There is something exciting in the dark. It’s almost as if the coming of night brings back some innate memory of when humans lived in caves and danger lurked beyond firelight. It tinges even the most mundane evening activities, like walking the dog, with an air of adventure. This is especially true when doing something with the potential for a huge reward, like pulling the fish of your life through the ice.
Ice fishing at night offers anglers the opportunity to catch crepuscular or nocturnal species such as walleye and burbot in numbers and sizes they never knew existed. These species become more active at night, often hunting and feeding with an avidity not seen during the day. This activity can provide anglers willing to brave the icy darkness with fantastic fishing opportunities. However, just as it was for those ancient hunter-gatherers of the past, night ice fishing brings with it elements of danger and requires changes in strategy for both survival and success.
Night ice fishing safety
The first thing to worry about when ice fishing at night is safety. While ice fishing can be dangerous at any time, something as insignificant and even fun during the day as stepping into a gaping hole in the ice can turn into a deadly mistake in the bitter cold at night. The total darkness of a winter night makes it more difficult to see and be seen, so your first priority on any night fishing trip should be light.
The use of a headlamp is essential to any night fishing expedition and should never leave your dome once the sun goes down. You’ll want one with a good battery and high lumen brightness that puts out at least a 150 to 200 degree field of view. The best fishing options will also come with a red light option, a color that is less likely to scare fish but can still be easily seen by the human eye. In addition to the headlamp, you should also carry a powerful flashlight in your pocket or on your belt, where you can quickly reach it. Not only will this light help you navigate the ice, it can also be used to call for help should the worst happen.
At night, it’s best to ice fish from a ranch or pop-up, which provides both shelter from the cold and a marker that will let other fishermen and night adventurers know you’re nearby. Your shack should also have a significant light source, so that you can not only find your way back in the dark after running into a dump, but also so you don’t get run over by a snowmobile in the middle of the night. Long strips of reflective tape affixed to all four walls of the shelter are a great way to prevent this. You can also add a couple of small LED light sources to the roof of the shelter.
Aside from light, a night ice fisherman’s other main concern is heat. Northern winter nights often see a temperature drop of up to 30 degrees from daylight to darkness, so you’ll want to be prepared. Bring extra layers of warm clothing to the ice, along with a backup pair of gloves and an extra hat. If you plan to spend the night, or even if you don’t, it’s also good to have a zero-degree sleeping bag and a couple of emergency blankets. A crib is a must for sleeping, and those cheap interlocking foam mats as flooring will keep you warmer and allow less gear to get wet.
In addition, your ice shack should also have a heat source, such as a simple propane or battery-powered heater, which will not only help keep you safe, but will make all the difference in keeping you on the ice during those freezing nights instead. to hurry back home. the truck. If you are using a heater in your shelter, be sure to leave a vent open. A carbon monoxide detector is also a very, very good idea.
Lastly, staying safe when ice fishing at night means setting up strategically. You don’t want to be in an unfamiliar area of the lake. At a minimum, get out in daylight for ice depth, shoreline access, and ideally find a piece of structure or a honey hole to set up your shelter above. Find a place where you don’t have to place your tips too far from your shack and where, should the worst happen, you can be rescued quickly. While I’m sure the fishing is great in the sky, I don’t think there are many of us ready to find out just yet.
Equipment and Strategies for Night Fishing
According to avid night ice fisherman and MeatEater contributor Ross Robertson, the biggest difference in night versus day ice fishing is not in the gear or fishing strategy you use, but in the additional gear you must bring.
“Usually the same lines, baits and lures you use to fish for walleye during an afternoon will work just fine at night,” Ross said. “Some like to use glowing bugs or lights on their baits, which can sometimes work very well, but in very clear or high pressure water I have found that they can scare fish away. It’s best to stick with what works for you during the day.”
However, he said that factors other than lure selection can make or break an ice camp.
“The real big difference in night fishing comes from having to use the light to see what the hell you’re doing,” Ross said. “I don’t think people realize how much what they do at night affects the fish. Putting lights in the hole and other things can scare off large predators like walleye. I have seen fish absolutely say bye-bye when they see some kind of light. However, light is often required just to see your line when you’re in the hole.”
Ross recommends bringing a variety of lights that are as low-impact as possible, like red-beam headlamps and flashlights for tying and unhooking fish and lithium power boxes to make sure everything stays charged and running in the cold. He also recommends using no more shiny electronic devices, such as fish finders and underwater cameras, than is absolutely necessary. When you’re fishing, he said, keep the lights out in the shack as often as possible.
“It’s weird, but you want your eyes to get used to the dark so you’ll have the best possible night vision,” Ross said. “Having flashlights on, flashlights bouncing, and marking fish on screens can light up the bottom of the lake like a disco floor, even through really thick ice. It will scare the fish, so you have to really think about your footprint in the water and cause as little disturbance as possible.”
With this in mind, there are plenty of ways to light your way while fishing at night without scaring the fish away. If you’re using tip-ups, stick a small glow stick on top of the flag that will make very little disturbance below the surface of the water compared to a bright spotlight. Place them just outside your shack window so it’s easy to see them bouncing around in the dark. Shade the screens of your electronic devices by placing them up and well away from the hole, or by gluing cardboard around the edges to block ambient light from the hole. Only turn on the lights in the bunkhouse for short intervals and use red or black lights whenever possible. When you’re jigging in the shack, you’ll want to fish more slowly and methodically, fishing by touch and in tune with the quiet calm of the night. If he’s dead, try using a bite alarm or even a small bell, especially in a hot, steamy shack where he may have fallen asleep.
own the night
One of the worst things is having to get out of the water just as the sting starts to heat up. During the summer, sunset and sunrise bring a “magic hour” and this principle is maintained during the hard water season. If you’re up for ice fishing at night, you can be in place with your holes drilled and your lines set just as the big fish come out to play, making it a fish’s worst nightmare.