We all want to gain that advantage over the fish we catch, and what better way than to time our visit so that they are most active?
The best time for ice fishing is either early in the morning or towards sunset in the evening. This is when fish generally feed and are least cautious.
Why? Well, I’ll tell you, and also offer some good tips along the way. Let’s jump right in…
Table of Contents
- Does Time of Day Affect Ice Fishing?
- The Best Time for Ice Fishing – Dawn or Dusk?
- Is Ice Fishing at Night Any Good?
- Weather or Time of Day – Which is Most Important for Ice Fishing?
- The Best Times to Ice Fish for Different Species
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Does Time of Day Affect Ice Fishing?
Time of day certainly affects ice fishing.
Fish have an internal clock that is normally dictated by a few things, such as:
- How much food is around.
- How easy it is for them to spot their prey.
- The number of predators (both above and below).
- The water temperature.
- The currents in the water.
In most cases, the time of day also dictates all of the above. Each day, there is a certain time when all of the above criteria interact to reach a perfect level, creating conditions that will encourage fish to feed.
As to what those times are, this can depend on the species and the venue, but you can follow some general guidelines to ensure success.
The Best Time for Ice Fishing – Dawn or Dusk?
I’m going to come right out and say it.
Most wild animals (fish included) tend to be the most active during the start and end of the day. For that, you can read around sunrise and two hours up to sunset.
Which is best?
Well, have a read and see for yourself.
This is a time that you are going to want to set your alarm for.
If you are arriving once the sun has risen, sorry guys, you’ve already missed the best time.
The fish have often spent the night in a state of slumber. The sun peeking over the horizon presents them with a unique opportunity to feed. Fish are experts at seeing in low light conditions. The things that fish eat… Not so much.
Predatory fish will take advantage of this fact and use the ‘golden hour’ around first light to get a protein-rich diet while everything is still just getting going.
This is a fantastic time to fish, but it requires a little planning.
Be sure to get up early and arrive in darkness. From there, you can scout out areas, get your holes drilled and ready to fish as soon as the sun peeks over the horizon.
If you are going onto the ice in poor lighting conditions, you’ll need to keep safe. Here’s a great guide with some useful tips.
Advantages to Early Morning Fishing
- If you are catching, you have the full day ahead of you.
- You can often be the first to stake a claim on prime fishing spots.
- The day is only going to get warmer!
- Most species can be caught early in the morning.
- The ice will be at its coldest and strongest.
The Downsides of Early Morning Fishing
- You will need to navigate the ice in the dark.
- It is generally the coldest just before sunrise (better get a good ice fishing suit).
- Sound travels at night, so it is easy to spook fish.
- It can be tricky to get set up in the dark.
Sunset can also be a wonderful time to fish.
You get all of the behaviors mentioned above, plus a little extra.
“A little extra”, what gives?
Fish are cold-blooded creatures. This means their internal body heat is dictated by the external water temperature. A full day of sun will have warmed the water, and therefore the fish. As a result, they will be much more active.
The good thing about ice fishing in the evening is that you can arrive in daylight and easily get set up at your leisure before waiting for that magical time when the light starts to fade.
It is one of my favorite times to go ice fishing.
Advantages to Fishing at Dusk
- You arrive in daylight, making reconnaissance and setting up really easy.
- You’ll be able to ask other anglers what has been catching through the day.
- The fish are generally most active when the water is warmest, which happens at dusk.
- You can also enjoy the benefits of night fishing.
- Fish are less wary when the sun goes down.
Fishing at Dusk, the Downsides
- You will have to navigate off the ice in the dark.
- Not all species bite in the evening or at night.
- The best spots may have already been taken.
Somewhere in Between?
Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still catch fish during the day. But there are a few things that may inhibit your catch rate.
Remember how we talked about fish becoming more active? This is also true of big predatory fish. As a result, smaller species, such as panfish, may retreat to cover during the day to avoid becoming lunch themselves.
Also, you, your line, and anything else on the surface creates quite a harsh silhouette in the water, making it much easier to spook the fish.
Is Ice Fishing at Night Any Good?
