Commercial Salmon Trolling Forum

Hand Troll or Power Troll?

A forum for people who are new to commercial fishing and for talking about the fundamental rules and regulations.

Hand Troll or Power Troll?

Postby TC92 » Fri Apr 08, 2016 8:59 am

Hello all,

I've been browsing this site for a number of years now, with the plans of getting into the industry in SE Alaska. I think I'm finally getting my family/work obligations in order to where I can legitimately peruse this dream during the summer months.

I've read quite a few post on here about the pros and cons of hand trolling. I know Salty has stated that hand trolling will eventually lead to a torn up shoulder, but...

Without offending anyone who relies on trolling as a serious business, this will be more of a hobby business for me, at least in the beginning. I've got a business plan put together (not one relying on me to catch a whole lot of salmon to keep from going under!) to pay for a vessel and a hand troll permit ready to start trolling summer of 2017 free and clear.

My questions to you guys is this:
Should I continue to save the funds to purchase a power troll permit right off the get go, even if it delays me a couple more seasons, or go ahead and get a hand troll permit so I can get my feet wet sooner? My main objective is to enjoy the summer, fish as much as I can in the most beautiful area God ever created, and hopefully make enough money to cover my costs... at least in the beginning. All while I try to learn what many of you have perfected over years of trial and error! As someone that is starting out green, will I really have the opportunity to catch a higher volume of fish power trolling to coincide with the higher cost of the power troll permit? My thoughts are with the lower investment of the hand troll permit, I'll be more content with lower catch rates. I'm middle aged, not that bad out of shape, medium build. I have never cranked on hand gurdies before, so I'm not real sure what to expect for physical exertion. I've read on here that some say chums aren't worth chasing with a hand troller just because of the effort it will take? Those are some of the questions I'm mulling over in my head. Trying not to overthink the situation, just wanting to make the best informed decision.

Thanks in advance for any and all advice. I am finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel of this dream turning into a reality!

-Travis
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Re: Hand Troll or Power Troll?

Postby Kelper » Fri Apr 08, 2016 9:13 am

What kind of boat are you going to get?
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Re: Hand Troll or Power Troll?

Postby TC92 » Fri Apr 08, 2016 10:11 am

That's the other side of this equation that I'm trying to sort out... I have 26' C-Dory Pro Angler that I am debating on using and outfitting it like Yak2you2 did to Mai Tai. I also like the idea of the economics of a full displacement boat. Still debating the idea of speed and mobility vs. slow and lower fuel costs. I bought a Vashon Pocket troller a couple of years ago with the plans of using it for trolling, but soon realized I was about to put a substantial amount of money into her to get her to Bristol condition and worried that I would soon grow out of her. I have since sold the Vashon.
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Re: Hand Troll or Power Troll?

Postby joeman79 » Sat Apr 09, 2016 6:49 am

Make sure you have twice as much money than you think you'll need !! It's an expensive HOBBY LOL!!
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Re: Hand Troll or Power Troll?

Postby TC92 » Sat Apr 09, 2016 3:36 pm

Thanks Joeman79! I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your experiences getting started. Thanks for sharing, it is encouraging.
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Re: Hand Troll or Power Troll?

Postby Salty » Tue Apr 19, 2016 1:18 pm

Unless you plan to fish rods seriously I recommend power trolling. I would buy a permit, put power gurdies on your existing rig, maybe even fish two lines to start. I would not crank leads. I did that for 6 years. It cost me a lot of money and hurt me physically.

There are other threads on here with this thought. I have friends with power on small aluminum rigs (less than 25 feet) who are doing very well. They love the speed. I would love to have a comfortable 30 foot rig that went about 20 knots, packed 5,000 pounds, and slept 3 comfortably.

The overhead is too much to support traditional trolling any longer. My expenses to keep my 36 foot fiberglass boat in top condition, and keep up with latest gear and technology, plus pay crew decently are about $100,000 a year. And I have no boat or permit payments. I am making it because my wife is a retired teacher, we live frugally, and I have been lucky trolling. Looking at the CFEC earning breakdowns I do not know how most of the troll fleet is surviving.

On the other hand, it is a wonderful way to make a living.
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Re: Hand Troll or Power Troll?

Postby joeman79 » Wed Apr 20, 2016 11:09 am

Very good response Eric!
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Re: Hand Troll or Power Troll?

Postby Brother Dave » Wed Apr 20, 2016 11:26 pm

$100k expenses per year sounds high to me.
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Re: Hand Troll or Power Troll?

