Best Time To Ice Fish In 2023 – Hour & Species

Ice fishing is a unique experience that not many people get to explore. If you’re interested in trying it out, you may be wondering, “when is the best time to ice fish?”

As a rule, sunrise is ideal, but you can hit the ice during sunset or at night, depending on the type of fish you’re trying to catch. Ice fishing is fun and fulfilling any time of day, but knowing the best time can help you plan your excursion more accurately.

So, with that in mind, let’s dive into the world of ice fishing to see which times are best for getting a bite.

Making  your ice hole well before dawn will ensure you don't spook the fish.
Make your hole in the ice well before dawn so you don’t spook the fish!

What Time Should I Break the Ice and Start Fishing?

You can break down the best times for ice fishing into three categories – sunrise, sunset, and night fishing. Here are some things to know about each time of day.

The Early Angler Catches the Fish

Many anglers know that the best time to catch most species is early in the morning. Since you want to drop your line while the fish are feeding, you need to know their habits to plan accordingly. Sunrise works perfectly because it’s the fish’s first feeding time, so they’re more eager to chomp down on your bait.

That said, ice fishing requires some extra preparation before you get a nibble. So, you need to drill your hole and set up your station at least an hour before sunrise. This way, you don’t spook the fish by making too much noise. Otherwise, you’ll be waiting a lot longer than usual to get your first catch.

Getting a Bite at Golden Hour

Sunset is another good time for ice fishing because many species are heading back to their feeding grounds for one last meal. Also, you don’t have to get up before the crack of dawn, which is a primary benefit for non-morning people. Again, you need to have your hole set up about an hour before sunset to avoid creating a dead zone around it.

At Night, They Come

Some ice fish species are most active at night because they have excellent night vision to see their food. So, if you don’t mind staying up a bit late, you can cast your lines well after the sun sets, even as late as midnight or later in some cases.

As you might imagine, night fishing comes with some challenges, namely that you can’t really see what you’re doing. Also, the ambient temperature will drop significantly once the sun disappears, so you have to plan accordingly. That said, if you’re set up correctly for night fishing, you can sometimes get a better haul than you would at other times.

The Best Time to Ice Fish: Species Edition

Before heading out with your bait and tackle, you should have a good idea of what kind of fish you’re trying to catch. Experienced anglers know that different species have unique traits they can exploit to catch them easier. For example, what time of day is your fish most active, and where does it tend to congregate? If you’re going through the trouble of drilling a hole through half a foot of ice, you should know that the catch is worth the effort.

Popular ice fish species include:

Hot to Trout

These fish need light to see their food, so sunrise and sunset are the best times to catch them. Trout also feed in shallow waters next to deeper waters, so you need to plan your hole accordingly.

Singing the Bluegill Blues

This species is most active during the mid to late afternoon. If you’re trying only to catch Bluegill, you can take your time and set up in the late morning or midday. However, if you’re looking for other species, you can also use your hole for Bluegill if you like since their active timeframe is different than most others.

The Perks of Being a Walleye Angler

Walleye fish have excellent night vision, so you can have lots of luck by ice fishing at night. Some species can feed until about midnight, so you might be able to get a few hours in before heading to bed.

Perched on the Ice

Like trout, perch fish must have sunlight to see their food, so you should fish for them between sunrise and sunset. Perch is one of the easiest fish to catch, and it can stay active throughout the day.

Put the fish you catch in a cooler while you continue to fish.
Remember the cooler to put your ice fishing catch in!

This Fish Isn’t Actually Crappie

Sunset and later are the best times to catch crappie fish because they tend to eat at night. Like walleye, these fish have excellent night vision, but they’re a bit easier to spook, so you have to be careful not to make too much noise.

Put These Fish Heads on a Pike

From about sunrise to mid-morning is the best time to catch northern pike. This species like cold water, so they prefer feeding before everything gets too warm from sunlight. However, depending on your area and the thickness of the ice, you might be able to catch northern pike all day long.

