3 winning ways to ice summer bass!
A guy from Tennessee I’d been chatting with at the boat ramp tells me he’s never seen smallmouth fishing this good. I can’t resist asking.
“What’s the magic bait?” I inquire.
“A Rapala Jigging Rap, of course,” he states.
Yeah, of course! Never in my life had I thought to try one in open water. Yet, wintertime bait does work, and not just through the ice.
Here are three exceptional, though underused, ice fishing baits that perform amazingly well in open water for bass.
1 Mopping up with a Damiki rig
If you ice fish, you’ll likely be a master at the Damiki rig. Centred on the 3-inch Damiki Armor Shad minnow bait on a VMC Halfmoon Jighead (hence the name), this is one of the best methods for teasing moody or suspended smallmouth bass.
Locally nicknamed “mopping,” it’s a proven technique.
“First, find bass using electronics, then get on top of them and “hang” the bait just over the fish,” instructs Jeff Gustafson, OOD writer and FLW Tour pro. The Kenora resident has fattened his wallet more than a few times using this technique.
According to him, keeping the bait just above them makes all the difference, as bass will lose interest if the bait is at or below their level. Mopping follows many of the same principles as ice fishing for panfish or lakers.
Mopping baits should be lifelike and between 2 1/2 to 4 inches long, but experiment with brand and sizes within that range. Albino, smelt, Arkansas shiner, or hints of watermelon should be perfect. Best bait bets will be minnow-shaped, with a forked or long thin tail that quivers. The VMC Mooneye jighead is a popular choice that’s reasonably priced with a distinct eye and a decent hook.
The Damiki rig caters to the bass’s appetite rather than its curiosity, making it a presentation everyone should learn.
2 Becoming a rapper
The decades-old Rapala Jigging Rap is cherished by ice anglers, but is rarely put to the test in open water. It can be magic under the correct conditions. When finding schools of bass hovering over long points, suspended around bait, or dispersed along deep flats, drop a Jigging Rap.
With hooks protruding from all ends, it’s not an ideal grass bait. Search for sand, rock, or hard bottom areas.
Also worth checking out are the Freedom Tackle Turnback jig, Johnson Johnny Darter, Lunkerhunt Straight Up jig, or Northland Puppet Minnow. The best bass sizes are heavy. One refinement is to use a snap instead of knotting directly to the baits. The snap permits it to shimmy as it swims.
Medium-heavy, stout-spinning, or casting gear with a fast tip work well. Hooks are small, so a bit of flex is needed. Spool up with fluorocarbon, or braid with a fluorocarbon leader.
3 Heavy metal
Blade baits might be the best cold-water, trophy smallmouth baits ever made. Yet they are rarely tied on before Thanksgiving. The Silver Buddy, Lucky Craft ILV, Molix Trago or Reef Runner Cicada are all popular examples of blade baits.
Niagara Falls angler, Jason Clay is a huge fan of these baits. Fishing Lake Simcoe in October of 2017, Clay and Matt Belzil used them to capture the Canadian record for heaviest five bass in a tournament, with a total of 31.84 pounds.
“The key is the fall rate. It makes all the difference,” insists Clay. Select the heavier models, up to an ounce, as they’re the most versatile. With a snap through the front hole, Jason loves to drag this bait along sand or gravel flats using the wind or the trolling motor to guide him. “I’ll jig it as I drift waters from 25 to 45 feet. Sometimes all you need is a little 6-inch lift, but most often I move the rod about two feet,” states Jason. Bites occur as the bait jumps off bottom or when sitting stationary between jigs.
Another cool way to fish this bait is vertically. If Clay sees a fish on the electronics, he’ll drop right on top of it. He’ll jig it off bottom, then work it up a few feet and let it rest. “They’ll usually eat it when I keep it still,” says Clay. For this approach, he’ll move the snap to the back hole for a more vertical swim.
For the hottest summer smallmouth action look no further than your ice-fishing gear. It’s been neglected too long.