Catching largemouth bass through the hardened surface of Northern lakes (where legal) is an exercise in fun, thrills and excitement. While most ice angler's turn to panfish or walleye to whet their appetite, those that are searching for line-peeling pulls and hefty weights need look no further than old greenback himself.
The "Fall Factor"
|Where legal, catching largemouth through the ice provides excitement on winter days.|
The first step to locating winter largemouth is to determine the areas you caught them from during the late fall. Once the ice sets, most largemouth won't stray far from these patterns, mainly preferring to hang around the outside weed edges that form along breaklines and in and around the perimeter of weed-choked bays.
The most important part of the cold-water equation is weed growth. Cabbage is the first choice. The thicker the weed the better. Largies will cling to this salad, snuggle up inside it, or patrol the edges; all depending on their mood that day.
With the advent of GPS units, many anglers are marking productive waypoints during open water, for which to return to once the surface stiffens up. If you have this tool at your disposal, your fall bass excursions should become a time for recording your hotspots.
Without a GPS the task is left to the wonders of the auger. Start drilling holes out from shoreline areas. You are searching for both weedbeds and edges. Electronics, such as a Vexilar unit or underwater camera can help in simplifying this task.
Once you have come in contact with the green stuff, position your holes in the thick of it.
Although there is no set-in-stone depth for connecting with largemouth bass, for the most part, I have found them to be in water between 8 and 15 feet deep. First ice will usually find them in more shallow water, with a shift to the deep stuff once the season progresses.
Getting Them to Bite
Take a two-prong approach to catching largies through the ice. Where legal, a stationary tip-up is placed down a hole. Nothing fancy is needed, other than weight to keep your presentation close to bottom. Pierce a 3- or 4-inch chub or shiner minnow through the back with a #4 or #2 hook and set the depth of your lively bait about one to two feet off bottom. Most largies will hug or cruise close to bottom during the dead of winter, so being in the strike zone is paramount to success.
With a tip-up out, I like to use an active method of fishing by also jigging for them. A medium-light action rod and six-pound test braid to fluoro does the trick for me. Small, flashy spoons, body baits (such as the Chubby Darter or Rapala line) or a lead-head jig and minnow will all produce.
Ice fishing for largemouth can bring a new twist to the sport we all love. Once you lip that first bass at the hole I guarantee you'll be hooked for life!