Length, Power, Action!

The majority of commercial salmon fishermen in the waters of Southeast Alaska are Washington state residents effectively evading Boldt and the ESA in the interception of southbound fish.
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Length, Power, Action!

Trolling is a lot more involved that simply plunking any old rod into the rod holder. Selecting the proper rod is the foundation for success with one of the most proven methods for chasing salmon.

Gear Reviews

Length, Power, Action!

One of the most important pieces of equipment a salmon angler can own. by Eric Martin, ssj gear editor

I’ll admit, in my early years of pursuing salmon, trolling did not seem to be a technique that would be very high on my list of favorite ways to fish. I was drawn to action; watching a float dip and swirl as it coursed its way down a swirly current seam, feeling the methodical tap tap tap of a back-bounced bait give way to the chomp of a hungry chinook, the rhythmic vibrations of wobbling plugs that elicit vicious takedowns, and the list goes on. The thought of plopping a rod in a rod holder and sitting in a seat for hours on end just didn’t raise my heart rate.

I’ll also admit that my feelings can be swayed when presented with solid argument or data to support an alternative point of view. When my friends, as well as some of the most successful guides I knew, turned to trolling as their go-to technique it piqued my curiosity. Seeing those same folks fill fish boxes trip after trip was all the data I needed to respect trolling as being one of the most effective ways to target salmon.

It only took a few trips to forever change my view of trolling. It proved to be a technique that allowed for a spread of rods to present bait and lures alike over a giant swath of water. Often when salmon fishing, simply finding the fish can be the most difficult task, and nothing comes close to the amount of water you can cover while trolling. Relying on the experience of the boat operator to control the troll, it is also a method that is unmatched in allowing novice passengers a high chance at success. You can load up the boat with kids, family or friends on a nice day and enjoy a peaceful day on the water while you load fish into the box. An added bonus of trolling is that it is done in lower river systems, estuaries and offshore, targeting aggressive, fresh fish that bite well and fight hard.

While the process of trolling seems simple and straight forward, having the right equipment will draw more bites and land more fish, and no, I’m not referring to a boat and a net. A quality rod designed for trolling is the foundation to success. Those first few trips I made due with the rods I already owned, foolishly thinking all they had to do was sit in a rod holder and drag a herring. It didn’t take long to find out my float rods lacked the power needed to control hot fish, and my drift rods were too short and stiff to maintain the load in my line to keep my presentation optimal as the boat varied in speed with wind chop and other boat traffic.

To best appreciate the function of a trolling rod, start by breaking the construction down into a few prominent features. For starters, length is one of the most noticeable elements. Most people mistakenly assume that trolling rods have to be long, and while it is true that many do seem extraordinarily long, they don’t always have to be. Trolling rods typically fall in the 9'6" to 12'6" range. Length provides the ability to better spread the rods in the boat to minimize tangles and create a wall of baits or lures passing through an area. With long rods straight out the sides of the boat, and shorter rods behind them and out the back, a boat can effectively cover a swath of water over 25 feet wide. Long rods also provide more maneuverability to follow fish around extended outboard motors, and leverage to turn and control fish during the fight. Obviously, we don’t always fish in groups, so with only one or two people in the boat there is no need to create excessive spread by running longer rods. This is where rods between 9 and 10 feet are optimal as they are easy to manage, especially in smaller boats and when netting fish if you are alone. 

The second most noticeable attribute of a trolling rod is the action. Deep loading, soft, moderate actions are optimal for several reasons. Underwater videos have shown that fish have an uncanny ability to bite and quickly release a bait if they sense anything out of the ordinary. Slower actions allow bait and lures to flutter and move naturally and produce the least amount of resistance when a fish commits. The parabolic bend of slower actions also helps maintain a load on the rod, both when trolling and when fighting fish. Boat speed, current, wind and a variety of factors will affect your bait presentation, and maintaining a load in the rod during variances in your troll produce a more continual uniform motion and natural presentation of your bait. When it comes to fighting fish, a deep loading rod will better maintain line tension through fast runs and direction changes which is especially helpful if you are fishing with barbless hooks. Not to mention, a fish tugging against the rubber band like resistance of a spongy slow action will tire quickly.

