Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Underrated: Largemouth bass through the ice

By Jeremy Smith

Angling Buzz

Overlooked by most ice anglers, largemouth bass provide a fun winter challenge that demands simple, basic gear and an eye for super-light bites.

Largemouths also can deliver consistent action throughout the day while you await the magic hour of dusk, when the walleyes turn on.

Largemouth-fishing success hinges on finding them, and across the Upper Midwest, that means vertical cover: standing weeds. Green vegetation is ideal, but even weedbeds where coontail, cabbage, and other types of weeds are turning brown often hold bass. These weedbeds might be in 6 to 8 feet of water or deeper, in 18 or 20 feet. 

Once I set up over the weeds, I fish with two presentations. First is a modified panfish setup, just a panfish-style jig, but with a bigger hook. My go-to is a VMC Mongo Jig, to which I add a small section of plastic worm for a little extra bulk and wiggle, then tip the hook with a spike or waxie. The other rod has a Size 4 Rapala Slab Rap, a lipless rattler. 

My rods are 32-inch, medium-light power, extra-fast action Perch Seekers from St. Croix. The tip is fast, but still soft enough to see a subtle bite, and although largemouths can be pretty aggressive at first ice, by midwinter, they usually are super casual about biting lures. On cameras, we watch these fish with mouths just about big enough to engulf a softball come up to baits and give them a tentative peck – they look like they’re kissing the lure! 

Presenting the jig is pretty much just like luring in panfish. Just jiggle-iggle-iggle, with pauses and different cadences until you figure out what draws largemouths to the lure. Sometimes a total deadstick approach gets them to bite.

When presenting the lipless rattler, less is more. Give it a few little rips now and then, but when, on your sonar, you see a fish move in, barely move the bait. Again, the bass usually just sips part of the lure into its mouth, so watch your rod tip for the subtlest bite.

Line choice is just a bit heavier than what I use for panfish. I spool with 4-pound monofilament and add a 8- to 12-inch leader of 6-pound fluorocarbon. I tie a small ball-bearing swivel between the line and leader on the lipless rattler rod to avoid line twist.

Keeping largemouth bass to eat has, in some circles, become a great taboo. But in lakes where they are abundant, there’s nothing wrong with keeping a few 13- or 14-inch fish. They’re tasty, and you won’t hurt the fishery. 

Some of the crowd against keeping any bass are the same anglers who see nothing wrong with keeping a bucket full of 10-inch bluegills – until the lake has no more 10-inch bluegills. I’m glad that more anglers are letting bigger bluegills go these days.

But enough preaching. Target some of those bluegills’ cousins this winter. Largemouths can provide plenty of fun, fish-catching action.

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