Trolling for Trout and Salmon

Posted on March 04, 192001 at 17:33:15:

Dragging Streamers

Early spring fishing can be very productive when trolling for salmon or trout as soon as ice is out. Trout and salmon are often near the surface actively chasing smelts and other small baitfish. What�s best of all is that you do not need expensive equipment such as downriggers, lead core setups, or other elaborate hardware to be productive. In many cases your standard fly fishing setup, with a few simple modifications, will be all that is needed to be catch fish dragging streamers.


Trolling streamers near the surface can be done effectively using a 6-8 wt fly rod. Many prefer a rod that has a slow �soft� action so that they can observe the tip of the rod move as the streamer is touched or dances. Your usual river setup will work fine here.

Your fly reel deserves special consideration. I like a reel to hold a considerable amount of backing because I quite often have a lot of line out when the fish initially strikes. I usually oversize my trolling reel for a size larger than normal to accommodate the additional backing. A multiplying reel is perhaps the ultimate fly reel for trolling because it allows you to wind the line in quickly with minimum effort. A standard fly reel takes a bit more time but does the job just fine.

I prefer to troll with a sinking tip fly line, calcium tabletten | onfy. The ten foot high density tip is usually just enough to get the fly down a few inches below the surface and prevent surface drag. If all you have is a full floater that will work just fine. You may need to add a few split shot in front of the fly. Fly line taper is not important for trolling. Usually any cheap line will work well since you are not casting. Level lines are usually far less expensive and make great trolling lines but are becoming increasingly difficult to find.

My leaders are very simple. They are usually a minimum of 15 feet in total length and are level(not tapered). About 3 feet in front of the fly I insert a good quality ball bearing swivel that prevents the leader from twisting up. Lately I have been using fluorocarbon for the last few feet after the swivel. I do not know that it catches more fish but it sure seems to in every other application where I have used it. Somewhere between the fly and the swivel you may wish to add split shot.

The streamers that I use are most often standard single hooked streamers such as the Grey Ghost, Black Ghost, Nine Three, and Grand Laker. These have all worked well for me. Tandem trolling streamers are very productive when fish seem to short strike your offering. The trailing hook often gets the job done when traditional streamers fail.


It doesn't matter if you're in a canoe or a cabin boat with all the comforts of home, speed is a key factor. If you do not have a gps or trolling speedometer to gauge your speed keep your eye on the shoreline as a reference. Most of the time my early season success is at a speed of 4 mph or over. This is about the speed of a brisk walk if using the shoreline as a gauge. It will feel fast but give it a try. Try varying your speed below this and above it to find what is optimum.

Keep the streamer in the top foot or two of the water column. Add split shot or vary the length of the leader to do this. Be sure to gauge the depth of the streamer while it is swinging around a turn and make sure that it is not dragging on the surface.

I rarely hook up when the streamer is directly behind the boat. Most often the fish will hit when it is swinging. For this reason I make a point of moving the boat in s type motions and swing the streamer by points and other fish holding structure. I usually have 50 feet or more of fly line out behind the boat to facilitate a good swing.

The best conditions for trolling will depend upon the body of water. The warm side of a lake is the side that gets the most sunlight during the day. Fish may stage in these areas in relatively shallow water as rocks warm up. At other times fish will be in the cooler deeper areas. Rarely do I find that the fish are feeding continuously through the day in the early season. You may troll all day long and catch all of your fish over a period of a hour. You need to be patient. The water is cold. I prefer a good chop on the water along with an overcast day for trolling. This condition seems to trigger fish to feed. There are no hard rules to this game only your experience and patience will dictate your success.

Trolling is not considered to be 'fly fishing' but it is a great way to use your fly gear and catch fish during a cold challenging month. Give it a try you might really like it. Please drop me an e mail ( or call me at 1-800-558-7658 if you have any questions or comments related to this article or fishing in general.

Gary Scavette is a USCG licensed captain , registered Maine guide and the founder of Northeast Anglers Inc..

Return To Northeast Anglers' Articles and Stories

Post-It © 1997, All Rights Reserved.
DBasics Software Company P.O. Box 6034, Alliance, OH. 44601