The seasons shift and the weather changes, but the angling never really stops. And with winter nearly upon us, the waters will soon begin to freeze over, setting the stage for another hardwater season. To help you get ready for it, we’ve prepared our yearly list of the best ice fishing destinations in the US.
From remote gems to some of the most prolific freshwater fisheries in America, we’ve handpicked 10 places where good fishing is all but guaranteed. So if you’re looking for a winter vacation spot or you simply want some inspiration, dive into the list with us.
Located just north of Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Valley – Mat-Su for short – is a place where breathtaking nature meets world-class ice fishing. Towering mountains, dramatic glacier valleys, and waters brimming with fish make up the landscape, creating a unique setting reserved only for the most cold-resistant anglers.
Mat-Su Valley has around 80 fishable lakes, giving you plenty of options in terms of where to fish. Many of these spots are also accessible by road, which is pretty much a necessity in winter. To add to this, Alaska’s ice fishing season is quite lengthy, beginning in November and often lasting through April. And when it comes to the fish you can catch, the Mat-Su Valley’s waters are full of King and Coho Salmon, Rainbow Trout, Arctic Char, Dolly Varden, and more.
Of course, Alaska’s cold season is no joke! If you intend to visit these parts, get ready for it to be freezing. You can either base your adventure out of Anchorage or look for lodging in the valley itself. Oh, and if you’re into winter sports, the Mat-Su Valley will be hosting the 2024 Arctic Winter Games in mid-March!
Ohio’s Shores and Islands encompass a region between Toledo and Cleveland. This includes cities such as Port Clinton and Sandusky, as well as the islands found off their shores. With the cold weather approaching, this part of the Lake Erie coastline turns into one of the best ice fishing destinations in the country. It’s a true winter wonderland!
Around here, the waters usually start freezing in late December. By mid-January, the ice should be thick enough to safely fish through. Since it’s Lake Erie we’re talking about, you can expect delicious Walleye and Yellow Perch to be your primary targets.
There’s good angling out of Port Clinton, Catawba Island, and Sandusky. However, you can also take an air taxi out to Put-in-Bay, located on South Bass Island. The word is that that’s where the best ice bite is!
Nestled between Michigan and Ontario, Lake St. Clair is an incredible fishery regardless of the season. While it’s much smaller than the Great Lakes that surround it, the angling here is just as good, if not better. With this in mind, the “Heart of the Great Lakes” naturally fits our list as one of the best ice fishing destinations in the US.
The two most commonly caught species during winter on Lake St. Clair are Yellow Perch and Walleye. However, the lake is home to several other game fish, so you never really know what will end up biting. You might hook into Muskellunge, Northern Pike, and, on a rare occasion, Sturgeon!
The Detroit Metropolitan Area spreads along the entire American side of the lake, and there’s good angling all along its shores. Besides Detroit itself, Harrison Township is a popular departure point for ice fishing trips. And, although it’s technically not the topic of this article, the Canadian side of the lake enjoys top-notch angling as well.
Situated in north-central Nebraska, the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge is a region made of vast prairies, rolling sandhills, wild marshes, and scenic lakes. It’s a place of incredible natural beauty, which, once encased in ice, turns into a thrilling winter fishery. Within the refuge itself, you’ll find nine lakes to fish. However, there are over a dozen others within a short driving distance.
In winter, there’s a variety of fish species you can catch in the Valentine NWR. These include Northern Pike, Bluegill, Crappie, and Perch. The lakes you can fish include Duck, Hackberry, Clear, and Dewey, to name a few.
If you need some more variety in terms of species, you’ll find Merritt Reservoir an hour west of the refuge. The lake holds large populations of Walleye, as well as Muskellunge, Pike, Perch, Crappie, and more. All in all, if you love wintertime and being outside in nature, this part of Nebraska will dazzle you both with its fishing and the scenery.
Hidden away in the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York, Schroon Lake is renowned for its cleanliness, natural beauty, and, of course, angling. In winter, when its waters freeze over, the lake becomes a popular ice fishing destination, easily ranking among the best in the state. To add to that, it’s the perfect starting point if you want to explore the rest of the Adirondacks.
When it comes to fishing, Schroon Lake is home to a colorful range of game fish. There are big Lake Trout, landlocked Salmon, Bass, Pike, Chain Pickerel, Crappie, Perch, and more. And all of these – except for Bass which are mostly inactive in winter – will bite during the ice fishing season.
The ice typically gets thick enough sometimes in January and doesn’t melt before late March. There’s even an annual ice fishing tournament that’ll be hosted on Lake Schroon in early March. It’s a fun time to visit the lake since it basically turns into a little town as numerous anglers prop up their shanties across the frozen surface! There’s lodging you can book right on the western shores of the lake, meaning you’ll be only a short walk away from the fishing grounds.