Postby Salty » Thu Apr 21, 2016 4:27 am

Brother Dave,
Just two examples: Crew compensation plus Insurance for crew, pollution, liability and hull were over $40,000 last year and I am in two pools. Although not fully vested at present value or crew. Figure $5-10,000 for fuel depending on the season, and you are halfway there without moorage, maintenance, improvements, or any gear.
And last year was relatively poor in terms of total gross.
Granted, I am probably in top 10% in costs of maintenance and improvements for my vessel value. But, I like a safe, technologically competitive operation. Trolling is an expensive business. Have you priced lead or flashers lately? I run up to 100 flashers or more at a time with 240 lbs of lead out. Running into a reef can be really expensive.
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Re: Hand Troll or Power Troll?

Postby JKD » Thu Apr 21, 2016 8:52 am

Salty - It sounds to me like you need to do something about your "low-liner" status.
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Re: Hand Troll or Power Troll?

Postby Brother Dave » Thu Apr 21, 2016 9:14 pm

Salty, you have given some good examples of serious expenses. Thanks for the added info.
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Re: Hand Troll or Power Troll?

Postby jlc3 » Fri Apr 22, 2016 2:07 am

Someone needs to jump in here on the hand troll side, and it might as well be me. I can attest after 27 years of cranking that it won't wreck your shoulders, elbows, or wrists even if you fish 12 hours a day for 70-80 days a year. The secret is to have really good gurdies set up ergonomically and only use small cannonballs. The 20 lb leads fish well if you tune your gear for slower speeds, "fly" easily up over reefs, and go up and down quickly in a bite. Their cheap replacement cost allows you to risk dragging into tricky spots that power trollers shy away from. On the other hand, they aren't so great out in the open ocean with a fleet of bigger boats fishing faster and deeper.
Financially, hand trolling in a small displacement boat has the advantage of lower permit costs, lower fuel costs, lower crew costs, lower insurance costs, lower stall rents, and lower gear costs. How does $8,000/year in expenditures sound, with the other two thirds of your gross going to you? That's been my experience averaged over time. If you want to go fast in yacht-like splendor, wander all over chasing hot bites,
or take lots of days off during the season then your profit will be quite a bit less. But hand trolling can be viable option for you.
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Re: Hand Troll or Power Troll?

Postby TC92 » Sat Apr 23, 2016 5:11 pm

Thanks everyone for your advice. I guess I need to just make a decision and pull the trigger!
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Re: Hand Troll or Power Troll?

Postby Sandlance » Sat Apr 23, 2016 6:08 pm

I just started trolling last year. I decided to hop right in and power troll. My experience so far is that it is possible to earn a living trolling, but it's a lot of work and is about managing expenses almost as much as catching fish. Make sure you have enough cash reserves for everything to go wrong at once. Even if nothing goes wrong you'll be a lot happier knowing you have enough cash to handle the unexpected. Also something will always break, so you just have to hope its not major. I also don't have any children and fill my freezer with fish and game. My family trolled when I was a kid and I grew up in a trolling town so I wasn't totally unfamiliar with trolling. That being said, the amount of things to learn is staggering. It would take a life time to learn them all. I don't regret jumping straight into power trolling. The increased production on coho quickly more than made up for the higher permit payment. If you are looking at it mainly as a hobby though, a cheap efficient hand troller might put less pressure on you to do nothing but fish. Fishing is great, but its nice to be able to explore the country a bit. It is easy to get sucked into grinding away for weeks on end if you are trying to earn serious money. My wife fished with me last summer. During the king opener she drove while I worked the pit. I would get so into the grind I didn't even notice whales or other boats going by. She'd tell me about the great killer whale shows and I say, "what whales?" Its a tough job, but a great experience. If you have time to stop at all be sure to climb some mountains. As amazing as the waters of Southeast are, the real wilderness is uphill of the beach and there is no greater view in the world than that of the Fairweathers from the alpine on a sunny day.
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Re: Hand Troll or Power Troll?

Postby TC92 » Tue Apr 26, 2016 3:57 pm

Thanks Sandlance. Your advice on "stopping to smell the roses" is one I won't take lightly! Having lived in Iowa for the last 18 years, I never realized how lucky I was to grow up in the Pac NW. One of my favorite things to do as a kid was hike to the top of Mt. Pilchuck on a sunny day and look out to the Puget Sound, imagining a long ago time that the I-5 corridor didn't separate the Cascades from the sea!

-Travis
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Re: Hand Troll or Power Troll?

