February 22, 2012
Putting an icy liplock on a butterball bass, you get the feeling that the species doesn't much care for the cold. Pull one up through a hole and they contort into a muscular body curl—a move that reminds me of an ice angler hunkered into his parka—arms, shoulders, and torso tucked into a fetal-like posture. Crouched over an ice hole, it's not a bad position from which to present dainty lures.
Ice fishing largemouth bass is on one hand an economized version of its openwater counterpart. Little-bitty plastic worms, micro hair jigs and spoons, and even scaled-down "ice crankbaits," each worked with utmost finesse often mesmerize winter bass. Which is inversely true of livebait. While bass nip at bitsy artificial things that fit into a contact lens, it's often the bigger lively baitfish that get gobbled.
In environs hosting prodigious populations—especially ponds and reservoirs in the southern section of the ice belt—bass often bite well all winter. Meanwhile, peak fishing in natural lakes occurs at first and last ice. But I've found a few meccas with a MarCum camera—sunken Christmas trees and other artificial cover—that collect cadres of big bass all winter. Put a golden shiner or white sucker down there and you eventually catch every bass on the tree. Rig a deadstick, set it into an Ice Rigger or Automatic Fisherman, and wait for flags to fly.
Most of the rest of the time bass languish in water shallower than about 18 feet—and in many lakes, that means sight-fishing. Viewing through a "widescreen" hole, delivering baits to bass while sitting in a spacious shelter is a can't-miss hardwater event. Worth the price of admission, sighting merely costs the effort to cut the crater, either by drilling a sequence of at least 6 holes in a rectangular shape, or by using a chainsaw or an Ice Saw.
For sight-fishing individual big bass, I'm partial to tiny black-marabou or fox-hair jigs; or 1- to 2-inch micro plastic worms rigged on Fiskas tungsten jigheads, all on 3-pound-test Sufix Ice Magic. Heavy headed tungsten fishes fast, and exaggeratedly activates a thin plastic tail, even if you're barely quivering the rod tip. Northland's Impulse Angleworm and Little Atom Wedgees and Nuggies are bass classics. Northland's also just released the Mini Roundworm and Sumo Worm—both essentially micro wacky worms. Skewer the middle of the worm onto a tungsten "shaky head" and go to town. Think of it as ice fishing for members of the sunfish family, on a titanic scale.