By Ted Pilgrim with Tony Roach
Even in early autumn, a time most fishermen are enjoying cooler days and the bounty of increased fish activity, Tony Roach has ice fishing on the brain. He can’t help but to ponder the abundance of walleyes he catches while he’s running wild all over the ice. It’s really a form of hunting- drilling entire “traplines” of holes that trace the perimeter of a point, sunken island or other structure- “ice trolling,” he calls it.
However, months before the snow flies, Roach knows that fish like walleyes consolidate into smaller groups packed tightly on specific sections of turf. At the helm of his Lund, he can cruise vast sections of the lake much faster and with less effort than he can with an ice auger. Roach says, “Regardless of the season, power hunting for fish is one of the deadliest methods I’ll use all year. It’s always in my bag of tricks, but the tactic is really phenomenal in the fall.”
Roach continues, “On ice, I’m drilling holes, then dipping the transducer and watching my MarCum for a nice solid red blip. I call these fish “burners”- catchable fish that respond really well to a flashy, fast sinking bait like a jigging spoon.
“In open water, power hunting works pretty much the same way. Move along the edge of structure or zigzag over deeper flats that hold small pods of walleyes. In the boat, I’m watching the screen of my Lowrance HDS. When sonar draws a thick yellow arch or two, I immediately slide a 1/4 to 3/8 ounce jigging spoon or bladebait over the stern beside the transducer. At the same time, I pop the motor into neutral and then into reverse for several feet. I want to hover directly over the fish. Sonar should show a continuous solid line, which means the walleye is directly below the transducer. If I time everything right, I can watch the whole thing unfold on-screen. I can observe the spoon as sonar draws its path as a descending diagonal line. Often, I’ll also watch as the fish rises up to meet the lure and strike. It’s a pretty visual and exciting way to fish.”
Clearly, Roach’s power hunting program lets him cover more water than any other tactic, including trolling. In the fall, as fish like walleyes, bass and crappies draw together into schools, holding onto key sections of structure, it becomes much more efficient to motor along at 2 to 5-mph, mark fish, put on the breaks, and drop heavy metal lures directly into the strike zone. If he were trolling, Roach’s lures might only remain in the strike zone for a few seconds while plowing through fishless water the rest of the time. While power hunting, lures are always in front of fish and with precision boat control, Roach can hover his baits in front of walleyes for as long as necessary. Usually, if his presentation is on target, it doesn’t take long.
“It’s amazing how many people put their spoons and bladebaits away when the ice melts,” he notes. “Really, they are some pretty awesome open water fishing tools- often the absolute best options for walleyes, bass and crappies in deeper water, say 20 to 50-feet. Their performance is often equal, sometimes even superior, to livebait in certain instances.”
Roach says that the key to the presentation is to first match your lure to the prevailing forage. This year, Roach has been doing major damage with the new LIVE-FORAGE Minnow Spoons and Minnow Traps from Northland Fishing Tackle. These are the first heavy metal baits cut and printed with the precise shapes and color patterns of actual baitfish species.
For hunting walleyes on 20 to 25-foot mud flats, Roach’s ¼-ounce Glow Perch Minnow Spoon has been a serious fish catcher. On deeper hard-bottom edges, he likes the Silver Shiner and Redtail Chub patterns. Along weed lines, he’s also found the Bluegill design to be a solid producer. In more shallow water (10 to 20-feet) Roach has also become a fan of the Minnow Trap. “I’ve never been a big fan of bladebaits,” he states, “because I could never find them in colors or shapes that looked like a perch. But these LIVE-FORAGE baits look like the real thing in your hand, and they’re sized just right for walleyes. And the smaller sizes are great for big fall crappies.”
Beyond his hatch-matching metal baits, Roach believes that another key to proper presentation is precision. “You’ve got to be able to deliver bait directly into the strike zone, and keep it there. To do this right, you need quality electronics, the right lure that gets down fast and looks like food, and precise boat control to help you hover over fish. The presentation of the lure is usually pretty straightforward. Drop the spoon or blade, watch it sink on your sonar screen, and then stop it about 2 feet above the fish zone. Watch for fish to start rising up as the lure approaches their level. If this happens, stop the lure and start jigging it gently in place. You can also play a little keep-away. Making fish chase up is a sweet triggering move that sometimes gets your spoon really thumped.
“If you’ve dropped down to just above the fish, but they don’t bite right away, give the lure a quick snap followed by a ten second pause, then another snap. If this still doesn’t work, slowly feather the lure down a little closer to the level of the fish. Hold the spoon in place, and then quiver it a little. If you’ve still failed to connect, quickly drop the lure into the bottom, and pound it up and down into the substrate. This sometimes entices a nice solid whack. If not, I’ll reel up and probably move on to the next pod of fish.
“These baits usually get hit on the first drop. If they don’t, more fish are always right around the corner. And odds are the next one’s got your name on it.”