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Oh baby, it’s cooooooold oooooouuuuut-siiiiiide! (so the song goes, sung very badly by us)
Ice fishing for bass can often be a little different to fishing in the spring or summer. Well, actually, it’s very different. One big difference is that the water is frozen over, lol.
In all seriousness though…there is usually different gear to consider and different tactics to think about, including extra safety measures. Ice fishing can be a lot of fun when you know some of the tricks of the trade.
So to help you catch more bass this winter and get started with ice fishing, we’ve put together some tips that you might want to try out in the upcoming season.
5 Tips And Tricks To Catch More Bass When Ice Fishing
1: Downsize Your Tackle
Ice fishing tends to require smaller, lighter tackle compared to fishing for summer bass. Ice fishing rods tend to be much shorter than traditional summer rods, sometimes even as short as 24 inches.
Remember, you will generally not be casting your line, as you will usually be fishing into a small hole in the ice. This means that a rod that casts long distances is probably not going to be very helpful for ice fishing.
You will likely be sitting or standing close to the ice hole, which means the shorter rod can be more useful in the smaller fishing space. If you plan to use a shelter, you may find you have even less room to maneuver and a shorter rod can be more convenient.
A smaller, lighter rod can also be more useful when it comes to your lure selection. Ice fishing lures will often tend to be smaller and lighter as well.
2: Find The Bass
Fish finders can be useful for fishing all year round but in winter, they can sometimes be even more useful, especially if it’s a lake you’ve never fished before.
A fish finder should be able to help you locate bass more accurately and it can tell you the various depths of the water, as well as pinpoint underwater structure, such as points and ledges, as well as weed zones.
Winter bass will generally be in deeper water during the winter, with smallmouth bass usually being found a little deeper than largemouth. However, largemouth will often not be found much deeper than 30 feet. Smallmouth on the other hand may be found at depths of 40 feet, or even deeper depending on the overall depth of the water.
Smallmouth will also tend to prefer rocky zones and points compared to largemouth, which tend to prefer weeded areas and ledges. During their most active times, which can be when the weather is more stable or there’s a rise in temperature, you might find both smallmouth and largemouth bass feeding at depths of around 10 to 25 feet, depending on the lake.
Bass will often hold out in these deeper waters because these waters will tend to be a little warmer than the water closer to the surface. The surface is closer to the air, which is why it freezes. Deeper water also generally isn’t as affected by the weather, which means there’s less change and discomfort for the bass if a storm rolls in, for example.
You will often find that bass will be in deep water that is not too far from where their shallow spring spawning grounds are. How deep the bass will be will usually depend on the depth of the water where you plan to fish. But you may find that they are not too far off the bottom, even just a couple of feet.
3: Slow Things Down
During the winter, bass are less active because of the lower water temperatures. Their metabolism slows down so that they don’t need to feed as much. However, this doesn’t mean they won’t take advantage of an easy meal.
Slowing down the presentation of your lure can be useful, as it can encourage bass to strike, thinking it’s an easy target. Vertical jigging can be an ideal tactic to use for ice fishing and drop shot rigs can also let you get your lure as close to the bass as possible.
Spoons, skirted jigs and blade lures can all work well, as they can create movement and mimic baitfish under the water, even when worked slowly.
The size of your lure can also be important, with smaller options possibly being the best bet. Because bass don’t need to use up much energy during the winter, since they’re less active and their metabolisms are slower to account for this, the size of bait they will likely go for will often tend to be on the smaller side.
This means bass may not be looking for a large, high energy meal.
Because the bass will generally be less active, this will also tend to mean that they may not be hitting your lures as aggressively as during the spring, for example. This means that sensitivity in your line and rod could be a key factor in noticing bites, as more sensitive gear could let you set your hook faster.
Video: Ice Line – Mono, Fluoro Or Braid?
4: Best Time Of Day
Just like with bass fishing in other seasons, the early morning can be a good time to catch them, and sometimes during the late afternoon. During the first couple of hours after the sun comes up, bass will often move towards the shallower water to feed.
The bass will generally not move very far, as their winter holding zones will often be within close proximity of shallow feeding grounds. During the morning, you may find that bass are shallower than they might be in the middle of the day, which may impact where you cut your ice hole.
The rising and setting of the moon may also affect bass feeding behavior and could make them more active, meaning this could be a good time to catch bass through the ice.
5: Stay Safe On The Ice
Please pay close attention to this section. Ice fishing can be dangerous!
Ice fishing can be dangerous, especially during the early or late winter when the ice may not be as thick as midwinter or may have begun to thaw. This can mean you could fall through the ice into the cold water, which could have fatal consequences.
You will generally need around 4 to 6 inches of ice in order for it to be safe for you to walk on and fish through. If you have a snowmobile or if there are several of you, you should aim to make sure the ice is around 12 inches thick.
And if you have a larger vehicle, at least 16 inches of ice is recommended before you attempt to drive on it.
One way to test the ice is by using a spud (a long ice chisel) or an auger (a type of drill) as you go along. This should be able to tell you how thick the ice is and if it’s thickening or thinning as you make your way across the lake.
Once you cut your hole, remember to mark it with a branch or some other marker. This can be helpful if you have cut a number of holes, as you should be able to see them more clearly and prevent yourself or anyone else from falling into one.
This should also be done before you leave, in order to warn other ice fishers, or anyone else on the ice, that there’s a hole to watch out for.
What you wear can be an important part of your safety too, as ice fishing can often be a pretty chilly experience, especially when you’re sitting in the middle of a frozen lake waiting patiently for a fish to bite.
Thermal base layers underneath your clothes can help to insulate you while maintaining breathability. Your third and final layer should be an insulated water resistant and wind resistant jacket and pants, as well as waterproof boots that have sufficient tread on the soles to provide you with grip to stop you from slipping on the ice.
It can also be important to take someone with you. Going ice fishing alone is NOT recommended in case you get into difficulties. As well as taking a fishing buddy, you should also tell someone (who is not accompanying you) where you’re going and when you intend to return.
When you’re ice fishing for bass in the winter it can be a good idea to remember to keep things slow when it comes to presenting your lures. It can also be useful to use appropriate gear, such as a shorter rod and smaller, lighter lures to better target the lethargic bass.
Remember to wrap up warm, take a buddy and tell someone else where you’re going before you head out.
Do you have a favorite ice fishing lake or a go-to ice fishing lure? Leave us a comment below. And don’t forget to share this with your fellow anglers in time for winter fishing season.