Learning to Be a Bass Player

Largemouth bass tend to swim in small groups and stick to weed lines. Since these fish are larger, their metabolism slows down when the water’s cold. So, don’t expect to get the same quick, deliberate bites you do with other species. Smallmouth bass travel in small schools and they’re more active and nimble than their larger cousins. Some ice fishing enthusiasts try to avoid bass because they’re warm-water fish, but you can find them during your outing, so it helps to be prepared.

Burbot Ain’t No Slouch

If you’re more interested in night fishing, you can try your hand at grabbing a burbot fish. This species can grow up to 20 pounds, so you need to have a strong line and a large enough hole. Since burbot can put up a fight, bagging one is a badge of honor among ice fishing communities.

Use the right bait to catch the fish that are in your area so you actually catch them!
Know what fish are in the water that you’re fishing in so you know what bait to use

Other Factors to Consider When Ice Fishing

Does the Time of Year Matter When Ice Fishing? (Yes, It Does!)

Typically, ice fishing is popular in the northern US because those states get the coldest weather. Canada is another excellent option if you have a passport and can easily travel into the country.

One thing to point out is that climate change affects the duration and intensity of winter storms, so it can sometimes be hard to predict the best time of year. However, in many cases, February and March are often the best months for ice fishing in states like Minnesota.

Fish habits tend to dictate when you should go out on the ice. Late winter is perfect because the top of the lake, pond, or river is still frozen, but life is starting to bustle underneath the surface. So, you can catch fish more reliably as they feed on plankton and other microscopic particles. On the other hand, if you go during mid-winter, fish are not as active, so you could spend most of your time waiting and not wind up with a decent catch.

Can I Ice Fish at Any Time? (Not if There’s an Official Fishing Season!)

States and counties set fishing seasons for various species, such as walleye or perch. So, even if you’re itching to go out and start fishing, you’re not allowed. While technically, it’s hard to imagine anyone enforcing the law, it’s still important to stick to the season dates. If everyone started disobeying the rules, it would be much harder to get a decent catch when it’s time.

Because there are so many regulations regarding the legality of ice fishing, it’s impossible to list them all here. You will need to check with your local fish and wildlife authority to purchase a fishing license and read through the rules. Overall, for states where ice fishing is possible, seasons can run from November to February or March.

Ice fishing is a great challenge or experience for those who haven't tried it before
If you are already a fishing person, you might find ice fishing a new challenge that would be fun to try in Winter!

Tips and Tricks for Ice Fishing at Various Times

If you’re new to ice fishing, it doesn’t take long to learn that the process is much different from any other form of fishing. For example, it takes a lot more planning and preparation to get your first catch of the day. Since we’re talking about the best time to ice fish, here are some top tips on making the most of your expedition, no matter what time you’re dropping your bait.

  • Do Some Research – While it’s not super common for ice fishing lakes to get crowded, it does happen. Also, if there are only a few good spots on the lake or river, you don’t want to show up and find that they’re all taken. Overall, look up the top ice fishing locations in your area and when they tend to get crowded. This way, you can avoid a bust and have a more enjoyable experience.
  • Consider Your Timeframe – If you’re only fishing for part of the day, you have to account for setup and preparation time. However, if you’re planning a multi-day ice fishing trip, you can take your time picking a spot since you’ll have more than one opportunity to use it.
  • Relocate if Necessary – Because ice fishing requires so much effort to get a catch, it’s tempting to stick with your spot once it’s ready to go. However, if the fish aren’t biting, it’s often better to relocate to a different part of the water. Yes, you’ll lose out on precious time, but you might wind up with a catch worthy of recording.

Now that you know the best time to ice fish, you should be able to catch your preferred species pretty easily. Doing your homework is always valuable, especially when you have to put in extra time and effort. Happy fishing!

Author at Wilderness Redefined camping website

James has been escaping to the outdoors for as long as he can remember. This first started in family camping trips but soon turned into adventure camps and hiking through the Scottish Hebrides. Now he has turned towards trying to make camping more comfortable and accessible.