• Happy Dewey Decimal System Day! 📚🔢

Trolling with a fly rod for salmon/brook trout

Jun 12, 2012
Reaction score
Appleton, Maine
I have never done it, but I’m heading to the North Maine Woods soon and I would like to give it a try. I have a hand me down fly rod with a decent reel but I think I will need a different line (sinking?) and some new flys and streamers.

I don’t want to buy a new rod and reel till I’m sure I’m interested in this type of fishing so I think the line and lure info would be helpful.

Also, are there any tackle shops between Mid coast Maine and the area north of me that is knowledgeable about this type of fishing and I could purchase gear?

Don't know about the Fly rod ? But a Spinning rod with a handle, works great, as I can stick the butt end of the rod, under one leg, on top of the gunnel, cross ways of the canoe. It keeps it low and mostly out of the way when paddling. I don't see a Fly rod working in that configuration.

Anxious to hear how it works for you ! Oh ! And a big stringer of fish ! :D

Good luck !

I've read that trolling a streamer will work, never tried it. Have tried trolling small spinners and spoons with a fly rod, and the length of the rod hanging over the side of the canoe became clunky after a while... the long length of the rod created leverage pulling backwards when trolling (I wedge the rod in between the knees to hold it in place, an actual rod holder clamped onto the gunnel might have worked better). So I went back to a shorter six-foot light spinning rod and found that easier to handle.
Very traditional way to fish. We did that a lot in the 1950s when I was a kid. My Dad says I caught more fish when I was 4 years old than any other year of my life. He was a college professor and we went fishing a couple of times a week. He had an old wood rowboat that he rescued from the bottom of the Spokane River. It was powered by a 1929 Johnson 1 1/2 hp motor which I still have.
Used to troll for Lake trout in New Brunswick with the flyrod all the time. This was just after the ice went out and they were close to the surface. Just used our regular floating line with about a ten foot leader. We tied streamer flies with solder wire wrapped along the body to weight them down. There were a whole bunch of streamer patterned that we tied, probably the same ones they use in Maine, we were only 20 miles or so from the border.
Large streamer flies have been perfected for trolling on some of the big lakes in northern California. A guy named Jay Fair invented the modern version of it. I have used them successfully on lead core line with very long leaders. The lead core is used to control the depth. The leaders used are 100 feet long because fish can see the lead core readily. No other weight, flashers or additions are required. Lots of 3-4 pound rainbows and some cutthroats. Still waiting for a fish over 5 pounds with this method.

I assume you are paddling a canoe while you are trolling ?

Paddling is the most stealthy way to troll. I also use a drift boat with an 8 hp motor and have a larger boat also
Some of my biggest fish have come this way. I find it most effective when you can sweep the rod forward occasionally to make the streamer dart and flutter back. Difficult if you are alone. Paddling in S-shaped curves will change the speed a bit depending on the side your rod is on. I have had the most luck with clouser style streamers with white marabou and some silver flash. Grey ghosts or Mickey Finns work well too. Any sinking line will do- old timers used to just use lead core line. 6-10’ of mono or fluorocarbon leader. They will be down deep this time of year. How deep is dependent on the body of water- at least 25’. Will take some trial and error. If there are pike in those waters it could be infuriating or fun! Good luck.

The Salmon and Brookies need high dissolved oxygen. The dissolved oxygen level increases as the water temperature decreases. Therefore this time of year they will be down deep as stated above. They will come up into warmer waters to chase food but not for long. I was trolling to other day for brookies with a spinning rod and used the bungee cord loop with plastic ball on end to hold rod to thwart. When I had a hit I could quickly slide it out of bungee loop. Not so sure that would work with fly rod but might be able to rig something that quickly releases. Best of luck. Brookies must be some of the most beautiful fresh water fish I have ever seen.
The best way to fish with a fly rod and flies while trolling is to hold the rod in your hands. Then you can work the fly, and feel any strikes. That is the only problem with paddling, is that your hands are occupied with a paddle. The stealthiness kind of makes up for it. I have hooked some good trout from a canoe.

