Ice Fishing for Bass
This article will focus on ice fishing for bass. Largemouth bass and smallmouth bass are both warm water species. In the frigid winter waters, their metabolism slows greatly. Unlike trout, walleye, and other cold water species, bass activity is significantly reduced in the winter. However, anglers can be successful catching bass under the ice. It does take a change of tactics.
It is best to look at bass as really being large panfish. In reality, that is the family of fish to which they belong. Largemouth bass thrive in water temperatures in the mid-60s to low 70s. Therefore, water temperatures in the mid-30s are significantly below their ideal range. They will feed much less often and on smaller prey. Larger meals are harder to catch and take a long time to digest.
Anglers who would like to read more about ice fishing can purchase Capt Jim’s E-book, “A Complete Guide to Ice Fishing” by clicking on the title link.
Smallmouth bass are a little more tolerant of the colder water. They are also found farther north in more significant numbers. Smallmouth bass will be a bit more active than largemouth bass under the ice. However, their activity level will still be much lower than in the open water fishing seasons.
Tackle and lures when ice fishing for bass
The same rod and reel combinations that work for crappie, small trout, and panfish will be well suited for anglers ice fishing for bass. Even though bass grow large, especially largemouth bass, the baits and lures that will be used to catch them will be quite small. Light action rods and 4 pound test fluorocarbon lines are the best approach in most situations.
The same applies to jigs and artificial lures as well. Micro jigs in the one 32nd ounce and even as small as 1/64 of an ounce are used to catch bass under the ice. The jig heads can be fished in conjunction with live bait, used with a grub body, or even a grub body tipped with a mealworm or wax worm.
A #3 Rapala Jigging Rap is another productive lure that anglers can use when ice fishing for bass. It is better suited early and late in the ice fishing season, when fish are bit more active. Largemouth bass in particular are just not in the mood to chase down a large meal. Jigging spoons can be effective, again, usually went bass are actively feeding.
Anglers can read more about ice fishing tackle and gear in this article.
Largemouth and smallmouth bass are actually quite different in habit. These differences continue to exhibit themselves even under the ice. In its simplest form, largemouth bass prefer weeds and smallmouth bass prefer rocks. It isn’t that simple, but that really is a good place to start.
Neither largemouth bass or smallmouth bass tend to school up in the winter. Instead, they slowly cruise the bottom, usually hunting alone. This is almost always true of largemouth bass. Smallmouth bass may be found in small clusters of fish, particularly over deeper structure.
Ice fishing for largemouth bass
Largemouth bass prefer weedy areas, most often with a softer muddy bottom. Weeds will generally be found in water 30 feet deep or shallower. When healthy submerged grass beds are available, largemouth bass will often cruise the outside edge of the weed line. This usually occurs with a depth change or drop off.
The best spots to look for largemouth bass are flats or basins adjacent to the main river channel. Tributary creeks and back bays will usually not hold largemouth bass in the wintertime. They will generally be seeking the last available healthy weedy growth. Often times, they will be found on the outside edge of the flat and weed line. In most cases, anglers fishing between 10 feet deep and 25 feet deep will be most successful.
Ice fishing for smallmouth bass
Smallmouth bass will usually be found deeper, in the 40 to 50 foot range. Also, they prefer to stage around hard bottom areas, gravel bottoms, and submerged boulders or rocks. Points that slope off into the main river channels are prime spots. Submerged islands or rocky humps or reefs that rise out of the depths to 30 or 40 feet below the surface are also outstanding places to ice fish for bass.
During periods of peak activity, usually at the beginning and towards the end of the ice fishing season, smallmouth bass will move up into shallower flats. Flats in depths of 10 to 15 feet that are close to the main lake channel with gravel or rocky bottom will be spots where smallmouth bass will move up and feed.
Bass tactics under the ice
As mentioned earlier, successful anglers ice fishing for bass scale down their offerings in the winter. Sometimes it seems difficult to imagine the same bass that will inhale a huge soft plastic bait instead preferring a tiny grub on a jig head. However, this is the case. Both largemouth bass and smallmouth bass will most often be caught on tiny offerings that are well suited for panfish.
Weather plays a huge role when it comes to ice fishing for bass. While other cold water species adapt better to the frigid conditions, bass will almost always respond better after a slight warming trend. The several days of warm, stable weather following a severe front are usually best. At this time they will rise up from the depths and move shallow to feed. A strong cold front will almost certainly shut off the bite.
Small minnows, nymphs, insects, and other a small aquatic animals are the prime forage for bass in the wintertime. This explains why the smaller baits are generally more productive. Day in and day out, a one 32nd ounce jig with a small soft plastic body tipped with a wax worm or meal warm will be the most productive offering. A small live minnow hooked through the lips on a jig head and lowered to the bottom can be productive as well.
Ice fishing for bass requires patience
Anglers ice fishing for bass need to be very patient. Bass will often slowly approach the lure or bait, watching it for some time. Anglers want to move the bait enough to attract the bass, without scaring it off. Gently lifting the bait 6 to 10 inches and then allowing it to fall naturally is a good initial approach. If that does not produce, the angler should be at tad more aggressive and twitch the bait sharply as opposed to a slow pull. As with any other fishing, anglers should vary the retrieve until he or she finds a presentation that the bass want that day.
There are days when the bass just don’t want to take and artificial lure. Post cold front conditions and very cold water temperatures can often cause this. Bass are simply not as active. Several wax worms or mealworms on a jig head will usually produce a bite. Anglers should very subtly give the jig and bait combination a little bit of motion.
Hooking and landing bass
Once the bass has been lured into biting, the angler must land the fish. It takes a light hand and a delicate touch to land a large bass on extremely light tackle. The initial problem is often the hook set. Anglers simply cannot use a robust hook set with 4 pound line. Razor-sharp hooks are a must! Limber rods and smooth drags will also be required to consistently land large fish when ice fishing for bass.
More tips for catching bass
There will be days when anglers ice fishing for bass will find them more active. On these days, a larger bait such as the Rapala Jigging Rap would be a good choice. Larger soft plastic baits can be used as well, up to 3 inches long. Anglers using these larger baits will get less bites, but they may catch a larger fish. However, for consistent results it is hard to beat the smaller jigs.
Small live minnows can be used successfully as well. Shiners that are most often used for crappie are about the perfect size. These can be lower on a jig head down to the bottom. When bass are found in shallower water over weeds, they can be hooked on a small live bait hook and suspended under a float to the desired depth.
In conclusion, this article on ice fishing for bass will help anglers catch more fish through the ice.