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Best Time of Day to Ice Fish? Guide to 6 Species / 3 Times

Ice fishing is a great outdoor activity, and while parts of it are similar to regular fishing, they aren’t the same. What is the best time of day to ice fish? Here are 3 times to consider. And a breakdown of the best time to ice fish for 6 common species.

The best time of day to ice fish is during the first couple of hours after sunrise, and for about 2 hours both before and after sunset. These are the times when most fish are heading to their feeding grounds, and when most species are active.

Best Time of Day to Ice Fish

But there are so many different species of fish with their own unique habits, and many different environments to ice fish in.

That’s why we’ll be going through the specifics of ice fishing times for some of the most common freshwater fish species.

Best Times to Go Ice Fishing: 3 Times

Sunrise Ice Fishing

Sunrise: If this is the time you choose for going ice fishing, it would be a good idea to get out on the ice and set up completely (holes drilled, gear all ready, etc.) about a half-hour before the sun even comes up.

One of the main reasons for this is because it helps you to intercept the fish on their way to their feeding grounds around sunrise. If you choose to set up a little later, there’s a high chance that the commotion will scare off any potential catches.

Another thing worth noting is that you should expect the bite in the morning to be a bit shorter than it would in the evening.

Sunset Ice Fishing

Sunset: During the time that the sun is setting, there are a lot of microscopic invertebrates and zooplankton that come up from the bottom floor of the river or lake when the light isn’t as strong and just stay suspended and floating in the water.

This makes it a lot easier for fish to catch them, which is why sunset is the most popular time for fish to feed.

The creatures typically return to the bottom once the sun starts to rise, but not a lot of fish can see well during the night, which is why they feed mostly at twilight – when they can more easily see their food.

Ice Fishing at Night

Night: While this might not seem like an obvious option, ice fishing after dark is actually a pretty good idea. It does take a bit more preparation if this is the time you choose, but if you’d like to try it out, have your holes ready by sunset.

Then just stay after dark, bring a headlamp or some other source of light, and get ready for a fun time.

Good bites will typically start at sunset and then carry on into the night. Lots of fish species go on feeding up until midnight and even later, so it’s not a bad idea to give night ice fishing a try.

Best Time of Day for Ice Fishing: 6 Species

1. Trout

The best time to go ice fishing for trout would probably be right around sunrise and sunset.

You won’t have much success ice fishing for them at night because trout need certain amounts of light to see their surroundings and food well. They don’t see as well in the dark, and part of that might be because this species cannot see color at night.

It’s mostly common for all kinds of trout to feed in shallow, flat waters that are next to deeper depths of water.

You’ll want to set up your gear before they head into the shallows, because the noise will scare them off, so plan out your time accordingly.

Best Time of Day to Ice Fish trout
Ice fishing trout

2. Perch

Around sunrise and sunset are the absolute best times to try and catch this kind of fish, but your success with them can be pretty good for the entire day as well. They are one of the easiest species to catch during all times of the day.

And just like with trout, perch can’t see very well in the dark, so you won’t do very well if you try and catch any once night comes.

Perch mostly feed on the bottom of wherever they live, but if food is abundant, they will swim up higher. Here are more tips for ice fishing perch.

Best Time of Day to Ice Fish perch
Perch caught ice fishing

3. Bluegill

The best time to try and catch bluegills when ice fishing would be during the mid to late afternoon. If this is the species you are going for, it would be a good idea to get all set up in the early afternoon so you can be ready for the time when they bite the most.

They also aren’t as good around sunset, so there are only a few hours each day where you will be more likely to catch one.

They will move into the shallows a little bit after dawn and primarily feed in low light conditions like dawn and dusk. Because of their eyesight, they won’t really feed after dark.

4. Walleye

The best time to catch this kind of fish is in the later evening and into the night.

Unlike the previous species we’ve talked about, walleye have great night vision, which is why they usually feed in such low light. This species is an ideal one if you are giving night ice fishing a try.

5. Crappie

The best time to catch these fish is pretty much the same as walleye because both species can see quite well in the dark.

It’s possible to catch this kind of fish all day, but they are a difficult find for sure. It seems to be easier to find schools of them right before sunset and into the night.

Best Time of Day to Ice Fish crappie
Crappie caught winter fishing

6. Northern Pike

The best time to catch these fish is in the mid-morning. This time period covers a few hours after sunrise until early afternoon.

These fish do feed all day though, so peak times might change depending on the place you’re ice fishing at.

They usually like to feed during times when the water is coolest, which is why early morning seems to be the best time to catch them. Here’s more about how to ice fish northern pike.

Check out our guide: How to Measure Ice Thickness: 5 Methods and Safe Ice Thickness Chart

Best Time of Day to Ice Fish pike
Ice fishing pike

More Reading: Must Have Fishing Gear: 13 Things Your Tackle Box Needs

What About Saltwater Ice Fishing?

While ice fishing in saltwater is definitely something you can do, especially in regions where it is naturally colder, it’s definitely a more common thing to do in freshwater.

Part of the reason for this might be because most saltwater species go to find warmer climates in the colder months.

Your Turn

When do you like to go ice fishing? What is the best time of day to ice fish for you?