From Ice Fishing to Open Waters: Early Season Bass Fishing With KVD

Ice Fishing

Kevin VanDam finds some of the first open water in Michigan to test out his equipment and do a little bass fishing. Find out why the @StrikeKingLure Rage Swimmer in the 3.75-inch size is one of his go-to baits once the ice melts. Strike King Rage Swimmer:

Team Lew’s Signature Series Mark Zone spinning rod:

Lew’s Custom Lite spinning reel:

At the beginning of February, our lakes are typically frozen and we’re still ice fishing. But we got a little warmup. I’ve got a brand new rig. I did a whole walkthrough, but I haven’t been able to put it in the water yet. I want to be able to check everything out.

This little lake I saw yesterday was just half open, but with the sun shining and a little bit of wind, I knew it would open up. The ice just dissipated like that. So we’re going to get out there in the water and put a little time on the boat and check things out.


Early Season Bass Fishing

I love early-season bass fishing, but I can honestly say this is the first week of February and we just don’t get this opportunity. Some years, if we get a mild year, we might be fishing right after Christmas. But typically, we’re still ice fishing.

First Casts and Catches

Uh oh, good one! 41° water at the beginning of the year, just out testing my stuff, and look at that— that’s like a four-pounder all day at least. The lake was covered in ice yesterday. There’s nothing like that. That’s just a 375 Rage Swimmer KVD Magic; it’s clear water.

Observing Fish Behavior

The day that the ice goes off, they start biting, and it can be some of the best fishing of the year. But super early like this, when the water’s cold— it’s 41°. The surface temperature overnight makes a big jump when you get that melt-off. This little lake has three or four little streams coming into it; that’s the only reason it’s open this early.

But right out of the gate, they’re not super aggressive. They relate to those deeper flats with grass on them. Got him! I was like, man, I saw them on Mega Live just barely moving in the weeds. They’re just so sluggish in this super cold water like this.

Good solid one though. Again, hard to get bites like this, but when you finally get around them and find them… I mean, I had to work and work at that one. I almost didn’t believe my eyes because it was like I saw on Mega Live. There, I saw the fish or I wasn’t sure if it was a tuft of grass.

It was right on the bottom and then it kept moving towards it. So I’m like, just keep shaking that bait a little longer. That’s the beauty of it; you get that real-time feedback.

Adjusting to Conditions

Man, 41° water, first day with no ice, catching bass this time of the year. Up here in these northern natural lakes, especially, you have to focus on the conditions with your presentation.

There’s nobody that likes to catch them better, you know, jerking and red-eye shading and cranking than me. But it’s just not the right conditions now if it was the first day after the ice came off this lake.

There’s one! Bing! And that’s a bing! You know, like I was saying if we had wind or cloud cover… Yeah, I think I got a pike or a musky or something. Everything eats Rage Swimmers. The way I’m fishing that thing, just kind of skimming it along the bottom, it just really imitates bluegill real well, but it also imitates a crawfish.

That’s what I love about it; just depending on how you’re fishing it, it can make it do a lot of things. But under these conditions, I just would not be very successful in power fishing. You get that wind, you get those clouds and man… I haven’t even seen this fish yet.

Oh, it’s big. Oh, he just came off. It was a big musky. I saw that it was a toothy critter. But like I was saying, even that— that’s a big toothy predator like that. I just hooked it right there.

They’re not chasing stuff. It’s just post-frontal. We’ve had a little warming trend and things like that. But just with no wind and these high, bright skies, you got to be slow and subtle. That’s why I love that Ned rig and this Rage Swimmer; it’s just such a good bait when it’s tough.

Afternoon Fishing Strategy

You know, it’s not an accident that we’re out here kind of later in the afternoon too. First and foremost, I knew that there was still some ice on the lake this morning.

There was still skim ice here, but you just want to wait until that sun gets up, especially in the afternoon, and just really focus on those northerly banks. It’s so critical in these northern lakes like this.

Those fish will get right up shallow late in the day when that sun’s shining in there. Even though the water is cold, they’ll get up there. Any place there’s dark bottom, you know, old dead vegetation, pad roots, things like that, they’ll get right up onto the top of those flats and those edges and just really sun themselves. Got him! Nice little fish, a little chunker.

Matching the Forage

Probably the best two times a year to fish up here for sure for me are the late season when most everybody else is hunting, and then real early like this. When you find them, you can find them. I mean, just look at that— the prettiest fish of the year. They’re waiting for spring just like us.

And man, I love going south, but gosh, as soon as it opens up here, it’s pretty special. I just caught that last fish and noticed that he spit this up on the way out. Look at this; there’s a freshly. I mean, this bluegill is still alive, the same size as that Rage Swimmer. Pretty different colors right there.

These lakes up here, eat a lot of things, but bluegills are a focal part of their life for most of the year. Just like any place else, matching the forage is everything. And there’s the perfect example right there.

The versatile swimbait

Effective Bait and Gear

So the 375 Rage Swimmer is what we’ve been catching them with today, and it’s one of my favorites for cold water. I think that little bit bigger bait with that slow wag that tail has in this cold water just really catches them. I was throwing KVD Magic, but the IU, just straight green pumpkin, is a really good one up here.

All of these colors blend in with the bottom and imitate either a bluegill or a crawfish in the grass real well. So when you’re fishing it real slow, dragging it on the bottom, it doesn’t matter to me if they think it’s a crawfish, but it’s just a good bait. It has that slow, subtle action. I think they feel the vibration of that tail well.

One thing I like to do is just bite that head off of that bait just so it fits up against my jig head. I’ve got it on a quarter-ounce head right now. And just a nice and slow, spinning rod. It’s a 7’4″ Team Lew’s Signature Series, my buddy Mark Zona. I like longer rods; this rod has a nice soft tip to it but it’s got a lot of backbone.

I’ve got a Lew’s Custom Light 200 series shallow spool right here. With that reel, braid like this, 8 lb braid, and I’ve got an 8 lb fluorocarbon leader. It’s a great finesse setup for this kind of fishing. You have a great feeling about it.

And I’m just basically slow swimming, just slow scruffing that thing along the bottom. When they bite it, it’s just a… you just kind of get heavy. Sometimes if it gets caught in the grass a little bit, I’ll just kind of snap it out, and that triggers a lot of these fish into biting.

It’s a slow presentation but still pretty efficient because I’m keeping that bait moving. Once I get it down to the bottom, I just kind of keep it moving along, just scooting along. It stirs up the bottom, and they see it close over there. It looks real natural, and they’ll come over and bite it.

Conclusion: Early Season Bass Fishing/Ice Fishing

We’ve got a good handful of bites today. It’s the very first day that the ice is gone on this lake. Most of the lakes around here still have people ice fishing, but the ice is going out quickly. With these warming conditions, spring is just around the corner.

Early February is like this, it’s not normal to do this in Michigan. But it just goes to show you that the water temperature is not what they’re worried about. They’re thinking about spring; they’re moving up on these edges.

Head over to Bass Pro Shops to get the top-quality fishing tools I rely on. For all your bass fishing and outdoor sports needs:



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