The end of summer usually means that the fishing season is over in many places. However, once we head into winter, some parts of the country become bustling hubs filled with anglers. They are ready to face icy temperatures and get their fish on.
Are you looking to join in the fun, or want to find a new location to try out? You’ve come to the right place! We’ve put together a list of some of the best ice fishing destinations in the US for you. Included are both well-known locations and places you may not yet have heard of. They all have one thing in common though: excellent ice fishing!
Having been featured in both our Best Winter Fishing Destinations in the US in 2020 as well as our Best Fishing Festivals articles, it was only a matter of time until Brainerd earned its place among the top ice fishing destinations in the US as well. Over 460 lakes within 25 miles of the city make it a perfect location for angling enthusiasts. The fishing is great any day of the year and even in winter that doesn’t change.
Whether you’re going for an ice fishing trip on Round Lake, trying your luck at Lake Hubert, or joining in the activities on Gull Lake, you’re in the right place. Bluegills, Walleye, Largemouth Bass, Yellow Perch, Northern Pike, and many others inhabit the waters around Brainerd. And if you’re looking for competitive fun while also doing something for charity, the Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza is the event for you!
Around 10,000 anglers are expected to participate every year and compete for various prizes, all while supporting local charities. Tickets are available until the tournament takes place on January 29, 2022. After spending an exciting day on the ice, you can enjoy several other winter activities. Cross country skiing or winter mountain biking are just a few of the possibilities. Would you rather get inside and warm up? Check out the hot tubs in one of the three water parks!
Lake Habeeb, Maryland
Known as the “bluest water in the state,” Lake Habeeb in Maryland is not just spectacular by itself. It’s also surrounded by the beautiful landscape of Rocky Gap State Park. The lake is a great ice fishing destination and is known for its great Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass fishery. Some of the Largemouth catches here weigh in at over 10 pounds!
And if that’s not enough, the lake also features various Sunfish species along with Bluegill, Yellow Perch, and Crappie. It’s also stocked regularly with Channel Catfish, as well as Brown and Rainbow Trout. So you won’t be short on possible fish to catch!
If you’re planning a longer trip to fish here and enjoy the surrounding Rocky Gap State Park, you can find accommodation near the lake, as well as in the town of Cumberland, which is only 10 minutes away by car. There you’ll also find bait and tackle stores, so you will be well equipped for your ice fishing adventure!
Devils Lake, North Dakota
As the “Perch Capital of the World,” Devils Lake made our list of Best Ice Fishing Destinations in the US last year and for good reason! It’s the largest natural body of water in North Dakota and therefore features a wide range of fishing spots along the shoreline and on the ice. No matter which spot on the lake you choose, you’ll find plenty of space to fish. There is also usually a tackle shop nearby to get you started or if you need some last-minute bait.
The most sought-after catches in Devils Lake are Perch, Walleye, and Northern Pike. Other species you can find include White Bass as well as Crappie. The ice is usually stable enough for ice fishing starting in mid-late December and lasts until March. The highlight of the season is the annual DLVFD Ice Fishing Tournament, which will be held on January 27-29.
Once you’ve had enough of the fishing, the area also offers plenty of activities to get you warmed up again. Whether you’re into outdoor activities like cross-country skiing at Grahams Island State Park, or prefer to go for a hot drink in downtown Devils Lake, you’re sure to find something that suits your idea of a winter fishing trip.
Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin
Ready for another lake that’s the biggest in its state? Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin may not be quite as large as Devils Lake, but that doesn’t mean that fishing there is any less exciting. In fact, Lake Winnebago has something that Devils Lake doesn’t: The world’s largest self-sustaining Lake Sturgeon population.
Towards the end of the ice fishing season, you’ll get the rare opportunity to take part in a Sturgeon Spearing event. It starts on the second Saturday of February and lasts for 16 days, or until the pre-set limit of caught Sturgeon is reached. Licenses must be bought before the end of October the year before, so while you might miss out on it this season, it’s definitely worth a spot on your bucket list.
Other than Sturgeon, Lake Winnebago is home to Walleye, Catfish, Largemouth, and Smallmouth Bass as well as Northern Pike. The ice moves from the shore to the center of the lake during December, so by January, the season is in full swing. Once the ice is safe enough, the lake also features other activities such as kiteboarding, broomball, and ice bowling, so there are plenty of things to do once you’re done fishing.
