Local River Currents:Trolling in the Winter

by Free Speech on February 8, 2011

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

All fishermen spend some of their fishing time during the spring, summer, and fall trolling for fish. Trolling is done for walleyes, northern pike, muskies, crappies, and most other fish species. But, have you ever heard or done trolling in the winter for walleyes and possibly perch? Winter ice trolling has been around for a few years and has been popularized recently by Tony Roach, nephew of Mr. Walleye, Gary Roach. Tony Roach is a professional angler and guide and spends much of his winter guiding on central Minnesota’s famous lake, Mille Lacs. When you are a guide, most of the time you’re supposed to be on fish, help, and teach your clients how to catch fish. But, sometimes no matter what you do or the many tactics and techniques that you try, the fish just won’t bite.

Today’s ice angler has many “tools” that keep getting better every year and help them to catch fish a vast majority of the time that they are on the ice. Today’s new electronics are becoming more sensitive and user friendly with more bells and whistles to help fishermen catch fish. I think about ice fishing decades ago, when Lowrance first came out with their “green box” flasher which was one of the first fishing flasher units that showed you depth and “marks” where the fish were. You could see fish that were suspended or on the bottom. Since those days, companies like Lowrance, Vexilar, and Marcum have all come up with flasher and video units that make fishing success much simpler. Besides the greatly improved flashers, underwater cameras have also come into play and helped the angler see if there are fish down the hole and holes that they’ve drilled. All of the new electronics have continued to make ice fishing easier, but there also is another factor that hasn’t changed over the years.

What I’m writing about is what the young guns in the fishing world are doing to improve their catches and this new tactic is called ice trolling. Guides like Tony Roach have other guides who work with them and help find the fish which on most Wisconsin and Minnesota lakes is walleyes and perch. Roach says that there is only one way to consistently catch fish and that is to drill holes and lots of them! Tony says that some days he and his guides will drill hundreds of holes with a person drilling and another guide following with an underwater camera searching for walleyes. This isn’t the easiest way to catch fish, but it keeps Roach and his guides ahead of the crowds of people that you’ll find on big lakes like Lake Mendota, Lake Winnebago, and Milles Lacs and keep the roving schools of fish to them and their clients.

Once you find fish schools, they usually are going to be relating to some deep, water structure. Many times the fish are still going to be on your structure, but every day will likely be a little different. One day, the fish may be on top of the structure or hump, while the next day they may be off to the side, or moved a little way off the spot. These daily movements are based upon the amount of fishing pressure, location of baitfish, and the amount of light penetration.

All fish and especially walleyes will move every day, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are traveling from one end of the lake to the other. They may move a couple hundred yards away or even a mile from the day before, but that does not mean that they have left the area if the baitfish are still there.

This is where the term ice trolling comes into play. Start drilling holes where you left off fishing the day before with you and a friend drilling holes in opposite directions. Remember that you are on a piece of structure with a shallow flat, a top, and steep drop-offs. Drill holes up and down the deep drop-off and up to the shallow water flat. After drilling 15 to 20 holes grab your rods and go back and start fishing the holes that you just drilled. Spend no more than five minutes at each hole working a jig or a spoon for walleyes and perch down the “trolling path” where you drilled your holes. If you saw a fish on your video screen or on your flasher, you might spend a little more time at that hole trying to entice the fish. But, don’t spend too much time at any one hole because with a large number of drilled holes you should be looking for the “biters” or active fish. This is as close as you’re going to get to trolling on the ice and having 20 to 30 holes on an area with good structure and keep hopping from hole to hole looking for the active fish.

The key to ice trolling is not easy, but it starts with using your GPS and lake software to mark a trolling route by tracing the edges and boundaries of the structure in the snow. Then, you can grap your Jiffy auger and start “punching” holes along the route that you just marked. But, there is no substitute for drilling holes and scanning the water with your electronics. Your partner who is following you and scanning the drilled holes sees if there are fish, what kind, whether or not there are baitfish present, and how close to the bottom the fish are. Good holes that are worth coming back to fish are marked with a symbol in the snow. Make the symbols something that only you and your partner can understand. This is not just a bunch of holes drilled randomly in the ice. It is a systematic approach that is not that much different from open-water trolling. As the day progresses, you can fine tune your approach and concentrate on the “good’ holes. By now, you’ll know if the fish are on top, on the side of the drop, or on the shallow flat. Keep eliminating holes that are not productive and concentrate on the active holes and biting fish. As you learn this system of working around structure, drilling numerous holes, and using your electronics you’re fishing will improve. Remember, that you never can have too many holes when fishing is slow. Keep moving and scanning till you find fish.


10106 Hwy.  Y Mazomanie, WI.    53560

Phone & Fax    608 795-4208
E-mail    gengberg@chorus.net
Web site: http://www.garyengbergoutdoors.com
Copyright Gary Engberg Outdoors 2011

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