By Captain Brian Koshenina
It's that time of year again in Minnesota. The cool, fall air gives way to the frozen wasteland we call winter. That can only mean one thing, Ice Fishing! As most of us seek a limit of Crappie, a trophy-sized Pike or a delicious Walleye we often forget about a plentiful and prized summer fish, the Largemouth Bass.
If you are like me, I usually quit targeting Bass in late September or early October. Up here in the north the steady drop in water temperature forces the Largemouth into their winter, deeper patterns and their metabolism slows, making it more difficult to get them to bite. I shift my focus to Muskie and Crappie for the remainder of the open water season and I put my Bass tackle away until next spring. I love fishing for Bass, and I cannot wait until safe ice to fish for them again. Yes, you read that right, Safe ice! Bass have become one of my favorite species to target in winter: Ice fish'n, Bass fish'n, You betcha.
Bass make a formidable foe under the ice. First of all, they do NOT like being caught in cold water and they offer quite a fight. Second, they bite all day. Predators such as Walleye wait for low light conditions to become active feeders, but not Bass - which makes them easy to target. Third, they are easy to find. Green, healthy weeds are the key to finding Bass under the ice. The healthier the weeds, the more likely you will have Bass cruising by looking for an easy meal.
You don't need "special" or "species-specific" equipment to target Bass. If I'm jigging, I use my medium-light Arctic Fusion combo from HT Enterprises spooled with 4-pound test monofilament ice line and a Snyders Lures 'Willow Daddy" spoon (any color) tipped with a Crappie or Fathead minnow. If I'm tip-up fishing, I will use either my HT Enterprise's Polar Tip-up or Predator Thermal Tip-Up spooled with 12-pound ice braid and a Snyders Lures "Willow Daddy" spoon tipped with a Fathead or small Sucker minnow. All of these combinations are relatively inexpensive and you can use them for just about every species that swims under the ice.
If you have an underwater camera I highly recommend using it, and here are a few reasons why: First of all, you can identify areas that will hold Bass. There is nothing more frustrating than drilling a bunch of holes only to find out that there is no structure, the weeds are dead and the area is void of life. Remember, healthy weeds or structure equals baitfish which equals the predators that eat them.
Another reason for using a camera is you can identify the species you desire more quickly which gives you more time to fish. I have drilled a hundred holes, used my flasher to find fish, set up my fish house and started fishing only to find out the species I thought I was fishing for and marked so heavily on my flasher was nowhere to be found! I wasted precious ice time when all I had to do is drop my camera down the hole to see if the Bass were down there.
If I'm fishing in my portable house, I will add a slip bobber to one combo, dead stick it, and jig in another hole. I find that Bass often show up in pairs or in small schools when they are cruising for food so why not offer them a little more to get them to bite. Jigging often brings them in and the allure of a slow-moving minnow suspended in the next hole is often enough to trigger a bite. I often have to "double hook set" as both combos simultaneously get bites.
If I'm setting tip-ups I go to the same areas where Bass will frequent and I set them to the "Soft Strike" setting on the spool shaft. Bass like to suck in or inhale their meal, unlike pike which will aggressively try and dismantle their meal upon a strike. Setting your tip-ups correctly will help land more fish in general, especially Bass.
The next time you are on the ice and the species you are targeting isn't cooperating, consider the Largemouth Bass. Coldwater Bass make an excellent meal or a worthy catch and release opponent. I guarantee you will enjoy catching them as much as I do.
Meet Brian Koshenina
Brian Koshenina is a US Coast Guard Captain and Professional fishing guide with 35 years of fishing experience including tournaments, seminars, writing, and guide of Muskies and More Guide Service. Check out his Facebook, Instagram, and Website for more information.