A less visual yet equally as important feature is rod power. Large, fresh chinook are impressively powerful and if you want any chance at putting one on the barbecue, you better come prepared. To handle strong fish as well as heavy lead weights and the drag of large 360º flashers, most trolling rods are going to fall in the medium-heavy to heavy power rating range. This is a feature I tweak a bit depending on the fishery I plan on using the rod for. In the combat fishing of Buoy 10 on the Columbia, big fall run fish need to be controlled as fast as possible to reduce the risk of tangling with other boats or succumbing to a nearby sea lion. This, combined with using 20-ounce lead weights and large flashers, calls for heavy or extra heavy rod power. In less demanding fisheries, such as the lower Willamette River, where only a few ounces of lead is needed and you don’t have a hundred boats breathing down your neck, a medium-heavy power will fit the bill nicely.

A friend of mine makes the most amazing BBQ ribs I’ve ever eaten, and every time I ask how he does it, his reply is simply, “the secret is in the sauce.” This goes through my head every time I think of how rod manufacturers face building rods that are long, soft and powerful. While the true secret to their sauce is well-guarded, a few ingredients to this special recipe can be gleaned from researching manufacturer websites. Because trolling rods aren’t designed to be held in hand for long periods of time, and don’t require the supreme sensitivity to feel the subtle bump of a bite, use of super light high modulus graphite isn’t as necessary as in a rod designed for drift fishing. Many trolling rods will use lower modulus graphite, blends of composites with fiberglass, special resins and thick blank wall construction in order to create a finished product that is resilient and powerful, yet still sensitive enough to transmit the rotation of a bait or flasher to signal proper presentation. I remember several trips fishing with the late Bob Toman where he would deploy one of his signature spinners overboard, and count the pulses of the rod tip to adjust the boat speed to get his preferred thumps per minute. This style of construction also greatly benefits durability of a rod destined for the rough and tumble life aboard a boat where rods are subjected to rattling against boat gunnels, getting pinched behind swiveling seats, slammed in rod locker doors and getting bent around outboards while fighting fish.

Rounding out the construction of trolling rods are features such as guides, handles and reel seats. Many trolling rods will sport considerably more guides than rods designed for other applications. This is due to the extreme flexibility of the blank requiring additional guides to prevent line contact when the rod is placed under load. Because the rod is designed for use in a rod holder, the added weight and overall rod balance is a non-issue compared to say rods built for side-drifting or drift fishing. It wasn’t all that long ago that you would need to research the guides used on prospective rods to ensure guides could handle the increased wear caused by braided super lines, however now that such lines have become more common, nearly all rods are now manufactured with appropriate guides.

Handles are one aspect that continues to evolve. Rod holders can inflict a lot of wear on cork handles, so many manufactures began switching to more durable rubberized or composite handles. Not only do these styles boast the greatest durability, they also clean easily. A newer shift has seen handle lengths and configurations change slightly, with many copying styles used on traditional mooching rods where the rear grip is shortened slightly while the foregrip is lengthened to upwards of 8 inches. This allows for better leverage when you tuck the butt of the rod into your waist when applying a lot of pressure on a fish. The lengthened foregrip is also nice as they extend well past the front of the rod holder and provide better gripping area when removing the rod from the holder quickly during a bite.

One area on some trolling rods that has caused some trouble for anglers in the past are reel seats that aren’t large enough to accommodate the large foot design of some popular trolling reels. It’s never fun to have to take a file or grinder to the foot of your favorite reel just to make it work with a particular rod, but it’s even more annoying to have the reel pull free of the seat when a hot fish makes a run. Thankfully there were a few zip ties on the boat which allowed me to limp through the day of that learning experience, and I have since vowed to always check my setups before hitting the water. Whenever possible, take your reel to a retailer and test the fit with rods, or give the rod manufacture a call and ask them if they know of any issues with your intended reel.

Trolling rods may lack the flash and fancy that other pieces of equipment seem to possess, but one thing is for certain, it’s hard to build a house without a hammer, and when it comes to one of the most important pieces of equipment a salmon angler can own, I’d place a quality trolling rod near the top of that list.



