short rigger – the closest outside lure to the boat, generally attached to an out rigger pole to distance the lure away from the propeller wash, base of third pressure wave.

The long rigger – the furthest outside lure from the boat, base of fourth pressure wave, again outrigger pole used.

The shot gun – the furthest lure from the transom generally run at the base of the fifth pressure wave with the use of a centre rigger pole positioned above the vessels cockpit.

A double barrel shot gun can be incorporated into this spread during calmer sea conditions on larger vessels allowing a total of six lures to be run at once, this spread is typically referred to as pandemonium and for good reason!

Pressure waves are the ever present swells that follow your vessel as you travel, there are generally three to five pressure waves in a boats wash depending on its size.

Pressure waves also play an important role in successful trolling spreads and act as huge mirrors to approaching fish. Hard bodied lures that swim beneath these waves do not need to be taken into consideration but skirted lures or pushers should be positioned at the bottom two thirds of these pressure wave to be most visible. .




4 – Boat speeds – Boat speeds should vary considerably when trolling different styles of lures. When trolling with skirted lures or pushers the main rule is generally if your lures are tumbling out of the water or surfacing every second or two you are going to fast and if they are not splashing every 4 – 7 seconds you are going too slow. Around 8 – 9 knots is typically preferred for skirted lure trolling for billfish with quicker speeds of up to 12 knots also producing excellent results during calmer sea conditions. Travelling with or against the sea will have an effect on your vessels trolling speed and should constantly be checked to ensure a steady speed is maintained. Travelling with the sea increases boat speeds considerably and causes lures to tumble out of the water and look extremely unnatural and heading into a sea can cause the boat speed to drop to a point where the lures have very limited, if any action at all. Hard bodied trolling lures are typically trolled at around 4 – 6 knots again depending on sea condition and direction. For instance 4 knots with the sea pushing the vessel and 6 knots into the sea. Again if the lures are tumbling out of the water you are trolling too fast and if your rod tips are not vibrating frantically you are travelling too slow.

Freshwater trolling is a completely different kettle of fish with most of Australia’s freshwater environments  only allowing the use of electric motors on them. These ultra quiet and environmentally friendly models are perfectly designed for trolling freshwater lures at ultra slow speeds for Australian freshwater species such as cod, perch and trout.  Boat speeds of around 1 -2 knots are generally preferred by most Australian freshwater anglers when trolling.


5 – Drag settings – Drag settings also play a key role when trolling and should be set hard enough to set a hook yet light enough so as to allow a fish to pull line from the reel once hooked. Having a mate pull line from your rod tip rather than pulling it straight from the reel yourself will give anglers a better feel and understanding of exactly how much drag they will encounter once hooked up! Drag settings when trolling for larger game fish species such as tuna and billfish should be set to one third of the lines stated breaking strain. For example if fishing with 24kg line for billfish set your reels strike drag so it will begin to loose line when 8kg of pressure is placed upon it. Quite often reel drags will be set considerably lighter when trolling baits for billfish as this allows the billfish to take a bait and swim away to swallow it without feeling any resistance from the rod and reel. Some anglers also prefer to adopt this approach whilst trolling lures for billfish also but I have personally found a greater strike, to hook up and land ratio whilst using razor sharp, single hooks and firmly set strike drags. Gunning or increasing the boat speed rapidly is also a popular technique for setting hooks on billfish when trolling and not only helps to maintain a secure hook up but also distances the billfish from the rest of the lure spread and avoiding treacherous tangles.


6 – Location, location, location – Location would have to be the most important ingredient for trolling success as it is no use having all the right gear and being in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Tides, moon phases, structure, currents, water temperature and boat traffic all play important roles in finding fish when trolling. Again some knowledge of your intended target species and its preferred habitat and food source will help to increase results considerably. For example when targeting Spanish mackerel look for an area with around 15 – 25 meters of warm, clean water loaded with plenty of bait fish and steep reef pinnacles or drop offs near by, stay away from full moon phases and try to fish around low or high tide changes and low light periods such as dawn and dusk. Trolling hard bodied lures of 150 – 190mm in length, shiny blue, green, silver, orange and gold colours at around 4 – 6 knots on light to medium trolling outfits.


7 – Strike! – Once you have put it all together and are now staring at a buckling rod and screaming reel try to relax, calmly clear the remaining lines and settle into the enjoyable moment. Multiple hook ups can also be achieved by keeping the boat running for a little further after the initial hook up. This is a great technique for achieving multiple hook ups on tuna and billfish but is not recommended when targeting larger specimens due to severe line loss. When done correctly trolling can be one of the most productive and exciting forms of fishing available allowing anglers to target everything from the humble trout to the mighty marlin. It is a fantastic way of fishing rougher weather conditions or exploring new ground and is certainly a great technique to have up ones sleeve, enjoy.


[What The Fish]