Does time of day matter for ice fishing ?

There are a variety of factors that play into the success or failure of an ice fishing trip. At the same time, questions about the most effective tackle, gear or location, or commonplace, the time of day are often overlooked. Anglers looking should always consider what is the best time of day for ice fishing ?


The best time of day for ice fishing is the several hours immediately following sunrise. Though right before sunset and directly afterward can be fraught with fish on the line, early morning is not only the safest but is also one of the most high-yielding times of the day. Whether it’s safety on the ice, the first bite of the day, or the sunrise, there are a multitude of reasons why first thing in the morning is the best time to fish.


While there are 24 hours in a day, there are only a few key times in which anglers are most likely to have success. The species of fish being angled for plays a massive role in selecting which time of day is best. Though both sunset and night fishing are considered excellent times to angle on the ice, sunrise and the hours following are the best in terms of safety, comfort, and chances of success.


Though first thing in the morning is the best time to get on the water, there are more questions that need answering. 


Why is morning the best time to go ice fishing? 


What are other times of day best for ice fishing? 


What time of day is best for a certain species of fish? 


We answer all this and more in the article below.


What is the best time of day to go ice Fishing?


The best time of day to go ice fishing is directly after sunrise for several hours. Anglers may reach their site on the ice up to half an hour before sunrise to set up, as there will usually be enough light to safely auger holes and construct tip-ups and bait lines.


There are several reasons why after sunrise is the best time to go Ice Fishing. These include temperatures, the sun, the Ice, the fish, and safety concerns. Below we address each of these in-depth to answer why directly after sunrise is the best time to go ice fishing.




During the night, temperatures usually plummet in ice fishing areas. Colder water usually leads to more lethargic fish, meaning lower bites and less activity. At sunrise, the water begins to warm, creating a more conducive environment for fish to become active.


Because warmer water leads to a higher activity level from fish, the several hours after sunrise usually yield a significant catch. This also provides less frigid temperatures for the angler to face out on the Ice, meaning the duration of your angling trip can be extended as the day progresses.

The Sun 


The sun has a direct impact on the success of early morning fishing. Not only does it warm the water in the environment, but it also increases visibility beneath the ice. Because many fish are sight predators, increased invisibility allows them to detect your bait from a further distance and identify it as prey. 


The sun also provides anglers enough illumination to safely maneuver on the ice, moving from fishing hole to fishing hole without using a flashlight or headlamp. While fishing in the evening means that anguish will have to return to shore under cover of darkness, angling directly after sunrise means that anglers spend most of their time in well-lit conditions, mitigating the risk of a mishap on ice.


Also, when using tip-ups, increased illumination allows anglers to identify when a flag goes up, signifying a strike on the end of the line.


The Ice


Often not discussed when it comes to ice fishing, the integrity of the ice anglers are standing on can occasionally come into question, leading to a fall into the water with potentially fatal consequences. One of the leading causes of the ice’s integrity being compromised is temperature. 


As previously referenced, temperatures usually plummet at night, solidifying the sheet of ice throughout the night. At sunrise, when temperatures climb, some of this ice may begin to melt, and the thickness of the sheet decrease. When this happens, anglers are at risk of plummeting through the ice into the frigid water below.


The benefit of angling early in the morning is that the temperature has not yet had time to burn off any of the ice, meaning that the structural integrity of the ice is usually such that it is still safe and solid for the hours spent angling. 


Of course, if temperatures are still incredibly low, there is a high chance that the integrity of the ice will remain the same throughout the course of the day.


The Fish


Time of day is incredibly important when angling. Specifically for the species of fish, you are targeting, a few hours can be the difference between a full stringer and reeling in to find the bait still on your hook.


Because the temperature plays such a large role, many Fish are lethargic throughout the night, and have not eaten for a full cycle of darkness. This means that as the water warms and visibility increases, they’ll be looking to get their first meal of the day. Anglers looking to capitalize on this first bite should be out on the water at or shortly after sunrise to make good on these hungry fish.


Because midday sun increases visibility to the point that fish are easily spotted by predators, and by evening, temperatures are dropping again, meaning lethargy will increase, early to mid-morning angling is the best time to catch fish on ice.




Fishing as the light increases is much safer for anglers looking to maneuver on the ice and return home than angling at sunset. The increased light allows anglers to identify thin patches on the ice and other safety hazards while setting up and tearing down any gear under well-lit conditions. 


