The sport of fishing certainly doesn’t have to be a summer event only. Ice fishing enthusiasts all over know that it’s just as fun to score a fish in the middle of a frozen lake as it is to cast a fly into the bay during those warmer months.
While ice fishing requires a different set of skill and some specialized equipment, it can be just as fun and productive as any other winter sport. Besides, even in the dead of winter the best fresh fish to eat is the one you caught yourself!
We’ve spent a considerable amount of time touring frozen lakes in an attempt to determine which spots were the hottest for ice fishing. Here are a few of our favorites!
Lake Michigan Harbors – Illinois
Southern Illinois most likely won’t get cold enough for good ice fishing this season, but the lakes of northern Illinois will be frozen solid and waiting. Lake Michigan is pretty vast, but some of the best ice fishing spots can be found along the harbors at Burnham, Montrose, and Belmont.
The thickness of the ice here changes depending on how cold the winds make the water. If the waters are safe you’ll find plenty of rainbow trout, brown trout, and even coho salmon.
Lake Champlain – New York
Lake Champlain in New York is usually full of a unique variety of both cold and warm water fish. One of the best places for ice fishing in the state, you’re likely to find a pretty wide variety of choices. During the winter months you can usually find perch, landlocked salmon, smelts, lake trout, and almost a dozen other varieties.
Strawberry Reservoir – Utah
The lake at Strawberry Reservoir tends to freeze early, but also tends to freeze unevenly, so take caution when approaching this lake. Once you find a safe place to fish you can start by drilling holes out by the weed beds (if there are any). The shallow waters here are the best place to find rainbow trout that are attempting to feed, especially in the earlier winter months.
Later in the winter you’ll want to move further out on the lake. Not catching any fish? Try moving a couple of feet over and drilling a new hole. Sometimes the difference of only a few feet can make a huge difference when ice fishing.
Caples and Silver Lakes – California
When people think of ice fishing they don’t usually think of Northern California, but there are plenty of great ice fishing spots here, including both Caples and Silver Lakes. The best places to fish are along the highway, but the waters are drawn down before they have a chance to freeze, so make sure you venture far enough out on the lake before you start drilling.
Drill several holes in the area you wish to fish. Drilling holes will allow sunlight to penetrate the ice, drawing fish looking for a bit of warmth towards the surface.
Chequamegon Bay – Wisconsin
Just off of Lake Superior you’ll find the often stormy waters of Chequamegon Bay. If you do choose to fish here, make sure you take properly functioning communication equipment with you, as the weather tends to change very quickly.
The only real way to catch any fish here is if you are able to take a snowmobile or ATV out to some of the subtle humps. You’ll find plenty of salmonids, walleyes, and pike in these waters – all perfect for the frying pan.
Caspian Lake – Greensboro, Vermont
Anglers in Vermont aren’t quick to put their gear away after the summer months draw to an end. They wait with baited breath for the lakes to freeze over so that they can get back out on the water and start fishing again.
Perch are a common catch during ice fishing months in Vermont. As with many other locations, it’s best to spend only a short amount of time at each hole before moving on to a new one if you aren’t getting any bites. Secret sources tell us that perch are attracted to brightly colored lures, too!
Higgins Lake – Michigan
There are dozens of incredible lakes for ice fishing in Michigan, but for a true cold water ice fishing experience you need to head on over to Higgins Lake. The waters here are much deeper, supporting more cold water fish than you ever dared dream.
Proceed with caution at Higgins Lake. The lake does freeze, but slowly, so ice fishing isn’t usually safe until mid to late January. Watch out for yellow perch on both the northern and southern shores with lake trout towards the deeper centers.
Of course, testing the ice is essential, no matter where you decide to fish. Never take a flying leap out onto the ice without looking at where you’re going first. Ice near the shoreline of any body of water will always be thinner than further out, so make sure you take a deep enough step onto the ice to get started. Poke holes in the ice every few yards to test the thickness before moving forward as well. Ice fishing is a tremendous sport but is best done with a buddy so that one can act quickly if there is ever an ice-driven emergency.
Once you’ve found a safe place and taken all of the necessary precautions you can start fishing. Enjoy, and good luck!