Ice out bass fishing isn’t for everyone, and it takes a willingness to explore and keep exploring to find the right area for that given day. The good news is that once you find a quality area, the odds are that it will produce year after year while cold water spring bass fishing. And for good reason; cold water spring bass fishing during that time of the year possesses everything a bass needs as it transitions from the hard water of winter into the open water period of spring.
Here in New York, we’ve only recently implemented a state-wide “catch-and- immediate-release /artificial-lure-only” season for black bass which runs from December 1 through the third Saturday in June, when the catch and keep season opens. However, not all regions were required to adopt that rule, so be sure to check the local regulations for the region and county that you’re ice out bass fishing in.
When starting your search for good ice out fishing, the top three things to remember are: depth, structure, and sunlight. It’s considered common knowledge that most lakes and watersheds warm up faster along the north and northwestern shoreline, so that’s a great spot to start your search for some cold water spring bass fishing. Look for hard bottom areas leading into the backs of coves or up onto flats. Ridges and secondary points coming out of deep water into these areas serve as a navigation aid, and they seem to attract good numbers of fish if it has scattered rock or wood along it all the better.
Right after ice out the water is very clear and very cold with temperatures running 33-40 degrees, and those nearshore hard bottom areas absorb any sunlight, which warms the water and attracts the fish. Quite often, an area that seemed devoid of life will suddenly hold many fish once it warms up just a few degrees, making it a prime ice out fishing location – meeting all the requirements for some great cold water spring bass fishing .
There are two schools of thought on lure choice for ice out bass fishing. Some anglers select plastics such as tubes, small creature baits, or lead head jigs in an attempt to imitate terrestrials or crawfish or gobies; while others select hard baits (small crankbaits or minnow baits), hoping to imitate bait fish and draw a strike. At certain times, one will out-produce the other, and it’s your job to figure out which one works best on any given day of ice out bass fishing.
I’ve enjoyed most of my ice out bass fishing success with hard baits, so let’s review a few lure choices and techniques that might apply to your local waters. I always try to keep it simple and stick with colors that replicate shad patterns: a dark back, silver sides and a white belly. There are countless lures on the market that fit that description, but I use Lucky Craft products. Their color code Aurora Black or American Shad are two of my best-producing ice-out lures, bar none, and my experience tells me our New York bass agree.
For crankbaits, I like a medium diver that runs 7-9 ft (Slim Shad D7 or Slim Shad D-9), and for minnow imitators I use a suspending jerkbait (Pointer 100), or the spoonbill version (Pointer 100 DD) when I need to get a tad deeper in the water column.
Both of these lures have served me well. I usually employ the crankbait first on a steady retrieve using a 6.3.1 reel or a slower 5.4:1 gear ratio. Remember, we’re scouting super-cold water for lethargic bass moving up to put on the feedbag before the pre-spawn calendar period arrives; crankbaits allow an angler to cover a lot of water quickly when ice out fishing.
In my experience, you can’t work crankbaits too slow, but you do need to cover water and a 6.3:1 reel helps with that. However, if you can’t generate a strike and you’re marking fish on the graph, then switch to the 5.4:1 gear ratio and see what happens. Oftentimes, that subtle change in retrieve speed is all you need to get the fish biting.
Once I’ve located (caught) a few fish on the crankbait, I’ll let the area rest a few minutes and then go back through with the jerkbait to pick off any reluctant biters. I’ve also found times when the crankbait just won’t generate a strike and the jerkbait is the lure of choice for ice out bass fishing. I don’t know of any magic rule or short answer on when to throw which one, but I do recommend that if you aren’t getting bit, then change the cadence of your retrieve and don’t be afraid to slow down.
If your crankbait retrieve is steady, then switch to a stop & go retrieve. Simply cast out, crank the reel three or four turns, stop, wait a couple of seconds and repeat; that’s a Stop & Go retrieve. For the jerkbait, I’ll cast it out, crank it down five or six turns of the reel, and then use a jerk- pause- jerk- jerk- pause retrieve. I usually start with five to six second pauses between jerks and then extend the length of pause until I start getting bites.
When casting hard baits while ice out fishing, consider using fluorocarbon, or at least a fluorocarbon leader. I use Bass Pro Shops XPS Fluorocarbon in 8 or 10 lb. test and it works great for me. Remember that gin clear water we talked about earlier? Well, the fluorocarbon line really comes into play as the lure sits suspended in open water. That’s also why I choose Lucky Craft lures; their color patterns are so lifelike that no matter how long a fish has to look at them it seems he’ll ultimately strike.
New York has a law that requires all recreational anglers in boats to wear a Coast Guard approved personal floatation device (PDF) from November 1 through the first Saturday in May. Remember, the water is extremely cold, so always bring an extra set of clothes to change into if you get wet while ice out fishing. You’ll be glad you did.
Avoid fishing alone when you’re going cold water bass fishing, if at all possible, and if you do fish alone, this time of year have your cell phone charged and keep it in a water-proof bag. Above all, use common sense, dress in layers, bring a thermos of your favorite warm beverage, and have fun trying your hand at some cold water bass fishing in ponds and lakes. Enjoy your time ice out bass fishing.
Burnie Haney is the Garrison Chief of Operations at Fort Drum NY, Chairman of the Jefferson County Sport Fish Advisory Board, B.A.S.S. Life Member, Public Relations Officer and Sponsor Product Coordinator for the NY BASS Chapter Federation. He is a member FLW and Pro Staff member for Bass Pro Shops Nitro Boats, US Reel, Temple Fork Outfitter Rods, Lucky Craft Lures and VRX Fishing Products. Haney holds three National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame Line Class World Records (carp, steelhead, Chinook salmon) and one IGFA NY State Line Class Record (walleye). Get in touch with Burnie at burniehaney.com.