The long, cold winters in North Dakota make it a perfect place to go ice fishing. So it is no surprise that nearly 25 percent of the fishing effort during the year happens when the waters start to freeze.
North Dakota is well known for plentiful walleye, chunky perch and trophy sized pike and all can be caught through the ice.
There is plenty of water to choose from around the state and picking your next hot spot may be a daunting task. With about 400 managed lakes throughout the state, how do you choose? Well, we will do our best to make it easier for you.
Here is our list of the Top 10 Ice Fishing Hot Spots near Bismarck, North Dakota.
- Lake Audubon
- Devils Lake
- Stump Lake
- Lake Irvine
- Dickinson Reservoir
- Heart Butte Reservoir
- Lake Metigoshe
- Island Lake
- Antelope Lake
- Lake Sakakawea
Keep reading to see if one of these lakes will make it onto your “favorites” list this season.
1. Lake Audubon
An hour and a half drive due north of Bismarck brings you to Lake Audubon. You can find lodging options in the nearby town of Garrison. The neighboring Missouri River impoundment off Lake Sakakawea offers even more ice fishing opportunities for the adventurous.
A good population of 16-18 inch walleye are the main prize for anglers but bountiful smallmouth bass and perch are also present. Large northern pike are available as well.
About the Lake
Lake Audubon covers over 16,000 acres which leaves plenty of ice for everyone. The lake has an average depth of 19 feet and a maximum depth of 60 feet. Access during the winter is abundant, especially on the southern portion of the lake.
Dozens of islands pockmark the lake and provide ample areas to setup and target walleye and perch. Don’t be afraid to explore to find fish as they forage for food and move along flats and around areas of structure.
2. Devils Lake
Head northeast of Bismarck to one of the larger lakes on the list. The three hour drive from Bismarck brings you to Devils Lake and its name sake town on the north shore. Ample lodging is available in town.
Highly abundant walleye in the 15-20 inch range puts Devils Lake at the top of most people’s list. However, the lake has plenty of decent sized perch too. Plump perch pushing 12 inches are common.
Pike offer one of the most under-rated ice fishing opportunities on the lake. Up to 30 inch pike are frequently caught.
Incidental catches of 8-11 inch white bass are possible as well.
About the Lake
There is nothing small about Devils Lake. 110,763 acres of area makes for a vast expanse of ice just begging to be fished. Early in the season, Pelican Lake and the northern part of Six Mile Bay usually show first ice.
A big lake like this requires some effort to track down fish, even when good numbers of fish exist. Follow the formation of first ice around the lake to find new spots that have not been hit by other anglers. It’s a popular lake and a bit of effort to track down un-pressured fish is needed.
I recommend sticking to the shallow water areas. Often where you find fish in the summer, you will find them in the winter too. Anglers tend to locate more aggressive schools of perch and walleye in water 25 feet or less.
Some days can be tough for walleye and perch. Take it as an opportunity to hunt down pike in the shallows as they feed. They are awesome fighters and even better table fair.
3. Stump Lake
Just to the east of Devils Lake sits the often overlooked Stump Lake. It is a must-fish destination that is situated only 40 minutes from the town of Devils Lake. Head over to Stump Lake when its big sister doesn’t produce.
Solid numbers of walleye in the 15-20 inch range exist as the population matures. There is potential for larger fish around 5 pounds.
The number of catchable-sized perch is good. 8-10 inchers are the most prolific, but bigger ones are out there.
The pike population is down recently. However, plenty of medium-sized pike are around. White bass are in low concentration and are seldom caught in the winter.
About the Lake
Stump Lake boasts 17,680 acres of ice and less angling pressure than Devils Lake. If you seek solitude, look no further. The fishing is good most years and walleye are the highlight of this lake.
Access is limited in the winter. The Tolna boat ramp is a good place to start. Plenty of underwater contours and your choice of deep pockets lets you track down the fish from day to day.
The east thumb by Stump Lake Park hold the deepest water and steep shorelines. The max depth is 91 feet. Most anglers recommend the shallower sections to the east.
4. Lake Irvine
Lake Irvine sits just north of the Devils Lake complex. Head west from Devils Lake for 21 miles to arrive at another spectacular ice fishing location.
Lake Irvine has an increasing population of walleye. Many fish are available around the 18 inch range and larger fish are present in high numbers.
Northern pike are extremely abundant and the opportunity for limits of 22-26 inch fish should not be missed. The fish and game department encourages anglers to keep their pike limits to help improve the forage base for all fish.
Low numbers of perch should be expected but the perch do tend to be larger than average, as are the white bass.
About the Lake
There is certainly no shortage of fishing areas in the Devils Lake basin. Lake Irvine to the north of Devils Lake is not for the faint of heart. Access is limited but once on the ice, some really good fishing awaits.
The pike tend to be smaller yet they are found in high numbers. Somedays the walleye fishing can really ratchet up and fish pushing 24 inches are not unheard of. When the crowds at Devils Lake are too much, Irvine is a good alternative. It will take a bit of work to find fish but worth it once you find the hot spot..
5. Dickinson Reservoir
A straight shot west of Bismarck brings you to this gem of a lake. The hour and a half drive is well worth it. Dickinson’s high quality fishery won’t disappoint.
Plentiful walleye draw the majority of anglers willing to brave the cold. You can expect numerous fish in the 4-6 pound range with loads of smaller, 15-18 inch fish to fill the gaps.
If panfish is more your style, this reservoir has you covered. Fat perch, crappie and bluegill in the 1-1.5 pound range are present.
Good sized pike up to 14 pounds are available as well.
About the Reservoir
Dickinson (aka. Patterson Lake) may be one of the smaller lakes on the list but it is no slouch at producing limits of fish through the ice.
