As soon as temperatures get below freezing, water in lakes and rivers begins the freezing process. While not all freshwater bodies of water will freeze due to their size and other environmental factors, many lakes in cold areas will. In some regions of the world, ice fishing can be done for nearly half of the year.
Generally, the best months to go ice fishing are December, January, February, and March. While ice exists in November, April, and May in certain places, it’s not always safe. The ice conditions from December to March are fairly safe, and the fish are looking to eat despite the cold temperatures.
Both Canada and the United States offer phenomenal ice fishing opportunities throughout the winter.
|United States||Ice Fishing Season Begins||Ice Fishing Season Ends|
|Alabama||No season||No season|
|Arkansas||No season||No season|
|Florida||No season||No season|
|Georgia||No season||No season|
|Hawaii||No season||No season|
|Louisiana||No season||No season|
|Mississippi||No season||No season|
|South Carolina||No season||No season|
|Tennessee||No season||No season|
|Texas||No season||No season|
|Canadian Province||Ice Fishing Season Begins||Ice Fishing Season Ends|
|Newfoundland & Labrador||November||March|
|Prince Edward Island||November||March|
Depending on where you live or where you’re hoping to visit in North America, you’ll find that November can be a great time to go ice fishing.
If the water has frozen in November, this would be considered “early ice.” During early ice, fish will still be as active as they traditionally are in the fall.
Water and air temperatures have yet to fall to those unbearable levels, so the metabolism of fish is still functioning well enough for them to feed on a regular basis.
As long as the ice is safe enough to go out on, you’ll find that traditional feeding times are still good times to go fishing.
The fish are aware that colder temperatures are right around the corner, so they’re going to try and store up as much fat as possible before things bottom out and their metabolisms slow down enough that they don’t have regular feeding times.
Ensure you’re prepared with the proper safety materials when ice fishing in November. Odds are, if the ice is safe, it’s likely only safe enough for you to walk on it.
Make sure you have spikes, your staff, and claws in case you fall through the ice.
1. United States
The beginning of the ice fishing season in the United States varies by year. Some years, ice won’t start showing up until mid-December, and others will be around before Thanksgiving.
The states that have the potential to have safe ice in November are along or near the Canadian border.
Northern portions of Montana, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and New York may have the temperatures needed to help the water to freeze over!
Look for ice that’s clear and around 3 inches thick. Once you’re out on the ice, look for water that’s 15-20 feet deep near structure. Stick near there and stay with those larger baits. Aggressiveness will help you!
In Canada, ice in November is far more common. Nearly every province is going to have ice at some point in November.
The further north you travel in these provinces, the better chance you’ll have of finding safe ice. Even in Canada, November is considered early ice, so make sure you take advantage of this time of year.
Temperatures are cold, but you won’t have to consistently deal with those sub-zero temperatures where the fish aren’t as eager to eat.
December is when ice is almost guaranteed to be in place and safe in most states and provinces.
The early portions of the month are still considered to be early ice, so be sure to continue to take advantage of these conditions.
Fish are starting to slow down in their feeding habits, so you’re going to have to be pickier about where you set up your equipment.
You’ll have to start moving to those ice fishing sweet spot depths (10-25 feet deep). Also, make sure you’re sticking by structure and some vegetation.
You’ll have to start fishing with smaller jigs and baits because fish aren’t as eager and willing to hit those larger choices. Jigs between 1/8 and 1/64 ounce are ideal.
Also, you may have to bring out the spoons and other flashier options to get the fish to strike. Be sure not to forget about the live bait.
Don’t forget to check out my article on What Can I Use For Ice Fishing Jigs?
1. United States
Some of those more southern United States, like Kansas, North Carolina, and Missouri, will likely not have ice on their lakes and ponds in December, but most other states will.
Some portions of states like Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Michigan, and Wisconsin may even have ice that’s safe enough for people to bring snow machines and four-wheelers on.
Again, make sure the ice is at least four inches deep before you bring anything besides your gear and yourself on the ice.
As you get higher in elevation in states like Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada, you’ll find that alpine lakes are likely entirely covered in ice in December.
These alpine lakes are great to fish in the winter for trout. If accessible, they offer some extremely fun and exciting ice fishing opportunities.
In Canada, ice fishing is in full swing by the time December hits. BC, Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan are some of the favorites for provinces to ice fish in December.
Temperatures are falling toward single-digit degrees Fahrenheit, and the fish are becoming a bit more temperamental in terms of feeding.
You’ll have to try some experimenting when it comes to getting the fish to strike.
Stick with the traditional feeding times, but make sure you’re well-equipped with live baits, flashy jigs, and plenty of noise-making lures. Ice safety shouldn’t be an issue in December in Canada.
Throughout the United States and Canada, January is often the coldest month of the year. The days are extremely short, the sun rarely shines, and one of the few things to do is go ice fishing.
