Trolling Gear

Poles deployed and the lines being worked.

Salmon trollers near Fort Bragg, 1931

Salmon trollers near Fort Bragg, 1931

In trolling, the boat will trail two or three baited lines from each of a pair of outrigger poles. The lines are hauled in or let out by powered winches called “gurdies”.

Each line is splayed outboard by a “tag line” (or “pole line”) attached to the pole. The tag lines have an eye of various designs that the troll line runs through. Taglines can have a sprung arrangement where attached to the poles. The springs can soften a hard hit’s impact on the gear, and can offer a visible tattletale for a bite.
The angles of each line can be adjusted with different “cannonball” weights, to help spread the troll lines and prevent tangling.

A boat may also rig stabilizers (“birds”, “flopper stoppers”) off each pole. These run submerged, flying through the water while fighting any rolling tendency. They can also be used to help slow a boat to a desired trolling speed, which might otherwise be hard to maintain with a given powertrain (this, per Mike McCorkle).

Barbara Ann

Barbara Ann, running with stabilizers in the flattest sea you’ll ever see.

Barbara Ann is seen trolling three lines per pole, with an additional line on each side to a stabilizer. Note the use of the stabilizers in dead calm water, in order to limit the trolling speed. Also note the angle of the poles, about 45°  and not horizontal.


A Monterey trolling. Note position of stabilzer, several leaders on each wire, “cannonball” weights, and use of floats on some lines. From “Neptune’s Apprentice”, Marie de Santis, 1984. Used with permission.

Troll arrangements, somewhat more modern than might be found on Monterey boats.

Troll arrangements, somewhat more modern than might be found on Monterey boats.


Troll line (main line) comes off gurdy, through a block on a short davit, and is splayed outboard by the tag or pole line.

Stabilizer designs

Stabilizer designs

Stabilzers offered by Kolstrand

Stabilzers offered by Kolstrand

Stowed stabilzer and pole mounting on "Theresa Ann"

Stowed stabilizer and the pole mounting on “Theresa Ann”

Cross tree detail, Herrera model

Cross tree detail, Herrera model


Trolling Davits carry the trolling blocks (below). They appear to made from bent steel pipe, maybe 2 inch pipe (2-3/8″ OD)? They may be made with two bends, as with the examples below, which seems to place all the trolling blocks over the cap rail.



Trolling blocks seen on most boats in operation today are modern, with nylon housings and new bearings. Vintage blocks from suppliers like Kolstrand, Pioneer, and Hasbra can be found at online auction sites. Here’s a selection of 4 to 6-1/2″ vintage blocks.


Gurdies also came from suppliers like Kolstrand and Hasbra. Here are some details from examples I’ve photographed and elsewhere online.
Today, gurdies are hydraulically powered. In the early days, some sort of power-take-off was rigged from the main engine, sometimes using a salvaged automobile transmission to control direction and speed.
Each gurdy has a lever to engage the drum to the shaft through a friction clutch device. Lines are always powered out as well as in– with a 60 pound cannonball on the line, letting the line out free would be a sure way to ruin the gear.

On the implementation of powered gurdies, from the California Fisheries history:

It is not known when the first pulling of troll lines was accomplished by powered gurdies. As early as 1920, a few salmon trollers at Noyo were experimenting with home-made drums powered by rod, and gearing off the main engine (Scofield, 1921). At that time, a drawback was the lack of easily detachable leaders so that only the main line to the first leader could be wound on the drum. A decade later (1931), manufactured gurdies were appearing in stock at ship chandlers, but there were few sales. About 1943, factory-made gurdies and steel troll lines were on the market, and by 1945, the larger boats and full-time trollers were using power for pulling wire lines, although many fishermen still pulled by hand. Fry (1949) estimated that in 1947, power gurdies were in nearly all the boats north of San Francisco, in 80 percent of the boats at San Francisco, and in 20 percent of the Monterey boats.


Gurdy Drive Systems

A variety of gurdy drives were used; see the Gurdy Drive page for more on this.

One example of a gurdy drive

One example of a gurdy drive. Chas. Cushman Photograph Collection, Indiana University

3 Responses to Trolling Gear

  1. mike mccorkle says:

    In the pictures of the boats at the Santa Cruz wharf showing their gurdies the orange brown one with the man on deck is the Stagnaro Bros, the white one with blue trim is the Catherina G owned by Victor Ghio, Boat was 6 years old when picture was taken Victor passed in 2005, 88yrs old fished since he was 17.


  2. af6im says:

    A really good write-up! The staging of that remarkably detailed Herrera model has one thing wrong, fish filling the trolling cockpit. They look like Halibut not Salmon, but that’s not the point. You stood in the trolling cockpit (referred to as “the pit”) to work your gear, It was not used for storing fish with possible rare exceptions in overloads of Albacore or Herring. The pit wasn’t sealed off like the fish hold was, Blood and drippings from fish put in the pit would drain into the bilge and cause a stink. You’d never see a troller full of Halibut. Salmon was the target. We’d catch a Halibut every now and then on the bottom leader but the salmon troll gear wasn’t even close to optimal for Halibut fishing.
    Sure wish I could own one of those remarkable models. The detail is stunning.


  3. af6im says:

    One more nit pick: the exposed bevel gears on the shaft coupling rotary power from the starboard side gurdies set to port side gurdies. HUGE hazard and one that I never saw. A piece of clothing that got caught in these exposed rotating gears easily kill the fisherman. All the right angle gears I saw were boxed. But Hererra was a stickler for accuracy. Maybe he saw this death trap set up on some boat. Mark


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