The 10 Best Places To Go Ice Fishing In The US – The Ultimate Guide

Ice fishing success depends largely on where you are. Knowing the best ice fishing locations can be invaluable regardless of your motivation. Whether it’s for fun or for food, it’s handy to know the best places to go ice fishing in the US.

The 10 best places to go ice fishing in the US are:

  1. Lake Champlain, VT
  2. Devils Lake, ND
  3. Lake Winnebago, WI
  4. Red Lake, MN
  5. Silver Lake, CA
  6. Harding, Birch and Quartz Lakes, AK
  7. Lake Gogebic, MI
  8. Lake of the Woods, MN
  9. Lake Michigan
  10. Moosehead Lake, ME

Any of these lakes rank among the best in the country for any type of fishing. What separates them from the rest is that they are also amazing lakes to ice fish and the governing bodies of each place actively work to promote ice fishing. Read on and see why each of these lakes made the list.

What To Look For In An Ice Fishing Spot

Picking “the best” of anything is rarely easy. Something is always left out in some people’s minds and some stuff that is included does not measure up to other people’s standards. This is particularly true with topics that are largely subjective, as so much of ice fishing, or any type of fishing, tends to be.

One of those subjective factors is the consistency of an ice fishing oriented lake to remain an ice fishing powerhouse year in and year out. A lot of factors can make a lake great for ice fishing one year and awful the next. These include:

  • Sudden warm weather
  • Mild winter
  • Late forming ice
  • Fish kill
  • Overall warming of the water
  • Warm weather algal blooms
  • Changes in the topography of a body of water

Overall, ice fishing consistency over long periods is vital to coming up with a list that is more than just a temporary designation. With that in mind, to establish consistency, some broad trends must be considered.

Key Factors

For instance, one lake that appears on virtually every list of great ice fishing destinations is the Devils Lake in North Dakota. It is acknowledged as a great ice fishing lake because, year in and year out, it produces trophy sized fish, a long ice fishing season and abundant “hotspots.”

In fact, the only fluctuating part of Devils Lake over the past 70 years has been the rise of the water level. Flooding and lake expansion has reclaimed thousands of acres of farmland over the last 40 years. But the lake remains one of those “go-to” spots for ice fishing and attracts ice fishers from all over.

Consistency Criteria

The criteria used to establish consistency to produce this list is as follows:

  • History of successful ice fishing
  • History of producing lots of fish
  • History of producing trophy fish
  • Ease of access
  • Reputation with ice fishing anglers
  • Reputation with ice fishing guides
  • Reputation with ice fishing and fishing writers

If your favorite ice fishing spot did not get on this list, it is likely because it did not meet all of the criteria or did not meet it for an exceptionally long time.

Finally, while this is a subjective ‘best of’ list, it is not ranked. Each lake is included because it is a great ice fishing lake. No one lake is better or worse than any of the others and each one has its own set of characteristics that makes it worth fishing. So, what are the 10 best places to go ice fishing in the US?

The 10 Best Places To Go Ice Fishing In The US

1. Lake Champlain, VT

This lake straddles the border of Vermont and New York and is known for producing consistent ice fishing yields and trophy fish. While it is the sixth largest lake in the US, it is also very narrow and is located far enough north that the presence of thick ice is a given.

It is not unusual to see hundreds of anglers on the ice in the dead of winter and many hanging around until as late as possible in the early spring. The reason is that Lake Champlain produces a wide swath of ice fishing fish, including pickerel, walleye, northern pike, trout, salmon, walleye, bass, panfish, perch and crappie.

There are multiple guides on the lake and tons of bays that are productive. Additionally, finding a place to stay and places to eat is easy. The lake is over 100 miles long and 14 miles across at its widest. It is over 400 feet deep at its deepest and the average depth is 64 feet.

2. Devils Lake, ND

Devils Lake is world renowned for its ice fishing. It is the largest natural body of water in North Dakota and has a moniker of “Perch Capital of the World.” In addition to perch, the lake produces northern pike and white bass. It is a fairly shallow lake and much of the waterfront now was farmland a mere generation ago.

The expanded lake size has not affected the fish populations, and many insist it has improved as the lake has expanded. The area flooded, however, is very flat, which means the water in those areas is not very deep. It pays to measure the depth before dropping in any bait.