Copper Harbor, Michigan
Situated on the north shore of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, in the heart of Lake Superior, Copper Harbor is an ice fishing paradise. The cold winters ensure there is enough ice on both the inland lakes as well as Lake Superior, making the fishing varied and interesting.
By mid-December, the ice on the smaller lakes in the area is safe enough to walk on. Lake Manganese and Lake Fanny Hooe right outside Copper Harbor feature popular fish such as Trout, Northern Pike, and Walleye, as well as various species of Panfish. By late January, the ice on Lake Superior is usually safe for ice fishing as well. There you have the chance of reeling in Trout, Coho and Chinook Salmon, Whitefish, Herring, and Smelt close to shore. Ambitious anglers head out slightly further to get their hands on some Lake Trout.
Keweenaw Peninsula not only has great ice fishing, but also an average yearly snowfall of 270 inches. This makes it ideal for picturesque snowmobile rides and extreme skiing on Mt. Bohemia close to Copper Harbor, as well as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Castle Lake, California
Known for its beaches, California is not necessarily the first state people think of when it comes to ice fishing. But many forget that the Golden State features several mountain ranges that get plenty of snow in winter. And where there’s snow, there’s ice too! Castle Lake lies a good hour’s drive north of Redding, CA in the Shasta Trinity National Forest. Part of the lake is private, but the western shore is publicly accessible.
The lake is open for fishing year-round, with the ice fishing season lasting from January through March. But what can you catch in Castle Lake? Both Brook and Rainbow Trout inhabit the lake, as well as Brown Trout. The bag limit is set to five fish per day, which might shorten your visit, making this an ideal trip to go fishing with your family.
And if you’re bringing the family, why not extend the trip and turn it into a fun vacation? Skiing and sledding are fun activities for almost everyone. You can even take a snowshoe tour at Lassen Volcanic National Park nearby!
Boysen Reservoir, Wyoming
Boysen State Park is a fantastic place to be in winter, with gorgeous views of the snow-covered Owl Creek Mountains. One of the main attractions of the park is the Boysen Reservoir, one of the largest reservoirs in the state and a prime location for ice fishing. Once the colder temperatures hit, the northern end of the lake usually freezes over first. This makes it a popular destination for eager anglers who can’t wait to get out on the ice.
If you decide to cut into the ice and try your luck with a fishing rod, you’ll find a wide range of fish populating these waters. Lake and Brook Trout, Sauger, Mountain Whitefish, Largemouth Bass, Perch, and even Walleye can be pulled up from the frozen waters, keeping you on your toes. And while Walleye are still not a very common catch, you’ll be happy to hear that the population has been recovering, making them more likely to be caught in the future.
The reservoir starts freezing in December and only starts to thaw in late March. So you have around three months of ice fishing fun before the ice is too thin for walking. Are you looking for other adventures to add to your fishing trip? You can find snowmobile trails to explore, go skiing and snowshoeing, or even ice climbing.
Moosehead Lake, Maine
Moosehead Lake in Maine is already a great place for fishing in the warmer seasons. So it’s no surprise that the fishing is good in winter too! Named for its shape – resembling moose antlers – this beautiful ice fishing destination features a rugged coastline and deep, cold waters spanning 75,000 acres. The weather can be unpredictable, so it’s recommended you bring a portable ice shack with you to prevent you from getting too cold.
Once you’re set up you can find Brook Trout, Cusk, Salmon, and Togue (Lake Trout) under the ice. Anglers know Moosehead Lake for its landlocked Salmon. Just keep in mind that you can’t take them out of the water before February 15th. If you’re feeling competitive, you can take part in the Annual Moosehead Lake Togue Ice Fishing Derby taking place on January 28-30. You can register at the event, so no need to worry about deadlines beforehand.
Once the ice on the lake is strong enough, many anglers prefer to use snowmobiles or ATVs to get to their fishing location. That way they avoid long trips on foot and add some extra winter fun to the experience. But you don’t have to stay on the ice. Activities around the lake include guided moose watching tours, skiing, hiking, and many more!
And so many more!
This is just a small selection of the amazing ice fishing locations in the US. There are many more that we couldn’t mention within the limits of this list. It’s up to you now to grab your fishing rod, pick your destination, find a guide near you, and head out on the ice! Tight lines!
Have you been to any of the places we mentioned? Do you have a favorite place to go ice fishing in the US? What are your plans for this ice fishing season? Let us know in the comments below!
If you want some more inspiration, read about our picks for the best ice fishing destinations in 2021.