How do You Ice Fish for Bass?

Ice fishing is quite popular in the northern tier states. Entire communities of ice huts appear on lakes all across the north once the hard water sets in. When we think of ice fishing, most often a panfish comes to mind, yet there is plenty of excellent bass fishing to be had through a small hole in the ice.

The most important aspect of ice fishing for bass is location. Start in the same places you fished late in the fall. These will often be at the ends of long tapering points, in the very middle of pockets, channels, and coves, and around hard cover – like rock. 

Pulling up a nice crappie or perch through the ice is fun. Hauling up a 5lb bucketmouth will get you plenty of attention. Traditional bass anglers put up their largemouth and smallmouth gear once that water is ready to be walked on. With the right approach you can keep chasing America’s favorite game fish all winter long.

The Gear

Feeling bites during the heart of winter can be tough. A good ice rod is a must if you want to detect the subtle strike that might be the fish of a lifetime. When looking for an ice rod, test out the tip. It wants to be very sensitive. In other words, the end of the rod is so limp that the smallest movement on the end of the line will be visible. 

Spring bobbers are popular for ice anglers because they let you know when something is barely nibbling down there. That is the type of flexibility in the rod tip you are looking for. 

After that, pick up a model that has some good backbone to it. If you are in that $49.99 range and up, the rod should be strong enough to handle a nice bass coming up to the surface.

Use very light ice fishing line. Something in that 5lb range should suffice. It is important to make sure that you have line designed for ice fishing. It has properties that repel water better than normal line and therefore stays supple even in frigid conditions. This is critical to maintaining proper action on the lure.

Advanced Gear (Not Needed, but it sure helps!)

If chasing bass through the ice is something you plan on doing more than a few times, I highly suggest investing in the following equipment. You can always share the cost with a buddy and use it together when you head out.

Underwater Camera

I don’t know about you, but it can be difficult enough to locate bass some days when there is no ice on the water. I want every assurance that I am in the right spot when I am relying on a small hole targeting one specific area.

An underwater camera can tell you instantly if you are in a good location or not. Drop the camera down through the hole slowly. Your goal is to approach bottom carefully so you don’t spook a school away.

Once the camera is down there, spin the cable to get a good 360 degree view. Bass can really group up in the winter. There may be a time when you find forty or fifty fish in one school.

Once you know whether or not there is something down there, remove the camera and drop in a transducer for an ice fishing graph. 

Ice Fishing Electronic Graph

Most likely, the bass will practically have their bellies in the mud and almost impossible to see on the graph. That’s OK. You will be able to see them once their curiosity is piqued by your lure.

The graph will show the bottom of the lake bed and when those bass move, the bottom will appear to get thicker. That is a bass swimming up to look at your lure. Get ready for a strike!

Why do you need a graph if you have a camera?

This is an often asked question. If you have a camera, why do you need to drag around another piece of equipment?

The camera cable will interfere with your fishing. A transducer puck from an electronic graph will sit at the surface of the water. The camera also will only face one direction while the sonar cone of the graph will pick up fish moving from anywhere. 

The Lure

Like anything in the fishing world, there are thousands of choices when it comes to ice fishing lures. One of the most popular bass lures for ice fishing is tiny lipless crankbait.

There are small versions that do have rattles in them. I would buy versions that have some with and some without. It may seem aggressive for winter bass fishing, but those predators still have to eat. 

With a small lipless crankbait, your goal is to entice some of the more aggressive fish to get active. Even though the metabolism of the bass is at its lowest point of the season, they still don’t like to share an easy meal.

The Presentation for Ice Fishing for Bass

Let that lipless crankbait, or whatever lure you choose, drop down and stop it just before it hits bottom. You will be able to easily see this on your electronic graph. It will appear as a line dropping down. If you don’t have a graph, just pay attention to when your line stops spooling out.

Start to jig the lure in a yo-yo type manner. Let is sit a bit and then repeat. Some days the fish will want a quicker cadence and other days you will need to really pop that lure so it jumps up a foot or so at a time. Let the actions of the bass tell you how to adjust your presentation.

Watch the graph carefully. When that bottom contour starts to thicken out, a fish is interested and coming to investigate. Keep your cadence consistent and be wary of any change in the feel of the rod. 

When you think you have a bite, set the hook and let the fun begin.

Color Choice

Color can make a huge difference when ice fishing. Start with something natural that would resemble forage in the particular body of water you are on, but then start to make adjustments. 

If you see fish on the graph coming up to look at the lure, but not committing, that is a telltale sign that a color change may make all the difference. 

Final Thoughts

Ice fishing for bass can be challenging, yet quite rewarding. Be sure to keep moving until you locate a school of fish. This is the time of year when truly 10% of the water holds 90% of the fish. 

When you find them, the above method should put you in position to have a wonderful outing. 

Once you do locate some consistent locations it is a good investment to purchase a nice ice fishing hut. Good luck out there, be safe, and have fun!

Steve Rogers

Steve spends his time filming and writing about bass fishing. You may even see him in your area. If so, stop and say "hi."

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