Lamiglas XCC Kwik Series

Model Tested XCC1064GH Specs 10'6"/15-30lb./ Moderate/Heavy Models Available 10 An updated version of the popular Kenai Kwik series, the XCC Kwik from Lamiglas has a model to fit just about any trolling application imaginable. Models range from 8 to over 12 feet in length allowing for plenty of options to customize your spread no matter the size of your boat. Graphite and fiberglass blank construction produces a rod with a soft enough tip to allow unrestricted action of bait and lures, with a butt section that has all the power you could ask for. This construction also benefits overall durability. Sensitivity of the moderate action was good, with 360 flashers loading the blank deeply and eliciting the telltale pulse of gear that is running well. Bait-wrapped plugs had the upper 2 feet of the rod trembling with action. Power felt good and easily handled lead droppers through 16 ounces. The woven carbon CFX grips are durable and produced excellent grip in wet conditions, and the 5-inch foregrip extended beyond the rod holder for easy grip when removing rods. A total of 16 guides plus the tip provide excellent line clearance no matter the load on the rod. Double locking nylon reel seat helps keep reels secure.




Technium Model Tested TNC-106MH2A

Specs 10'6", 12-25lb., Moderate-Fast, Medium-Heavy Models Available 3 One of the most eye-catching rods in the review, the glossy metallic blue blank of the Shimano Technium is constructed from a blend of fiberglass and 24 ton graphite for a responsive yet resilient rod with a smooth, forgiving action. The tip of the TNC-106MH2A was exceptionally light and easily telegraphed lure action and the dull drag of a grass-fouled bait. There is no listed recommended lure weight rating, but the TNC-106MH2A seemed to perform best with lead droppers up to 10 ounces. Heavier weights, especially when trolling in stronger current, really put a load on the rod. Classified as a medium heavy power, I personally felt it to be closer to a true medium. A nice set of Fuji slim ‘O’ Concept guides provided good line clearance, and the reel seat easily accommodated the wide foot of a Shimano Tekota 500 line counter reel which are known to be troublesome in some seats. The grips are cork, and had a bit of an odor once the plastic wrap was removed during testing. I imagine this will air out a bit with time. There are no models shorter than 10’ 6” in the Technium line.




SST “a” Carbon Grip

Model Tested SST-C-992H-CGa Specs 9'9", 15-40lb., Moderate, Heavy Models Available 5 (Trolling) The SST line of rods from Okuma has been hugely popular for years with anglers wanting a high performing rod while leaving enough money in their wallet for boat gas and bait, and I have to admit, this is a hell of a lot of rod for under a hundred bucks. Built from 24/30 ton low resin carbon fiber, the SST line of rods is described as having technique and species specific actions. In reference to the 21 available models of the SST “a” line, this means not all of them are designed with trolling in mind so pay attention to the specs when making a selection. The tested SST-C-992H-CGa is a great all around length; long enough to create a spread of rods, yet short and manageable for smaller boats. Action definitely feels more moderate fast, with the tip producing quite good sensitivity. Rated for 2 to 10 ounce lure weight, the SST-C-992H-CGa readily handled lead droppers up to sixteen ounces, and more than lives up to its heavy power classification. Glossy woven carbon grips are durable and clean easily, but were a bit slick in wet conditions. The double locking reel seat with aluminum nut is a nice touch.


Douglas Outdoors


Douglas Outdoors LRS

Model Tested LRS C10652MF Specs 10'6", 14-25lb., Moderate-Fast, Medium-Heavy Models Available 8 (Salmon, Trolling) Rods that salmon anglers in the Pacific Northwest may be unfamiliar with but should get on their radar are the LRS line of rods from Douglas Outdoors. Sporting quality components, good performance and a solid price point, the LRS C10652MF left a great first impression. The graphite and hybrid multi-modulus blank seemed to be quite sensitive and definitely fell well in line with the moderate-fast action designation. Rated for 1 to 4 ounce lure weight, these must be a casting lure rating, not a load weight rating, as there was easily enough power to handle droppers up to 16 ounces. In fact, contrary to the medium-heavy rating, I would say rod power is on the heavier side. Especially noteworthy is the rubberized composite grips which produce an excellent, almost tacky grip in all conditions. The 2.75” foregrip is incorporated into the twist lock reel hood which makes tightening the reel very easy, but can be accidentally twisted loose during a hot fight if you aren’t paying attention. The foregrip could benefit from being lengthened to around 5 inches. The glossy cobalt blue blank is eye catching and complemented nicely by the Fuji K series FazLite guides with blue inserts.

