The first frosty mornings of late fall are here and I am once again scraping ice off my windshield. Certainly, that’s not a task anyone loves but it sure gets me pumped about the arrival of ice fishing season.
Cold January weather means frozen lakes and the start of ice fishing season, at least where I live. But how about in your neck of the woods?
Generally, ice fishing season for many states starts in December and ends by mid to late March. The exact start date varies from state to state and depends mostly on the weather each year. Some of the coldest, northern states like Michigan, North Dakota and Minnesota have lakes with 4-6 inches of safe ice by late November.
Before we move on to specifics, let’s go over what you need to know about ice fishing season in general.
Ice fishing license and regulations
Just like most other types of fishing, a state issued fishing license is a must for all ice anglers. Fishing licenses are not expensive though. To get the most current license price for every state, you’ll definitely want to check out our complete list.
Keep in mind that “ice fishing season” in this article refers to when safe ice forms as opposed to specific dates when fishing is legal. Every state has specific rules about when and where you can fish throughout the year.
It would take way too long to list out all the specific ice fishing season dates for the entire country. With tens-of-thousands of lakes, we’ll just leave it up to you to know your local rules for each lake and river.
How much ice is safe
Winter may be knocking on your door but a day or two of frost hardly means you should be ready to sprint out onto the lake. That’s a recipe for disaster.
Ice fishing accidents are rare but it’s only because most anglers exercise common sense and caution. We are all anxious to get out on the ice. Just don’t sacrifice safety to be the first.
As a general rule of thumb, ice is safe to walk on when it reaches 4 inches thick. However, that is the standard for clear ice. Cloudy ice is another story. At least 6 inches of cloudy ice is recommended before venturing out.
Bear in mind that just because one spot on the lake has safe ice, it does not mean everywhere is safe to walk. Currents, springs and weed growth all impact the formation and stability of ice. Tread carefully and use a spud bar as you go to check for thickness.
Get more information about safety and everything else you should know about ice fishing from our full ice fishing primer article.
How weather affects the start of ice fishing
One reason it is so hard to say for certain when ice fishing season begins is due to weather. Variability in weather makes first ice predictions nothing more than guess work.
Changing weather also causes treacherous ice conditions. Particularly, in the first and last weeks of the season. Unstable temperature swings cause rapid thawing and freezing that weaken the ice.
I wish we could say for certain that every year ice fishing season will start on December 1st but it simply is not possible. Our goal is to give the most accurate range of dates so that you don’t let a season pass you by. But it is up to you to keep an eye on the weather as winter sets in where you live.
Ice fishing season for All 50 States
Obviously, not all states even have opportunities for ice fishing but take a look at this 50 state list to see when you can expect to break out the ice fishing rod and sharpen your auger.
|State||Ice Fishing Season Starts||Ice Fishing Season Ends|
|New Hampshire||Late December||Mid-April|
|North Dakota||Late November||Late March|
|Washington||Late December||Early March|
|West Virginia||Late January||Late February|
Weather plays a huge part in determining the start of ice fishing season. Some years you can get on the ice a few weeks early. While other years only thin ice persists deep into winter.
The list we compiled for you is a great start but it’s not set in stone. It not only depends on the state you live in but where in the state you live too. And some states just aren’t cold enough for reliable ice fishing.
States in the southeast US including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas rarely (if ever) have winters cold enough for ice fishing to exist.
That doesn’t mean you can’t fish in the winter in those states. It just won’t be through the ice.
Instead, let’s take a closer look at states with colder climates to see when and where ice fishing opportunities exist.
Ice fishing season specifics by state
Alaska’s proximity to the arctic circle means ice fishing season begins early and continues late into spring. Central Alaska sees safe ice as early as October and persists until May. Expect ice fishing season in other areas of Alaska to start in November with ice out in March.
Ice fishing season in Arizona occurs reliably in the White Mountains, Flagstaff and Mogollon Rim regions of the state from late December through February. These high desert areas get solid ice by January most years. Ice fishing opportunities in Arizona only last a month or two, except during the coldest winters.
California ice fishing season kicks off by January in the high elevation mountains. The Sierras and San Bernardino mountains are popular among ice anglers from January to March but some years only the highest lakes freeze enough for ice fishing.
The high plateau of Colorado topped by the giant Rocky Mountains means ice fishing starts early in this state. High mountain lakes may freeze enough for fishing by late November. Ice fishing in most other areas of Colorado starts in December and stretches into March.
Throughout Connecticut, anglers hit the ice come January. Both rivers and lakes develop a solid layer of ice that draws anglers from all around. To top it off, hardwater sometimes lingers in Connecticut until March.
