Ice Fishing at Night – Can You Fish Successfully in The Dark?

Can You Ice Fish At Night?

Ice fishing can be a challenge at the best of times. Lots of gear, drilling holes, the freezing cold…and wondering what the hell I’m doing here.

The hardwater presents its own set of obstacles even when it is sunny, let alone when the lights are out.

Most of the challenges come down to the fact that you just can’t see. 

With a few tricks and techniques, you can overcome that handicap and make ice fishing at night one of the most rewarding fishing activities available.

Fish feed at night. Many species are particularly active at night, while some fish are more standoffish.

Whatever you’re targeting, from trout to walleye, there are general techniques and a few species-specific techniques to catch a bounty.

So long as safety is your first consideration, night fishing can be a blast. 

Just remember, where safety is concerned, anything that goes wrong in the dark is always a little more complicated…because it’s dark.

Let’s have a closer look at fishing the ice at night. You can deploy some useful tips and general rules of thumb to make your nocturnal hunts more rewarding and more successful.

Is it Good to Go Ice Fishing at Night?

While there are people who love it, people who hate it, and others who don’t mind, either way, fishing at night will get you fish.

You also benefit from not having to fight for a spot, as nighttime fishing doesn’t draw the same crowds as fishing the sunlight.

As long as you have appropriate lighting with backups, you’re dressed appropriately, and have good shelter, then ice fishing at night is awesome.

Yep. It’s cold. But when you’re fishing the ice, it’s cold or colder anyway. Dress correctly, wear a suit, and get a heater for your hut, and you’ll be fine.

Importantly, it’s good to have some local knowledge about the fish you’re chasing. 

Fish behavior can be peculiar to the location, and nighttime fishing can be another variable. 

Lake trout is a fitting example.

In some places they can be very quiet in the evenings, other places they’re a little more active in the evenings.

For other fish, such as pike, it’s a little more straightforward. Doesn’t matter where you are, old man pike feeds 24/7, and he’ll take you midnight minnow aggressively.

Let’s have a look at a few targets.

Ice Fishing at Night for Trout

Firstly, you should check the rules in your local area. Some lakes or water bodies prohibit fishing after midnight or at night. Be aware of local fisheries rules.

Ask around and you’ll find mixed opinions, particularly about lake trout or stocked trout. Bottom line is that they’re available and they feed. 

The question is, what can you do to ensure a catch? Be prepared to try different things. 

The reason I say this is because I’ve heard all sorts of approaches to be successful. 

And approaches vary from how you hold your tongue to genuine insights such as fishing the shallows in places you’d least expect.

Of the most common, a slowly worked spoon. Secondly, a dead bait fished on the bottom. 

It will be critical to use your ice flasher as it’s unlikely they’ll go out of their way to find you.

Rainbow trout are often caught in the evenings. Some anglers will mix a waxworm with a spoon of some type; others will just use the worm using a slow yoyo action.

Whatever the case, fish the locations you know that they congregate during the day. 

Often, they’ll be feeding in the same place. Make sure, however, you exploit the shallows.

If you don’t get some trout, there’ll be plenty of eelpouts keen for your dead bait. As they can grow pretty big, it can turn a slow night into a heap of fun.

See Also: Full Guide to Ice Fishing For Trout

Ice Fishing at Night for Walleye

frozen lake at sunset

If you find a packed body of hardwater past midnight, it’s most likely a group of serious anglers trying to locate walleyes on the ice.

Walleye love a night feed and are voracious nocturnal hunters. Live or fresh dead minnows are ideal baits, preferably live. And you can expect some huge fish.

Sink as many holes as practical, and rig set baits using your preferred methods, be it popups or rod and reel.

Use bells or glowsticks so you can see clearly and you can hear gear when it gets a touch from a hungry fish.

While you wait, use rod and reel to work a lure or live minnow. Extract as much activity as you can to bring the fish into your zone. 

Some may strike your lure; others may wander past and show more interest in your set minnows.

There’s no real downtime for walleye. While it’s unlikely to be thrilling (although it could be), you will have to keep your wits about you, as you can expect the action to come in patches.

