Conjure up an image of ice fishing in your mind.
Like many, sitting on a stool next to a round hole in the ice is likely the first picture that comes to your mind, and that’s not too far from the truth—just like an old cartoon. But these days, ice fishing is a lot fancier than that.
What’s important to know is that ice fishing requires ice—it’s kind of right there in the name, isn’t it? And ice means a tough climate. But with the right gear, like an ice fishing sled or even an ice fishing house, ice fishing can be a fun and satisfying adventure.
In addition to America’s ten best ice fishing destinations, this article has everything you need to know to get started ice fishing, so bundle up—even though it’s winter, there’s still plenty of fishing to do.
Finding America’s 10 Best Ice Fishing Spots
It takes a very special fisherman to see a frozen lake and think, “I want to fish there.” But that fisherman is you, and you’re here to find out how to start ice fishing.
The truth is, there’s a lot to know about ice fishing. Not least of which is, what kind of ice fishing gear do you need to get started?
At its most basic, all you really need to try ice fishing is frozen water and a fishing pole or spear. You can build your own ice fishing house, sometimes called an ice shanty, ice shack, fish house, shack, bob-house, or ice hut. Or these days, just buy one.
Some ice houses are even heated with bunks, so you can make your ice fishing trip a multi-day excursion. In addition to bunks, bring along a generator and a satellite TV and binge your favorite shows right there on the ice—no promises about the Wi-Fi though.
Here are some other advantages of using an ice house or ice shanty when you’re ice fishing:
- Giving your feet a break from standing on ice
- Shelter from the wind (especially on sunny days)
- A break from the bitter cold
And remember: Any time you’re dealing with icy conditions and frozen water, it’s important for inexperienced ice fishermen to bring along an experienced friend.
How Dangerous is Ice Fishing?
Like any outdoor activity, safety comes first, especially in the wintertime. A good guideline is the ice should be at least 4 inches thick to be safe to walk on.
In addition to the very real risk of falling through thin ice, other risks associated with ice fishing include frostbite and exposure to the elements, as well as carbon monoxide poisoning from improperly used heaters.
What Can You Catch Ice Fishing?
The point of any kind of fishing is, of course, to catch some fish.
What you catch ice fishing is not so different than what you catch fishing any other time of the year, including bluegill, sunfish, perch, crappie, trout, pike, walleye, and sturgeon.
And do you want to know a secret?
It’s even EASIER to catch some of those fish in the winter since the cold temperatures make the fish extra sluggish—sensible fish, they are.
To rouse these fish from their stupor, try chumming, or simply tossing some tasty fishy snacks in the ice hole, like smashed up minnows, wax worms, or spikes. Like an old-fashioned dinner bell, this will make the fish come running—er, swimming, that is.
Regular old worms, also called red “wigglers,” also work for ice fishing bait. Or, try mealworms or “mealies” instead.
Besides a pole or spear, an ice fishing house, and some bait, what other equipment do you need for ice fishing?
Ice Fishing Gear
In addition to what we’ve already covered, here’s some equipment every ice fisherman needs before heading out on the ice:
You’ll use an ice auger to cut your ice hole, anywhere from about 5 to 8 inches. Ice augers come in two varieties, manual and power.
Manual ice augers are cheaper and take a little more oomph to use. Power ice augers do a lot of the hard drilling for you, but you pay for the convenience.
The size of your ice hole depends a lot on the kind of fish you’re hoping to catch. Six inches will do for perch, crappie, and many walleyes—anything larger and you’re gonna need a larger hole.
Ice fishing seat and sled
Like other kinds of fishing, there’s a lot of hurry-up and wait with ice fishing. But unlike stretching out in the sunshine, as you can do in the spring and summer, ice fishing requires something to sit on while you wait for the fish to bite.
A simple bucket can serve this purpose. You can also toss your fish in the bucket when you’re done for the day. Or, buy an ice fishing bench instead. An ice fishing sled helps you get all your gear out onto the lake quickly and easily.
These are just a few examples of basic ice fishing gear to get you started. But we’ll leave it at that for now, and move on to what we’re all here for: America’s ten best ice fishing spots.
