Have you ever been fishing a lovely day, the bite is a little slow, and you see a storm off in the distance.
Just as you’re about to pack up and head off to avoid the approaching storm, the bite goes crazy, and you have an insane run of success.
Chances are the high-pressure system you’ve been fishing under is starting to take a rapid decline.
The fish know this, so they go on the chew with reckless abandon, knowing that they’ll pause from eating when the barometric pressure hits the low.
There is now a lot of solid scientific evidence revealing how air pressure, or barometric pressure, can impact the behavior of fish.
The same is true for all types of fishing, and ice fishing is no exception.
While there’s no need to obsess about atmospheric pressure, it’s definitely beneficial to understand the basics of barometric pressure and its influence on the fish under the ice.
Let’s have a closer look at the impacts of barometric pressure on ice fishing, and how you can use this information to your advantage.
Can Fish Sense Barometric Pressure Changes Through Ice
Yes. Fish can sense changes in the air pressure underneath the ice. But what is air pressure anyway? Let’s go for an easy explanation.
The atmosphere in which we live, let’s call it air for simplicity, weighs down, or pushes down on everything on the earth’s surface, including bodies of water.
The air is heaviest at sea level, getting lighter, or having less pressure, the further you head up into the sky.
You are likely to have heard the term “atmospheric pressure” while listening to the weather report.
It is measured using a barometer, and the readings indicate atmospheric pressure which has a significant effect on weather conditions.
A barometer will tell us if the weather is stable, turning good to bad, or bad to good. It also tells us how good or bad the weather could become.
We can’t really feel air pressure, but fish are highly tuned to it because they can feel the most minute changes in hydrostatic (water) pressure, which is impacted by air pressure.
You might think that when bodies of water are covered by a thick layer of ice, the ice would mitigate the impact of air pressure.
This is not the case. The atmospheric pressure pushes down on the ice too, which in turn impacts the hydrostatic pressure.
Fish, through their phenomenal senses via swim bladders and lateral lines, are profoundly attuned to changes in water pressure.
It determines feeding behavior in particular, and that means atmospheric pressure will have an impact on your fishing.
Everything in nature is inextricably linked.
The weather impacts the behavior of all of us. Fish are no different, indeed they’re several degrees of magnitude more attuned to it than we are.
Knowing how atmospheric pressure impacts fish makes you better prepared to think like a fish. Think like a fish, and you’ll catch more fish.
How do Fish Respond to Barometric Changes?
Water is denser than air. And just like we humans have a preference for certain types of weather, fish of all species experience comfort levels for different water densities.
High, low, and changing atmospheric pressure changes the density of the water.
With changes in water density, small as they may be, fish will adjust behavior according to their comfort levels. If they’re uncomfortable, they are less likely to feed.
When the pressure is stable, meaning little change or fluctuation, fish are adjusted to the pressure, happy at their place in the water column, and feeding normally.
The bite is then determined mainly by other environmental factors.
When the pressure is unstable, say moving from low to high, the fish are less comfortable, and busy finding positions in the water column more conducive to comfort.
The fish are off the chew.
When there is a drop in pressure from high to low, things get interesting. Sensing an imminent drop in pressure, the fish will often go crazy, but only for a short time.
As mentioned in the introduction, some of the best conditions, brief as they may be, are when the pressure is dropping, or about to drop radically from high to low.
The ‘theory’ is that the fish, knowing they will not feed until more stable atmospheric conditions, will feast on anything that moves.
When the low pressure peaks, they’ll stop biting. And they’ll likely stay off the chew until the pressure stabilizes or they move to a more comfortable location in the water column.
Having found a more comfortable spot there will be a period of adjustment that may last hours or days until they’re comfortable enough to feed again.
Also Read: Ice Fishing Tips & Techniques
What Barometric Pressure is Best for Ice Fishing?
The science gets a little cloudy here, and experience comes into play. For consistent fishing, I look for stable pressure.
For frenzied, yet brief, conditions, a radical drop from high to low can bring on the catch of a lifetime.
It’s not easy to plan for a drop in pressure, and these high to low moments are often more incidental than planned.
Following the peak low and the start of the return to higher pressure seems to be a lousy time to fish. In fact, it is a lousy time to fish.
There are many theories with many anglers and experts stating times, weather, moon phase, and barometric pressure correlate to deliver optimum conditions.
Optimum conditions are indicative, yes, but no guarantee.
I have fished “perfect” conditions countless times only to come up with empty live wells.
