I've never been very fond of trolling with conventional gear.
Sitting there while dragging a lure around makes my brain go numb pretty quickly. Of course, the excitement begins when a fish is hooked, but for me, part of the fun in fishing involves the casting and probing of different areas while actively searching for a bite. That's not to say trolling isn't effective—it for sure is—and in a situation where the fish are spread out over a huge open water area, it can be the best way to quickly find the fish. While conventional trolling isn't really my cup of tea, for some reason I don't mind it quite as much if I'm trolling with a fly rod. Wait.....trolling with a fly rod?
I haven't trolled with a fly rod a whole heck of a lot in my life, but I have experienced some good success while doing it—as the old school picture above shows. It's also something I've dabbled in for quite a long time. Some may argue that trolling with a fly rod isn't "real" fly fishing and may totally dismiss the idea. I can understand their disapproval, but if I'm trolling with a standard fly outfit and have a legit fly tied onto the end, it's still fly fishing to me. Sure, it takes less skill since the casting and line management has been mostly taken out of the equation, but hey, if it catches fish then it's all good to me!
For best success, I prefer to troll with some type of sinking line.
Even if the fish aren't particularly deep, trolling with at least an intermediate sinking line can help keep the fly from planing to the surface. It may not be as big of an issue if you're slow-trolling from a float tube using just your legs as propulsion, but if trolling while under outboard power, your fly may have more of a tendency to plane up towards the surface since you'll be underway at a faster speed. Trolling with a floating line and weighted fly can be a viable substitute, but to me, nothing beats a sinking line. Of course, if you want to troll some type of surface fly, a floater is the obvious choice.
Trolling is pretty simplistic overall, but there's a few little tricks I employ that I believe help me catch a few more fish. First off, I typically like to troll my fly very far back behind whatever craft I'm in while keeping the rod tip low. There's two reasons for this: it allows for more of a sinking line's body to go below the surface, and it puts the fly far away from the noise and presence of the vessel. Perhaps it's overkill, but I often like to troll so far back that only a few wraps of fly line remain on the reel. I prefer not to troll with the entire fly line in the water. I don't want to be holding the backing as it can burn or cut my skin when the strike and initial run happens. With so much line out, though, I make sure the reel has ample backing capacity if I'm targeting big, strong fish.
Whether trolling by float tube or boat, speed and direction changes can often trigger bites.
I like to firmly hold a bit of loose line in my non-rod hand if able. This gives me a few feet of excess line to manipulate to try and coax a strike during the troll. I can give the fly more of an erratic appearance by occasionally twitching it or even feeding out/stripping in a few feet of line at a time which gives the fly a quick speed change. In a float tube, you can also constantly alter the speed at which you kick yours legs to further change the speed.
Another way to change the fly's movement is to not troll in a totally straight line. Trolling in a zigzag pattern or in a series of lazy s-turns is a great way to both change the fly's speed and course. When taking turns this causes the fly to rise/fall, speed up/slow down, and change course without having to do any line manipulation yourself. If a fish is following the fly, any difference in the fly's behavior can trigger a strike from a more stubborn fish.
Don't be adverse to trolling with a fly rod.
It's not exactly the purest form of fly fishing there is, but you'll quickly forget about that when the first strike comes. The fun factor may be subjective, but there's no denying that trolling with a fly rod is easy and can be extremely effective. Unlike conventional trolling, there's a bit more feel involved and fighting a fish with a long, limber fly rod is arguably more exciting. It can also be a great way to introduce a kid or a novice to the feel of a fly rod and what it's like to battle a fish with one. Get trolling!