Ice fishing for bass, both largemouth and smallmouth, are not the first species of fish that come to mind when the topic of ice fishing arises. But after wearing them out on the hardwater, you will undoubtedly be convinced that winter bass fishing could be your new favorite hobby. Known for their hard fighting in the spring and summer months, bass are just as strong coming up through the ice. There are few species that fight like bass during the winter. This is why you should drop the idea that they are an open water fish and give them a try when the lakes are locked up with ice.
Finding bass when ice fishing is not as simple as locating walleye or perch. First it takes a lot of time on the water during the warmer months just to find a lake with a good population of bass. This is probably the most important thing when deciding that you are going to start winter bass fishing. Once you have found a lake with a good population of bass, the next step is finding out where the bass will move to when the water turns cold. In the spring and summer bass will come up on points and flats to feed on bait. During late fall and winter, the bass will congregate in the deeper areas of the lake. This is simply because they are following the bait and will stay close so they can readily ambush them. So, before you drill a few holes, go to the deeper part of the lake known to have some sort of structure around it.
Another good bet is to find the part of the lake where smaller perch or bluegill like to hang out. Since most of the shad and other small bait fish will die off, bass will be dependent on other food sources such as smaller fish and insects. They will pursue smaller fish during typical feeding hours such as early morning and late evening. Like most fish during this time of the year, they will turn into an opportunistic feeder since their food source will be limited. This makes bait selection somewhat difficult when winter bass fishing.
The biggest problem, if you even want to call it a problem, when ice fishing for bass is keeping non target species off your hook. There is no secret to which baits to throw to catch bass but there are certain tricks you can use to limit bycatch such as perch and crappie. If you are looking to go out and target just bass, using insects or worms is your best bet for pulling a few through the ice. Mealworms, spike worms, crickets, and night crawlers can all be an effective bait for winter bass. To keep smaller fish off of your hook, load up your hook with as much bait as possible. When doing this be sure to keep a gap between the hook shank and the hook point. This is important so that you will get an effective hook set. If the worm or insect approach doesn’t work, try larger live bait. In a state where you are allowed to use bluegill, cut all the fins off of the bluegill but keep it alive. This will surely create strike from bass but you will surely have bycatch such as walleye and pike.
Be sure to have multiple lines in the water when targeting bass as they like to travel in schools. It’s not uncommon for 8-10 bass to congregate together and feed all in the same area. Having 4 or 5 bass on separate lines is an exciting experience that you are sure to experience if you find an area where there is a high population of bass.
Once you pull a few through the ice, winter bass fishing will more than likely get you more excited than any other fishing during winter. Not only the fact that the fight is incredible, but just the fact that you are doing something most people believe should typically be done in the spring or summer. Being able to diversify your fishing skills, especially ice fishing, will help you develop as a fisherman and open the doors to new opportunities. So instead of listening to everyone who says catching bass through the ice is ineffective, do you scouting and once the lakes are locked up, show everyone how easy it can be to catch bass. You will surely be answering questions for other fishermen about how they can do the same.