Don’t bank on air pressure being your ticket to a fish bonanza, it can be indicative, and you should take note, but it’s not a sure thing.
The only times I would place a wager on, is the radical change from high to low.
I can’t count the number of times that these conditions have produced inane fishing, with a frenzied aggressive bite.
The problem with identifying the best barometric pressure for ice fishing is that I find “best pressure” misleading.
When the pressure drops below 1004 millibars, it’s low. Usually, fishing conditions aren’t so great, often terrible, and unfishable.
However, if it remains low like this for a few days, you’ll likely find fish using your standard approach. Look for protected areas and fish structures.
If the pressure is between 1006 and 1015, it is medium pressure. If it’s stable, the fishing should be normal, use your fish finding techniques as you normally would.
The weather is generally fair, easy to fish, and so long as it’s not directly either side a drop or rise, you should find fish, depending on other conditions.
Above 1015 millibars, the pressure is high, and so long as it’s relatively stable, you will find normal fishing conditions.
When the atmospheric pressure is starting its return to high from peak low, clean your gear, go to the tackle shop a restock.
This is the worst time to be on the ice. The conditions may actually appear perfect. The storm has passed, there’s no wind, and comfort is good.
The comfort isn’t so great for the fish. However, they’re going off the chew and finding a place to stabilize their comfort levels.
Stable atmospheric pressure and the start of the drop from high to low present the best times to fish in terms of atmospheric pressure.
Again, while these figures are indicative, you must also consider all other aspects of fish behavior.
Good fishing conditions are a balance of several environmental inputs, no one aspect is indicative of a great catch.
How to Measure Barometric Pressure
Barometric pressure is measured using a barometer. There are several readings we can take to get a pressure reading.
These include millibars or hectopascals (Metric. One millibar is equivalent to 100 pascals or one hectopascal), PSI (imperial), mmHg (millimeters of mercury, metric), and inHg(inches of mercury. Imperial)
I have always used the metric system (millibars) for reading barometric pressure. If you prefer old-school, here’s a great metric imperial barometric pressure conversion table.
Having a barometer at home is great. They’re not expensive, and you can easily keep an eye on the pressure.
Alternatively, you can always check the local weather online. The barometric pressure will be listed.
Essentially, you have access to the pressure readings and forecast whenever you have a net connection and your phone.
I like having a barometer at home, and there’s one on the boat. However, the weather forecasts are generally the best, as they tell you what’s coming, which allows you to plan with a little more certainty.
How to Adjust to Poor Ice Fishing Conditions
When conditions are poor, yet I simply have to fish, I first start by lowering my expectations.
I then focus hard on finding places that experience tells me fish will hang out for security and comfort.
I look for structure, good structure. Underwater peaks, shallow weed beds, etc. In short, all the spots I’d usually go to, but with a strict emphasis on good fish-holding structures.
I like lures when conditions aren’t great because I have found that you may well annoy fish into the bite.
I once fished a reasonably deep underwater peak. We could see fish on the sounder and dropped live minnows to no avail.
I changed to a large gold spoon and worked it for 45 minutes.
Eventually, a particularly large 28-inch walleye was so cranky with my spoon he attacked it out of spite (I’m certain).
The trick is to fish structure, be persistent, and change lures and baits until you’ve exhausted all options.
Interestingly, this is not the first time things like this have happened.
When conditions are poor, the bite can be very slow, but I have caught prize fish in these conditions when other anglers simply wouldn’t go near the ice.
Persistence and solid basics are key! Interestingly, this is how you should always fish.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is The Best Weather For Ice Fishing?
A terrible day fishing is better than the best day at work. If it’s safe, and you can tolerate the conditions, it’s a good day to fish.
The exception might be the peak of low pressure and the slow turn back to high.
Otherwise, get out there. I have had terrible results in perfect conditions and legend results in dismal conditions. There is no substitute for time on the water.
What Is The Worst Weather For Ice Fishing?
Don’t fish in dangerous weather. There’s no fish worth your life. Avoid peak low pressure and build back to high.
Stable pressure is fine, fluctuating pressure can reduce the bite significantly.
Does Wind Direction Affect Ice Fishing?
I honestly think ice-bound fish don’t give a rat’s about the wind direction. For me, however, as long as I can keep my back to it, and it’s not blowing me off my feet, I’ll fish it.
Remember, catching fish is all about solid basics coupled with time on the water (ice). Don’t overthink things – Just fish!