$199 - $279



Stryker CT Series

Model Tested CT1045-2C Specs 10'4", 15-40lb., Moderate, Heavy Models Available 6 Thoughtfully designed and high performing, the CT or Composite Trolling series from Oregon based Stryker Rods has everything you could ask for in a trolling rod. Taking its name from the fiberglass and graphite composite construction, the CT1045-2C produced a beautiful moderate action with a lively tip. The blank is left un-sanded with the resin produced during manufacturing still present on the surface to protect the graphite from bumps and abrasions common to boat usage. Newly redesigned to bump the power rating a smidge, the CT1045-2C carries lead droppers in the 10- to 16- ounce range with ease and had plenty of power to subdue a sturgeon over 5 feet long during testing. A total of sixteen (plus tip) ALPS 316 series guides with zirconium rings produce excellent line management as well as carrion and abrasion resistance, and the rich blue finish is attractive. The grips are a glossy graphite which clean easily and hold up well to rod holders, and the foregrip is 5 inches long to extend beyond the front of a rod holder. While the tested CT1045-2C featured a single locking Fuji reel seat, a new design with double locking rings is slated for future production once supply chain issues lessen a bit.

$290 - $350



EDGE 360 Pro

Model Tested SAR 360 Pro 925 Specs 9'2"/12-30lb./Fast Action/Medium-Heavy Power Models Available 7 Available in three lengths to cover just about any trolling application you can imagine, the tested SAR 360P Pro 925 proved to be a perfect fit for running a rod out the back of a boat, or for smaller boats. I have fished numerous EDGE rods over the years and the 360 Pro is unlike any of them. Don’t let the fast action rating make you question if this is a true trolling rod. Featuring a special hybrid blend of IM graphite and nine micron Zentron, the tip is impressively responsive and forgiving, easily allowing for the transmission of flasher and lure activity, while the butt produces excellent power. Overall construction is well thought out from grips to guides. The woven graphite grips not only provide excellent durability and grip, even in cold, rainy conditions, but the lengthened foregrip allows for a solid grab area when popping the rod out of the holder during a bite. The aluminum reel seat fit even the largest footed reels tested, and features dual locking rings to keep everything secure day in and day out of bumpy boat rides. Pressed ring guides ensure an insert will never pop out even under heavy rod load.


St. Croix

St. Croix Onchor

St. Croix Onchor

Model Tested IMX 1174-2C SATR Specs 10'6"/12-25lb./Heavy Models Available 4 They’re back … and what a nice surprise. St. Croix seemingly took a hiatus with its production of salmon and steelhead rods until now. New this year, the Onchor is St. Croix’s latest salmon rod that’s geared specifically for trolling. Out of the gate, the fit and finish on these rods will get your attention. The blanks, a beautiful chestnut brown, are finished with two coats of flex-coat giving the Onchor a striking appearance. The double coating of resin plays into the company’s plan of building rods that will take the rigors of trolling big baits and fighting big fish. St. Croix’s blank curing process gives these rods added strength and durability. Designed with carbon fiber handles, each rod comes with an integrated rear runner handle integrated into the butt of each handle. Each blank is a mix of fiberglass (S-Glass blank composition) and high modulus SCIII carbon fiber. They used SeaGuide® Atlas Performance rod guides and the reel seat is also from SeaGuide®. Each rod comes with a hook keeper as well. There are four different models and if you’re looking for a rod that can handle heavier weights then look to the 9' 6" extra heavy model that’s rated 15-40 lb. line weight and 4-12 oz. lure weight. Of the four models, lengths include 9', 9' 6" and 10' 6". Each rod comes with a 5-year warranty.



G Loomis

IMX Salmon Trolling

Model Tested IMX 1174-2C SATR Specs 9'9"/15-30lb./Moderate/Heavy Models Available 2 Some things just go together like peanut butter and jelly, and a G. Loomis IMX rod and salmon fishing is just such a combination. For decades the high modulus, lightweight, sensitive and powerful performance of the IMX lines of rods has been held in high regards by even the crustiest Pacific Northwest salmon and steelhead anglers. Sensitivity of the IMX 1174-2C was excellent at not only providing visual cues as to the action of the bait and flasher, but for someone who often holds a rod while operating the kicker motor, the in-hand sensitivity to feel the thump of a flasher or spinner is equally as important, and the IMX 1174-2C did not disappoint. Power felt like you could stop a runaway truck, or an ocean fresh fall-run chinook. In hand weight was surprisingly light and well balanced, and the slim design of the cork fit well in hand, even for the smaller hands of my kids. The length, action, weight and balance would also lend the IMX 1174-2C solid double duty as a bobber rod. If more length is desired the SAMR Salmon Series Mooching rods have models to 12'3", and for composite handles, check out the E6X Salmon Mooching series.


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