Bass fishing does not need to cease once ponds, lakes and coves freeze over in northern waters and other locations in the US where the temperatures drop in the winter. Ice fishing for bass is possible at those times of the year and great fun. Knowing how to rig a tip-up and where to fish as well as how to play a big bass through the ice will help you get fish on the ice and hold you over until the weather breaks.
The same places that you catch bass in the summer do not necessarily yield the same type of results in the winter. Finding bass is more difficult since the fish are dependent on the movements of the baitfish that they live on. While bass will be plentiful in shallow water in the spring while they are spawning they won't be found there when the ice is a foot thick. Baitfish will tend to be in the shallows in the early parts of winter but as the ice thickens they will head to deeper waters and the bass will follow them. In a shallow lake or pond largemouth will spend most of their time in the thick vegetation of weed beds. Bass slow down their metabolism considerably during these times and look to ambush prey quickly while expending minimal amounts of energy. The mouth of a cove where the bottom starts to drop off is a good spot to set up tip-ups. On a shallow lake where the average depth is about six or seven feet you may have to move around before you find a hotspot. Concentrating on areas with structure nearby such as downed trees, docks, or even an island can pay off.
Rigged for Bass
A tip-up rigged for bass should have 20 lb. braided line on it to the tune of at least 50 yards. It may be prudent to put more on since bass will grab bait and take off most of the time. The line should have a leader attached with a number four snelled hook a good choice for bass. Two heavy split shots should be on the line about 6 or 8 inches from the hook to keep the bait from swimming up toward the hole. While small shiners will get the attention of a bass medium to large are the best options. Hook these shiners right behind their dorsal fin so they can remain active; shiners hooked like this will remain alive and swimming for a good length of time. Set some of your tip-ups with the shiner only a foot to 18 inches beneath the ice. Set the rest with the shiners a foot off the bottom and remember which are which. If you begin to get action from bass on the shiners set at a particular depth move all of the baits up accordingly.
Playing a Bass
When a flag goes up and the line is being ripped off the spool at a great rate when you arrive chances are you have a bass on the other end. As mentioned before bass like to grab a shiner and go. Remove the tip-up gingerly without impeding the progress of the spinning reel on it and set it down. Hold the line and give it a hard yank to set the hook. You will immediately know if you have a fish on or not by the tugging going on at the other end. Bass in the winter will fight for a little while and then give it up as their energy is quickly sapped. Bring the line in hand over hand until the fish appears and guide it through the hole. Large fish will need more coaxing once they arrive at the hole and don't be afraid to let a really big fish take out line if it balks when brought near the opening. Anglers should not be fearful of resetting the hook during the course of a fight with a big fish by yanking hard once or twice on the line after the initial hook set has taken place just to insure the hook is in solidly.