Salmon Trolling Tips and Techniques

Salmon Trolling Tips and Techniques

andrew salmon fishing

With great salmon fishing this past month, it’s time to get you prepared and in on the action. Whether you are on a private boat or party boat, these salmon trolling tips will help you hook and land more fish, period.

Trolling for Salmon

The process of trolling for salmon is actually quite simple. If you’re on a charter boat, your captain will tell you how deep to drop down and you can easily keep track by pulling line out in increments of one foot. If your reel has a line counter feature then your life is easy!

If you’re on a private boat, look for large bait balls on your graph. Once you find these there should be arches both above and below the bait balls. Work different levels of the the water column to see where the activity is headed. Usually in the morning, salmon with be higher in the water column while as the day progresses they’ll go deeper. The bigger fish always tend to be deeper and sometimes hug the bottom!

After dropping down to the desired depth, it’s time to adjust your gear. If you have a lever drag or star drag reel, tighten your drag just enough to not slip from the force of the troll. When you’re done setting the drag, turn your bait clicker on. The clicker will allow you to detect junk on your line, loose drag, tangles, or a bite.

Salmon Trolling Setup

Trolling Rod

The action of the rod is very important to keep the salmon pinned. You’ll need a rod with parabolic action as the force of the boat moving, zero stretch in braid and barbless hooks mean that the only real shock absorber is the rod itself. I have lost countless salmon when I first began trolling because I decided to use a heavy, fast-action rod because I thought I’d need it to handle a 3 ½ pound ball. Little did I know that all I needed was a 20-30lb rod.

You’ll want to use a 7-9 foot glass or composite rod. Here are some of the rods I personally own.

  • Phenix Abyss 807 10-30lb rating, 8’, Moderate Action
  • Phenix Axis 780MH 20-40lb rating, 7’8”, Mod-Fast Action

The difference between the two is that one is ideally a 20lb stick while the other is a 30lb. Both perform perfectly well but I’ll switch between the two depending on the size of weight I am trolling with, size of fish I’m catching and/or size line I want to use.

Trolling Reel

Reels with a line counter feature are great for getting you down to depth quickly and accurately but I don’t use one since they only serve this one purpose. I like to use a high gear ratio reel to keep up with the salmon during the fight and get them into the net faster. If you are trolling with a heavy salmon ball, a two-speed reel will come in handy and save your arm during trips.  As long as your reel holds a minimum of 100 yards of 20-30lb mono or 30-50lb braid you are good to go. I personally recommend using 40lb braid as it will cut through the water efficiently and will handle any trolling pressure.

Reels and Line Combos

  • Shimano Torium 16HG / 40/50lb Maxcuatro PowerPro (Maxcuatro is 25% thinner!)
  • Shimano Tekota 500 / 40/50lb Maxcuatro PowerPro (Maxcuarto is 25% thinner!)
  • Penn Torque 15 / 20lb mono to 40lb Jerry Brown braid

Assembling a Trolling Rig

The trolling rig required for trolling on any party boat goes in the order as follows:

  1. Sinker Release
  2. Flasher (recommended)
  3. 3 Feet of 20-30lb Flourocarbon Line
  4. High-Quality Swivel (prevents line twist)
  5. 3 Feet of 20-30lb Fluorocarbon Line
  6. Snap Swivel

Attached to the snap, you can use a cable bait with anchovy or herring. Otherwise you can use an Apex lure which comes with a pre-tied leader.

Make sure to attach the sinker release correctly! If you attach it the wrong way you can easily lose your costly weights. The end that is connected to your main line is the end that is a closer distance to attaching the weight (seen in the picture below).

salmon trolling rig

Choosing a Salmon Ball Weight

For your drift balls, I would usually have at least one 2lb ball, three 2 ½ lb balls, and one 3lb ball.

Rod Placement

Most anglers will tell you to put your rod either on the bow of the boat or the stern. Honestly, I have seen fish caught all throughout the boat during my trips. Sometimes a few rods will be “luckier” than others, but I believe it’s how you work your bait and watch the graph. Make sure your bait is always swimming correctly and not tangled in sea junk or other lines and you will give yourself the best chances at getting bit.

Fighting the Salmon (During the Troll)

It may seem simple but fighting a salmon during a sinker-release trolling method may be a little more technical. After hooking a salmon, you want to determine if the “ball” (lead weight) has been released. If it is a smaller salmon, try to carefully prevent it from releasing your lead ball and save precious money. Try not to force the fish in and carefully netting the fish so it does not release the ball. If it is a keeper size usually the ball is released on its own.

If you are not fishing the stern (back of the boat) you’ll need to carefully maneuver in between the other trolling lines while making your way to the back. Make sure to keep pressure on the fish while walking it back, but also make sure your drag is set correctly so you don’t rip the hook out of its mouth. As you’re reeling in the fish, don’t allow it to thrash on the surface by pointing the rod tip down or to the side, keeping constant pressure. Once the fish gets close enough to land, lift the rod tip up and walk backwards and you’re in the money.

Extra items to bring:

  • Finger Tape: Finger tape will prevent your fingers from getting cut when dealing with braided line.
  • Rockfish Gear: Sometimes the salmon just won’t bite! Often times the captain will take you to local reefs and fish for some big rock cod and lingcod. Make sure you bring jigs and feather rigs just in case. I’ve caught many lings over 15 pounds when salmon fishing wasn’t great.
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Andrew Le has the essence of fishing coursing through his veins. With years of experience targeting both salt and freshwater species, he truly eats, sleeps, and breathes fishing.


  1. My sons have been nagging me all year about going on a salmon fishing trip and I have been trying to plan the activities. You mentioned that the process of trolling for salmon is actually quite simple and if you are on a charter boat, your captain will tell you how deep to drop down and you can easily keep track by pulling the line out in increments of one foot. Do most captains have certain tricks they like to use for helping their clients catch fish? It appears that having an experienced captain could be very useful during our trip.

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