There are multiple resorts, campgrounds and cabins on the lake that are available to visitors and the lake has become a tourist destination point. Some of the lodging establishments offer ice fishing packages that include bob houses, predrilled holes, bait and ice fishing equipment.

There are guides for ice fishing and bait shops around the entire lake. It is also common to catch a trophy perch or walleye. Whether you are experienced or just starting out ice fishing, most of the locals are happy to provide you with advice on good fishing locales.

3. Lake Winnebago, WI

As the largest lake in Wisconsin, Lake Winnebago frequently produces walleye, northern pike, perch, crappie, white bass, burbot and the occasional sturgeon. The lake is shallow for the most part, which usually means an early freeze, with structure on the west side of the lake and deeper pockets on the eastern side.

Lodging can be tricky on Lake Winnebago. There is not much lodging available directly on the lake. There are also several guide services that can help you learn the ropes of ice fishing on Lake Winnebago.

4. Red Lake, MN

Red Lake is technically two lakes connected by a channel. Lower Red Lake and over 50% of Upper Red Lake are closed to the public as they are part of the Red Lake Indian Reservation. The other 40% forms ice early due to a maximum depth of 15 feet and is a walleye haven.

In addition to walleye, Red Lake also has bigmouth buffalo, black bullhead, black crappie, bluegill, brown bullhead, burbot, freshwater drum, golden redhorse, goldeye, lake trout, lake whitefish, lake sturgeon, largemouth bass, muskie, northern pike, quillback, rock bass, shorthead redhorse, smallmouth, walleye, white sucker and yellow perch.

Besides walleye, hot ice fishing targets are perch and crappie, both of which can yield trophy fish. Because of its depth and ease of navigation, Red Lake is great for those who are just starting to ice fish.

5. Silver Lake, CA

California is not known for its ice fishing, but it has several great ice fishing spots. Of those, Silver Lake stands out. It is located at the base of Carson Mountain and is well known for its natural beauty. Access is easy and the lake is stocked with fish.

Popular fish that can be caught on Silver Lake include rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout. Occasionally, ice fishers also catch brook and mackinaw trout. It is common to catch trout in Silver Lake that exceed 20 inches.

6. Harding, Birch And Quartz Lakes, AK

Alaska is an ice fishing paradise, mainly because the fishing throughout the state is generally great. With that said, some fishing locations stick out as true gems. There are three mentioned here, because they generally go hand in hand, sitting about the same distance apart from each other on your way out of Fairbanks.

While the three lakes are known by Alaskans as the go-to places for ice fishing north of the Alaska Range, each is also renowned among visitors to Alaska for trophy fish. All three areas are stocked by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Each also has state run access points and recreational areas.

The key obstacle to ice fishing any of these three lakes is the cold. Saying it is freezing in the middle of winter does not do it justice. If you visit this area, spend some money on clothing that is guaranteed to keep you warm!

Fish in the lakes include rainbow trout, arctic char, landlocked salmon, arctic grayling, burbot and lake trout. It is important to brush up on Alaskan ice fishing rules before embarking on a trip to any of these three lakes, including registering any hard sided ice fishing shelters.

Quartz Lake

This lake is known for trophy rainbow trout. It is reported to be best from “ice-in” through early January. Jigging on shallower edges with live bait or fish eggs is popular. The lake has a maximum depth of about 50 feet and covers about 1,500 acres of surface. There is a recreational facility there with restrooms and ice hut rentals.

Birch Lake

Birch is the most popular of the three lakes for ice fishing. The fishing is fast paced and while trophy catches are not a regular occurrence, they are reported to happen occasionally. It is the smallest of the three lakes and is only about 43 feet deep at its deepest point. In addition to the fish mentioned above, Birch Lake also has:

  • Coho salmon
  • Chinook salmon
  • Lake trout

Access is public via a state managed boat ramp and a cabin, and four ice huts are available for rental from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. Jigging with eggs or shrimp is the most popular method for catching larger fish. The lake has several steep drop-offs that can be targeted to catch suspending fish.

