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Most ice fishermen know that you can catch lake trout, pike, walleye, and sturgeon under the ice, but few anglers (including myself) were aware that you can go ice fishing for bass too. In fact, it seems as though catching bass under the ice is much more common than one would expect.
For most fishermen, catching bass is sort of a by-product of fishing for other types of fish. However, with a little know-how, determination, and maybe a little luck, it’s possible that catching a few bass could become more than an occasional accident.
So, if winter is fast approaching, but you’re not ready to put away your fishing gear, keep reading and find out how you too can catch a few bass even when the lake is frozen.
How to Catch Bass Under The Ice
Ice fishing for bass is quite a bit different than fishing for them in the summer!
The biggest difference in the way that you catch bass when the lake is frozen over is how you present your bait. This also includes the size of the bait that you are using. They seem to prefer smaller baits with little to no action! I think their instincts are telling them that there will be less energy needed to gobble up the meal.
Unlike when fishing for bass in the warmer months, bass won’t strike at a large bait, especially an artificial one. This is in part because you can’t create enough action with the bait through a tiny hole in the ice, but mainly because bass are less aggressive when the temperature is extremely cold.
It seems that bass, as well as other types of fish’s metabolisms, slow down when the temperatures drop. This causes them to not want to use, or even be able to use the energy required to strike at your bait with the same intensity that they would during the warmer months.
The basic way to catch bass through the ice is to position along weed lines and rock humps. Largemouth tend to like soft bottoms around weed lines, while smallmouth hang out around the steeper drop-offs.
Start by using gentle slow movements about 1 foot off of the bottom. After a while, move up one foot and then repeat. If you do this four to six times and then go back down to the bottom, you will have a shot at getting their interest.
Quick Tip: Watch for times when you stop getting nibbles from smaller targets. At those moments, don’t move on to another spot just yet. Hang around for a bit because the smaller species could have been scared off by a large predator fish who is checking out the bait.
Another tip is to use a fishfinder. You can use a fish finder to target bass through the ice and find out where they are when drilling holes. You’ll find that a fish finder will quickly become one of the most useful tools in your tool kit.
According to Eric Altena who is the Department of Natural Resource’s Little Falls area fisheries supervisor, “ Largemouth are different, Altena said. “We see them move as soon as the ice starts coming off lakes in our trap nets, and anglers routinely catch them through the ice in the spring while fishing panfish,” he said.
He starts by drilling between 50 and 100 holes in the ice, each purposely placed to help him cover from 4 to 15 feet of water. He hops hole to hole, spending no more than about 2 minutes at each without a bite. He’ll stay at a hole longer if the catching is hot, having a different lure rigged and ready to resuscitate a cooling bite. And once he finds the most productive depth, he’ll stick to the holes over it. He said it’s not much different than running and gunning in open water.
Fishing Gear Needed
Ice fishing, in general, requires special gear. We will get into the specific baits for targeting Bass in a moment but for now, let’s just go over some of the specific gear that you should pick up based on the strategy you’re going to use to catch bass.
First of all the key to successfully catching bass is to dig a lot of holes and keep moving. The more holes you put down and spots you try the more you increase your odds of catching a bass. The reason is that they are so unlikely to take interest in your bait that it’s better to have a lot of options for them to check out if they do happen to be hungry.
Second, pick up Clam 1 Man Hut and a small heater. The hut is going to keep you protected from wind and precipitation. The heater will quickly heat up the smaller space that the Hutt provides. These things will keep you comfortable while you fish.
Next, pick up a gas-powered Auger for digging holes in the ice. This is basically a gas powered drill that will put holes in the ice much faster than you could do so by hand. It saves time and energy.
As for a rod and reel goes, you can get yourself a good spinning reel setup such as the 13 Fishing Wicked Clampack Spinning rod and reel combo. If you’re more of an inline kinda guy/gal, you might want to check out the Black Betty Freefall Inline Ice Reel. It’s also made by “13 Fishing.” Both rod and reels are specifically made for ice fishing and will serve you well!
Make sure to check out my reviews of some of the best ice fishing reels available today!
Best Ice Fishing Baits for Bass
For best results when it comes to ice fishing baits for bass, live bait is the way to go. However, if you don’t live in an area where live bait is allowed then small plastics will work as well. Live baiting is easier but small plastics can do just fine if you play around with them for a bit.
All fish tend to go after smaller baits during winter time due to their lower metabolism. They don’t usually go for larger baits that would rev up their metabolism as it is digested. This goes for bass also. Therefore, it is a good idea to offer them something on the smaller size in order to attract their attention.
The best company for ice fishing plastics is called Maki Plastics. They have a variety of plastics that perform very well on bass and other species. Another company to try out is Rapala. Their lures are designed specifically for bass. Another good artificial bait is the Berkley Gulp minnow.
At the end of the day, you will have to try out a few techniques to figure out what works best for you.
Can You Ice Fish for Bass at Night
Night fishing for bass under the ice is definitely a challenge but possible. Some fish feed at night and are less often targeted by other anglers so they will be more likely to bite. Probably the best time of the year to try this would be in the pre-spawn season when fish move to shallower areas.
Because bass move to the shallower areas as temperatures rise, they will be more likely to be feeding on Sunfish and crawfish. Choose baits and lures accordingly. Pick an area that is in the shallows that you think has a larger likelihood of yielding bass and then methodically work across that area in a systematic way.
Can You Ice Fish for Largemouth Bass Too
The short answer is yes. But largemouth bass are way harder to target than smallmouth bass for one simple reason. They are larger fish and have slower metabolisms and therefore are less hungry in the winter time.
That being said if you are targeting largemouth bass during “hardwater” season, there are few things to try out that will improve your chances. You still have to be very patient and keep in mind that only 1 in 50 fish will take any interest in your bait.
Set up around weed lines about 15 to 20 ft out. Largemouth bass like to hang around weeds in the winter especially in early spring. It is a common myth that all bass go for deeper waters during winter. That is not true. The shallows are warmer and better suited for large fish with slow metabolisms.
In terms of baits keep them small. Largemouth bass will usually only hit smaller morsels, especially in winter. Grubs and worms are perfect.
The rest of the game is about putting as many holes in the ice as you can and moving around to give the fish as many opportunities to check out your bait as you can. It’s a numbers game so make sure to keep moving.
Ice fishing for bass is no small endeavor. While it is true that you really can catch bass under the ice, just be aware that it is a challenge. If you are up for the challenge and you like the feeling of catching a harder species then check out largemouth bass. They are definitely harder to catch than smallmouth bass in the winter time because they have a lower metabolism and are shut down for feeding.