At full pool, the lake covers 956 areas with an average depth of 9 feet. Access in the winter is good. Lions Park on the north shore is a popular access spot. The water is seldom deeper than 15 feet around the park. Deeper water is found near the dam but is only 27 feet at its deepest.
The nearby town of Dickinson has lodging and ice fishing tackle available.
6. Heart Butte Reservoir
An hour long drive southwest of Bismarck brings you to Heart Butte Reservoir. The nearest towns are Glen Ullin, 15 miles to the north, and Elgin to the south.
A heavy concentration of smaller walleye keep the action lively. However, eyes up to 8 pounds are frequently caught by locals who know the lake well.
Anglers new to the lake can expect to catch pike up to 10 pounds and an assortment of panfish. A fair number of 1 pound perch along with some crappie and bluegill make for a diverse fishery.
Smallmouth are also fair game for intrepid anglers willing to find pockets of active bass.
About the Reservoir
Also known as Lake Tschida, this reservoir is the largest in the Heart River area. Most ice anglers concentrate their efforts on the east end of this 3,234 acre lake. The average depth is 20 feet but deeper water up to 57 feet is found near the dam.
Plenty of access is available. Try the Rimrock Access Areas to the south or the North Shore Resort for good spots to drill some test holes.
7. Lake Metigoshe
The most northern lake on this list requires a 3 hour drive to the Canadian border. The nearest town to Lake Metigoshe is Bottineau. Cabins and other lodging is available year round. There is an entry fee to access the park.
This is a lake well known for whopper bluegill and large schools of crappie. There is also a fair number of walleye in all sizes and decent sized perch. Plenty of big pike are available too.
About the Lake
The shallow water of Metigoshe is hard to beat for those chasing bluegill. 1,544 surface acres requires a bit of exploration but persistence is rewarded. Max depth is 24 feet and the average is 11.
Access is available in a few locations. Lake Metigoshe State Park offers the most convenient spot to start your ice fishing trip.
8. Island Lake
It may take 3 hours of driving to get here from Bismarck, but the pike fishing just might be worth it. There are very limited lodging options available. The town of Rolette has the closest amenities.
This lake is for pike fishing fanatics. Huge numbers of pike averaging 27 inches are ripe for the taking. Some smaller perch are also available.
About the Lake
This 1,984 acre lake is shallow but the pike fishing is off the charts. The max depth of 12 feet makes it susceptible to winter kill during hard winters but fish numbers remain strong.
Access is possible on the west shore.
9. Antelope Lake
Drive 2 hours north of Bismarck to arrive at Antelope Lake. Amenities and lodging is sparse in the area so consider this ice fishing destination a day trip.
Perch are the main target on this lake. A large, self-sustaining population of perch make the trip worthwhile. Fish up to 13 inches are abundant.
Really good numbers of large walleye are often caught by anglers targeting big perch. Fish up to 26 inches are not unheard of.
About the Lake
Antelope Lake covers 2,604 acres. Fish are found roaming along mid-depth flats. A good fish finder or flasher is going to pay dividends when it comes to locating schools of fish as they move.
Public access is available at the west end. Depths range from 15 to 27 feet across most of the lake.
10. Lake Sakakawea
It’s a quick, 1 hour drive from Bismarck to get to Lake Sakakawea. The many surrounding lakes makes this a good area to setup base camp and explore different spots.
An excellent population of walleye keeps anglers coming back each season. Although, they seldom exceed 20 inches.
Bountiful numbers of big northern pike call this lake home. Many pike are in the 15 pound range with trophy fish a real possibility.
Smallmouth bass, trout, salmon, catfish and panfish are also abundant in the lake. A day of ice fishing on Sakakawea can yield a mixed bag when the bite is hot.
About the Lake
No ice fishing list is complete without this massive 385,000 acre Missouri River impoundment. Lake Sakakawea is a melting pot of fishing opportunity for a diverse mix of fish.
Numerous public access sites make getting on fresh ice easy. Beulah Bay, Wolf Creek and Hazen Bay are the usual stomping grounds for local anglers and good bets for the newly initiated.
There are plenty of lodging opportunities around the area. Plan to spend a few days exploring and fishing this lake. Depths average 67 feet so focus your efforts near inlets and bays to find contours more conducive to fishing.
Ice Fishing Tips for North Dakota
Successful ice fishing in North Dakota is less about tackle choice and more about access to the lake you want to fish. When early snow accumulations and howling winds form big drifts of snow, it is difficult to gain access to fishing spots.
The department of fish and game does not have the means to plow and clear the roads to all 420 managed lakes and 1000+ public access sites.
You know it is going to be a good ice fishing season when temperatures plummet in late October and snow accumulations stay light through December. Clear weather indicates a good time to check the ice.
When you are finally able to get on the ice, here are a few tips to boost your odds of success.
- Consider fishing from an ice house or pop-up shelter. Frigid temperatures with gusty winds make it hard to stay exposed to the elements. Ice shelters block wind and can be warmed by portable heaters for a more comfortable day of fishing.
- Start shallow and find spots with less pressure. Too often anglers head straight for deep water, but more often than not, I find perch and walleye cruising shallows where new ice has formed.
- Try out darkhouse spear fishing for pike. It is now open state wide. Be sure to register with the fish and game department for a permit first. It might not involve a fishing pole but it is fun just the same.
- Go fishing during the Free Ice Fishing weekend. Each year the North Dakota Fish and Game provides residents with the opportunity to fish for free. All other limits and regulations remain the same. For this year’s free fishing weekend dates, visit the North Dakota Fish and Game website.
Be safe and have fun this season!