Sometimes we fish the Sacramento River in the fall during the king salmon run. They are ocean run fish and make it hundreds of miles upstream. We troll from a canoe but the speed of the current makes controlling the boat difficult with one person. A salmon is a handful for a person with a rod in his hand. I am going to try the drift boat for salmon fishing, because then one person can control the boat with oars while the other one handles the fish.

Our lakes get stratified by the weather. Trout like cool water temperatures in the 50s, high DO, and a food source. These only intersect and certain times of the year. Months like April and May after ice out, and then October and November are ideal. Fish are near the surface and find everything they are looking for. In summer, the trout are scattered all over and found mostly at depth, often 40-60 feet or more.
I troll with a fly rod each year in the Quetico or Crown land lakes near the Quetico. The difference is I troll for smallmouth bass. Best results are using a floating fly line with a long leader and a self tied bucktail streamer with a barbell head for weight. My wife and I are in a 17 ft canoe. The bow person trolls and the stern person paddles. We have excellent results.
Thanks ATwaterGA,

West Grand Lake area in eastern Maine is ideal for what you described, lots of SMB, plus many bass lakes locally, Thanks for sharing your method.

One question, can you describe your "long leader", Thanks
@Robin, I realize this is an old thread and you have probably picked the right gear for you and have caught many, many fish trolling streamers.;)
I have caught quite a few salmon and togue using this method. No record breakers though. The Supervisor and the Grey Ghost have worked pretty good for me. My best Brown trout caught using a streamer was just down the street from you in Seven Tree Pond.
I found this photo from May of 2018. A decent Smallmouth Taken while trolling a streamer. You can see the fly below my fingers.
Not exactly on-topic, but this thread brings to mind the many enjoyable hours I spent float tubing for trout, first in the lakes of the Oregon Cascades and then lakes and ponds of the Adirondacks. The pumps were pretty basic when I was doing it so when the distance to the lake or pond was considerable, I carried everything in and inflated at the site. First it was a foot pump (which took forever) and later, a double barrel bicycle pump (well worth the weight for the time it saved). Sometimes I could inflate at a gas station beforehand, put on the tube (it has shoulder straps) and walk/hike a short distance to the pond. Most of the time I propelled myself with fins, but I also have some clip-ons (to the heel of the boot) that had pivoting paddles on them. The former was better getting around (especially larger bodies of water), but latter was easier to get in and out with. I found few other fishing experiences as thrilling as bringing in a trout at nearly eye level.
@Robin, I realize this is an old thread and you have probably picked the right gear for you and have caught many, many fish trolling streamers.;)
I have caught quite a few salmon and togue using this method. No record breakers though. The Supervisor and the Grey Ghost have worked pretty good for me. My best Brown trout caught using a streamer was just down the street from you in Seven Tree Pond.

I'm not sure what happened but I never followed up on my plans to get into trolling with a fly rod last season. All of my fishing was with my grandsons out of my square-stern canoe or sitting by a small local bass pond with my younger grandson helping him catch small bass on worms.

My 4 solo trips to the North Maine Woods were mainly paddling and camping.

Tim Smith @ Jack Mountain Bushcraft recently put out a blog about a beginner buying a new fly rod outfit.

He said "A 9-foot-long, 5 weight rod. Most rods are between 7’6″ and 12′ long, 9′ is the happy medium. The weight kinda is based on what you are catching, so a 5 weight covers bluegills, bass, trout and most other freshwater species. You also need a 5 weight fly line (floating is best for now) and a reel made for 4-6 weight lines. If you’re getting a kit just go with a 9’ 5 wt."

He seems to think a good entry-level combo kit of rod, reel and line can be had for about $175-200.
I just signed up for a 3 day "fly fishing course" in late May with Jack Mountain Bushcraft. I think this will be a good fit for me as it's a combination of different types of fly fishing with a good part dedicated to fly fishing from a canoe.
The weight of a fly rod also depends on the size flies you will be casting. For wind resistant deer hair flies and poppers, I think you need at least an eight weight.

Thanks, I'll stick with what the instructor recommends, for now, I can always upgrade to another outfit at a later date. There is some amazing smallmouth bass fishing in the Penobscot River above Bangor, which might require a different setup compared to the small trout streams and ponds of northern Maine where the course will take place.