Additionally, the continually warming temperature can help mitigate the risk of hypothermia or other cold-induced injuries that may occur on the ice from being ill-prepared or underdressed for the weather.


What are some other good times of day to go Ice Fishing?


Two other times throughout  day/night work well for ice fishing. Both sunset and directly after can be incredibly successful times to go ice fishing, though not as successful as an early morning outing on the ice. Below, we cover both times and why they could be a good choice for you to go ice fishing.




Ice fishing at dusk can be an incredibly successful time to fish. As the light dims, invertebrates and plankton, which make up the base level of the food chain, begin to float from the bottom of the body of water, and freely move around the water column. Fish will begin to feed during the evening as the sun lowers in the sky, meaning there is some illumination but not enough to provide predators an easy meal on baked fish. 


This is also many fish’s last chances to get in a meal before the cold and darkness sets in, so the bites will reach a peak as fish attempt to cram in their last supper. 


Many fish do have poor night vision, so the twilight hours are best, allowing fish to still have a visual on your bait before heading off to bed down for the night.




The night is probably the riskiest time to hit the water, but it does come with its benefits. Many fish species will feed until nearly midnight, and some of the best ice fishing around will occur after dark. 

However, nighttime ice fishing requires that anglers hit the water prior to sundown to auger their holes and have the gear set up prior to darkness. Anglers should make sure to bring their flashlights, headlamps, and an additional precaution of leaving glow sticks or lamps at each hole drilled in the ice to provide some illumination of the surrounding area. 


This technique is particularly helpful if anglers are looking to use tip-up systems, allowing them to fish multiple holes at once.


Fish species and time of day


Depending on the species of fish you are searching for, the time of day may have a significant impact on your success. While some fish prefer sunlight and high visibility, species such as the walleye and crappie have excellent night vision, and Will yield better results when angled for after dark.



For trout, sunrise and twilight are prime time fishing. For trout to eat, a certain amount of light is required for them to obtain view of their prey. The species also has some trouble seeing colors, which tends to make them less likely to bite during darkness.


Because trout species tend to inhabit shallow, flat water that drops off steeply into deeper water, changing light conditions such as sunrise and sunset are prime times feeding for these fish.




Bluegills are most often caught late afternoon to early evening. Because they thrive in this small window of opportunity, the bites prior to and after are minimal. Throughout the day, bluegill will venture into the shallows in search of food, being most active early in the morning and late in the evening. They rarely bite at night as they have poor night vision and will not feed in low light conditions.



A species that prefer evenings and nights, the walleye primetime takes place in low light and darkness. In contrast to the other species, walleye have excellent night vision, which allows them to hunt in the darkness. If you’re looking to ice fish at night, this is your species to go after.


Predatory and incredibly aggressive, between sunset and midnight is the perfect time to angle for walleye. Biting on a myriad of baits, these predators range in habitat and can be drawn in with scent and colorful lures. 


Northern Pike


Another deviation from the norm, the northern pike bites from the sun up till the early afternoon. Its most successful time is often midday, but these animals prefer to eat when the water is coldest, meaning the prime time can change depending on location. Continuously feasting, these voracious predators eat anything from crawfish to small mammals from sunrise to sunset.



Having excellent night vision, these fish are often caught in conjunction with walleye as they share the same optimal time of day. Though they can be caught throughout the day, they are difficult to find when the sun is out. Instead, large schools of these can be found between the hours of sunset and midnight.




A fish that’s common throughout North America, perch are sought after for there abundance and delicious flavor profile. Because they have poor night vision, perch will not bite at night as this is also when one of their primary predators, the pike, hunts. 


The best time of day for perch is morning. Just before and after the sun up, there will be a high concentration of perch stirring from lethargy, looking for their first meal of the day.  Perch will usually stick to the bottom, but when food is scarce, they will come up to the surface.




Time of day plays a significant role in the success or failure of an angle and trip. This is no different with ice fishing. The best time of day is just after sunrise due to the change in temperature, visibility, fish, and the additional safety benefits. Catching these fish at breakfast time can yield excellent results.


However, sunset and after dark are also excellent times to angle when ice fishing. Certain species such as walleye and crappy prefer the dark, while perch and pike prefer the morning. While there are 24 hours in a day to angle, morning, sunset, and after dark are the best times to get out on the ice, and hopefully, this helps you on your next fishing trip.

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