Ice Fishing at Night – 18 Essential Tips & Tactics to Help You Catch More Fish


So you’ve decided to brave the cold and dark to bag yourself a monster?

You’ll already know that ice fishing at night is a different sport altogether, and you’re looking for some extra knowledge to get the edge?

Fortunately, I’m here to help.

In this article, we will cover some essential tips to keep you catching until the sun comes up!

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1. Be Safe, Not Sorry

Let’s be honest.

Ice fishing does hold a little bit of danger. Combine this with the darkness, and you’ve got a potential recipe for disaster.

Here’s my number one rule…

Never go night ice fishing alone. If you can’t find a buddy, then be sure to fish nearby to other anglers. If you insist on going alone, tell someone where you are going and what time you will be back.

Anything else?

Yes, be safe and be seen. If you’ve read my article about the best ice fishing bibs, you’ll already know that I advocate reflective strips. Not just in case, you fall in either, it only takes one high-speed experience with a fast-moving ATV before you realize that some people aren’t as careful as you.

Believe me when I say…

One of the most crucial pieces of safety equipment I carry is a really great headlamp.

First, it lets me see in the dark, so I can avoid cloudy ice, cracks, and any other obstructions. Secondly, it keeps me nice and visible. Finally, although unlikely, if you go through the ice, it is really useful for signaling and letting people know you’re there.

2. Plan Your Trip and Be Prepared

When it comes to night fishing, you want to be really organized and prepared.

Here’s my routine.

During the day, I write an essential ice fishing equipment list. I check off everything I think I might need and then organize it into my tackle bag. That way, I know that I haven’t forgotten anything when I am out in the dark.

And do you know what’s even better?

I know where to find all of my gear, even when it is pitch black.

man waering ice suit and ice fishing on a lake in winter

3. Keep Your Phone Dry and Handy

Hey, listen.

I don’t want to frighten you, but ice fishing at night is a little more dangerous than during the day. One sure-fire way to make sure you are covered is to have a fully charged phone on your person at all times.

When a battery gets cold, it doesn’t last as long, so I’d advise making sure your phone is fully charged before you leave the house.

Here’s another top tip from me.

Keep your phone in an inside pocket, wrapped in a jiffy bag. It will stay warmer, drier and you’ll be able to access it quickly if you need to.

4. Keep Warm

Ok, You already know that ice fishing can get pretty cold?

Right?

When the sun goes down, ice fishing can bring a whole new meaning to the word cold. For that reason, I like to get wrapped up in the best ice fishing suit I can. But sometimes even that isn’t enough. Especially when it is really windy.

So what’s the answer? Well…

When I’m ice fishing at night, I always make sure that I take a really good ice fishing heater with me. Honestly, on the coldest nights, this thing is worth its weight in gold.

5. Don’t Forget Your Extremities

This one is important.

Ever tried to tie a hook on or untangle a bird’s nest of line with numb fingers? I have, it wasn’t a successful trip.

The key to keeping your extremities warm is two-fold. First, by keeping your core warm, you’ll find that your hands and feet stay pretty toasty. But on those nights when you are ice fishing, and the wind is really biting, a great pair of ice fishing gloves can save the day.

I like to use fishing gloves that are half mitten style, that way, I can free my fingers when I need to be dextrous but can keep them warm when I’m not using them.

6. Use a Shelter

I remember one time when I didn’t plan my trip properly and forgot my shelter.

Here’s what I did.

I fished for 10 minutes and then decided I was too cold and went home.

By choosing the best ice fishing shelter and getting it set up correctly, you can make sure that you have an enjoyable, warm, and wind-free trip. When combined with a heater, an ice fishing shelter can be a pure joy. In fact, if you choose a good ice fishing shelter, it can be downright cozy!

If you want to see someone camping out on the ice, take a look at this video, seriously cozy and fun!

7. Do Your Reconnaissance!

Do you know what the best anglers do to ensure success?

Their homework.

When ice fishing, you’ll find that the fish will tend to congregate in areas where they are safe from predators and have a ready source of food being washed towards them. This doesn’t change when the lake ices up, and it doesn’t change when the sun goes down either.

By getting to know a lake in the daylight, you’ll be able to form an action plan when it comes time to fish at night.

If you haven’t seen the lake or assessed its features during warmer times, you can still check out what lies beneath.

Do you know how I do it?

Simple. A portable fish finder for ice fishing. I never let a quiet spell go to waste, and if the fish aren’t biting, you’ll see me wandering the lake trying to get a really good picture of what’s on the bottom.

8. Go While it’s Still Light

It is so much easier to get set up in daylight and then wait for the dark.

You’ll be able to get a better idea of what’s under your feet and get a better idea about orientation, and overall, it’s just a much more pleasant experience.

