Ice Fishing for Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth bass are an overlooked target on the hardwater.

“Here he comes!” shouted Rob Taylor, eyes fixed on the Humminbird fishfinder. Sure enough, there was a red blotch ascending the water column toward a smaller, fainter mark. When the two collided, the rod tip twitched and Rob instructed his nephew, “Set!”  When he did, the 27-inch ice rod bucked as Aaron worked another beautiful smallmouth bass to the hole. By the end of the day, Aaron, Rob and I, along with two other anglers, had caught nearly three dozen smallies by working submerged points and humps scattered around a southern Maine lake. It was a banner day of ice fishing for smallmouth bass.

Captain Rob Taylor and his nephew Aaron show off a double-header of Maine smallies caught through the ice.

Reasons to Go Ice Fishing for Smallmouth

While Esox enthusiasts and laker-takers might object, I think smallmouth bass are our greatest hardwater target in the Northeast. They school up, strike jigs, and are available in a large number of water bodies in the Northeast, some of which are small enough to lock up even during those mild winters we’ve been having lately.  

I’d never thought much about smallmouth as an ice-fishing target, even though they were usually the last open-water species I’d chase each season. I’d catch them over offshore humps and bumps until ice-in, and after ice-out, I’d find them in just about the same places. For whatever reason, it never occurred to me that even when the lakes locked up, those smallies would be in the same places and willing to take similar presentations. 

But that notion didn’t slip by Rob Taylor, who introduced me to hardwater smallies on a central Massachusetts pond in 2018. Each fish we hooked fought hard and one even thumped the underside of the ice in an ill-advised attempt at one of those classic smallmouth jumps. 

How to Catch Smallies on Ice

Whether it’s an older model flasher or the latest live-imaging sonar, electronics are your eyes below the ice. You’ll need them to confirm the depth and structure, decipher the mood of the fish, and in the case of the live-imaging sonar, inform you where to drill the next holes. 

But before the electronics can help you, you need a starting point for where to drill your first hole. That requires at least a basic understanding of the lake’s structure, either from open-water experience or an available chart. When ice fishing for smallmouth, focus efforts on offshore structure, like underwater points, ledges, or, boulder-covered humps. They congregate in these areas in big numbers, so when you find one, you’ve often found a bunch. While they can be found shallower or deeper, depending on the lake you’re fishing, structure in 30 to 45 feet is a good starting point. 

ice fishing for smallmouth
Electronics and a jigging rod with a sensitive tip are essential for finding the smallies and then tempting them to bite.

Once you’ve found the structure, dial in the presentation. On the best days—like the one with Adam and Rob—smallmouth will rise off the bottom and meet your offering as it falls. On others, coaxing them off the bottom can feel like pulling teeth. 

Standard open-water presentations for cold-water smallies can work, like bladebaits, Ned rigs, and dropshot rigs, but fishing from a fixed position on the ice allows anglers to present finesse options that would be difficult to fish well in open water.  One of Rob’s favorites is the Acme Hyper Glide, which has wings that open as the lure falls, causing it to glide and “hunt.” 

The Acme Hyper Glide coasts through the water column with small, retractable wings that allow it to “hunt” and glide around rather than lift and drop as most vertical ice jigs do.

The advantage of this lure is the ability to subtly jig it just enough for the wings to open and close, like a baitfish finning in place. This small, lifelike movement helps seal the deal on lethargic smallies inspecting the bait.  Live smelt or shiners sent to the bottom will also catch, but don’t be surprised if lures out-fish the real thing on some days. 

A medium- to medium-light rod of 24 to 28 inches with a soft tip helps with the subtle jigging motions needed to fool finicky fish, and inline reels help prevent line twist, keeping the lure still, not spinning, during the all-important pauses. 

No matter the target species, make sure the ice you’re fishing on is solid and at least 4 inches thick. Bring a rope, spikes (worn around the neck), and a buddy. 

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1 thought on “Ice Fishing for Smallmouth Bass

  1. Micropterus

    SMB are very susceptible to ice fishing pressure because as stated in the article they can form dense schools. I enjoy catching bass through the ice while limiting how many I catch out of any one school.

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