ice fishing

Winter Fishing: Nice to be on the ice

Ice fishing is a popular winter activity in North Dakota

When rivers and lakes throughout North Dakota ice over, avid anglers drill a hole and keep on fishing. Ice fishing practices in North Dakota run the gamut, from a bucket on the ice to elaborate ice house setups that include televised football and tasty foods, while others may prefer darkhouse spearfishing.

Regardless of your technique, ice fishing provides hours of recreation. Embrace the Norwegian lifestyle known as "friluftsliv" which translates to "free air life." Year-round activities in the great outdoors and connecting with nature have positive effects on health, mind and body.

Fishing is going to heat up on the ice: A preview 2023-2024 Ice Fishing Season in North Dakota

As the temperatures in North Dakota drop and winter wraps its icy embrace around the northern plains, the crisp air and frozen landscapes mark the arrival of winter and the beginning of ice fishing season. The 2023-2024 ice fishing season in North Dakota promises to be a thrilling adventure for anglers, offering a mix of challenges and the promise of rewarding catches.

Watch the statewide ice fishing preview for the 23/24 season by ND Game and Fish

Watch the regional ice fishing previews for the 23/24 season by ND Game and Fish

Ice Conditions: A Solid Foundation for Adventure

Most lakes in North Dakota have developed a solid layer of ice early. Because of the lack of snow, the ice that has formed is very solid, providing a sturdy base for winter anglers. Always check ice thickness regularly and exercise caution and stay updated on local ice conditions.

Tactics and Baits: Decoding the Winter Secrets

Success on the ice often hinges on using the right tactics and baits. Jigging remains a tried-and-true method for enticing various species. Anglers targeting walleye can experiment with jigging spoons and live minnows, while those in pursuit of perch may find success with small jigs tipped with waxworms or perch eyes. Northern pike, the apex predators of frozen waters, can be enticed with large spoons, tip-ups armed with sizable minnows, or flashy lures that will entice a strike.

As the season progresses, adapting to the changes like fishing pressure, weather conditions and knowledge of forage is crucial. The ability to be mobile and move to where the fish are can make the difference between a good trip and a great trip. Pay attention to depth, structure, and the activity levels of different species throughout the day. Perch is a species usually targeted in the early morning before and after sunrise. Pike generally like to eat in the morning and bluegill will feed in the afternoon. Walleye and crappie are most active later in the evening and into the night because of their superior night vision.

Top Picks for Fishing Spots: Old Reliable and Hidden Treasures
  • Devils Lake: Known for its diverse fishery and regularly a top ice fishing destination in North Dakota, Devils Lake offers opportunities to catch walleye, perch, and northern pike and is also known for their great services. The state’s largest natural body of water boasts abundant populations of varied species of fish. Focus on drop-offs, submerged structures, and weed edges for better success.
  • Lake Sakakawea: This reservoir is a hot spot for 15- to 20-inch walleye and exceptional pike fishing. Try targeting deep structures and submerged points. Be cautious of changing ice conditions near channels of moving water. The walleye population remains strong on Sakakawea. Lake Sakakawea is also a great place for darkhouse spearfishing because of its healthy pike. Check out US Army Corps of Engineers ice fishing access maps for guidance.
  • Stump Lake: This lake is popular for perch and northern pike. The lake covers a considerable area and is known for great fishing in the winter. Stump Lake is often overlooked because of its proximity to neighboring Devils Lake.
  • Logan/McIntosh counties: Hundreds of small to moderate sized lakes dot the prairie landscape in the German-Russian triangle where you find towns like Ashley, Wishek and Lehr. Trophy-sized northern pike and walleye, along with abundant perch await anglers looking for tranquility of ice fishing in this region.
  • Barnes/Stutsman counties: The areas near Jamestown and Valley City will likely be the best areas to target perch and bluegill this season. Lake Ashtabula has been fairly consistent with good numbers of walleye and pike. A hidden gem may be some of the smaller lakes around Valley City. Moon and St. Mary’s lakes have abundant walleye and perch populations. Barnes and Stutsman counties embrace the winter fishing culture, with local events, tournaments, and gatherings that bring together avid anglers.
  • Lake Metigoshe – In the densely forested Turtle Mountains of North Dakota, straddling the U.S.-Canadian border, Lake Metigoshe is one of the cleanest natural freshwater lakes in North Dakota. Lake Metigoshe and its many surrounding small bodies of water are perfect for catching pike and walleye. But the real reasons to add Metigoshe to your list are monster bluegills and quality crappie.
  • Lehr Area – Logan/McIntosh county near Lehr is home to dozens of glacial lakes that are fantastic for ice fishing. Some lakes boast healthy perch populations (Erickson Lake, Dollinger-Schnabel Lake) while others have abundant large pike (Beaver Lake, Clear Lake) and walleye (Dry Lake, Green Lake, Marvin Miller Lake).
  • Lake Darling – Just northwest of Minot, Lake Darling rests along the Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge. Lake Darling is home to strong northern pike, walleye and yellow perch populations.
  • Lake Audubon – Good numbers of walleye and an excellent smallmouth bass fishery. Anglers should see good numbers of 14- to 20-inch walleye. Some large pike are present. Audubon has easy access being adjacent to Highway 83.
  • Robinson Area – Upper Kidder County lakes like Jasper near Robinson and Josephine by Tuttle, have abundant walleye with the occasional fish over 25 inches. Woodhouse Lake northeast of Wing has abundant large walleye, with some topping 28 inches. Helen Lake north of Tuttle is an excellent pike fishery.

Click here for more fishing waters in North Dakota

As the 2023-2024 ice fishing season unfolds in North Dakota, anglers are greeted by a winter wonderland of possibilities. The frozen lakes hold the promise of memorable catches and the thrill of a successful day on the ice. With the right preparation, a sense of adventure, and a touch of patience, anglers can make the most of this winter's bounty and create lasting memories in the heart of North Dakota's frozen landscapes. So, bundle up, drill some holes, and let the ice fishing season in North Dakota begin!

Click here for more details on ice fishing in North Dakota

Fishing Regulations Guide (2022-24)