Trolling for salmon

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Why Troll?

Trolling is a method of boat fishing which is popular on some Scottish lochs. Baits, flies and lures are trailed behind a moving boat. Thus it is the action of the boat which keeps the lures moving and interesting to fish. It is a method which covers a lot of water.


Its not every body's cup of tea. Much of the work is done by the boatman. It is a very relaxed way to fish and a nice way to spend a day with friends. It is effective and if you are searching for that monster its a good way as there are few snags and obstructions. Its also a good way to fish for the less able.




The Boat


Rod Holders

Be very careful with the choice of boat used. Lochs can be dangerous. The boat must be sea worthy. It must be of a size which suits the venue. For large lochs such as Loch Tay or Ness they should be at least 16 feet long. A cuddy or cabin is advisable not only for comfort, but also to protect you from waves. A double hull is recommended if there are obstructions about. Avoid boats with a high side as they will get blown about too much. Orkney and Hardy (Bristol) boats have served me well.


You will need rod holders - one for each rod in use. Perhaps the best are mad out of mild steel welded to a very large G-clamp. Fix these so that that are easy to reach, but not so that they obstruct movement in the boat.

Rods should be angled upwards slightly so that they do not dip into the water in a swell. If correctly positioned there should be no need to tie or fix rods to rod holders.






Local Rules

Trolling is done a slow speed so most engines tend to be in the 5-10hp depending on the size of the boat. A four stoke is much quieter and uses less fuel. Very large engines rarely work efficiently. If you only have one, ensure it is reliable!


Not all lochs allow trolling, so check on the local rules. Many lochs require that a "right" number is displayed.

The law in Scotland allows an angler to fish with a single rod and line. During the Second World War this rule was relaxed on Loch Tay to allow locals to fish for food. Today there is a maximum of 3 rods per boat on the loch which is strictly enforced.





If you are launching your own boat make sure you have the landowners permission.








The boat should be equipped with life jackets, bailer, spare spark plugs and tool kit, flares and if you have one take a mobile phone. You will be offered a life jacket, you are strongly advised to wear it. Water in Scotland is COLD. The shock of falling in can stop you from breathing for a few vital moments.

Let someone ashore know where you are going and at what time you expect to get back.

Do not overload a boat.


Most lochs apply the international rules for the sea. That is boats should pass port side to port side.. that is left to left for us landlubbers!

Keep well clear of other boats as line can be long. A 100 yard distance is best.

Some lochs also require that a trolling boat displays a trolling marker (an orange ball) on the deck, but rods are just as easy to see. Give way to non-motorized boats.




Ghillies and Guides



If you are not familiar with the water take a ghillie or guide for your first explorations and pick his brains.


It is bad form to cut across drift of a boat which is loch style fishing. It is equally bad form to surround a boat that you have just seen catch a fish!







The weather can change fast in the highlands. If you are a novice do not attempt to go out in foul weather or if it is forecasted. Unfortunately some of the best fishing is to be had when there is a good wave.


Most salmon fishing tackle can be used, but my advice is think big! Reels should contain at least 200 yards of line and perhaps more. Take a pair of pliers.


Paul's Set Up on Loch Tay


This is now my 30th year trolling on Loch Tay. My own boat is a Hardy 17 foot fishing boat with a Yamaha 9.9 four stroke. It is slightly broader in the beam than most boats on the Loch and the extra length allows me to handle just about any weather.

Rods & Reels

I fish with three rods. On each side is a long (16') fly rod. This gives you great coverage.. some 15 feet to either side of the boat. Each fly rod has a large fly reel. These are equipped with floating fly lines (I have found white or light blue to be the best colours) and up to 300 yards of backing. You may think this excessive, but I can assure you it is not. The fish is in still water so does not have to fight a current and can easily strip off several hundred yards of line by the time you have the boat and other rods under control. On one famous occasion a fish took all 300 yards while a friend and I argued who was going to take responsibility (sort out who will take which rod in advance!).

