Anytime is a good time for fishing. Although, I’ve often wondered if there is an ideal time to catch the most fish while ice fishing. You always hear that fishing is better around sunrise and sunset but does that apply to ice fishing as well?
For those of us who don’t have an abundance of time to fish, I decided to do a little research to find out when the pros say the best time to go ice fishing is.
So, what is the best time of day to go ice fishing? Many experienced ice anglers agree that ice fishing is best during the first couple hours after sunrise and for about two hours before and after sunset.
Every lake is different and each type of fish has unique habits that could make the bite good all day. Let’s take a deeper look at ways you can maximize your time on the ice.
Which is better for ice fishing: Sunrise or Sunset
Not everyone has the time or stamina to ice fish from sun up to sun down. If you could only choose one, which should it be? I’ll let you be the judge of that.
They don’t call it the “golden hour” for nothing. The hour after sunrise can produce some of the best catches of the day. As well as some of the biggest. Even though ice fishing during this time is great, it is often a missed opportunity for many anglers.
More often than not, anglers hit the ice at first light, punch some holes and start fishing well after the sun makes its debut. While the fish might be biting, they’ve missed the secret window in which the majority of trophy fish are caught.
If you want to truly take advantage of the best your lake has to offer, set the alarm clock for an hour earlier. Luckily, the timing of sunrise is more forgiving in winter and you won’t need to wake up in the middle of the night.
Get on the ice at least 30 minutes before sunrise with spots picked out, holes drilled and all your gear ready. This is important because you need to be in position to intercept the fish as they make their way to feeding grounds. Otherwise, drilling and walking on the ice causes enough commotion to spook wary fish.
The morning bite is shorter than the evening bite, so strategic hole placement and advanced planning are crucial to maximizing the bite.
While the morning bite is my favorite time to ice fish, the evening hours before and after sunset are a close second. Surprisingly, most anglers skip the magic of twilight and head home before the sun sets.
Don’t make this same mistake. Pack a sandwich for dinner and grab a headlamp because there are fish to be caught.
The night bite carries on for awhile on most lakes for several popular species of fish including trout, walleye and crappie. Much like the morning bite, preparation is key. Get out on the ice a couple hours before dusk and punch your holes. Spend the time before the bite to locate likely sweet spots.
Usually things pickup just before the sun sets and for at least two hours after. For certain fish like walleye and crappie, the bite can be hot until well past midnight if you’re in the right spot.
As an added bonus, the same holes that produce fish at night also tend to produce during the morning bite.
Is ice fishing good at night
It is not always the case but ice fishing at night is often excellent. Every serious ice angler should try it at least once to see for themselves. Certain fish species feed aggressively after the sun sets until midnight or later.
If you like ice fishing for crappie or walleye, the night bite is when you’ll catch the real trophies. Although it takes a bit of pre-planning to make the most of it so be sure to check out our essential tips for ice fishing at night.
Keep in mind that many fish like trout, perch and bluegill are less active at night. These fish rely on sight for finding food and their eyes are not as good in the dark. They hunker down and wait for prime hours during sunrise and sunset.
Sometimes you just need to experiment on the lakes you fish to see what happens after the sun goes down.
What triggers a feeding frenzy
Why do fish feed most heavily at sunrise and sunset? It all comes down to the abundance of food. As the sun sets, the underwater world comes alive with microscopic zooplankton and invertebrates.
These small creatures rise from the bottom sediment when light levels decrease and suspend in the water. This make them easy pickings for feeding fish.
Once the sun rises again, the zooplankton and invertebrates return to the bottom. However, it is during the twilight hours that fish can see well enough to spot their prey as they migrate to and from the bottom.
The window of opportunity for this feast is short so fish feed hard until it’s over. Savvy anglers situate themselves over prime feeding grounds and fish the transition times to take advantage of it.
Best ice fishing times for different fish
The best times for ice fishing are always dependent on the specific location. However, the following recommendations are a great starting point.
