Most anglers understand that weather can have a huge affect on fish behavior during open water season. We know how windy days can turn on or off a bite and when to fish during summer storms.
The affect of weather on ice fishing is less intuitive. I’ve often wondered if a barrier of ice shields fish from the changes in weather or bright sunshine. You have probably thought about it too.
We all want to catch more fish and more often, right? At least I do. So, I started researching online, talked to other anglers and gained some experience of my own. Now, I can share what I have learned with you.
So, does weather affect ice fishing? Yes. Weather does affect ice fishing. Generally, ice fishing is best before bad weather and when barometric pressure quickly drops. On the other hand, fishing can be tough during clear, sunny skies when air pressure is high.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about the weather and how it will affect your next ice fishing trip.
The full scoop on barometric pressure
There are all kinds of complicated ways to explain barometric pressure. However, I know you would rather go fishing than study a meteorology textbook, so l’ll simplify the jargon and only tell you what really matters for fishing.
What is barometric pressure
Barometric pressure (or atmospheric pressure) is the weight air has at ground level as measured by a barometer.
We know air is a gas but instead, think of air as a liquid like water. The more air above you, the heavier it is and the more it pushes down on you. On the flip side, less air above means less pressure.
How does this apply to weather? High pressure systems are heavy, stable air masses that block approaching storms. Low pressure systems cause less stable weather as storms blow through.
To sum it up, clear skies and fair weather means high pressure and cloudy or stormy skies means low pressure.
How do fish respond to barometric changes
It doesn’t seem like fish would be affected by air pressure beneath the ice but biologists and anglers know better.
The air pushes down on the ice and the ice pushes on the water. Fish can feel pressure because they have organs called air bladders that help them maintain neutral buoyancy in the water.
They can slowly change the pressure in their air bladders to adjust their buoyancy for various reasons. The air bladder in fish is ultra sensitive to pressure changes in the water.
When the barometric pressure is high, the fish feel uncomfortable as the pressure increases in their air bladder. They become less active and move to deeper water.
When the barometric pressure is low, the fish feel less pressure on their air bladder and they become more active until weather conditions worsen.
Is fishing better when the barometer is rising or falling
In general, fishing is best as the barometer falls, which is when a low pressure system is approaching and the weather is worsening. To make it easier, here is a summary of common barometric conditions and the quality of fishing you can expect.
High pressure (30.20 inHg or higher) and clear skies
- Expect slow fishing as fish acclimate to increased pressure. It often takes a day or more after high pressure for fish to return to normal feeding.
- Fish move deeper so target deep water adjacent to structure like humps and rock reefs.
- Fish slow down and bite less. Use finesse techniques with bait like small tungsten jigs and wax worms. Small ice flies may also work during a tough bite.
Average pressure (29.80 to 30.20 inHg) and fair weather
- Expect average fishing conditions. Use the usual baits that work for your area.
Low pressure (below 29.80 inHg) and cloudy or rainy weather
- Expect decent fishing but less activity as the bite tapers off after the initial arrival of the low pressure system.
- Adjust your fishing tactics if the bite gets slow. Live bait is often best during this time.
Rising barometer (rising pressure) with improving weather
- Expect the bite to pick up initially as weather improves. It is a short window of time so catch them as they move to deeper water or tight to cover.
Steady barometer (little pressure change) with some clouds and fair weather
- Expect average fishing. Find fish in the usual areas and tailor bait to the fish’s liking.
- Keep a close eye on the barometer to see which way it moves.
Falling barometer (falling pressure) with the weather worsening or a storm approaching
- Expect excellent fishing. Don’t miss the opportunity to fish when the barometer is rapidly falling.
- Fish are aggressively feeding and bite anything you present to them.
- Increase your success by picking weed lines and structure that hold bait fish and small invertebrates.
- Once a storm arrives the fishing may slow down. Use common sense to determine if a storm is bad enough to warrant leaving. No fish is worth your life.
How to measure air pressure
Tracking the barometric pressure before heading out on the ice will tell you a lot about how good the fishing will be. Although, none of it matters if you can’t accurately measure the air pressure.
There are plenty of options ranging from digital to old style glass barometers. However, the mot accurate and simple way of tracking the barometric pressure is with a good weather app.
Weather Underground is one of the most popular weather forecast apps and countless fishing apps offer similar features. Keep in mind, weather apps don’t help if you are not connected to internet. The weather is constantly changing and the app won’t update with new data without a solid connection.
Clouds vs. Sunshine
Barometric pressure aside, it is important to understand how cloud cover and clear skies can impact ice fishing.
Light can still reach into the depths even though the water is covered in ice. Similar to open water season, fish respond differently to various amounts of light.
Along with the high pressure, bright sunny days generally push fish to deeper water and slow things down. You can still catch fish but you may need to change up your style. Drill new holes in likely spots and try subtle presentations with live minnows or bait.
Some fish need extra incentive to strike and active jigging does the trick. It depends on the species and the location so experiment to find the magic bullet.
Cloudy days are preferred by most ice anglers. Light levels are more subdued and fish feed more actively throughout the day. Match the clouds with a falling barometer and you’ll hopefully have yourself a good day of fishing.
Is snow bad for ice fishing
Snow is often a double edged sword when it pertains to ice fishing. It is bad if fresh snow falls on new ice because it increase the dangers of going out on the ice. Snow adds extra weight and also insulates the ice, preventing it from freezing to a safe thickness.
It can also be bad if lots of snow falls in early winter since a rapid decrease in light will cause an early die-off of aquatic vegetation. This, in turn, reduces the amount of oxygen available and pushes fish deeper in search of oxygen rich water.
Not all snow is bad for ice fishing though. A layer of snow on a blue sky day in mid-winter can act like cloud cover and diminish the intensity of the sun. Fish will feed longer and the bite may stay on all day.
Does time of day matter
Any time is a good time to fish but there are certain times that you should not miss. Many of the most popular game fish are way more active in the early morning and a couple hours before and after sunset.
Low light conditions are prime times for big predators like walleye and trout to feed in the shallows near deep basins or steep breaks. Get out on the ice before light and setup in these feeding zones to take advantage of it.
These are just a few good times to be on the ice. Read our other article to get the full scoop on the best time of day to ice fish.
An often underestimated time to fish is after sunset. It is hard to stay awake but the slight discomfort should not deter you from some amazing fishing opportunities. Want to experience an awesome night bite on reclusive giants under the ice, then check out our article discussing 21 tips to prepare for ice fishing at night.
Summing it up
You certainly don’t need to become a weather nut to be a successful ice fisherman. Although, paying a bit more attention to things like barometric pressure, snow and light all add to your skill sets that increase your odds of catching fish.
Just remember, even if you can’t get out on the ice during prime fishing weather, it doesn’t mean you should not go. Even a bad day on the ice is better than not fishing at all.