Here at RAVE Reviews, we didn’t want to show you just any frozen puddle. We promised you the very best ice fishing destinations and we delivered. Here’s how we did it.
First, we consulted the opinions of experienced fishermen as well as trusted and reputable authorities on the sport.
We evaluated each destination on the following:
- The opinion and feedback of those who’ve ice fished at each location
- The size, depth, and elevation of each body of water
- Diversity of fish
- Popularity, or crowd size
- Nearby towns and amenities
- Guides or trip planning services nearby
We are certain this criteria covers everything that makes any ice fishing destination one of the best. Keep reading and we’re confident you’ll agree these ice fishing spots are indeed America’s very best.
Where to stay: White Birch Lodge
The state of Michigan is our best ice fishing spot in the U.S., particularly the northernmost harbors and marinas of Lake Michigan. Ice elsewhere on the lake isn’t usually thick enough to ice fish safely.
Reaching depths of over 900 feet, water clarity has improved in Lake Michigan in recent years, helping this Great Lake welcome an even more diverse variety of fish species. The lake is just under 120 miles wide and a little over 300 miles long.
Some of the most common species in Lake Michigan in the icy season include a variety of trout species as well as panfish, bluegill, perch, northern pike, and walleye.
In addition to Lake Michigan, there are thousands of inland lakes, rivers, and streams all over Michigan, creating bountiful ice fishing spots all over the state.
Silver Lake, CA
Where to stay: Silver Lake Resort
Many Northern California lakes freeze over in the winter time, but Silver Lake in the Eastern Sierras is one of the best for ice fishing, earning second place in our ranking of America’s ten best ice fishing destinations.
With a surface of 525 acres at an elevation of 7,200 feet, Silver Lake is known for producing rainbow, brown, brook, lake, and cutthroat trout. The ice on Silver Lake can be so thick it requires an auger extension to break through it.
Conveniently, Silver Lake Resort offers excellent accommodations for ice fishermen to warm up after a long day on the ice. Nightcrawlers have proven to be particularly useful forms of bait at Silver Lake.
Lake of the Woods, MN
Where to stay: Arnesen’s Rocky Point Resort
The next nibble in our ranking comes from Lake of the Woods, MN. While you visit Lake of the Woods, stay at Arnesen’s Rocky Point Resort and enjoy the unique experience of being transported to heated ice houses on track vehicles.
The heated ice fishing houses are perfectly positioned by GPS, so the fish are never far away. You can even choose a sleeper fish house if you want your adventure to last all night long.
The lake is 70 miles long, home to almost 15,000 islands with roughly 65,000 miles of shoreline.
Common species in Lake of the Woods include walleye, sauger, perch, and northerns. Bait is included with your stay at Arnesen’s, but you are responsible for your own pole and tackle.
Antero Reservoir, CO
Where to stay: Surf Hotel & Chateau
Colorado’s Antero Reservoir is the next stop in our ranking of America’s ten best ice fishing destinations.
Near Breckenridge, CO, Antero is relatively shallow. Created by the first dam on the South Platte River with a surface area of 2,500 acres, the reservoir is home to lots of great fish varieties—many growing to trophy size, up to 20 inches!
These species include rainbow trout, brown trout, snake river cutthroat, greenback cutthroat, cutbows, kokanee salmon, and brook trout.
Small chartreuse or pink tungsten jigs are recommended, particularly tipped with something like a mealie or earthworm. It’s important to know that Antero gets cold—as low as 44 below—and it’s a popular spot, so it can get a little crowded.
Lake Winnebago, WI
Where to stay: Brayton Bed and Breakfast
Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago is our pick for America’s fifth best place to try ice fishing.
Lake Winnebago is Wisconsin’s largest inland lake, covering an area of approximately 30 miles with nearly 90 miles of shoreline, and an average depth of just under 16 feet.
The lake is home to a self-sustaining sturgeon population. In recent years, a sturgeon weighing nearly 200 pounds was pulled from the water.
