When most guys hit the ice, they’re after perch, crappies, walleyes or trout. But I know plenty of fishermen hit the hardwater to specifically target largemouths. If you concentrate your efforts on the right habitat, you can even pull genuine hogs through the ice. Exploration is another great reason to target bass when the water is frozen. Spots you find through the ice can tip you off about where to head as soon as the ice breaks up. The key to finding bass through the ice, and subsequently finding your first open-water fish, is finding shallow grass. If you think that goes against everything you know about cold-water bass, you’re right.
In the pre-ice stages of the late fall and early winter, bass predominantly seek super-deep rock structure and grass. Then, as the ice becomes established, a percentage of the bass population reacquaints itself with any remaining vegetation in the shallows. This presumably occurs because the ice canopy provides a sense of security from weather. If you think about it, it’s not going to get much colder in the shallows, and it sure won’t be windy with ice overhead. Not too mention, there’s still baitfish in the shallow grass.
Having the right equipment will help you score bigger bass. Opt for stouter jigging rods than you use for panfish, or tip-ups that set the hook for you. Slightly bigger live baits, and tubes instead of small metals, up the chances of enticing the toads. Portable electronics work well for finding defined grass lines or points extending to deep water, and some good ice bass fishermen I know search by using a “V” pattern of holes that extends out over the span of shallow grass and into deeper water. Ultimately, some of the best feedback comes from what you pull up from the bottom. For analyzation purposes, it’s wise to initially drop something like a Rapala jigging minnow or a jigging spoon down to probe for vegetation before deploying tip-ups. If you find some, set your leader length so that your bait suspends slightly above the grass. Remember, drilling holes creates quite a ruckus for shallow ice grass bass, so let the holes rest for a while before dropping in.