Importantly, a trophy fish is likely anytime from midnight to dusk, so don’t fall asleep or let your guard down.

Fish the places you know they lurk and use the biggest live minnows you can find for a chance at a PB, record-breaker, or mountable catch.

Also Read: Full Guide To Walleye Ice Fishing

Ice Fishing for Crappie at Night

Crappie are keen night time feeders. If you’re looking for a great feed of crappie, then ice fishing at night will often turn up remarkable results.

Look for weed beds between 5 and 20 feet of water and fish the edges. If you’re local and have a favorite spot that produces regularly, this is probably the best place to start.

I know lures work for evening crappie, but I’m still inclined to fish fresh flesh baits. 

I like waxworms, but nearly always will select live minnows – It’s my go-to ice bait, despite the hassle of rigging live fish with frozen hands.

With live bait you know they’re going to like it. 

If I’m fishing a soft plastic or other lure, and I’m not getting a touch, I always have a doubt in my mind; do I stick with it, or change colors, lures, etc.

Many times a live bait is taken by crappie with a little more aggression ensuring a better hook up. 

Fish these guys lightly, and with your most sensitive rod. For multiple holes, set rods over pop-ups – that’s not a rule, just a me thing.

If you want to use a combination of bait and lure, try a glowing lure. Crappie seems to respond quite well to the attraction.

Also Read: Ice Fishing For Crappie – Top Tips

Ice Fishing for Pike at Night

Depending on where you fish, you might not find pike fishing at night to be all that exciting. 

But if you’re targeting trophy fish, evenings can deliver exceptional results.

For the lure anglers, noisy and bright-colored lures will work best. Add some scent for a little more attraction, as big pikes are in no hurry to seek out boring baits.

Whenever I fish at night, I tend to gravitate to live baits, especially minnows. It’s not that lures don’t work, It’s more about confidence.

When I have a live minnow on the simplest rig practical, I know I have a proven and winning rig in pretty well all conditions. 

Using live baits over lures, I simply replace lots of rod work, doubts, and second-guessing with pragmatism and patience.

At night time pike will head to the shallows close to shore and prowl the bottom – if a little lazily. 

It’s actually pretty easy fishing. However, if you hook up a trophy, the fireworks begin.

I choose live baits because that’s their natural diet. Don’t fret if you can’t get your hands on live baits. 

Pike take dead baits readily, and if I have a few rods set, I’ll set a couple with a large and smelly dead bait. It’s often stinky oily baits that will bring on an awesome fight.

See Also: Guide To Ice Fishing For Pike

Is Ice Fishing Better in the Morning or at Night

A great rule of thumb is that dawn and dusk present the best ice fishing potential. Breakfast and dinner…it stands to reason.

Perhaps you should address it this way; Are you a morning person or a night owl? 

With over 40 years of fishing, I no longer make any distinction. I put more emphasis on bait than I do the time of day.

When you fish at dawn, you generally arrive in the dark. This can be a bit of a pain, as it can be difficult to get orientated and set. 

But the sun will arrive shortly, so it’s no drama. Fishing the late afternoon into the evening is easier because you set up in the light.

As far as the fishing goes, I have found I catch better fish at night, and more fish during the morning. 

It’s important to note that this has been my experience, and is not a rule deduced from scientific study. 

There are also exceptions. I’ve caught monsters in the morning and hit schools at night.

Fish whenever you can. That’s the bottom line. If you have a line in the water, you’re in with a good chance, regardless of what the clock says.

It’s an absolute truth that the best time to fish is any time you have available. Take care of good baits, good technique, and local species knowledge, and time of day will matter less.

Do You Need a Light to Ice Fish at Night? Do They Attract Fish?

man preparing for ice fishing at night with a flashlight

You’ll need a light, but not for the fish. If anything unnatural light may spook fish. 

Although, you will hear plenty of stories from anglers who have experienced fish coming on the bite because of a strategically placed light or lights.

