When Does Ice Fishing Start?
Fun and enjoyable, ice fishing is the perfect reason to bundle up and head out into the winter cold. Of course, it wouldn’t be good to spend long hours on the icy surface and have nothing to show for your efforts. You need to time your expedition just right, but when is the right time?
Ice fishing starts in the early morning or late evening. These are the best times for a great catch, as the low light periods of the day trigger the diel vertical movement of small invertebrates from the bottom. It creates plenty of food just below the ice layer, and the fish come up in droves to feed.
The rest of the article will examine why you get a better catch early in the morning and evening, which common fish species you can catch, and the country’s best fishing spots.
Why Is It Best to Start Ice Fishing in the Early Morning and Late Evening?
The world under the ice layer comes alive at dusk. As the sun sets, zooplanktons and other small invertebrates make their way to the surface from the deep in a process known as diel vertical migration.
These microscopic animals come out of the depth to feed on phytoplankton abundant just below the ice cap. The dusk timing has all to do with survival. Zooplanktons are keen to feast on the tasty planktons without becoming a tasty morsel for predators while at the surface.
The fading light provides the fish with a window of opportunity to feast on the abundant food. The small window triggers a feeding frenzy that brings species such as Walleye and Crappie to the surface.
The sunset bite usually lasts several hours, and the feeding frenzy makes for a rewarding ice fishing window for the smart anglers. Wait by the prime feeding grounds and understand the timing, and you’ll catch some trophy Walleye and Crappie.
However, night ice fishing limits your catch because some species such as Perch, Trout, and Bluegill are relatively inactive at night. These species have poor eyesight in the dark, so they tend to be inactive at night.
The Golden Hour in Ice Fishing
If you’re keen to get the best and biggest catch during your ice fishing trip, you need to be up and on the ice before dawn. The golden hour or the first hour of sunrise is the most rewarding time to fish. It coincides with the morning bite.
Since most fish species use sight to locate their prey, they are up and about at dawn in another feeding frenzy.
However, making the most of the morning feeding frenzy needs some tact and careful planning. Get on the ice at least half an hour before sunlight and drill strategic holes in a productive area. Set your lure and bait before the sun rises and wait for the underwater rush hour to commence, and the fish will come to you.
You don’t want to start drilling holes and setting up your equipment when the sun is up as you’ll scare away the fish. Here’s a helpful video about drilling holes in thick ice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PRNLRKQNX8
Still, you can tap into both the evening and morning bite for a more impressive bounty. That means drilling holes during the day in preparation for the evening bite. Punching holes during the day is more advantageous because it allows you to locate the possible ice fishing hot spots.
Once you find a productive site, catch as much as you wish before turning in for the night. The evening bite starts at sunset and can last for a few hours. In the right spot, the fish species such as Crappie and Walleye remain active and can bite well into the night.
If you prefer angling at night, be sure to bring proper ice fishing gear and a head lamp, and don’t forget to pack a sandwich because if the bite is hot, you might be out on the ice for a while.
Then get back to the same spot before the morning light and set up again in readiness for the upcoming rush.
Best Times to Catch Different Species When Ice Fishing
If you have a refined palate and prefer some fish species over others, you need to know their habits and preferences.
- Walleye: These toothy predators derive their name from their highly evolved night vision. Due to this unique advantage, Walleye actively feed during the twilight hours. Set up half an hour before the sunrise to tap into the morning bit. The species is still active during the day, but the night bite is usually more rewarding, especially if you set up 30 minutes after dusk.
- Trout: Set up just before dawn and dusk to get the best catch when ice fishing for Trout. Brook, tiger, brown, and rainbow trout are the most common species, and they feed in shallow areas but reside in the warmer patches of deep water. Set up along their path and intercept them as they go out to forage.
- Perch: A close relative of the Walleye, but without the excellent night vision, Perch is the easiest species to capture. Although their numbers spike just before and after sunset, they often bite all day in good weather.
- Bluegill: Since Bluegill is prolific day feeders, you can ice fish all day once you locate them with great success. However, early morning, late afternoon, and early evenings are the best times to catch Bluegill.
- Crappie: Since Crappie is night feeders, the evening bite yields the best catches. For a super productive session when ice fishing for Crappie, identify a good spot, then set up just before dusk in readiness for the night bite. The action can last until midnight, and you can continue again at first light.
- Northern Pike: Since Pikes are big, voracious predators that feed all day, they make for an excellent day on the ice. Anglers find ice fishing for Northern Pike to be highly productive between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Best Ice Fishing Spots in the US
- Devil’s Lake, North Dakota – You won’t find a better place to catch Perch during your winter expedition. Be sure to layer upon on warm and protective clothing because North Dakota gets extremely cold.
- Lake of the Woods, MN – The lake turns into a vast shantytown every winter thanks to its diverse offerings. Perch, Walleye, Lake Trout, Bass, and Crappie are abundant here. Ice fishing on the Lake of the Woods morphs into fishing and social adventure.
- Fort Peck Lake, MT – You’re guaranteed a diverse collection of fish on the 5th largest artificial lake in the US. This lake is quite rewarding because you can snag Northern Pike, Lake Trout, Walleye, and Sauger from a single hole.
- Lake Winnebago, WI – A trip to the largest inland lake in Wisconsin turns into a Walleye fishing expedition. Lake Winnebago is also great for Sturgeon, Perch, and White Bass fishing.
- Eleven Mile Reservoir, CO – Undoubtedly, one of the best Lake Trout fishing destinations in the US. On average, Eleven Mile Reservoir yields 17-inch (43-cm) long Trout and occasionally 20-inch (51-cm) keepers.
- Lake Champlain, VT – Ice fishing on Lake Champlain is just as popular as summer fishing. Northern Pike, Perch, and Bluegill are common, but you might catch an occasional Walleye. Ice fishing seasons start from January 15 through March 15.
There are two premium ice fishing periods in a day—early morning and late evening.
The morning session is short but rewarding as you can come away with a trophy catch that comprises different fish varieties. The evening sessions are also rewarding, but the fish variety isn’t as impressive as some species don’t forage in the night.
In both instances, you should place your lures and baits in the holes a good half hour before the underwater feeding frenzy begins.
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