Tony Roach is well known for his ice trolling abilities on Lake Mille Lacs, to the point where he'll pop several hundred holes a day with his StrikeMaster and not even blink an eye. "I like to stay mobile on the ice and work locations in the winter as much as during the open water season which requires drilling a lot of holes," Roach said. 

Roach sets up his clients in the early morning hours Monday

Roach sets up his clients in the early morning hours Monday


This writer ventured out with Roach the day after Christmas, and three days after 20 anglers were rescued on the big lake when the ice they were fishing on went adrift. "You have to pay attention to the conditions out here at all times and you have to stay on top of the good ice that's out there," Roach said. 

Joining me on the trip were Bryan "Beef" Sathre of Fathead Guide Service, Jamie Dietman of Brainerd Signs and Steve Ladany of An experienced ice fishing crew, to say the least, our attention throughout the day was on the quality of the ice. Ice depths were consistent and all of the ice we fished was solid with depths ranging from eight inches to over a foot. 

Driving a Polaris Ranger 4x4 across the ice loaded down with three Otter sleds, camera gear, a ton of electronics, two augers and plenty of bait, we were ever cautious. It was a bit surreal watching the ice superficially crack as you drive over it but it is not as bad as it sounds. Earlier in the week, I walked across a frozen pond with six inches of solid ice and the same thing happened. According to the Minnesota DNR, six inches of ice is fine for a person walking as well as an ATV. Pressure on the ice causes small cracks within the layers. Those aren't the cracks that will do you in. 

Roach pointed us in the right direction as well as the folks at the baitshop in Malmo. The way to stay on top of the latest conditions is to utilize experts like Roach or the numerous baitshops and resorts that operate throughout the winter all around the lake. "Conditions are always changing out here but there's also been a very stable, solid area of ice that's been safe to fish on and productive as well," he added. 


Near Garrison there are tons of shelters out on the ice

Near Garrison there are tons of shelters out on the ice

Still, as Roach moves around, drilling holes for clients and roaming as he does to stay on top of the fish, he looks longingly at the ever-changing ice further out and wishes he could get out there. Right now, the perch and walleye fishing out near the middle of the lake is at its peak. The only problem is that the ice isn't safe enough to venture out that far. "It means we're stuck on this shoreline ice fishing the transition zones," Roach said. "While we're having some great fishing both for numbers and size, I can't wait for a solid cold snap to make the entire lake solid."


The ice fishing on Monday was better than being at work, which is to say that while it wasn't hot and heavy, a half dozen walleye came through the ice and as did a dozen jumbo perch. Buckshot rattle spoons in a variety of colors, so long as it included gold, were the best tipped with a minnow head. The eurolarvae and waxworm bite hasn't yet picked up though a few perch bit on rigs tipped with those tasty morsels. 

The author with a nice walleye that had to be immediately released

The author with a nice walleye that had to be immediately released


Those who venture forth onto the ice should follow a few simple rules: 1).Make sure to find out the conditions for the specific area you plan on fishing. 2) Pay attention to changing wind conditions as it relates to the section of lake youa re fishing. 3) Avoid crossing over pressure ridges and significant cracks in the ice. 4) Be sure that somebody not on the ice with you is aware of your location and estimated return time. 

Those who play the game right and follow all the rules can expect to catch some fish while also keeping safety at the top of the line-up. "It's still better fishing than sitting home on your couch," Roach said. 

For more photographs check out

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Two trophy whitetails of 2011

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Life in the Ice Belt (a poem)