Ice fishing at night can be an absolute joy. You kind of get the best of all worlds.
If you arrive in the evening, you’ll get to enjoy all of the benefits mentioned above regarding last light. You’ll also get to reap some of the benefits that are exclusive to night fishing.
Night fishing is good because:
- Fish are less wary at night.
- There is less natural food around, so they are drawn to your bait.
- Glow in the dark baits are easy to see.
- Often, You’ll have the lake to yourself.
- You don’t need to worry about fish seeing your line.
- Fish will gravitate towards light sources, such as your fishing shelter.
Weather or Time of Day – Which is Most Important for Ice Fishing?
The real answer?
It’s normally a combination of both. If the weather has been bad and not favorable for fishing, you will struggle, regardless of what time of day you go.
If the weather is perfect, but you aren’t there at the correct time, then, again, your catch rate is going to suffer.
Choose a time to ice fish based on the weather.
I tend to find that overcast days produce more fish than bright cloudless days as a general rule if you want to fish during the day.
On those bright cloudless days, the best times of day for ice fishing are definitely around sunrise and sunset.
The Best Times to Ice Fish for Different Species
Remember above when I mentioned all of the variables surrounding why fish feed at different times of the day?
One thing that does have a bearing on this is the species you are looking for.
They all behave a little differently.
I’ve produced a quick reference guide below, and I’ll also include some information about each species and why these times are the best for ice fishing for specific species:
|Species||Optimum Time of Day for Ice Fishing|
|Pike||Sunrise onwards and through to afternoon|
|Perch||Sunrise onwards and then throughout the day|
|Trout||First light and dusk|
|Crappie||Dusk through the night|
|Walleye||Approaching sunset and into the night|
|Blue Gill||Any time after midday until evening|
Why the above times? Here’s why:
Pike are predators. If you’ve read my article on the best ice fishing lures for pike, you’ll already know that top of the menu is other fish.
Pike are primarily sight-driven hunters, so they will need the light to see the species. They will often lurk in weed beds awaiting smaller fish who’ve been out early and are retreating to safety.
By fishing from sunrise onwards, you can coincide your visit with the times when pike are at their most active.
As with pike, perch are notorious predators.
At night they tend to hunker down and save their energy for when things really get going in the morning, and they can easily see their prey.
You can actually catch perch any time, but I find that I catch the most if I get down to the lake at sunrise. Go in with something that looks like a perch would eat, and you are practically guaranteed to catch!
Trout are a little bit special.
Sure, you might catch the odd one during the day, but this is almost exclusively limited to low light conditions, such as on overcast days.
They love to hunt in low light conditions, so instead of waiting for it to be cloudy, you can tick this box by arriving just before dawn or dusk.
Trout tend to feed in shallow water before retiring to the relative safety of deeper water when the sun comes up.
The best lures to use when ice fishing for trout? I’ve got you.
In all honesty, you can catch crappie at any time of the day. But for a real full bag, low light from evening into the night is best.
When the light gets low, fish will shoal together for safety. As a result, if you can manage to locate a shoal, you will have a busy evening.
You might be able to tempt them, but for that, you’ll need some great crappie lures. Luckily for you, there’s everything you’ll need to know about crappie lures, all in one place.
Walleye behave similarly to both pike and perch.
They have one key advantage over either of the above species.
Walleye have excellent night vision. As a result, you can expect bites regardless of how dark it is. Moonlit nights are my absolute favorite for walleye night bites. You can see the kind of things I use to catch walleye when ice fishing right here.
Panfish can be caught at any time of the day but are most prolific feeders during the afternoon onwards when the water has warmed sufficiently to get tiny baitfish and other creatures up and about.
As the sunset and the water cools, they tend to shelter in place to avoid being eaten by bigger fish that can see much better in the dark!
When it comes to deciding the best time for ice fishing, morning and evening will nearly always out fish any other time of day. Get set up early, be safe, and try to understand a little of your target species’ feeding patterns, and you should be in a great place to catch.
While you are here, why not check on some of the best safety gear for ice fishing, I’ve got a great guide over here. When do you find is the best time to ice fish? Let me know in the comments!