The dead of winter can be a dreary time for many sportsmen. Deer season and duck season are behind us, the spring turkey won’t be on our minds for a few more months, and our favorite lakes are frozen over. Frozen fishing spots may be a bust for casting senkos, but hard water is the best time of year for ice fishermen.

Ice fishing varies based on species and style of fishing. While we can’t cover all the information needed to catch everything from perch to lake trout, we can give you a great base to try fishing hard water.


 Varies, but typically mid-December through February
Early Season: Peak fishing time, when lake plants still living
Later Season: Fish typically congregate in areas with unique bottom structures; requires more planning
Timing: Early morning & late evening when fish are more active

Ice Fishing Season

Ice fishing season typically starts mid-December and runs through the end of February. Naturally, these seasons can change based on where you are located. However, in the months listed above, ice should be thick enough for fishing but always check the ice conditions before you go out. Early ice season is typically the peak fishing season, when lake plants live. During this time, fish are active throughout the lake and begin a more aggressive feeding cycle. Later-season ice fishing can require more planning when selecting spots since the fish will likely congregate in areas with unique bottom structures. The best time for ice fishing is usually early morning and late evening when the water is colder, and the fish are more active.

Ice Fishing Gear

Ice fishing requires specific gear depending on the type of fish you’re going after. Regardless of what style of fishing you plan to do, you’ll need an auger to cut through the ice. A small strainer or scoop will also be a handy tool to clear ice from the hole after augering.

Tip Ups – Some anglers who are fishing for quantity will use tip-ups (spring loaded rigs) that require anglers to handline the fish to the surface. Bait: Tip-ups are often paired with live bait like worms or shiners.

Ice Fishing Rods – This option is prime for anglers looking to keep the thrill of rod and reel fishing in the winter months. Ice fishing rods are significantly smaller than traditional rods since they are fished vertically. The reels on ice rods are also downsized with a reduced line capacity and fewer parts to ice up. Bait: Ice fishing rods allow you to use live bait or a lure to target fish under the ice.

Ice Fishing Safety

When ice fishing, safety should always be your top priority.

1) Make sure you’re aware of the ice conditions, and never fish alone. Provide a close contact with your plan for the day and check-in regularly.

2) Check the ice thickness before heading out, and don’t venture too far onto the ice. If you’re unsure of the conditions, don’t go out.

3) Keep a flotation device on hand at all times. While a life jacket fitted over multiple layers of clothing would be cumbersome, it is important to have a flotation device easily accessible. A tossable rope can provide the needed aid to rescue yourself or others.

4) A set of ice picks that are light enough to fit on your belt is always helpful to give a fisherman purchase on the slick ice and pull themselves to safety.

5) While not necessarily a safety item, it is important to dress warmly. Thermal socks and heavily insulated boots are suggested since they are almost always in contact with the ice. 

Ice fishing is a great way to spend a day outdoors and enjoy the peace that comes with a motorboat-free day on the water. With the right gear and safety measures in place, you’ll be sure to have a great time.

Are you looking to try your hand at some hard water fishing? Check out Venku’s list of ice fishing guides and camps here.