Best speed to paddle when trolling for trout (Slow vs Fast?)

Welcome to my guide on the best speed to paddle when targeting trout.

In the chart below I have listed the most efficient speed range to troll at when targeting trout. When the water is cold (Less than 44f), troll towards the slower end of this range. When the water is at a more normal temperature (Between 44F and 65f) it is possible to troll slightly faster.

In hot summer conditions, you might want to slow down again. Because, just like us, trout are reluctant to move quickly when they are too warm.

Lake Trout, tend to be a bit more active. I suspect this is due to them being open water hunters that depend more on boosts of speed to catch their prey.

I also included some other freshwater species.

Salmon despite being very closely related to trout generally require a fast speed. Their time spent as pelagics covering vast distances of open water has increased their endurance.

If you want to target a wide range of species, it is usually a good idea to troll around 2mph. Such a speed can get most freshwater species to strike, although it is at the edge of the optimal speed range.

I also included Tuna, just to demonstrate how much faster these saltwater pelagics are than the typical freshwater fish. If you are used to trolling offshore, be prepared to slow down a lot when targeting trout.

SpeciesTrolling Speed RangeTrolling range kph
Brown trout0.5 to 2.0mph0.7-3kph
Rainbow trout0.5 to 2.0 mph0.7-3kph
Brook trout0.5 to 2.0 mph0.7-3kph
Lake Trout1.0 to 3.0 mph1.5-4.5kph
Salmon1.5 to 3.5 mph2.5-5.5kph
Pike0.8 to 1.5 mph1.2-2.5kph
Bass2.0 to 4.0mph3.0-6.0kph
Walleye0.5 to 3 mph0.7-4.5kph
Best trolling speed for catching trout

When targeting trout troll slow, very slow

The biggest mistake I see others do while out trolling is driving too fast. Trout are not high speed predators, they are lazy fish that rather the food comes to them rather than go on a high speed chase.

Yes, the correct speed seems slow. It almost feels like you are not moving at all. Just a slow ‘drift’ through the water.

Even if you are paddling a Kayak, or a Canoe still go slow. A normal paddling speed is still faster than optimal. One paddle stroke every few seconds is usually a sufficient speed. It is a very relaxed and slow paced style of fishing.

On a very windy day, sometimes it is possible just to let the wind blow you across a flat. This is ideal because there will be no engine noise to warn the trout of your arrival.

Stay slow, but try to vary your speed

Trout can follow a lure for quite some time before deciding to strike. One of the most effective ways to trigger a following trout is to vary the speed of your lure. So when trolling, I rarely stick to a consistent speed, but will slowly speed up and slow down. This impacts additional action into the lure.

I also do not like to travel in a straight line when trolling. Instead, I troll in a slow and gentle Lazy S pattern.

The lazy S pattern has several advantages. The first is that when you slowly turn on the boat naturally slows, which causes the lure to slow.

Secondarily, the lure. If it is far enough behind, does not follow directly behind the boat but cuts the corners, and covers water that the boat has not been disturbed.

When turning on the corners is when I hook the majority of my trout.

The colder the water, the slower you troll

When trolling early in the season, or over winter. Trout become even more lethargic, they slow down even more. This means when trolling in cold water conditions troll even slower.

A cold trout is not going to waste energy chasing down a fast moving baitfish. It is simply not worth the risk for them.

Take lure action into consideration when determining speed

When trolling, it is important to use a lure that has a good action at the speed you want to troll at. Some lures have better actions at faster speeds. Such a lure might work great on more aggressive species, but the speed required to get the desirable wobble will result in blank trip after trip when targeting trout.

My favorite two slow-action lures are the Jointed Rapala and the Worden’s Orignal Flatfish. I like to use them in fairly small sizes about J5 for the Rapala and F4 for the Flatfish, but can use slightly larger or bigger depending on local conditions. These two lures have amazing action at even the slowest of speeds. Bucktails and large streamer flies can also work well.

A slow retrieve was even the philosophy used when the Worden’s Flatfish was designed so it is my first pick in very cold water conditions.

When the water warms slightly, I do prefer the Floating Rapala because it tangles itself less often and its action is still nice at slow speed. A countdown or sinking Rapala can be used when the trout are holding deeper.

In the Summer, when the trout are holding very deep. The surface floating lures can struggle to reach them. At that time of year you have a few options, the easiest is probably to use a heavy spoon and rely on its own weight to reach the desired deep.

Other options include using a downrigger, or to add a bullet weight / trolling sinker onto your leader to sink the lure down deep enough. I mostly troll in shallow water, so I do not have first-hand knowledge on how heavy a weight is required to reach a specific depth.

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How to determine trolling speed?

By far the easiest way to determine trolling speed is to use GPS. Most fish finders have that functionality built in. This makes monitoring the speed easy.

If your boat does not have a GPS enabled fish finder, then your phone is a great backup option. There are countless applications that will display the speed by using your phones GPS.

If you are fishing from a wet kayak or canoe, and do not want to risk your phone. Then, the only advice I can offer is to take a stroke every few seconds. If you are paddling into a headwind, you might have to paddle slightly more often to prevent getting blown backward.

How Fast to Troll When Using a downrigger?

When targeting trout, it is still important to troll slow even when using a downrigger to get your lure down deep. To catch trout, I suggest trolling between 0.5 and 2mph when using a downrigger.

How Fast To Troll For Trout in the Winter and Spring

The water is very cold in the Winter and Spring, which means the best trolling speed to catch trout is usually between 0.5mph and 1mph. This speed seems very slow because it is.

How Fast to Troll For Trout in the Summer

In the summer, the trout are more active and are more prepared to give chase. I suggest trolling between 0.5 and 2mph when trolling over the summer months.

When the water is above 65F, the trout can become a bit sluggish. In such temperatures, I suggest slowing down and troll between 0.5 to 1mph.

At such temperatures, trout will also likely seek deeper cooler water to escape the heat.

Final Words

If you have just jumped to the end of the article, I will provide a quick summary.

When the water is cold, troll between 0.5-1 miles per hour. When the water is warmer, and the trout is more active troll as fast as 2 miles per hour for best results.

Do not just stick to one consistent speed, but vary it a bit to try and figure out what pace is the most effective on the day.

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