Seasoned anglers often jest that there is no wrong time to catch a fish. In reality, ice fishing is one aspect of the sport that often requires a deep understanding of the world at large and the fish you’re looking to catch. With ice fishing, the time of day you choose to fish can have a major effect on how well you do and just how many fish you end up reeling in. With that said, it is paramount to learn the acute patterns of the fish and how the time of day can impact these natural habits. Is one time of day really better than another when it comes to ice fishing?
In a word, yes. In fact, it is what makes the sport of ice fishing so unique. Unlike traditional fishing practices, ice fishing urges anglers to understand the cycle of day and the overall life of a fish. Knowing which time of day to go ice fishing and how this impacts fish behavior can give any angler a serious advantage. Want to know the best time of day to go ice fishing? Let’s expand on how and when you should go ice fishing to yield the greatest results.
The Best Time of Day To Go Ice Fishing
Generally speaking, ice fishing has a tendency to prove most productive in the wee hours of the morning right before sunrise, and just as the sun is starting to set. While you can technically fish any time of day, the best time of day to go ice fishing is a period known as the “calm before the storm” which is when fish tend to feed. This is the best time for ice fishing. Let’s expand a bit on whether sunset or sunrise will prove more productive.
Fish tend to be most active during sunrise or sunset. This is when either the “magical hour” or “golden hour” of ice fishing is said to occur. At sunrise, this elusive “golden hour” tends to occur about one hour after sunrise. Of course, you’ll want to be set up before that first light really starts to break through. This hour can yield some seriously huge catches. Unfortunately, too few anglers take advantage of this small window of time. Either they are not properly set up to take advantage of the natural inclination of the fish or they simply show up too late in the morning.
When should you set up to best take advantage of “golden hour” while ice fishing? Well, as a general rule of thumb, don’t show up at first light and expect to take advantage of the feeding frenzy. In order to take advantage of that post sunrise catch, you’ll need to show up one hour prior to the first light. This will be easier to do at certain times of the year than others. Ensure that you hit the ice at least 30 minutes prior to sunrise. You should have each hole drilled and a proper location scouted. All gear should be ready and in position. You need to be totally set up and ready to start snagging fish as they make their way to the area to feed.
Showing up after the light has already emerged will spook the fish, causing you to lose out on this valuable hour of ice fishing.
Just as there is a “golden hour” at sunrise, there is a “magical hour” at sunset. While the wee hours of the morning will generally produce a larger yield, the few hours just before and after sunset should still prove rather promising. In fact, dusk can be quite an enticing time to head out on the lake and drill some holes. Much like is the case in the morning hours, you’ll want to have your holes punched and your spot set up before dusk. Spend those precious few hours before twilight locating some good spots and getting yourself in position.
Fishing at sunset can garner large populations of trout and walleye, as well as crappie. For the most part, you should notice that bites start to increase right at sunset and for a few hours afterward. If you’re in the right spot, some fish may even bite well into the night. Make sure you bring a headlamp and proper gear, as you might find yourself wanting to stay out well past your bedtime.
Where to Set Up For Ice Fishing
With a wide lake out in front of you, knowing where to set up your ice fishing spot is often easier said than done. Whether you choose to head out at sunrise or sunset, where on the lake will produce the highest yield of fish. The first thing you should do is look for underwater structures or even structures sticking out above the ice. Most fish have a habit of feeding on smaller fish. They utilize structures to hunt for food and to strap smaller fish in the process. A small fish cannot evade prey for long when structures abound.
Opting for open water can prove effective, but depending on the species of fish (trout) you’ll often strike out. Ideally, one should opt to drill a hole and drop their line right around an underwater plateau if structures are not available. Fish enjoy using these regions for hunting, just as they do with the structures mentioned above.
Additionally, if you have the good fortune of finding yourself near a bay-like structure, simply place your line right at the entry into the larger body of water. At feeding times (sunrise and sunset), the fish will have no choice but to bottleneck in order to fight through this area. That ups your odds of having a fish come by your lure.
How Weather Affects Ice Fishing
Can the best time of day to go ice fishing be adjusted based on weather patterns? Obviously, any change in weather can bear an impact on fish behavior. In fact, many seem to intrinsically sense what kind of weather is developing, allowing them to prepare in advance. With that said, weather can certainly influence ice fishing and when you should cast your line.
For example, let’s pretend that a snowstorm has just strayed through and the elements are now calm. Fish recognize this calm and will go on a feeding frenzy to recover fat. In the same vein, fish can perceive the time right before a storm as this is when a change in pressure occurs. As the pressure lowers, the fish will be looking to increase their food supply. This calm before the storm is when you should act.
If you want to enjoy a great yield, fish in the days before a storm or just after. Get up early in the morning and stay until after sunset. Odds are you’ll be reeling in fish after fish. Learning how weather affects fish and wildlife will prove a valuable skill as you continue your ice fishing journey.
When to Go Ice Fishing For Certain Fish
Just as human beings have different habits, diverse species of fish tend to behave in disparate ways. The best time of day to go ice fishing will always depend on location and time of year, but knowing the best ice fishing times to catch a certain type of fish can also prove helpful.
When is the best time to go ice fishing for trout? Generally, with trout, you’ll want to follow the guidelines mentioned above. Trout tend to be most active right before sunrise and just as the sunsets.
Perch is another fish species that will prove most active at sunrise and sunset. However, this is one fish species that you can technically reel in all day long. Since their night vision isn’t exactly ideal they will not feed well into the night.
Unlike perch and trout, Walleye have amazing night vision. That means they love to feed mid-evening and well into the night. This can be an amazing time to catch a large yield of Walleye if they’re on your ice fishing bucket list.
Just like with hunting, some fish prove more challenging to catch than others. Ice fishing for crappie can be rewarding but it can also prove challenging if you’re not sure where to start. With crappie, you can technically garner a large yield all day.
All you need is the right bait. Much like the Walleye, Crappie does tend to go crazy right before sunset in terms of feeding. That means sunset and a bit after are the best times to reel in some Crappie.
The Bottom Line
If you want to be an effective ice fisher you’re going to want to take advantage of dawn and dusk. Sunrise and sunset prove the most effective times of day to reel in a big catch. Of course, timing is everything. Make sure you’re set up with your holes drilled long before the sun rises or sets. This will allow you to take advantage of when fish naturally like to feed. Ice fishing is such a rewarding experience once you know when, where, and how to best prepare yourself. As always, be mindful of the weather and get a leg up by studying fish behavior. Both will allow you to take greater advantage of the best times of day to go ice fishing.
Interested in Ice Fishing? Read: What is the Best Depth for Ice Fishing?