"In December in Michigan our lakes are still open and the fishing is still really good, but you really have to downsize," says Strike King pro Kevin VanDam. "The water temperature in the low 30s, so it's hovering around freezing on the surface, and just before the ice gets on the water is the clearest it ever gets. So you really have to use a finesse presentation."
That doesn't mean a dropshot. Think smaller. Think practically ice fishing.
"The Strike King Bitsy Tube is one of my favorites – green pumpkin is hard to beat," VanDam notes.
Another rig he likes is putting 1.5 to 2 inches of the back of a Strike King Ocho (also green pumpkin) on a 1/8- or 3/16-oz regular ball-head jighead. "It has a real 'darty' action to it," he says. "It's real subtle."
One more bait he's had success with in cold water is the Strike King Perfect Plastics KVD Swim-N-Shiner, the 4-inch size cut down and put on a jighead.
"That has a real subtle tail action, but you want baits basically with no action," he says. "No Rage Tails or curl tails this time of year."
As far as where and how to fish it, he notes that "the natural lakes here in Michigan all have a lot of vegetation. The bass this time of year aren't deep, but they're not ultra-shallow either. They're usually on the outside weed edges – in some lakes that might be 8-10 feet, in some it might be 15-17 feet. But in almost all the lakes it's less than 20 feet.
"Typically the fish are turns – corners – like the side of a point on the edge of a flat, and inside turns and inside corners like leading into a bay. The outside of a large flat or large bay is where bass really group up. You can get big schools in one little spot – when the water's this cold, it's amazing how you can catch them out of the same spot."
He notes that unlike the summer, where you catch a couple fish out of a school and it scatters the school, in winter you can catch 20 or 30 out of a school.
As far as presentation goes, VanDam says, "Because of the clear water, the fish are relating to the bottom. So you want to drop the bait to the bottom, and fish it with short hops.
"You don't want it to have a real erratic action. You're not hopping it hard. Just 3- to 6-inch hops on the bottom, slow and easy. The fish are lethargic."