Trolling on Ice

By Bob Jensen - January 1, 2006
Most anglers know that trolling is an effective open water fishing technique. Successful ice-anglers know that "trolling" is also an effective way to catch more fish through the ice. Here's how you troll on the ice.

When you troll in open water, you put a lure in the water, let it out behind the boat, put the motor in gear and start moving either forward or backward. You keep a close eye on your depth-finder and follow a certain depth contour or work around structure.

It's the same idea for trolling on ice. Electronics, an ice auger, and your "boat" all come into play.

When ice-fishing, you need to have an idea of where the structure is that you want to fish. Let's say you want to work a point that extends out from the shoreline. If the ice is snow free or relatively snow free, you can determine depth without drilling a hole. You'll need a small container of water to do so. Shoot a little water right on the ice, then place the transducer of your depth-finder in the puddle of water you've just created. It will read through the ice and reveal the depth. If there is snow on the ice, you will need to drill holes to get an accurate depth reading. With today's ice augers, drilling a hole is a quick thing to do. Jiffy augers will put a hole in the ice with little effort all day long and are very popular with ice-anglers.

So, now we know what depth we're at. It's a simple matter to move twenty feet away or so and check the depth there. What we want to do is outline the piece of structure we'll be fishing. Let's say you got some information that most of the fish are in the fifteen foot range. You'll want to drill your holes at the fifteen foot contour, although you should also pop a few shallower and a few deeper. Before long you can have the entire structure marked out at the fifteen foot level. Now it's time to hop in the "boat".

Our "boat" is simply a small portable shelter. The Frabill Ranger Solo is a great "boat". It is easy to pull, yet is comfortable to fish from. In our "boat" we will have our sonar, rods/reels, lures, and auger.

If it's early in the afternoon, start at a hole close to deep water. Anchor your "boat" near the hole and put the sonar's transducer in the hole. Drop your bait and watch closely. Sometimes you'll see fish on the sonar, sometimes you won't. If you see fish, hang around for awhile. If, after a few minutes nothing shows up, continue your "trolling" pass to the next hole and repeat the process. Eventually, if you're on good structure and there are fish there, you'll find them.

Sonar is very important when "trolling". MarCum makes several units that display your bait very well. You can bet that if it will show an eighth ounce spoon down there, it will reveal fish. Most importantly, the sonar will enable you to determine if fish are present or not.

Right now is the perfect time to get on the ice and do some trolling. If you do, you are going to be successful at ice-fishing.

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Author Bob Jensen
Bob Jensen
Bob Jensen is the host of the Fishing the Midwest television series, a series of television fishing shows that highlight fishing locations and techniques throughout the Midwest. He also writes a syndicated fishing column and does fishing seminars throughout the Midwest. He is a former fishing guide and tournament angler. Visit Bob's web site at