There is something exciting in the dark. It’s almost as if the coming of night brings back an innate memory of when humans lived in caves and danger lurked just beyond the firelight. It gives even the most mundane nighttime activities, like walking the dog, an air of adventure. This is especially true when doing something with great reward potential, like landing the fish of your life through the ice.
Night ice fishing 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 foraging with unseen greed during the day. This activity can provide anglers willing to brave the freezing darkness with fantastic fishing opportunities. Yet, just as it was for those ancient hunter-gatherers of the past, night ice fishing carries elements of danger and requires changes in strategy for survival and success.
Ice fishing safety at night
The first thing you need to worry about when ice fishing at night is safety. While ice fishing at any time can be dangerous, something as insignificant and even fun during the day as walking through an open ice hole can become a deadly mistake in the freezing cold of the evening. The total darkness of a winter night makes it harder to see and be seen, so your first priority on any night fishing trip should be light.
Carrying a headlamp is essential on any night fishing expedition and it should never leave your dome once the sun has gone down. You’ll want one with a good battery and high brightness that gives off at least a 150-200 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 reach it quickly. Not only will this light help you navigate the ice, but it can also be used to summon help should the worst happen.
At night, it’s best to ice fish from a slum or pop-up, which provides both shelter from the cold and a marker that will let other anglers and night adventurers know you’re around. Your hut should also have a significant light source, so that you can not only find your way in the dark after running to a dumpster, but also so that it doesn’t get rammed by a snowmobiler in the middle of the dumpster. the night. Long strips of reflective tape taped to all four walls of the shelter are a great way to prevent this. You can also add a few small LED light sources on the roof of the shelter itself.
Besides light, the other main concern of the night ice fisherman is heat. Winter nights in the North often see a 30 degree temperature drop between daylight and dark, so you’ll want to be prepared. Bring extra layers of warm on-ice clothing with you, as well as a spare 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 some emergency blankets. A cot is mandatory for sleeping, and these inexpensive interlocking foam mats for flooring will keep you warm and less likely to get your gear wet.
Additionally, your ice shack should also have a heat source like a simple propane or battery-powered heater, which will not only help keep you safe, but will go a long way in keeping you on the ice during cold weather. freezing evenings instead of rushing to the truck. If you use a heater in your shelter, be sure to leave a vent open. A carbon monoxide detector is also a very, very good idea.
Finally, 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 the bare minimum, go outside in daylight to find out the depth of the ice, shore access, and ideally find a piece of structure or a honey hole to set up your shelter above. Find a place where you won’t have to place your dumpsters too far from your barracks and where, if the worst should happen, you can be quickly rescued. While I’m sure the fishing is great in paradise, I don’t think too many of us are discovering it yet.
Equipment and strategies for night fishing
According to Ross Robertson, avid nighttime ice fisherman and MeatEater contributor, the biggest difference between night and daytime ice fishing isn’t in the gear or fishing strategy you use, but rather in the additional equipment you need to bring.
“In general, the same lines, baits and lures that you use for afternoon jigging for walleye will work great at night,” Ross said. “Some guys like to use bugs or bright lights on their baits which can sometimes work really well, but in high pressure or very clear water I have found that can scare the fish away. It’s best to stick with what works for you during the day.
However, he said factors other than lure selection can make or break an ice camp.
“The real big difference in night fishing is that you have to use light to see what you’re doing,” Ross said. “I don’t think people realize how much what they do at night affects the fish. Stick lights in the hole and what cannot scare away large predators like walleye. I’ve seen fish absolutely disappear when they see some kind of light. Still, light is often needed just to see your line when it’s in the hole.
Ross recommends bringing an assortment of lights that are as low impact as possible, such as red-light headlamps and flashlights for tying knots and unhooking fish and lithium power boxes for snuggling. ensuring everything stays charged and running in the cold. He also recommends using no more bright electronics like fish finders and underwater cameras than absolutely necessary. When fishing, he says, keep the lights off in the cabin as often as possible.
“It’s weird, but you want your eyes to get used to the dark, so you’ll have the best night vision possible,” Ross said. “Having lit lanterns, bouncing flashlights and tagging fish on screens can light up the bottom of the lake like a fucking disco floor, even through really thick ice. This will scare the fish away, so you really want to think about your footprint on the water and make as little disturbance as possible.
With that in mind, there are plenty of ways to light your way while night fishing without scaring the fish away. If you are using tip-ups, stick a small glow stick on top of the flag which will make very little disturbance below the water surface compared to a bright spotlight. Place them just outside your treehouse window so they’re easy to see bouncing around in the dark. Shade the screens of your electronic devices by positioning them face up and away from the hole, or by taping cardboard around the edges to block ambient light from the hole. Only turn on the lights in the treehouse for brief intervals and use red lights or black lights whenever possible. When jigging in the slum, you’ll want to fish more slowly and methodically, fishing by touch and in tune with the quiet stillness of the night. If you’re dead, try using a bite alarm or even a small bell, especially in a warm cabin where you may have dozed off.
own the night
One of the worst things is having to leave the water just when the bite is starting to get hot. During the summer, sunset and sunrise bring a “magic hour” and this principle is true during hard water season. If you’re up for ice fishing at night, you can be up with your holes drilled and your lines set just when the big boys come out to play, becoming a fish’s worst nightmare.