Offshore Trolling: Finding the Perfect Trolling Speed

Offshore Fishing

Offshore Trolling: Finding the Perfect Trolling Speed

One frequently asked question in offshore trolling is, "What is the ideal trolling speed?" Surprisingly, finding the answer may not be as challenging as it seems. In this article, we will explore the nuances of offshore trolling, revealing the secrets to determining the perfect speed for a successful fishing expedition. Whether you are a seasoned angler or a beginner entering the world of offshore trolling, join us as we unravel the art of trolling and provide insights to enhance your skills.

Discovering the optimum trolling speed involves understanding various factors and mastering techniques that increase your chances of a successful catch. From the influencing factors on trolling speed to effective techniques for maximizing your catch, we've got you covered. Whether you're chasing your next offshore trophy or just starting your offshore trolling journey, this article is your guide to success.

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How pelagic fish feed

Consider the feeding habits of pelagic fish, some of the fastest fish in the world. Sailfish, capable of reaching speeds up to 70 mph, and other species like wahoo, marlin, and swordfish, exceeding 50 mph, are among them. Flying fish, one of mahi's favorite meals, are also known for their remarkable speed.

Contrary to the notion of these fish racing around the ocean to catch prey.  All of these top-tier predators are opportunistic feeder instead looking for easy feeding opportunities.  They ofen employ slash feeding techniques. They dart through schools of prey using their teeth or bills to injure them, circling back to feed on the slower-moving or injured ones. Experienced anglers often use the tactic of dropping baits below smaller fish feeding on the surface to reach larger fish lurking below, feasting on the descending dead prey.

So, what triggers a gamefish to strike? It's not just about a magical speed; rather, it's a bait that mimics something appealing to eat, regardless of its speed. Recognizing this as a fact, the discussion should focus on how to find the optimal trolling speed for a particular trolling spread and then how to maintain that speed.

The importance of finding the perfect speed

Finding the optimal trolling speed is the holy grail of offshore trolling. It can be the difference between a successful day on the water and going home empty-handed. When your lure is moving at its intended speed, it creates the illusion of a natural prey, triggering a predatory response from the big game fish.

Trolling too fast or too slow can result in your lure being ignored or not appearing natural enough to entice a strike. That's why finding the sweet spot for the perfect speed is crucial. It allows you to present your lure in a way that maximizes your chances of attracting and hooking the fish you're targeting.

offshore trolling speed

Understanding the different types of offshore trolling lures

To achieve the optimal trolling speed, a thorough understanding of the various lure types used in offshore trolling is essential. Each type of lure possesses unique characteristics and demands a specific speed range to be effective. Here's a breakdown of different lure types:

Live Baits: Live baits are highly effective for offshore fishing, closely mimicking the natural action of prey.  Their effectiveness is unparalleled, as few artificial or dead baits can replicate the lifelike movement of live bait.  Live bait is most successful when the target species is known to be in the immediate vicinity.  Trolling live bait requires an exceptionally slow speed to maintain the bait's natural presentation.  The correct trolling speed is only as fast as needed to keep lines straight and prevent baits from crossing paths.  Dragging live bait too fast is a sure recipe for killing the bait.

Swimming Hardbaits:These lures imitate baitfish and are designed to swim in a lifelike manner. They perform optimally at moderate trolling speeds, typically ranging from 4 to 7 knots.

Plastic Trolling Lures
This category includes artificial baits with diverse head shapes, each imparting a specific action. Actions may include skipping, creating bubble trails, swimming, etc. They perform optimally at moderate to fast trolling speeds. Understanding the intended action of each lure is crucial for effective trolling.

Natural Dead Baits:  Whole baits like ballyhoo, squid, and cigar minnows, as well as bait strips, fall into this category.  These baits exhibit the broadest range of trolling speeds from slow to moderate.  Whole baits generally require slower trolling speeds compared to strip baits.

Regardless of the lure type, a systematic process can be employed to determine the optimal trolling speed for each lure:

Identify a visible area on the boat for easy observation of the lure and lower it into the water.

Observe how the bait trolls, ensuring it swims as intended beside the boat.

Experiment with different boat speeds while the bait is alongside the boat to establish both minimum and maximum trolling speeds.

A bait trolled too fast may spin, while one trolled too slow may "dead stick" with minimal action.

Dedicate time to understand the trolling characteristics of your chosen baits, as this investment will yield dividends in the long run.

