Informational Guide

How To Use A Trolling Reel

Trolling reels mimic natural prey and can be an excellent addition to any anglers arenal. Learn how to effectively use this type of reel.

by Andrew

Informational Guide

How To Use A Trolling Reel

Trolling reels mimic natural prey and can be an excellent addition to any anglers arenal. Learn how to effectively use this type of reel.

by Andrew

by Andrew

Typically modeled on the conventional reel, trolling reels provide everything an angler needs to mimic a fish’s natural prey. High line capacity, dual-speed, powerful drag, a solid metal body, and a line counter are all essential in a quality trolling reel. 

But you have to know how to use a trolling reel if you want to be successful with one. Use this guide to learn how you can catch some new personal bests with the right trolling reel. 

Trolling is a fishing tactic where anglers trail bait or lures in a specific section of the water column to mimic the food sources of the fish they’re trying to catch. To do this, they cast out one or several lines from a boat propelled forward slowly by a trolling motor. 

Other than the trolling reel, anglers need to have rod holders, plenty of line, and a strong rod at a bare minimum. Fish always fall for trolling bait because it’s far enough from the boat and lifelike enough to avoid suspicion. 

It’s not only carp and catfish you can catch either - trolling is a great way to catch salmon, walleye, trout, muskie, bass, bluefish, kingfish, marlin, tuna, and more. Anglers practice trolling all over North America in both freshwater and saltwater environments. 

gold trolling reel

Trolling Reels Explained 

What is a trolling reel and how is it different from other fishing reels? 

Trolling reels hold enough line to get lures way out away from the boat and keep them low in the water column. They need stopping power because trolling can attract some mega big fish.  

The only way anglers know what depth they’re trolling bait at is with something called a line counter, which indicates the amount of line out in the water based on the number of rotations of the spool starting from cast out. There may also be a clicker that will let the angler know when there’s a bite on the line. 

A trolling reel is typically made of a strong metal such as aluminum and modeled after the conventional reel shape if it isn’t a modified conventional reel, to begin with. 

How To Set Up A Trolling Reel (+ Equipment Needed) 

The way you set up your trolling reel will change depending on your trolling setup. For beginners, the best approach is flatline trolling because it doesn’t need additional weights or other gear. If you want to get your bait lower in the water, then you’ll need a downrigger or some other kind of depth rig.  

The first thing you have to do regardless is make sure you have the right line on your trolling reel. Remember that braided line, while tougher and stronger, sinks more than mono, so if you’re doing topwater or upper-column trolling, braid might not be the best choice.  

If you aren't sure how to put a fishing line on a trolling reel, you can follow the same steps you would to put a line on any other kind of fishing reel. This time, make sure you get metered line whether you’re using braided PowerPro or not. Metered line changes color every ten feet or so, enabling anglers to have some idea of how deep their lures are.  

Next, get a line counter with a clicker on your reel. Digital line counters are available so that you can quickly see what depth your bait is at. The clicker alerts you to strike on the line when your rod is in its holder. 

Find out where you want your lure, and then cast it out. You can use the line counter to see how deep you are, count the colored zones on your metered line, or measure how far one movement of your levelwind signifies and count that. Once you have it out as far as you want it, set your drag high, put your rod in the holder, and wait for a bite while you troll around. 

You’re almost ready to cast out and start trolling. Here are a few other must-know pieces of gear you can use with your trolling reel: 

  • Depth Rigs 
    The downrigger is the most popular depth rig. Downrigger sink weights to a depth of your choosing and stay hooked to your line until a fish strikes, detaching from the line so you can reel in your target. 
  • Fish Finder 
    You can rely on classic signals like circling birds or floating seaweed, but a high-quality fish finder will help you even more. Plus, it will show you elevated cover and structure that you need to avoid while you’re trolling. 
  • Planer Board 
    This device takes the lines far out away from the boat, so fish won't be spooked by churning water or engine noise.  
  • Paravane 
    A paravane is a small kite that will cut through the water and force the lure down lower as the boat moves. It’s helpful to get your lures down to the right depth in a realistic way. 
fishing in the ocean

How To Cast A Trolling Reel (Tips & Tricks) 

You have to cast your line a bit more precisely when you’re trolling. You’re aiming to get to a specific depth, so your bait is right in front of the fish, after all. 

The boat is going to be moving when you put your bait in the water. If you’re just using one line, you can drop your lure in and release the spool until your line counter tells you your lure is far out enough.  

Here are some tricks for trolling to make sure you catch fish: 

  • Keep An Eye On Your Lines 
    Make sure you don’t have a fish on and check to see that your lures are in the right part of the water column if you aren’t getting bites after a long time.  
  • Avoid Traditional Casting 
    If you’re using a conventional reel, it isn’t meant to throw lures like a baitcasting reel is. Stick to letting your bait loose and let the water take it out for you. The only time you should cast with a trolling reel is when you want to get your lure back out in the water really fast.  
  • Learn Speeds 
    Not all fish chase lures at the same speed. If you know what kind of fish you’re after, do some research to find out what range of speed is best for you to use to catch them. Live baits need to be trolled slower so the bait fish can swim. 
  • Build Slow & Diversify 
    Start with one line and work your way up. When you have the skill to run multiple lines off the boat, try fishing different presentations and bait types simultaneously, especially if you’re in a body of water with a large and diverse fish population. 
fishing rod

People also Ask (FAQs)

Can you troll with a spinning reel? 

You can troll with a spinning reel as long as the spinning reel has the power to stand up to the species of fish that you're chasing. Also, bear in mind that spinning reels might not work with line counters. That being said, you will be able to cast lures better with spinning reels than traditional trolling reels. 

Can you use any rod for trolling? 

The best rod to use for trolling with a downrigger is one with a slow action, while you should opt for a fishing rod with faster action if you're going to go flat line trolling. Stiffer rods between 6 and 7.5 feet tend to work the best for trolling, particularly if you're going to try catching really large fish. 

How do you match a reel to a rod? 

Luckily, trolling rods have line ratings just like other models do. Match that line rating to a trolling reel that can handle a full spool of the test you’re going to use. The reel should also be balanced and fit securely onto the rod, or you risk losing your whole setup if a powerful fish manages to take it out of your hands. 

How full should my trolling reel be? 

Trolling reels should always be completely full of line, not only because you'll need it to get your lures to the proper depth, but because your line counters and metered line measure the depth of your lure depending on the level it was at when it started counting.  

How do you string a rolling reel? 

Stringing a rolling reel is pretty much the same as winding string onto any other kind of fishing reel. You have to spool the line on by attaching it to the central spool and then slowly winding the handle backward until the line is completely onto the reel. 


Trolling is one of the most effective and the most fun fishing styles out there. If you want to catch some massive fish and break your personal best records, then this is the style of fishing you need to master. Now that you know how to use a trolling reel, you’re on your way to mastering trolling for fish.