Here is a brief table summarizing the best ice fishing times for different species of fish. Keep scrolling for more details on each species.
|Best Ice Fishing Times
|Sunrise and Sunset in shallow flats
|Mid-evening and night
|Sunrise and sunset but often good all day
|Evening and night
|Mid-afternoon until sunset
Ice fishing for trout is best just before the sun rises and as the sun sets. Most trout species, like rainbows, tiger trout, brown trout and brook trout, feed in shallow areas adjacent to deep patches of water.
Shallow flats near inlets and weed beds harbor all kinds of forage for trout on the hunt. Get setup before they make their way to the shallows. If you wait too long, drilling holes and making noise on the surface will scare them off.
Those big eyes are more than just a name sake. Walleye have highly adept night vision and they use it to their advantage when feeding during the twilight hours.
You can catch walleye throughout the day but a half hour before sunrise and after sunset are ideal times to find these toothy predators. The night bite is my favorite time for walleye. Setup late in the evening and don’t be surprised if you have the ice to yourself.
Perch may be closely related to walleye but they did not inherit the excellent night vision of their larger cousins. Although, that does not seem to be an issue for ice anglers looking to catch fish throughout the day.
Of all the popular game fish, perch are some of easiest to catch anytime. There is still a spike in action near sunrise and sunset but when the weather is right you can reliably get them to bite all day.
Finding schools of crappie under the ice is a challenge for sure. However, once you do the action gets fast and furious. With the right bait and presentation, catching slab crappie all day is possible.
Crappie fishing really shines at night but almost no one takes advantage of the night bite. Once you locate good spots that hold schools of crappie, come back just before sunset. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how productive the bite is for several hours after sunset.
I find the night bite for crappie does shutdown after midnight, as do I. But it picks up again just before first light if you can manage to get up early after a late night.
Bluegill are day time feeders like most panfish and once located, catching them throughout the day is feasible. The transition hours are the best though. My favorite time to ice fish for bluegill is mid-afternoon till dusk. They seem to shut down on most lakes by dark.
If sleeping in late is your thing then pike will be your new favorite fish under the ice. The morning bite is quite good but many anglers find mid-morning the best.
Anywhere from 10 am to 2 pm is productive on many lakes. However, you need to experiment on your local lakes to see if this rule applies. Pike are big, hungry predators that feed all day so catching them is just a matter of having bait in the right spots.
Is weather more important than time of day
There are many factors that affect how fish feed and behave which makes it hard to figure out what is most important. Just when you think you’ve nailed down the best time to go ice fishing, a high pressure weather system moves in and the prime bites shut down.
Does that mean weather is more important than time of day? Maybe, but you should really look at the whole picture. If the only day you have to fish is a bright, sunny day with a rising barometer (that’s not ideal by the way), the best time to fish is still early morning and late evening.
Those “golden hours” are still going to produce the most fish when weather is not ideal for fishing even if it produces less than when all conditions are perfect.
Are you interested in learning how weather and air pressure affects ice fishing? If not, you should be. You will catch more fish and have more fun. Head over to our other article at your leisure and learn all about how weather affects ice fishing.
Without a doubt, there are certain times of the day that are better for ice fishing. The hours surrounding sunrise and sunset are must-fish times. And the night bite’s not bad either.
However, plenty of fish are caught all day long so don’t stay home just because you miss the “best” times to fish. Go ice fishing when time allows. Any time you’re fishing is a good time and you never know when you’ll hook that next trophy fish.
Want to get the most out of your ice fishing season? Check out our Washington State Ice Fishing Secrets book. Our book highlights the 10 best lakes for ice fishing in Washington State with actual coordinates to some of our most productive holes. Plus, we thoroughly cover everything from gear selection, tactics and travel planning. To top it off, you also get information on 41 other lakes with superb ice fishing! Check it out before ice fishing season passes you by!