Harding Lake

Harding lake is known as the most challenging of the three. The lake does have trophy fish, however, which makes it popular with ice fishers. Of the three lakes, Harding is the largest and the deepest, going down to 145 feet.

There is a public boat launch and a state recreational area with restroom facilities. The recreational area has a campground with about 80 RV spots and campsites. There are also about 10 sites that are not as sophisticated, and RVs can stay in the parking lot if there is room. There are not shelter rentals from the state on the lake.

The lake is known for its Arctic Char and lake trout. There is also burbot and northern pike, although no pike fishing is permitted per the Alaska Department of Fish & Game. Additionally, if you fish Harding Lake, be prepared to walk in or get through on snow machine as access can be challenging.

7. Lake Gogebic, MI

Lake Gogebic in Michigan’s upper peninsula is known for its trophy perch, but the lake also is home to many other species, including:

  • Black bullhead
  • Black crappie
  • Brown bullhead
  • Burbot
  • Cisco
  • Common shiner
  • Creek chub
  • Golden shiner
  • Northern pike
  • Pumpkinseed
  • Rock bass
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Walleye
  • White sucker
  • Yellow perch

The lake itself is over 14 miles long and 2.5 miles wide. Its deepest point is 38 feet, so it is not going to produce monsters from the abyss, although it does occasionally produce trophy fish. It also gets deep quickly off the most popular shore, which makes it very likely to land a keeper soon after you get your ice holes drilled.

8. Lake Of The Woods, MN

This lake is known for its amazing fishing, whether it be ice fishing or open water fishing. In fact, it has the reputation of being one of the most productive fisheries in the US and Canada. It is also massive, over 70 miles long and 60 miles wide, with a maximum depth that exceeds 200 feet.

For ice fishing, it is one of a kind, on par with Devils Lake in ND. Because it is a known hotspot for fishing, there are a lot of accommodations around the lake. The Lake of the Woods has an active guiding system to help all types of anglers of all experience and skill levels.

Common catches on the lake include sauger, northern pike and walleye, although it also has the following species:

  • Crappie
  • Lake sturgeon
  • Lake trout
  • Largemouth bass
  • Muskellunge
  • Northern pike
  • Panfish
  • Perch
  • Sauger
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Walleye

Of all the different species, walleye is the most popular. They are abundant and seemingly always hungry. After that, sauger are extremely popular although they are smaller than walleye. Northern pike fishing is also very popular and it is not uncommon to land one that is longer than 30 inches.

Several fish species in Lake of the Woods have seasons or outright prohibitions for fishing them. Make sure you are up-to-date with fishing regulations before embarking on any ice fishing adventure.

9. Lake Michigan

This freshwater giant is known as the best or one of the top two lakes for ice fishing in the US. You can even catch trophies within sight of some of the cities located on the lake, which is uncommon for other lakes. It is fair to say Lake Michigan is so large that you could fish it your entire life and still not come close to fishing all it has to offer!

By targeting bays, you can find some of the world’s most active ice fishing fisheries. By far, the winter ice fishing staple fish is the walleye. Other popular fish include whitefish, steelhead salmon, perch, and small and largemouth bass. Overall, the lake has over 20 different native, introduced, and invasive species of fish.

At over 300 miles long and 100 miles wide with a maximum depth of almost 1,000 feet, Lake Michigan has abundant fishing grounds, fisheries, fishing guides and accommodations. Generally, within an hours drive of any of the more than 50 cities by the lake, an ice fisher can find some of the best ice fishing in the country.

10. Moosehead Lake, ME

Unless you go by plane, getting to Moosehead is a long drive. It is worth the effort, however. While the fishing year round is incredible, ice fishing is exceptionally good. The lake is 40 miles long and at its widest it stretches for 12 miles. Before and after that point are hundreds of coves, inlets and bays that at times teem with fish.

The fish you can expect to catch include landlocked salmon, panfish, smallmouth bass, perch, pickerel, northern pike, and multiple species of trout. In addition, the lake is also home to a variety of other fish, such as:

  • Blacknose dace
  • Brown bullhead
  • Burbot
  • Common shiner
  • Creek chub
  • Fallfish
  • Lake chub
  • Longnose sucker
  • Northern redbelly dace
  • Rainbow smelt
  • Round whitefish
  • White sucker

Moosehead is a popular destination for fishers throughout the year and is also very popular as a family vacation spot. Because it is family oriented, the lake is a great place to teach the entire family how to ice fish. Another major draw to the area is the ice fishing derby, held in the last week of January, which offers cash prizes for top performers.