Green Bay is both the name of the city and the Lake Michigan bay it sits on. The city is primarily famous for the Green Bay Packers and as the “Toilet Paper Capital of the World.” However, the waters it sits on are known as some of the best ice fishing grounds in the entire Great Lakes.
Much like in the rest of the Midwest, the ice in Green Bay typically gets thick enough around early January and remains so until mid to late March. This gives anglers plenty of time to partake in the ice fishing bonanza. Green Bay is home to trophy Walleye, delicious Yellow Perch, huge Northern Pike, and Whitefish, all of which will bite during wintertime.
As for where to fish, you can start your adventure from the city of Green Bay itself. Alternatively, drive about 45 minutes northeast to Sturgeon Bay. There, you’ll discover another winter angling hotspot, featuring all the aforementioned species in abundance.
Just an hour west of Colorado Springs, you’ll come across Eleven Mile Reservoir, one of Colorado’s finest fishing lakes. It’s encircled by mountains, providing anglers with breathtaking views while they’re out catching trophy-sized fish.
And what kind of trophy fish? Trout! Eleven Mile Reservoir is famous for the big Rainbow, Brown, and Cutthroat Trout that swim in its waters. Catches over 17 inches are commonplace on the lake. Besides Trout, you’ll sometimes see Northern Pike and Kokanee Salmon go for your bait as well. And since all of these fish will bite even when the waters freeze over, Eleven Mile Reservoir is a shoo-in for our list of best ice fishing destinations in the US.
If you’re a competitive spirit, the Colorado Classic tournament takes place on the lake over three legs every winter. You can join in on the fun either in January, February, or March. Or, for those in the mood for some other activities, the lake and the region are fantastic for ice skating and skiing.
Found deep in the Boise National Forest, two hours north of Idaho’s capital, Lake Cascade is a place of spectacular beauty. Striking mountains surround the lake, creating scenery you simply cannot help but feast your eyes on. And, once you do manage to set your gaze aside and start fishing, you’ll discover the waters feature nothing but stellar action.
You’ll find a healthy mix of freshwater game fish in Lake Cascade. However, during the ice fishing season, your main focus will be on two species – Trout and jumbo Yellow Perch. And when we say “jumbo,” we really mean it – Lake Cascade has produced several state record catches in recent years. And yes, the fish were caught while ice fishing!
Besides the angling, there are different trails near the lake you can enjoy. And there’s the option of renting snowmobiles and riding around. The lake even hosts a dog sled race! And if you’re wondering about lodging, you’ll find plenty in Cascade and Donnelly, and both will give you great access to the lake.
The destinations we’ve covered so far all offer fantastic winter angling. However, even compared to all of those, Brainerd kind of takes ice fishing to the next level. The city is surrounded by no less than 450 lakes, including some of Minnesota’s best fisheries such as Gull Lake, Leech Lake, and Mille Lacs.
It may sound over the top, but there’s really no overstating when it comes to how good the fishing here is. Expect to hook huge Walleye, beautiful Trout, Northern Pike, Yellow Perch, and more Panfish than you can reasonably eat. It all depends on which lake you decide to hit and what you want to reel in the most.
With all this in mind, it comes as no surprise that Brainerd plays host to the world’s largest charitable ice fishing tournament. You can take part in that or opt for any of the other winter activities you’ll find on offer. These include skiing, snowmobiling, winter bike rides, and more.
We don’t usually save the best for last but, with the kind of fishing North Dakota’s Devils Lake offers, that may well be the case this time around. It’s often touted as the “number one ice fishing destination in the US,” and it’s really hard to disagree. It’s an incredibly prolific lake and anglers know it.
There are three main species you’ll aim to reel in if you visit Devils Lake during winter. We’re talking Walleye, Northern Pike, and trophy Perch. The bag limits are also typically very generous. With a good guide, you’ll wind up with enough fish in tow to keep the whole family fed for quite a while.
If you’re a good ice skater, you’ll love skating on Devils Lake and marveling at its nature while you’re at it. There are also many other organized activities, such as tubing, sledding, skiing, riding snowmobiles, and more. As long as you’re a winter type, you’ll love this part of North Dakota.
While we feel pretty confident about our picks, it’s fair to say that there are many other fantastic ice fishing destinations throughout the country. If you’ve thought of some while reading the article, we’d love it if you’d let us know. And who knows, we might just feature your favorite fishery next year. Until then, layer up and stay toasty while you’re out there reeling in them fish!
How did you enjoy the list? Are there any lakes you’d like to see us feature? Hit the comment section and let us know! Also, if you’d like some more inspiration, check out our picks from the previous year!
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