Light will attract small aquatic life. Hence the rest of the food chain is likely to follow, or so the theory goes. 

Yes, this can happen, but more often than not I’ve felt bright lights have spooked my target.

Bright light isn’t something natural. So, again, my preference is to keep things as natural as possible to avoid having to second guess my tactics.

Avoid shining artificial lights in the location you will fish. Often, the more serious anglers will employ red filters to ensure there are no bright white lights to spook fish.

Drilling holes and handling fish, particularly those with big teeth such as big pike, should only ever be undertaken with enough light to see what you’re doing.

Also Read: Best Cordless Drills For Ice Fishing

Light on a nighttime fishing trip, whether it is ice or anywhere is an essential kit. It’s essential for simple practical things such as seeing what you’re doing and critical for safety.

A selection of lights is best. A headlamp, a torch, and a lamp to light your hut. Also, make sure you always have spare batteries or a backup light.

Good light is about convenience and safety. The fish could do without it.

Best Tips for Ice Fishing At Night

The best tip I can give is to try and get to your location while the sun is shining. Even if you have no intention of fishing in the sunlight, get set while there’s ample natural light. It’s so much easier to get oriented and get familiar with your surroundings and your base when it’s sorted in the sunshine.

Baits, alive and dead, have always performed better for me than lures at night. Granted, this is my personal experience, and others will suggest lures are the best option. My argument is that lures can be a little more hit and miss in the dark. I prefer a percentage play, which live and dead baits offer. A great option is to set your live and dead baits and work a lure. This way you have the best of both worlds and you can remain actively fishing while you’re waiting for set baits to get a touch.

Plan your night. Whether you’re hunting a specific target or going for potluck make sure you have a plan. EG. Set up fully and then try for pike. If you have no luck then head to a productive walleye or crappie location. Have that location pre-planned. Set up your base location with a mind to having to relocate. Have a place for everything, and keep everything in its place. Things go missing in the dark, including anglers. Make plans and backup plans. Stick to them, and let friends and family know the plan.

Take more light and batteries than you will need. If you’ve ever tried ice fishing at night and lost your light source, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Essentially, if you lose your light, the fishing is pretty well over. You can get by on a rare moonlight night, but otherwise, you’re not tying knots, and you’re not seeing where you’re going. Your phone is an emergency device, so don’t be tempted to stay on and fish by phone light. Save the phone light for the trip back to the car, leaving enough battery for emergency.

Avoid fishing nights on your own. Although I have done this countless times, and you probably have to, it isn’t the safest practice, especially on early or late ice. Buy packets of glow bracelets. My daughter loves these, and they’re brilliant for night fishing. Loop them onto everything. Make every angler in your party wear one or two, you’ll be able to see them from a long distance. Mark trip hazards, your tip-ups, your set rods, your ice hole locations, the entrance to the hut, and any guy rope pegs. You get the drift. These things were a revelation to me. Whenever I ice fish at night, wherever that may be, I have a packet of glow sticks.

Connect bells to your tip-ups and set rods. An audible bite alert makes things so much easier in the dark. You can purchase clip-on bells, and bells with lights from amazon. They’re brilliant. It should really go without saying; Always have a first aid kit. Ice fishing at night seems to encourage mishaps – be prepared! Don’t believe anybody who tells you night ice fishing is a waste of time. Evenings are responsible for many PBs and trophy fish.

At nighttime, hug the shoreline and fish in 20 feet of water or less. Even huge fish will work 10 feet of water and significantly less at night time. My best evening results have been close to sure in 10 to 15 feet of water. Take a flasher or sounder, but make sure you have done your reconnaissance during the day – if possible. Knowing where the cover and structure are relative to the land ensures you hit the spot, even if you arrive in the dark. GPS is great for this.

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Sean Ward

Sean Ward

Hey there, my name is Sean – OnTrack Fishing is my site. I’m based in the UK yet I’ve been fortunate enough to catch bass in the States, barramundi in Australia, trout here at home and carp on the Danube delta. If I’m not fishing, or talking about fishing, then….I’m probably asleep.


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