Those who’ve embraced ice fishing don’t only get to expand their angling season year-round: But they also get to experience this one-of-a-kind pastime’s utterly unique charm, which definitely holds its own with any version of soft-water fishing.
Armed with augers, tip-ups, and other tools of the trade, ice anglers enjoy prime wintertime fishing as well as the opportunity to shoot the breeze with friends and family and soak up the singular beauty of their frozen-over playground.
Excellent ice fishing destinations can be found across much of the northern reaches of the Lower 48, not to mention the enormous winterscape of Alaska. In the following guide, we’ll spotlight 10 of the very best ice-fishing lakes in the U.S. and what they offer the bundled-up angler.
(An essential caveat: Ice fishing can be exceedingly dangerous, and anyone looking to pursue it must follow all the proper safety precautions, including doing so with others, getting the most up-to-date information on ice conditions, and carefully monitoring those conditions while fishing.)
Not least when it comes to fishing, a “top 10” list such as this is liable to start a few (hopefully friendly) arguments. But there’s no question the lakes (and bays) below offer truly great ice fishing—and awesome ambience—in the thick of winter.
Bear in mind these are presented in no particular order.
This gigantic body of water, which sprawls across the borders of Minnesota, Manitoba, and Ontario, ranks among the largest freshwater lakes in the country, though only about a third of its nearly 1,700-square-mile extent lies in the Gopher State. (A disjunct piece of Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods shorefront, the “Northwest Angle,” is the northernmost point in the coterminous U.S. and can only be reached from the rest of the state by water or by crossing through Canada.)
Lake of the Woods offers some of the best ice fishing in the United States, strung across a generous season that typically runs from the beginning of December through late March.
Designated ice roads and heated fish houses (including overnight accommodations in sleeper houses) service ice anglers, who have awesome opportunities to catch walleye—this is the “Walleye Capital of the World,” after all, though not only the place claiming that designation—as well as northern pike, sauger, yellow perch, cisco (tullibee), crappies, and more.
This 255-acre reservoir, set at close to 10,000 feet in north-central Colorado near Cameron Pass, ranks among the top ice fishing destinations in the Rocky Mountain State. Those willing to hike in will find primo opportunities to haul out cutthroat trout and rainbows, plus the potential for catching kokanee (the landlocked form of the sockeye salmon).
Most coveted, perhaps, are the reservoir’s lake (“Mackinaw”) trout. It’s not uncommon to hook 18- or 19-inch lakers here.
The biggest natural body of water in North Dakota, Devils Lake sprawls across some 180,000 acres in a closed basin within the Glaciated Plains province of the state’s northeast. That translates to quite a vast playground for ice anglers!
Typically offering good, solid ice from mid-December through late March, Devils Lake is well known for jumbo perch as well as walleyes and often whopper-sized northern pike. And the area’s well set up for ice-fishing tourism, with numerous top-notch guides, informative bait shops, and handy-dandy fish houses catering to the winter-angling crowd.
More than a few veteran anglers consider this giant lobe of Lake Huron to be the best ice fishing destination for walleye not only in Michigan but the Midwest as a whole. And that’s saying something!
Besides trophy walleye, the 1,143-square-mile winter expanse of Saginaw Bay also offers rich pickings for yellow perch, plus increasing chances of catching whitefish and lake trout cruising in from the main body of Lake Huron.
Speaking of, its connection to that Great Lake means that the ice cover of Saginaw Bay—generally fishable from late December or early January into mid-to-late March—is highly dynamic and subject to pressure ridges and cracks. If you’re unfamiliar with the area, an ice-fishing guide is definitely recommended. (Of course, that’s true for a lot of ice-fishing destinations on this list.)
Largest of Wisconsin’s inland lakes—and joined with smaller lakes Poysan, Winneconne, and Butte des Morts in a system often called the “Winnebago Pool”—Lake Winnebago also ranks among the Midwest’s best ice fishing lakes.
Part of the Fox-Wolf River basin draining to Green Bay, this nearly 140,000-acre lake provides fine ice fishing adventures after walleye, sauger, yellow perch, and white bass. Lake Winnebago is also known for its winter spearfishing opportunities targeting lake sturgeon.
This grand linear lake, running more than 100 miles along the Vermont-New York line (with a small northern portion in Quebec), is justly famous for its ice fishing. It holds a great variety of fish, including northern pike, walleye, lake trout, and various panfish such as yellow perch, white perch, and crappies.
Ice anglers targeting the so-called Inland Sea or Northeast Arm of Lake Champlain, in particular, have a chance to haul in landlocked Atlantic salmon.
The smallest and shallowest of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie comes rife with top-notch ice fishing spots between mid-December and March. The main species targeted here by ice anglers include walleye as well as such panfish as yellow perch, crappie, and bluegill.
As on the other large lakes and bays listed here, ice anglers working Lake Erie must be cognizant of the dangers posed by big currents under the ice roofing the offshore lake expanse.
Green Bay’s as known for its ace fishing opportunities as much as a certain green-and-gold football team and its Cheesehead-wearing fans. Ice fishing here on this huge (1,626-square-mile) arm of Lake Michigan—from which it’s mostly cordoned off by the Door Peninsula—primarily targets walleye and whitefish, though perch, northern pike, and brown trout are also sometimes caught.
The biggest natural inland lake on Michigan’s wild and wonderful Upper Peninsula, Lake Gogebic provides top-notch ice fishing for the hardy souls prepared to brave the often-fierce cold of the North Woods.
Edged by the Ottawa National Forest (and Lake Gogebic State Park), this lake is most celebrated for its jumbo perch, though walleye, crappie, and various other freshwater gamefish may be hooked as well.
Set along the Richardson Highway about 60 miles southeast of Fairbanks, Birch Lake offers an easily accessible introduction to how good ice fishing in the bush of the Alaskan interior can be. Close to the Tanana River, this lake tempts with coho and Chinook salmon as well as Arctic char, Arctic grayling, and rainbows.
The state of Alaska manages ice-fishing huts at Birch Lake that are available for rent.
We can’t emphasize enough how important safety is when it comes to ice fishing. If you’re jonesing to hit up any of the above ice fishing locations this winter season, make sure you consult local authorities for fishing tips and insights into ice conditions, dress properly for the cold, and always err on the side of caution when it comes to moving out on the ice. (And, hey: Don’t go ice fishing alone!)
Meanwhile, you can’t do better than Mountain House freeze-dried meals—quick to prepare, super-nourishing, and extremely portable—when it comes to mealtime on the best ice-fishing lakes in the U.S. Check out our hunting-and-angling collection!