Trolling Basics – Hitting the Bluewater

With species like sailfish, dolphin, tuna, grouper and wahoo roaming Sunshine State waters, anglers from all over flock down here in pursuit of these prized catches. Trolling is a popular and effective technique for targeting these species and more. In this guide, I delve into the basics of trolling for offshore gamefish in Florida’s saltwater, covering everything from tackle tips to bait choices, while also emphasizing safety on the water.

Trolling Safety Tips:

1. Check Weather Conditions: This one is obvious, avoid fishing in inclement weather, as rough seas and high winds can pose significant risks to both you and your vessel – no fish is worth dying for. Especially here in Florida, keep in mind that summer storms can appear at any time!

2. File a Float Plan: Before departing, file a detailed float plan with a trusted individual onshore. Include your intended departure and return times, as well as your planned fishing location. This information can be invaluable in the event of an emergency.

3.  Maintain Communication: Equip your boat with a reliable communication device, such as a VHF radio or satellite phone, to stay in touch with shore-based authorities and other vessels in your vicinity.

4. Get an EPIRB – An emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) is a type of emergency locator beacon for commercial and recreational boats, a portable, battery-powered radio transmitter used in emergencies to locate boaters in distress and in need of immediate rescue. It’s sort of like the “black box” in an airplane, most are saltwater-activated, and if you activate it, someone out there will find it eventually.

5. Pay Attention: This may seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes people go on autopilot when trolling, endlessly running into the blue. It’s these lapses in attention where you can miss a floating tree or channel marker, hit it and ultimately sink.

Trolling Tackle Tips

Rods and Reels

Opt for heavy-duty stand-up tackle, conventional setups and stout spinners capable of handling the powerful runs of offshore fish. Look for reels with a high line capacity and smooth drag systems to withstand the demands of pelagic fish.

Line and Terminal Tackle 

This is not the time to try to see what you can get away with. Use 30 to 80-pound mono or braid with shock leaders, wind-on leaders and wire if necessary (for tooth critters like wahoo and kingfish) depending on the target species. Stock up on a variety of specialized trolling weights, swivels, and snaps to customize your trolling spread and adapt to changing conditions on the water.

Artificial Lures and Live Bait Choices

Skirted lures like an Ilander work great. Lipped diving plugs with redheads and white bodies, electric chicken or black and purple can also be very effective. The classic cedar plug is also an old favorite for tuna.


Grouper caught while trolling
A gag grouper taken on a diving plug trolled off Tampa Bay



The Ballyhoo is a favorite among offshore anglers for its natural swimming action and widespread availability. Rig ballyhoo with a circle hook and a skirt for added attraction when trolling for sailfish and dolphin. Blue runners are another great live bait choice. These fast-swimming baitfish are prized for their durability and attractiveness to a variety of offshore predators. Rig blue runners with a wire leader to withstand the razor-sharp teeth of species like wahoo and kingfish.

Dolphin caught while trolling
This quality dolphin ate a skirted ballyhoo



This is a very rough guide, trolling speed, moon phases, the presence or absence of weeds and birds and a multitude of other factors can impact your success. Regardless, remember to respect local regulations and conservation measures to ensure the sustainability of these prized fisheries for future generations of anglers. Later this week I will be fishing offshore for some of the species mentioned via Bud n’ Marys Marina. We will certainly be doing some trolling and even flyfishing there, stay tuned.

You can read more about my adventures fishing in the Keys here and here.

You can also read my latest blog post here. 

Until next time, tight lines!

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