Winter ice fishing begins in Delaware by January. Small lakes and ponds around the small state offer a shot at abundant panfish and other game fish until mid to late February. Delaware ice fishing season is highly variable and often short. Watch the weather closely before heading out.
Idaho’s northwest proximity means lots of snow and single digit temperatures. While ice fishing is not the most popular winter activity in the state, you can expect to have 4-6 inches of ice by late December at popular fishing spots like Cascade Lake. Lakes and reservoirs in Idaho offer good ice fishing through February and early March most years.
The start of ice fishing season in Illinois largely depends on whether you live in the northern or southern part of the state. Mild winters often fail to freeze lakes around Springfield. Whereas, north of Interstate 80, ice fishing is doable every season from December to March.
Like neighboring Illinois, Indiana ice fishing is more reliable from year to year in the northern reaches of the state. Ice fishing on hardwater draws anglers from their warm hearths to local fishing spots starting in December. Many ardent ice anglers take full advantage of a season that last through mid March or later.
There’s plenty of ice fishing opportunity in Iowa and the season usually kicks off sometime in December. Bluegill, perch and walleye are popular target species among anglers. Long winters in Iowa keep lakes frozen over until early March.
With highly variable weather and plenty of wind, ice fishing season seldom starts before January and generally lasts until the end of February in Kansas. Plenty of anglers will tough out severe winter conditions when the bite is good.
The opportunities to ice fish in Kentucky are few and far between. In general, prime ice fishing conditions will occur between January and early March in Kentucky if the weather cooperates. When the conditions look good for safe ice, be sure to get out quick and take advantage of it.
Situated in the furthest northeast reach of the US, Maine gets plenty cold. Ice fishing in Maine is usually off to a fantastic start by December or January. On some of the most popular lakes such as Moosehead and Sebago, ice lingers well into March.
Starting in January and lasting through late February, be sure to hit up Maryland’s most popular ice fishing destination, Deep Creek Lake. The ice is reliable and walleye, perch and bluegill keep the winter chill at bay.
Most years, ice fishing season in Massachusetts is possible by mid December. Loads of lakes throughout the state like Onota Lake and Bare Hill Pond will keep you busy all winter. Keep an eye on the ice in late February when the season winds down.
Long frigid winters, combined with over 11,000 lakes, makes Michigan a top ice fishing destination. Ice fishing season in Michigan spans 4-5 months beginning in December and stretching all the way into April. Everyone has a chance to get out on the ice.
Minnesota is arguably the ice fishing capitol of the US. It also has one of the longest ice fishing seasons. By mid November, thick ice coats most popular lakes and won’t retreat until early spring in April. Lake of the Woods, Upper Red and Lake Winnibigoshish are a few all-season options.
Farm ponds and small lakes scattered across Missouri offer fine fishing through the ice. Expect ice fishing season to start by late December with a solid 4 inches of ice most places. Ice will linger clear into March on some bodies of water as well.
The big state of Montana is strewn with lakes and winter ice fishing is excellent. Ice fishing season in many parts of Montana stretch from mid December to early April. Some of the best ice fishing of the season is found in southwest Montana. Hebgen Lake and Canyon Ferry Reservoir are top producers.
Harsh, cold winters deliver ample ice fishing opportunities to anglers in Nebraska. Starting in December and reaching well into March, ice fishing season in Nebraska is a popular way to combat cabin fever. Check out the Valentine Refuge Lakes for phenomenal bluegill action.
Ice fishing season in Nevada isn’t long but generally starts mid December and persists through February. Some of the best options are Cave or Elko Lake. Be careful on the ice toward the end of the season. A few warm days can make ice treacherous.
New Hampshire residents enjoy a nice long ice fishing season that usually begins in mid-December when winter temperatures begin to plummet and lasts into April. Generally speaking, ice fishing season on most lakes in New Hampshire permit fishing from January 1st to March 31st.
After the first solid freeze, you can find your own peaceful spot for ice fishing in New Jersey come January through early March. By the middle of winter, popular lakes like Cranberry, Hopatcong, Greenwood, Furnace and Spruce Run Reservoir attract many anglers looking for a tasty winter meal from beneath the ice.
It may be a desert in summer but come winter, New Mexico hosts its fair share of top tier ice fishing. The season for ice fishing in New Mexico spans December through February. Fenton and Eagle Lake are among the most popular for trout, perch and kokanee.
Winters may be trending toward milder extremes but New Yorkers can still expect enough ice for angling this winter. New York’s ice fishing season spans from December to March when cold northeast temperatures permit solid ice formation. Favorites for ice anglers include Lake Champlain, Saratoga Lake and the St. Lawrence River. All ice over reliably each season.