Otherwise, Lake Winnebago is a great spot for walleye, perch, and white bass. Book an ice fishing trip with Nolan’s Top Gun Charters and you’ll get rods and a Marcum Lx7 locator, as well as access to a heated permanent ice house, positioned strategically to always be on the fish.
Lures such as the Rapala Ultra Light Rippin’ Rap, Northland Buckshot Spoon, and Rapala Jigging Rap have been successful on Lake Winnebago.
Devil’s Lake, ND
Where to stay: Lakeview Lodge
In addition to being sixth in our ranking of America’s best ice fishing spots, Devil’s Lake is the state of North Dakota’s largest natural body of water—and it’s getting bigger!
Reaching a depth of about 60 feet and a surface elevation of just under 1,500 feet, Devil’s Lake has nearly quadrupled in size since the early 1990s. Where there’s large water, large fish tend to follow.
Jumbo yellow perch walleye, white bass, and northern pike are just a few of the species fishermen pull from the water.
Pick up an ice fishing package from Lakeview Lodge and you’ll have everything you need to get started, including a rod, tackle, and vexilar, as well as a heated portable fish house, bait, pre-drilled holes, and a guide.
Lake Champlain, VT
Where to stay: Lakeshore Vermont
Seventh place goes to Vermont’s Lake Champlain. This 120-mile long lake is one of the best places to fish in the entire state any time of year, including the wintertime.
About 107 miles long and 14 miles wide, Lake Champlain has a surface area of about 1,300 feet, reaching a maximum depth of 400 feet.
In the past, ice fishermen have had good luck pulling species like crappie, pike, yellow perch, salmon, and lake trout from the lake—just to name a few.
The water in Lake Champlain starts freezing over in early December, and the deep water freezes as the season progresses.
On such a large body of water, there are a lot of prime spots to ice fish, like Port Henry, a great smelting location, as well as Converse and Arnold Bays.
Fort Peck Reservoir, MT
Where to stay: Fort Peck Hotel
Next up is Fort Peck Reservoir in Montana. The fifth largest man-made lake in the entire U.S,, Fort Peck is 130 miles in length with 1,500 miles of shoreline, and depths reaching 200 feet.
The reservoir is home to 50 species of scaly friends just waiting to be caught, including lake trout and northern pike among many others. And what’s perhaps best of all is that many of these species grow to trophy size, swimming in the wide-open waters of the reservoir.
So why only eighth place for such a great place to try ice fishing? The thing is, Fort Peck is pretty tough to get to, and the ice in the reservoir is known to be riddled with dangerous cracks. It’s extra important to take caution when ice fishing there.
We suggest checking in with Hell Creek Marina when you plan your trip.
Strawberry Reservoir, UT
Where to stay: Daniels Summit Lodge
Located about 30 miles outside Heber City, UT, Strawberry Reservoir takes ninth in our rundown of America’s best ice fishing spots.
With a surface elevation right around 7,600 feet and a maximum depth of 200 feet, Strawberry Reservoir is one of Utah’s most popular fisheries any time of the year, if not the most popular.
You can find solid ice in many of the bays and coves all around Strawberry Reservoir, particularly Strawberry Bay early on in the winter season.
But no matter where you choose to ice fish on Strawberry Reservoir, you stand the chance of catching Bear Lake cutthroat, rainbow, and Kokanee salmon—many growing up to 24 inches.
Fishermen have had good luck with lures tipped with a minnow and crawlers, and Rapala jigging lures are effective not tipped with bait.
Birch Lake, AK
Where to stay: Birch Lake Recreation Site
A short drive from Fairbanks, Birch Lake is the last spot in our ranking of America’s ten best ice fishing spots. Birch Lake is the smallest of Alaska’s Big Three ice fishing lakes, including Harding and Quartz lakes.
At roughly 800 acres and reaching depths of 43 feet, the fish species at Birch Lake include rainbow trout, coho, and chinook salmon, as well as arctic char and arctic grayling—two species not found in many other areas of the U.S.
Fishermen have had good luck “deadsticking” at Birch Lake. There are lakeside cabins available, as well as four ice huts.