Anglers have to work hard to find fish, but it’s also the time of year when permanent ice fishing houses are safe to bring out on lakes and ponds across North America.
The metabolism of fish is at its slowest during January. Their blood has returned to all of their internal organs, and they’re attempting to expend the least amount of energy possible.
Fish continue to move towards deeper water to find temperatures that aren’t entirely unbearable. Panfish are likely in 15-30 feet of water, and pike and walleye are in somewhat similar depths.
January is generally the most challenging month of the year to ice fish because of consistently cold temperatures.
Tip-ups are reasonably effective in the months of January. Stick a lively minnow on the end of a tip-up and let it sit for a few hours while you’re fishing in the warmth of your ice house.
If you have no clue what an ice fishing tip up is or want to know more about it, here is an article explaining the basics of ice fishing tip-ups.
1. United States
If lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams are going to freeze in the United States, January is when it will happen.
Of the 42 states that generally have some sort of ice fishing season each year, all the water will likely be frozen at some point in January.
Some of those southern states, like North Carolina, Arizona, New Mexico, and Virginia, may not have the safest ice, so make sure you pay close attention and test the ice before you visit.
Bring those permanent ice houses to the ice in the northern states and let them sit for a few weeks. They’ll be safe, and you won’t have to worry about anything melting and having them fall through the ice.
Stay creative and patient when fishing in January. Fish are caught, and you can get a hot bite, but you’ll have to work to find it.
January in Canada isn’t for the faint of heart. You’ll find that temperatures are consistently in the single digits and below zero, so you’ll have to make sure you’re equipped with plenty of warm equipment.
Whether you want to fish in a portable ice shelter or a permanent house, either will work. All the provinces in Canada have safe ice in January.
All fish species are going to bite in January, but make sure you have an entire box of lures, jigs, and plenty of live bait to entice the fish.
Which raises an interesting question that I’ve covered in another article: Do I Need Live Baits for Ice Fishing?
Once February hits, temperatures are still cold, but by the end of the month, they’re generally warming.
As soon as the fish sense that the temperatures are beginning to warm, they’ll start to feed with a bit more aggression.
They won’t be at their spring aggression levels, but they’ll be a bit more active than they were in January. Stick with the noisy and colorful jigs and lures.
Also, make sure you don’t abandon the minnows and worms! These are going to be your ticket when the fish are still slow in their feeding tendencies.
February is also when you should start to consider removing your permanent houses.
As the temperatures fluctuate, you may find that your house will freeze into the ice and become extremely difficult to remove. It’s always better to be safe than sorry when removing your house.
1. United States
Generally, all the ice that was safe in the United States in January is still going to be safe through February.
Some of those southern states listed earlier may see the ice melting towards the end of the month, which can be a good thing for fish activity.
Make sure the ice is safe, but don’t shy away from those warm days. The fish are eager to feed after they’ve slowed down while conserving energy.
Canada is still in full winter mode throughout February. While the temperatures may rise slightly, the more significant changes won’t occur until March.
All of the provinces are still safe to fish, so take advantage of it.
For many ice anglers, March is their favorite time of year to ice fish. The temperatures are beginning to warm, and the fish are finally coming out of their winter slumber.
Their appetites are massive, and they’re eager to fill themselves up with as much food as possible. Fishing in the middle of the day and evening is generally the best time to do it.
Live bait on tip-ups is the way to go in March. Fish start cruising around a bit more, so they’ll have higher chances of finding your tip-up.
1. United States
States along the Canadian border, like Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and New York, will see temperatures rise, so make sure the ice is safe.
As long as it is, you should have an extremely successful few weeks as the fish start to feed again.
Canada in March is also a great time to ice fish. The landscape is thawing out a bit more, and the fish can sense it. Take advantage of all the warmer weather and hungry fish.
A few sections of the United States and Canada will still have ice in early April. Fish in April behave similarly to how they would in March.
They appreciate the warmer temperatures, and everything under the ice is starting to come to life.
1. United States
The far northern stretches of Minnesota, Montana, and North Dakota likely will still have ice into April, so make sure you pay close attention to the conditions.
Fish will be extremely hungry, so take advantage of it.
Many Canadian lakes and ponds are still entirely frozen throughout April. As spring hits, fish are desperate to fill their stomachs. Stick to the more shallow water, and be sure to use plenty of tip-ups.
Ice fishing is heavily dependent on the weather, but if you can time things accurately, you’ll have a chance to catch more fish through the ice than you would in open water.
November and December are great months to fish during the early ice season. Fish are still active, and the conditions aren’t as extreme and challenging to deal with.
Late February, March, and April are productive months to go because of how eager the fish are to fill their stomachs. Whenever you go, make sure the conditions are safe and be sure to show up prepared.