Tony Roach moves across hard water pretty fast. Maybe not exactly trolling speed, but he covers water. He's been known to take his auger through three tanks of gas in a single guide trip.
"We call it trolling because we cover water the same way," he says. "We keep rolling along the face of a piece of structure, sliding up and down the breaks, until we find fish. We hover on them until they move and we continue trolling, staying on them if we can."
He's holding his new Wright & McGill Tony Roach Signature Series ice rod. Note the separated handle and the slim-profile cork. No extra weight. He likes the 36-inch, medium-power version for light- to medium spoon duty. This day, we were using a lot of 1/16-ounce spoons. Tony, of course, uses Northland spoons and used either a Forage Minnow or a small Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon most of the day. Color didn't matter (as long as it was pink or red).
Ice trolling is a mind set. Tony creates a picture in his mind of these structures he's so familiar with, then envisions several "trolling passes" along the sides, over the top, around the base, up the breaks and back down.
"Sometimes they leave structure and just roll out across a huge flat," Tony said. "We try to follow them out there. It may not seem like it, but there's always a method to their madness. Baitfish generally concentrate on a certain kind of bottom, or a transition from soft to hard bottom. If the trolling passes create a grid, it's easier to find those transitions. If we start hitting fish, we note how hard the bottom is, and if there's a change in bottom texture nearby. Once we settle down, we use our Marcum 825s to take a look around. Sometimes you can see the texture changes. Sometimes you can feel the differences from one area to the next with a heavier spoon. Otherwise, we can always depend on the readings from our Marcum sonar to spell it out."
Reading bottom with your sonar: Hard bottom has more texture and produces a thicker bottom line with the gain turned down. Soft bottom is flatter and reads as a thinner line with the gain turned up. Just one more thing to pay attention to when you start catching fish. Out on the flats, substrates are a major piece of the pattern. Quick changes from hard-to-soft, or vice-versa, are worth noting. Always set up a trolling pass or two along those when you find them.
Trolling may not cover water as quickly in winter, but there's no fear of falling prey to "sleepy troller syndrome." Not when each pass requires 40 new holes, covering depths from 18 to 35 feet. The exercise is meant to cover a piece of structure logically, thoroughly, and efficiently. And it won't work unless you keep up.