How to Roll Shads and Anchovies for Trout Trolling in California Lakes

One of the most successful fishing methods for catching big trout is trolling. Besides catching attractively colored trout, it is a great way to explore the beautiful outdoors with your family and friends.  

Trout are highly sought after fish to target because they are abundant in most California lakes. Besides the beautiful colors, rainbow trout are a preferred choice for delicious fish dishes. 

However, the challenge lies in setting up and rolling shads and anchovies to catch trout effectively. therefore, here are the trout fishing tips and methods for using fresh fish baits to troll in California waters. 

What is Trolling? 

Trout trolling is a well-known fishing method used by anglers to catch trout using a boat. It involves placing and pulling a bait or lure at the back of the boat and capturing fish through different boat speeds and depths. The angler can sit in front of the stern or maneuver his boat while waiting for a fish to bite. Trolling for trout enables fishers to reach a wide area of the freshwater while waiting for fish to tug the line. This is the best fishing method for deep water trout fishing. 

Trout trolling is easy in late fall, winter, or early spring when trout groups swim toward the upper water columns. However, fishing gets tricky when the hot weather warms the water temperature in early fall, late spring, and summer. 

Trout tend to swim toward the deep and cool water columns rich in oxygen. Meanwhile, only skilled anglers that use deep water downriggers and controlled depth methods can effectively catch trout in all weather. Also, anglers can use fish locating techniques, downriggers, lead-set fishing lines, and divers to hit the water depths they need. 

Also, anglers will have a hard time trolling when they approach turbulent waters. Fishermen then shift to drift fishing instead during such situations.

Trout Fishing Setup for Trolling

Having the proper trolling set up for trout fishing is important to ensure that your fishing will be successful. Further, one needs to consider the type of fishing rod and reel, fishing line, and baits suited for trout fishing. 

Fishing Rod and Reel

The choices for fishing rod and reel for trout trolling depends on the target water depth. 

Deep Water Fishing

Choose long trolling rods with a medium or soft action. These fishing rods for trolling are limber enough to allow for a fun fight but sturdy enough to handle pulling when the trout runs close to the boat. Besides, long, smooth fishing rods are the top choice for deepwater trolling using downriggers and sinkers. We recommend using a fiberglass rod such as the Lamiglas – Kokanee & Trout Trolling Fishing Rod to successfully troll for trout. Another great option is the affordable Okuma SST Kokanee Graphite Rods. Pair both of these rods with the Okuma Cold Water Linecounter Trolling Reel and you have an excellent trout trolling set up!

Shallow Water Fishing 

Trout may swim in shallow waters, especially after ice melts in spring and autumn before ice refreezes. Trout then move to the shallow waters to feed. It is a safe bet to troll the top waters in the morning and slowly work your way down into deeper waters as the sun rises and water temperatures warm up. You can learn more about water temperatures and how it effects trout in this Water Temperature Guide to Trout Fishing in California Lakes.

Fishing Line

Choose a fishing line according to one’s fishing preference. Select a fishing line that is sturdy enough to prevent break-offs and catch more trout. You can use a 20 to 30-pound braided line with a 10lb to 12lb 100% fluorocarbon leader. In contrast, braid lines can cast better and have a more line sensitivity allowing you to feel lures better over other fishing lines that tend to stretch. 

After you added a good braid line, attach a 3-way swivel. On the side hole, place a fishing item that gives weight, such as sinkers. Finally, attach the leader line (we recommend 100% fluorocarbon) to the last spot, which should be 3 to 4 feet long.  

Rigging Hook

You can use Gamakatsu Treble Loose Hooks for trout trolling. These treble hooks are more accessible to pull and shake than single hooks when submerged in water. According to Fish Hunt Shoot Productions, you can set up a rig with the fish baits through these steps: 

  1. Use the middle treble hook. Hook and secure it at the middle of the fish backbone. This hook will keep the fish stationary.  
  2. Take the small, single sliding hook and hook it on the fish’s mouth. Next, pull the leader line gently inward to bend the fish. This hook slides easily when the line is drawn and allows the bending of the fish bait causing the fish to roll in the water.
  3. Lastly, place the remaining treble hook near the fishtail to secure the fish and for a smooth water roll. You can use a size 5 DonQL fishing treble hook at the fishtail to allow better trout hookups. 

Preparation of Natural Fish Baits for Trout Trolling

Various methods are applicable for trolling, from natural baits, jigs, lures, and artificial flies. The most common trolling baits used for catching trout are raw fish baits like anchovies and shads. therefore, natural fish baits lure the fish to the hook by their natural colors, presentations and scents in the water. 

Benefits of Using Natural Fish Baits

Fish baits attract trout because these are their natural meals. Also, you can use fire brine to cure fish baits with colorful dyes to enhance their trout luring color. Anchovies and shad are some of the famous fish baits used in fishing trout. 

Shads and Anchovies as Fish Baits

Usually, shad are natural prey for trout and are thriving in almost any California waters. They are the fastest way to lure rainbow trout and also available at the local tackle store for purchase. Also, adding fire brine to shad also aid in keeping their bodies intact during trout trolling.

On the other hand, anchovies are best in catching rainbow and brown trout. These fishes have fish attracting oils and leave an appealing scent in the water that entices the trout. 