9. Keep Yourself Fed

I don’t know whether it’s the fact that I miss dinner, or my body is waiting for breakfast, but I get super hungry at night. For that reason, I like to make sure I’ve got plenty to snack on during the evening.

Want to know what my favorite fishing snack is?

I go for high sugar energy bars. They are easy to store in a bag or pocket, and the sugar gives me a real boost, especially if I start to nod off.

10. How to Avoid Feeling Tired When Fishing at Night

Planning your rest when going night fishing is vitally important for a few reasons. My advice would be to try and take a long nap in the day.

By being more alert, you are less likely to miss bites through inattention. Further to this, when you are tired, your body temperature can drop significantly. It’s cold enough without making it worse.

And here’s an important thing to consider.

You will be much more alert and, therefore, safer if you are well rested before fishing. Mistakes are much more likely if you are stumbling over the ice like a zombie, do yourself a favor and have 40 winks before you head out in the evening.

11. Use the Right Lures for Night Fishing

Fish rely on all senses when hunting prey at night. Why not make their job, and therefore your job much easier? Ice fishing at night for crappie is so much easier if you use glow in the dark lures. They have amazing night vision and will zero in on even the faintest glow.

Aggressive predatory fish like trout also like glow in the dark lures. You can see an example of some of the best trout lures here. They work really well when ice fishing at night for trout.

ice fishing shelter at night stands on a lake

12. Consider Your Bait

What do I mean?

If your glowing lure isn’t working when ice fishing, perhaps you need to sweeten the deal. One thing I like to do is to make sure the fish can find my hook.

Guess what works?

I sometimes bait my lures. Adding a chunk of bait, you add a nice scent trail that fish can hone in on. You are giving yourself double the chance of catching.

13. Shake and Rattle

You know how I just said I like to make sure the fish could find my lure?

Well, get this.

I like to make trebly sure. I literally try and attract fish using all of their senses. Fish are really good at picking up the vibration in the water.

At night, they rely on it even more. I find that using a lure with a rattling bead or those that flutter often can invoke a take. I’ve even tried pitting two of the same lures head to head, one with and one without a rattle. A rattling lure will out fish a ‘vanilla’ lure any night.

There are some super funky lures out there. Want to see how ‘funky’? Check out my article on the best ice fishing lures when walleye ice fishing at night.

14. If in Doubt, Use the Real Thing!

I have a secret weapon I like to use when it gets quiet when ice fishing at night.

Ok, I’ll share it…

You can’t beat live bait. I find that when all else fails, a live minnow will work wonders if your catch rate has slowed down. It can be a little bit of a hassle to keep them alive through the night, but if you are ice fishing for Walleye, this bait is an absolute winner. For other great walleye baits, check out my article here. You’ll be glad you did!

winter ice fishing in the tent at night

15. Don’t Miss Bites

When fishing at night, you may miss some of the more subtle cues that you have a bite. During the day, the smallest movement of the flags on your tip-ups is easy to spot. At night this is definitely not the case.

So how do we get around it?

Well, I like to use a combination of things—namely light and sound. Tip-up bells are great for when I can’t see the rods… particularly when it’s getting towards the end of the session, and I might be nodding off.

However, to make sure I don’t miss a bit, I like to attach LED lights to my fishing tip-ups too.

16. Spread Out

You can always rely on a fish swimming by during the day, but when the sun goes down, the fish tend to move less. By fishing over a wider area, you can increase the chance of your hook bait being presented closer to a fish.

I like to drill my holes a little further apart to cover a wider area of water and give myself a better chance of catching.

And there’s something else I like…

By spreading out my fishing holes, I tend to ‘patrol’ them for a few minutes if I start feeling a little tired.

17. Fish Higher in the Water

During the night, creatures that normally reside on the bottom tend to make their way up towards the surface. As a result, bigger creatures tend to follow them. This more than likely includes the species that you are targeting.

What does this mean?

Don’t be afraid to fish slightly higher in the water than you usually do. If you check out our article about the best ice fishing lures for crappie, you’ll see many specifically designed to be fished higher up in the water. They take full advantage of the crappie’s natural behavior.

18. Practice and Practice Some More

Ice fishing can be challenging at the best of times.

But that’s why it is fun, right?

Ice fishing at night can be even harder, but the true joy lies in the challenge, like all things with our wonderful sport. If you don’t catch the first time, think about improving and applying what you have learned. That first fish will be even sweeter!

In Summary

I love ice fishing at night. Especially that half-hour just as the sun sets. It really is an experience, and you feel you have the world to yourself.

The techniques are similar to day ice fishing, but they require a few tweaks.

Above all, keep yourself safe while out on the ice at night.

Do you find night or day brings bigger fish? Let me know in the comments below.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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