I like to use a fly line rather than all through mono for several reasons. A fly line tends to follow the boat in an arc, while a mono line cuts through the water and follows in a straight line. I believe that salmonids prefer baits moving in a curve rather than straight lines. Secondly a fly line is easier to see, and if you do have to stop the floating fly line gives you time to maneuver. You can also strip in by hand a lot faster than you can reel, especially when there is a fish on another rod, or you just want to change a lure.

The leader is made up from 25lb test mono and should be about 9 or 10 feet in length. Almost the full fly line is let out so these baits run about 35-40 yards behind you.

The poker rod (at the back) is a heavy spinning rod and multiplier reel equipped with a 300 yards of straight 25lb mono. This rod is tooled up with a SINKING lure. This line should be kept short. It should run just at the end of the prop wash so probably no more than 10 yards back. You would be surprised at how many salmon will follow a boat and get caught on the poker. Having poker lure short offers another advantage - you can turn the boat on a sixpence without fear of the lines becoming tangled!

Baits and Lures

Rapalas - four and three quarter inch or 5 inch in heavy water.
Black and gold
Blue and silver

Anything you like over 4 inches
Silver and blue works well at dusk

Kynoch Killer and Tay Lures
Great for the poker rod as long as you keep the speed down. Use

Revolving baits (Mepps, spoons)
Avoid them unless you have anti kink swivels, you get too much line twist when trolling.


Rapala recommend that you attach the line direct to the lure. If you are trolling forget this advice. Always put a swivel and split ring on the lure, otherwise you will spend endless days untangling twisted line. The old rapalas were made from balsa wood and these are still the best (if you can find them). All the hooks were connected by wire and if a big fish chewed the lure to bits it would still hang on. New ones are made of plastic. This is a major disadvantage as it gives the fish leverage and can let them shake the lure free


Hooks & Lure Action
Check your hooks. Some lures come with hooks which would not stop a wet paper bag. Upgrade them. The initial hit from a salmon on a trolling rig is ferocious (the boat is also moving) and will bend a fly rod double. The best rig for rapalas I have found is to change front and middle hooks to singles and the tail to a round bend (French pattern).. When you change the hooks you must check that the bait swims properly. You should be fishing as slowly a possible. 4mph is ideal . Your baits should "wiggle" at this speed. In order to test that baits are working properly set you boat to trolling speed and put out lures on a short length so you can watch them. If they do not "wiggle" then the setting is wrong. To correct this on a lure like a Rapala (especially if hooks have been changed) take lighter and carefully warm and bend the fore plane (usually back) till it swims properly.


Automatic hooking

Some ghillies use a lead weight on the line to hook the fish and it works. As soon as the fish hits .. the lead jumps off into the air and the line is then free. The only time I do not use this system is at the beginning of the season when the fishes mouths tend to be soft and no lead is required.


Playing the fish

When a salmon hits (you will know!) point the boat off shore. That way you have sea room and you keep the fish away from the shore and snags. I have seen salmon crash onto a beach to try to remove a hook.

If there is more than one of you in the boat get hold of the rod with the fish on first, then get someone else to reel in the other rods. If you are on your own you can get at least some line/s in while you turn the boat out and then pick up the rod with the fish on.

Try to get the boat upwind of the fish. There is nothing worse than having a strong wind blow you away from your trophy.

Play the fish keeping a tight line at all times.

Try to avoid getting the boat too close to the fish until it is played out.

If the fish is still diving/jumping/running move off slowly and continue to play it out.

Use a large knotless net to boat the fish. My net is a standing joke in the village at 72" ... but you need a big net for boat work. Unless you are in a flat calm its best to bring the fish on board to deal with it. Have your pliers handy for removing hooks. If its to go back try to remove hooks as quickly as possible.

See also:


Trolling the Scottish Lochs

Trolling the Scottish Lochs
Informative site with plenty more information on tackle and venues suitable for tolling.



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