Postby Crawfish » Sat Apr 30, 2016 6:20 am

I agree with Salty,


If you actually add up the true expenses salmon trolling is very expensive. A lot of guys are still running surplus 71's from World War Two . Why ? Because a new $60,000.00 main is not in the cards. I believe if you look at the true cost of equipment upgrades , insurance , gear , yearly haul outs ...... Just to keep a basic operation going a hundred grand a year doesn't go far. Want a new boat to replace the worn out one your on now well how about another $650,000.00 So dollar cost average that over 20 years with a crew insurance medical claim and you have just blown the budget of a hundred grand a year away. Here is the truth nobody wants to hear.

Salmon trolling is a dying declining industry. This is why the fleet's hay day was in the 60s and 70's . This is why the average age of a troller is eligible for senior discount coffee. This is why most guys are on boats from mid last century. Truth be told if your not making $175,000 to $200,000 a season your not earning wages.

Unless you want to live like a hermit or have dual income with secondary medical insurance and retirement income you are selling yourself short thinking otherwise. I have seen so many faces come and go thinking they were going to make it big. Reality sank in and it sucked to be them. Do guys get by on a hundred grand a year, sure. But they have wife's with jobs.

Now the question was power vs non power. Well if you decide non power better practice getting those twenty pound balls flying through the water because you gotta lot of fish to catch !
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Re: Hand Troll or Power Troll?

Postby Sandlance » Sun May 01, 2016 8:02 am

I'm just going to say that I don't things are quite that bad. Trolling is a hard way to make a living, but its not like everything else is easy. I don't know how things were back in the old days (I was born in the late eighties), but good normal jobs are hard to come by nowadays too. I have a biology degree and tried to land a a decent biologist job for five years before I started trolling. All I could ever find were summer field jobs. They were fun, but certainly didn't pay any better than fishing. My wife has a masters and is an excellent worker but she hasn't been able to find a job that pays more than trolling either.
I admit that we have hurt our job opportunities by not being willing to move any where in the country and spend the next decade working for minimum wage. We think that living in Southeast is worth the reduced career opportunities. Unless you are going into neurosurgery or advanced computer science there aren't many careers where you can make it comfortably without a working spouse. Its just the way it is. Obviously there isn't a lot of money left over after expenses, but making 14 dollars an hour doesn't add up very fast either. When you work a normal job your lucky to get one full week off a year, which to my way of thinking is no way to live.
There are actually more young people getting into fishing than is commonly thought, and a lot of them make good livings. I think the biggest barrier to young people entering the industry isn't the income once you start fishing, its getting hold of the money to buy the limited entry permit. The graying of the fleet is a natural repercussion of a limited entry system that allows speculation and unreasonable prices on permits and IFQs. Fishing would be downright lucrative if we were allowed to participate in halibut or other fisheries.

To respond again to TC92's question I would suggest that you try and make your summers up here as stress free as possible so you have more time for adventures. Last summer I met a Canadian school teacher who had bought an old troller on Vancouver Island and converted her into a cruiser. He had spent the last four months visiting almost everywhere in Southeast from Icy Point to Boca de Quadra. I grew up in Southeast on the water and I was very jealous of all the places he had gotten to visit, and since he wasn't fishing he had the opportunity to get off the boat.
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Re: Hand Troll or Power Troll?

Postby Crawfish » Mon May 02, 2016 7:38 am

Words to remember right here...

"I would suggest that you try and make your summers up here as stress free as possible so you have more time for adventures."


Very important indeed and glad you took the time to mention it. My last post may have seen like money is the largest contributing factor for trolling. I will be the first to say it is not. But you have to be able to afford to keep the boat going. Adventures though is definitely where it is at.
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Re: Hand Troll or Power Troll?

Postby Kelper » Wed May 11, 2016 10:15 am

I am optimistic on trolling. I see it as a great opportunity for locals in SE to have a way to make income. We can fish almost year round, which takes the pressure off the summer season a bit. It might not be a way to completely support a family until coho prices come back, but it beats working for $15-20hr. I would really crunch a lot of numbers when deciding what boat to purchase.
Good luck.

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Re: Hand Troll or Power Troll?

Postby capt.ron01 » Sun Jun 19, 2016 7:13 pm

will there is a lot of comments as to cast and gear type, but the thing is! if you want to try it with no experience at all, use what you have and see. i fished Oregon and California for fifteen yrs with 20' to 42 foot trollers and did ok. after i recovered from a health problem i started running a tender for trident seafood's for 18 teen yrs. do to cancer i had to quit. but i have built a new 29' boat to come to southeast and fish sports and my fish commercial hand troll. i would not go into much debt at first. you can move up latter. good luck and have fun.
listening to the red's snicker, taunting me as they go upstream.
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