Into the Wild: Trolling on the Ice: perch and carp on the line

Trolling for fish is a common technique used for locating fish during the open water months.

As I have discussed before, fish such as walleye, perch, trout (brown, rainbow, lake, splake), and crappie are constantly on the move in the winter, primarily following schools of bait. While these fish will hold on structure such as rock piles, weed lines, sunken timber, and drop off’s, they tend to move too. They move to various locations on a water body based on a barometric pressure, ice thickness, and water temperature. In order to catch them, you’ll need to move to.

In the summer, I am constantly trolling using crank baits, stick baits, and live bait rigs to locate the schools of fish. Using the boat’s electronics, fish in open water or holding on structure are located.

With the development of electronics for ice fishing, (as discussed in my January article) finding fish on the hard water has become easier than ever before. The use of the Vexilar Fl-18 gives me the ability find fish, determine where weed beds are, see if there is a hard bottom, and determine if fish are present as soon as the hole is drilled through the ice.

Using the Vexilar started many years ago when we targeted lake trout on Lake George, Schroon Lake, and Otsego Lake in deep, open water.

Using printed maps of the lakes, a starting points would be determined primarily based on water depth and structure, and holes would be drilled. The transducer would be placed in the hole and if fish were there, we would start fishing. If not, another hole would be drilled 20-50 yards away along a predetermined course. We quickly found that by constantly moving, schools of trout could be found and our success rate was much higher than if we were sitting in one location and waiting for them to show up.

Trolling for species that inhabit weed beds, such as perch, crappie, pickerel, pike, and walleye is very similar.

Most dedicated perch fishermen you see on Lake George and Lake Champlain never set tip-ups or stay in one location. They drill small 4-inch holes and continually move to find, and stay, with the schools of perch. Its normal to find fish and stay on them for a short time, catching numerous fish only to have the bite shut off. That’s your cue to move too since the school of fish has moved on.

Holes drilled in a grid pattern and spaced every 10-15 yards over the weed bed is an effective method to find the schools.

On a recent trip for perch, to start, holes were drilled where I knew the depth would be roughly 10 feet then is a grid pattern, holes were drilled out to a depth of 20 feet.

Tip-ups were set with small shiners and fat head minnows on #12 treble hooks. Within 10 minutes we had our first flag and a beautiful 12” perch was brought up through the hole. Accompanying me this day was a father and son on their first ice fishing trip ever. After a short time, certain tip-ups were constantly going off showing us that the school of perch were in a certain area of the bay.

Additional holes were drilled around this area and the Vexilar revealed active fish. We started jigging using Hali Sukkula jigs and small silver spoons tipped with the tails of bait fish. These jigs provide great flash for attracting fish and 6 inches above the jig, I tie on a custom hand tied fly, a bead head nymph that imitates the small aquatic insects that these fish feed on all winter.

About 30 percent of the fish taken were on the nymph, and even a few doubles on the rig were caught.

By moving around the lake and using electronics to find active schools rather than be an ambush predator and waiting, your success rate of catching target species will be much higher. Expect to drill up to 60 holes per day.

When fishing with young kids, being on the move keeps them engaged in the fishing experience throughout the day and they’ll enjoy the trip much more. Trolling while ice fishing is an exciting and tried and true method to catch more fish and stay active all day.

If you want to talk fishing I’ll be at the ADK Outdoorsman Show at the Johnstown Moose Club on Feb. 10, and talking turkey hunting at the First Baptist Church of Westerlo’s 2018 Sportsman’s Dinner that night. For tickets to the Westerlo dinner call Kelly at (518) 669-3932.