Creating an effective trolling spread

Developing an effective trolling spread requires careful consideration of lure compatibility and the establishment of a common optimal trolling speed among all the lures in the trolling spread. Understanding the characteristics and optimal trolling speeds of different lure types significantly enhances the likelihood of success in offshore trolling. Several factors come into play when fine-tuning trolling speed:

Line Angle into the Water:  The angle at which the line enters the water can impact lure behavior.  A higher line angle causes the lure to troll more perpendicular to the water, while a lower angle results in a more parallel trajectory.  Factors influencing line angle include how high the line leaves the boat, ranging from high off an outrigger to low on a gunnel clip.  Experimentation is key to identifying how line angle affects the lure's action.

Direction of the Current:  A bait's action is primarily determined by its speed through the water, distinct from the speed over ground (SOG) displayed by GPS chartplotters.  Trolling with or against the current can influence a lure's action.  Monitor your compass heading relative to the current direction and adjust the boat's SOG to maintain a consistent speed relative to the water.

Sea Conditions:  Generally, rougher seas necessitate a slower trolling speed to optimize lure action.  Adjusting trolling speed based on the sea conditions contributes to maintaining effective lure presentation.

Trolling Position in the Spread:  The position where the lure is trolled relative to the boat's wake is crucial.  A bait trolled on the backside of a wave may exhibit different action compared to one trolled on the front side.  Understanding and adjusting the trolling position relative to the boat's wake to adjust  lure performance.

Understanding these factors and making informed adjustments will allow you to fine-tune your trolling speed, increasing the likelihood of success on the water. Balancing these considerations ensures that each lure in the spread operates optimally, contributing to a cohesive and effective trolling strategy.

Understanding the importance of speed in offshore trolling

The role of speed in offshore trolling is pivotal, and recognizing its significance can substantially enhance your fishing success. Here are a few key reasons why speed matters:

Triggering a Predatory Response:  The right trolling speed creates a convincing illusion of natural prey, provoking a predatory response from big game fish. This heightened predatory instinct increases the likelihood of enticing a strike, leading to successful catches.

Matching Natural Feeding Behavior:  Trolling at the appropriate speed enables you to replicate the natural feeding behavior of pelagic fish. This mimicry makes your lure more enticing to the fish, aligning with their natural instincts and increasing the chances of a successful catch.

Covering More Ground:  Trolling at the right speed allows you to cover a larger expanse of water and explore different areas. The ability to traverse various areas enhances your chances of finding fish.

Optimizing Lure Action:  Different lures are designed with specific actions that excel at particular speeds. Trolling within the appropriate speed range for a specific lure ensures that it performs as intended, maximizing its effectiveness in attracting and enticing fish.

By acknowledging the critical role of speed in offshore trolling and its direct impact on fish behavior, you can strategically adjust your trolling speed to achieve optimal results. This understanding allows you to fine-tune your approach, increasing the likelihood of a successful and rewarding fishing experience.

Advanced strategies for optimizing trolling speed

Having mastered the fundamentals of finding the optimal trolling speed, you can elevate your chances of success through advanced strategies. 

Consider the following techniques:

Vary Your Speed:  Experiment with varying speeds to elicit different feeding responses from fish.  Rapidly accelerating and decelerating your trolling speed can sometimes trigger a strike from a hesitant fish.

Combine Lures:  Integrate lures with different actions, but compatible optimal speeds into your trolling spread.  Creating a diverse and dynamic presentation increases the likelihood of attracting fish with varying preferences.

Use Teasers:  Employ teasers, either bird teasers, daisy chains, or dredges, to entice wary fish.  Teasers generate additional commotion and can entice fish to strike. Experiment with different teaser designs and speeds to find the most effective combination.

Pay Attention to Lure Action:  Continuously monitor your lure's action during trolling.  If the lure isn't swimming correctly or appears unnatural, adjust the trolling speed to fine-tune its action.  Bring the bait back close to the boat to observe it more clearly.  Do not leave poorly trolling lures in the spread.  

By incorporating these advanced strategies into your offshore trolling approach, you'll enhance your ability to maximize trolling speed and increase the likelihood of a successful fishing expedition. These tactics provide a nuanced and strategic approach to lure presentation, catering to the diverse behaviors and preferences of the targeted fish species.


  • Monitor the lure action beside the boat.

  • Adjust the boat speed to understand a lure’s optimal speed range.

  • Develop a trolling spread of lures with compatible trolling speeds.

  • Maintain a constant trolling speed relative to the water by considering the current and wind direction.

  • Consider optimizing the trolling spread by replacing the lure that requires the slowest trolling speed. The goal is to maximize the trolling speed while maintaining optimal lure action. This allows you to cover more ground and locate fish quickly.

Indeed, there's no one-size-fits-all or magical trolling speed in offshore fishing. The key lies in understanding how your lures react to different trolling speeds and strategically managing your speed to optimize their actions. By adopting this approach, you can significantly enhance your offshore fishing success. Happy fishing!