Dispelling ice fishing myths

About the author

Kevin VanDam

Kevin VanDam

In the world of professional bass fishing, Kevin VanDam is at the pinnacle and arguably the best in the world.

Most of the nation is in an ice box, and that means it’s ice fishing season here in Michigan.

While my southern brothers don’t get to experience this, many have a misconception of what it’s really like. They can’t fathom driving a truck onto a lake, drilling holes into ice to catch fish.

But for those of us who grew up fishing this way, it truly is fun and a huge industry up here.

I don’t get to do as much as I like because of travel in January and the Bassmaster Classic in February. But when we get a cold snap like this one before Christmas, I take advantage of it.

We fish for everything from bluegills to walleyes, pike and bass. I like it all, but there’s nothing like jigging for bass when they’re active.

I’ve learned just how active bass can be under the ice, and that has helped me with fishing cold water everywhere. I used to think you had to slow down and drag something on the bottom and hope for a bite. That’s not the case; fish are more active than you imagine. They will thump a jigging lure through the ice nearly as hard as they do an artificial lure in the summer.

Another misconception is that the fish always go deep in cold water. I’ve caught hundreds of bass through ice in less than 5 feet of water, especially during early ice season and on our shallow weedy lakes. Deeper lakes may be the exception but bass really don’t go as deep as you think in cold water.

To be an effective ice fisherman, it really helps to have a handheld GPS to help you find those spots and a portable fishfinder to help you locate fish under the ice.

Ice fishing graphs are amazing. You can see the fish, structure and cover plus the tiniest ice jig on the screen. I never fish a hole unless I see fish activity on my Humminbird Ice 55 and can put my bait right on the nose of those fish.

I can’t sit in one spot, so I drill a lot of holes along what I determine to be the outer edge of a weed flat. I may drill 75 holes or more, then go back over them with my graph and jig the holes that contain fish.

I work my bait tied to a short spinning rod and can sometimes predict a bite before it happens. I’ll see a fish drawn to the bait and if it doesn’t respond, I’ll experiment with tip movements to make it bite.

My favorite baits are a 1/4-ounce Strike King Red Eye shad (chrome or gold sexy shad), small jigging spoons, blade baits like Silver Buddies, or even small grubs and Strike King Bitsy Tubes.

Another techy tool I plan to try this winter is a HydroWave Mini electronic sound device that mimics sounds to attract fish. The mini is a portable unit, and when used with my fishfinder, I can tell whether it’s drawing fish to my bait.

Bass fishing through the ice can be a great way to spend a winter afternoon. It’s not unusual to catch a dozen or so bass in three-hour trip, and while most will be 1- or 2-pounders, you can get a few 3s and 4s on a good day. What’s cool is the fish school; so once you get one to bite, you might catch six bass out of the same hole!

Remember, it’s all about the attitude!

Kevin VanDam's column appears weekly on Bassmaster.com. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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