One key thing to remember is that, of all the lakes on this list, Lake Moosehead’s weather is the most unpredictable. Adding to this is the fact that the lake beyond the winter is bitterly cold, and frequently windy and stormy. Finally, the northern third of the lake is surrounded by true wilderness with few roads and almost no homes.

Because of the harshness of the weather and the overall remoteness of the lake, it is vital that you be prepared, even if you stay within a few miles of civilization. Storms can pop up on the lake very quickly and change from sunny and cold to whiteout conditions in a matter of minutes. Make sure you have a cold weather survival kit with you at all times.

5 More Great Places To Go Ice Fishing In The US

1. Lake Arthur, PA

Pennsylvania is not known for its ice fishing. There are many lakes, however, that provide ice fishing fun, primarily in the northern and northwestern part of the state. Lake Arthur, located 40 miles north of Pittsburgh, is one such gem. It is known for trophy fish, including:

  • Pike
  • Perch
  • Muskellunge
  • Largemouth bass
  • Trout
  • Black and white Crappie
  • Walleye
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Yellow and white perch

It also has some gigantic bluegill that will go after a properly presented bait, even in cold conditions. Some bluegill caught here have been reported to exceed 10 inches. The lake is known around the world for its trophy bluegill.

Live bait and light tackle work best at Lake Arthur. Jigging with a small spoon is also very popular. Many anglers also use tip-down rigs with minnows. Finally, for bluegill in particular, grubs are an ever popular bait all year long.

While the season is shorter because of the climate, the ice fishing, when it is in season, is great. If you are considering visiting Lake Arthur, make sure you research current ice conditions before you travel there.

2. Leech Lake, MN

Leech Lake’s deepest point is 150 feet, and it is the third largest lake in Minnesota. It is known for its muskellunge and walleye population. Its spotted muskellunge is a signature fish and has been stocked throughout Minnesota. The majority of the lake resides within the Chippewa National Forest and Leech Lake Indian Reservation.

While its deepest section is very deep, the lake overall is fairly shallow. It averages about 20 feet deep across the entire lake and 80 percent of the lake is less than 35 feet deep. Of its 195 miles of shoreline, about 78 miles are considered walleye spawning grounds. Many of its bays drop off to deep water very quickly.

Common ice fishing targets include:

  • Bluegill
  • Eelpout (burbot)
  • Hybrid sunfish
  • Largemouth bass
  • Muskellunge
  • Northern pike
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Walleye
  • Yellow perch

Nighttime ice fishing is common, with many anglers going for record sized eelpout. In fact, there is a major ice fishing eelpout derby that everyone that likes to catch these types of fish should seriously consider.

3. Lake Erie

The only reason Lake Erie is not on everyone’s top 10 list for ice fishing destinations are the issues it has had with farm and chemical runoff and algae. There are significant numbers of steelhead salmon, walleye, perch, lake trout, king salmon, northern pike and bluegills. The lake is also easy to access and fish.

If you go, be prepared to deal with wind and possibly lake effect snow. Make sure you are dressed appropriately for cold temperatures, gusty winds, ice and snow. It is common to have periods of sleet as well.

4. Fort Peck Reservoir, MT

Deep and long, the Fort Peck Reservoir provides remoteness, stunning scenery, and is home to over 50 species of fish. Ice fishing targets are typically walleye, trout, sauger and pike. The lake is over 130 miles long and more than 220 feet deep. There are ample guides and accommodations at various points around the lake.

5. Higgins Lake, MI

Higgins Lake is one of the most popular ice fishing spots in Michigan. The lake is very deep and there are abundant fish all year long. These include trout, panfish, perch, pike, etc. The only drawback is that the lake freezes slower than most. That means waiting until after New Year’s to plan a trip in most cases.

Final Thoughts

Even with our expanded list, there are other ice fishing lakes in the US that are simply amazing. But including them all here would require a book! However, if you are looking for the absolute best places to try out ice fishing, this list is a great start.