Fire Brine Dyes for Trout Trolling

The fire brine is liquid dyes with different vibrant colors used to cure the fish. Fire brines help fish bait last longer in hot California waters. Pautzke’s fire brine dye can significantly enhance the fish bait’s color for an irresistible trout meal. 

A video from Fish Hunt Shoot Productions shows the best ways of curing fish baits by including these steps:

  1. Mix 1 bottle of fire brine dye in 3 bottles of water for a short soak. For a long soak, add one bottle of fire brine dye to ¼ gallon of water. 
  2. Place fire brine on the anchovies and shads. 

Fish Baits for Trout Trolling


Put Pautzke’s bait fire dye in red or blue color on anchovies, with some bit of sea salt. Fire brine will toughen the anchovies’ bodies and increase the shine of scales. Unlike shads, anchovies have soft bodies and have difficulty gliding in the waters unless hardened by salt. 


Specifically, add a slight tint of Pautzke’s bait fire dye in blue color on shad for a color flash. Just add a little of the blue color with water to achieve the color flash without overcoloring the fish. 

  1. After adding the fire brine on the fish baits, place them on separate tight-sealed, resealable containers.
  2. Then, place the containers inside the fridge and let the brine cure the fish overnight or 24 hours. The next day, the fish baits are ready for your fishing escapade.  
  3. In case the color dries up on the fish baits, add fire brine and let them sit for several hours.
  4. You can add sea salt to the shads and anchovies for faster curing results, aside from the fire brines. 
  5. Also, add Pautzke’s firepower with krill scent when curing the fish baits for flavor enhancement and effective trout luring. Furthermore, the krill scent is very enticing to trout, leading to more bites.
  6. After fishing, place left over bait inside the freezer, you can use these baits for another fishing trip.

Rolling Shads and Anchovies

One efficient way for faster rolling of shad and anchovies is to put more bend on the bait. Pull the leader line to slide the single hook inward to bend the fish. To emphasize, the more curve the fish has, the faster the fish bait rolls. 

But, if you prefer a faster bait glide, you can straighten the fish bait. Place the bait in the water and watch it move. furthermore, if the bait isn’t rolling to your liking readjust the bend in your bait. Nonetheless, effective trolling lies in your confidence to set and use the natural bait to catch trout. 

Trout Trolling Using Natural Fish Baits 

Trolling for trout involves determining the right boat speed and depth to roll your natural fish baits. After preparing your bait and fishing setup, here are some best tips in trout trolling in California freshwaters: 

  1. Troll slowly while ensuring that the bait works correctly. Always examine if the bait has the right speed and roll, width, and tint for the targeted trout. 
  2. Toss the bait that has been applied to your fishing line in the water. Bring your boat to your trolling speed and watch the bait’s movement in the water. Adjust the bend in the bait if needed.
  3. Troll trout by putting the bait back about 150 feet from the back of the boat, Adjust downrigger for depth. Then you can do slow S turns to attract the target.
  4. Pump the fishing rod occasionally. The pumping motion can create a pulsing action that can trigger the trout to strike. The trout may view the ‘bait’ escaping from the rise of the tip. It may also see the bait swim back once the end is lowered due to “injury.” You can hook the trout ultimately because it mistakes the natural lure as injured food.  
  5. Pull and set the hook when you feel a fish biting the bait. 
  6. For deep water fishing, use sinkers attached to the dropline away from the lure. The sinker will pull the line deep into the waters while helping the natural bait swivel above the sinker. You can also achieve depth by placing the line on a downrigger.
  7. For shallow water fishing, attach the bait under a lightweight bobber or slip cork. These fishing items will particularly help the bait glide across the water currents while preventing deep water movement. 
  8. Ultimately practice courtesy during trolling. Try to prevent disturbance or cutting off the fishing paths of other fishermen. It is more enjoyable to work with others in catching trout than disturbing peace and order in the area. 

Best Lakes for Trout Fishing in California

California is definitely blessed to have a wide variety of waters that provide ample opportunities for trout fishing. California lake waters indeed thrive with most trout species. In particular, these are the lakes in California that serve as the best trout fishing spots:

Best Trout Trolling Spots in Northern California 

A list of the best trout trolling spots in Northern California:

  • Bucks Lake
  • Copco Lake
  • Eagle Lake
  • Lake Berryessa
  • Shasta Lake
  • Lake Pillsbury 

Best Trout Trolling Locations in Central California

 A list of the best trout trolling locations in Central California:

  • Bass Lake
  • Lake Cachuma
  • Lake Tahoe
  • New Melones Lake
  • Silver Lake
  • Lake McClure
  • Lake Cachuma

Best Trout Trolling Sites in Southern California

A list of the best trout trolling sites in Southern California:

  • Big Bear Lake
  • Castaic Lake
  • Lake Perris
  • Canyon Lake

Final Words

Trout fishing is a favorite among fishermen due to the plentiful supply of trout in California lakes. Trout trolling is an excellent trout fishing method by using boats, kayaks and PWC to cover lots of ground on the lake. This fishing method works great for fishing trout in deep waters and in open water as it uses the boat speed and access to areas that bank fishermen can’t reach to catch trout. 

Indeed, the success of trout trolling lies in many factors. This is just one effective fishing method and guide to choosing fishing rod and reel, fishing line, and the use and preparation of natural baits. In summary, prepare the proper fishing baits and fishing gear, and enjoy lots of action as well as a worry-free trolling experience in California freshwaters. 

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