Ice fishing in North Carolina is hit or miss. Cold fronts seldom last long and getting 4 inches of ice on small local ponds is a short lived occurrence. If it does freeze long enough in North Carolina, ice fishing may be possible anytime from January to February. Use caution and make sure the ice is safe.
Long winters in North Dakota provide an ice fishing season that spans from late November well into March. Anglers target top lakes like Lake Audubon, Devils Lake and Lake Sakakawea. All season you can chase pike, walleye, and yellow perch on numerous lakes once ice up starts in November.
Ohio is filled with a variety of ice fishing opportunities. From Lake Erie to local ponds, you’ll find plenty of ice to drill holes in by late December. A good cold snap may extend Ohio’s ice fishing season into early March. Check out shallow lakes like Indian Lake for early ice. Lake Erie is a good bet later in the season.
Ice fishing in Oklahoma is a rarity. Temperatures fluctuate drastically so getting 4 inches of ice on small local ponds is a short lived occurrence when it happens. If it does freeze long enough in Oklahoma, ice fishing may be possible anytime from January to February. Use caution and make sure the ice is safe.
Most ice fishing in Oregon occurs in the northeast and southeast portions of the state. During particularly cold winters, ice fishing on mid-elevation lakes in Oregon is possible by late December with safe ice still clinging to the surface until March. Diamond Lake, Malheur Reservoir and Lake of the Woods are popular all season.
Ice fishing season is not necessarily consistent one year to the next in Pennsylvania. However, you can expect there to be a fair number of lakes with good ice fishing starting sometime in December. Colder parts of Pennsylvania keep an icy grip on lakes until early March.
Rhode Island’s ice fishing season won’t last long but the one or two months when lakes freeze over offer some action packed fishing. Typically, ice fishing on the numerous shallow ponds and lakes of Rhode Island is possible from January to March. Ocean air tames the harsh winters of New England so take advantage of the season while you can.
When it comes to catching jumbo perch and walleye through the ice, South Dakota is the place to be. South Dakota has a generous ice fishing season spanning December through March, giving you plenty of time to get on the ice this season.
Utah has it all. Beautiful scenery, crisp winter air and sunshine. Utah also happens to have a relatively long ice fishing season stretching from January until the end of March some winters. Excellent opportunities for trout, perch and bluegill exist on many lakes including Hyrum and Mantua Reservoirs.
Vermont’s ice fishing season is more defined than most other states. Ice fishing for trout, salmon and bass begins the third Saturday in January until March 15th. There are 40 lakes open to ice fishing. Lake Champlain is a top destination for ice anglers every year.
Finding a frozen lake with enough ice for fishing might be a challenge in Virginia. Head to the western counties of Virginia where higher elevations might give you a few weeks of ice fishing from January to February. Some winters will be too mild for much opportunity. Use common sense and stay safe.
Washington’s mild west coast leaves much to be desired in the way of ice fishing. However, cross over the Cascade Mountains to the east and excellent ice fishing abounds. Ice fishing season on the east side of Washington State spans late December to early March most years. Numerous mountain lakes in north central Washington or the Spokane area provide plenty of options.
West Virginia residents don’t get a chance to ice fish every winter. During years where temperatures drop low enough for several days, higher elevation lakes offer ice fishing deep in winter; usually from late January until sometime towards the end of February. Trout are a popular target for most anglers.
Much like the surrounding states in the heart of ice fishing country, Wisconsin has a long lived ice fishing season. Most winters, first ice arrives by mid November and sticks around until April in Wisconsin. Die-hard ice anglers are found dotting local lakes and chasing after pike, walleye, crappie and perch.
Some of the best fishing in the country exists in Wyoming. That’s why it’s no surprise that ice fishing is excellent too. Most ice fisherman hit the ice by the end of December when freezing temperatures are consistent and ice stays around until late March in some areas. Glendo and Keyhole Reservoir are good producers for pike, walleye and crappie.
It’s tough to say when exactly ice fishing season starts regardless of the state you live in. Each winter brings new conditions that may delay ice formation. The best place to get up-to-date information is from your local fish and wildlife office.
Also, keep in mind that just because there is ice, it doesn’t mean it is safe. Use common sense and talk to locals at tackle shops to get current ice conditions and suggestions for bait and tactics.
Always check the regulations for specific rules in the area you plan on fishing. Make sure you have a valid fishing license as well.
Want to get the most out of your ice fishing season? Check out our Washington State Ice Fishing Secrets ebook. 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!