Participated in a radio interview with a very well known bass jock one time. I will not drop names here, but if I did, you would know who I was talking about. It was winter and he was in the area meeting with one of his sponsors. I guess pro bass jocks do that during the “off-season”.
We asked him about bass fishing during his “off-season”. Asked if he had he ever ice-fished?
He said he would try ice-fishing as soon as they made him a hole big enough for his boat. In other words, he had never ice-fished, never even tried it, and wasn’t about to. As far as he was concerned, the only time you could catch green bass was when the water was liquid.
Honestly, his reply disappointed me. In my opinion, good anglers are versatile and willing to try anything.
“Have a nice trip back south.”
Unfortunately, his attitude is not isolated. Largemouth bass are a warmwater fish, no doubt about it, but if you think they cannot be caught during the winter, even through a hole in the ice, you do not have a clue.
Our largemouth bass are northern strain fish. Strains of largemouth bass from points farther south might not even survive our winters. Our bigmouths actually can be quite active under the ice. In fact, in recent years I have caught more and more largemouth bass through an ice hole. I have learned that with a few tweaks in presentations a person can catch more bass and some of those fish will be “hawgs”.
I have long expected that I would catch the occasional bass while jigging for panfish. Have expected that most of those fish will be small bass with occasional surprises.
Then, during an evening a couple of years ago, after jigging up some nice ‘gills and the occasional crappie all afternoon. . . . I thought I would switch it up a bit before I called it a day. Changed out to a larger, more aggressive jigging bait, and within minutes hooked a fish WAY BIGGER than any that had come through the hole that day.
It took me several minutes to get that fish into the hole, but when I did the very large head of a very large largemouth bass filled it! I had that fish, all I had to do was kneel down and land her. But, no, I got lazy, I just tried to lift her out and slide her onto the ice. I know better, but unfortunately was reminded of why I know better. Started to get her head out, her weight as she started coming out of the water loaded up, and the hooks popped loose. “NNNNnnnnoooooooooo!!!!!!”
And there she was, gone.
You know how it is. I can still close my eyes and see that fish in the hole. Have thought of that fish often since that time. While thinking, have come to some conclusions. . . .
Largemouth bass are predator fish, and they remain so all winter long. Sure, they do not eat as much during the winter and may be more likely to eat smaller prey, but they still like chowing the same baitfish and panfish they chow in open water. You will catch more of them, and larger, if you fish for ’em as fish-eating predators instead of waiting for them to be incidental to your panfishing.
It pays to keep a jigging rod rigged with a bigger jigging bait. I prefer jigging baits like jigging Raps, rattle baits, or something similar, but spoons work too. Or, if you wish to go with the “dead stick” or tipup, a live minnow (where legal), or live panfish will work.
I like to stay mobile on the ice. “Drill baby, drill”! Sometimes I will drop the larger bass bait down and jig it for a few minutes. Then, switch to a more traditional panfish bait. If the panfish bite wanes, grab the “bass rod” and jig with it for a few minutes. Sometimes a big bass or other predator has ghosted in and chased away the panfish.
Or, another strategy I have started using more. . . . On those days when you cannot seem to find anything but small panfish, go with the larger jigging bait and keep moving. Doing that you can catch a bunch of bass and when you finally find a big, fat perch, crappie or even bluegill, guess what? They will eat that larger bait too, or you can switch-up quickly to a smaller bait.
Bass jocks like the well-known pro I referenced at the beginning of this post probably quit reading a long time ago. If you did not, you really can learn a lot more about largemouth bass and fishing for them by also doing it through a hole in the ice. In the process, it really is a lot of fun to see that bigmouth coming up a hole!
In reality, I have a buddy Harold that put it this way:
The only difference between “ice fishing” in the summer and “ice fishing” in the winter. . . is the size of the hole!
And bass are still bass.