5 Best Ice Fishing Lakes In The United States & Canada To Visit This Winter

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While many people throughout the United States and Canada begin their winter “hibernation” in November and December, the angling world comes alive. Switching from soft water baitcasters and crankbaits to jigs and ice fishing poles begins. 

During these times, anglers begin to plan for the ice fishing season ahead and plot out their most desirable locations to visit. With thousands of options, it can be difficult to plan the perfect trip.  However, in the article below, we narrow it down to North America’s five best ice fishing destinations, hopefully making that decision slightly easier.

The list below was made by taking into account a variety of factors, including:

  • Amount of space to fish 
  • The ease of travel 
  • Size/amount of fish 
  • Lodging availability in the areas surrounding the lakes
  • Guide and rental services that are available

5: Lake Michigan (Wisconsin and Michigan)

Ice fishing lake leech
A lone ice fishing shanty on Lake Leech

Starting off our list at number five is Lake Michigan.  Covering over 14 million acres, Lake Michigan is a fantastic choice when planning an ice fishing getaway.  While the entire lake does not freeze, multiple areas and bays on the Michigan and Wisconsin sides offer anglers ample options for success.

One of the most common areas due to its accessibility for do-it-yourself ice anglers and its success rate is Green Bay.  In addition to multiple do-it-yourself areas around the lake, there are a variety of outfitters on both sides that offer guided trips and rental equipment, which make trip planning a breeze.

Besides the amount of fishable water, one of the main draws to Lake Michigan during the winter months is the variety of fish you can catch through the ice.  It is common to have a day where you catch walleye, giant perch, northern pike, and whitefish out of the same house.  Lake trout are also pulled through the ice with a frequency, which is often the trip’s highlight.

Check out the Ice houses on Leech Lake with Trappers Landing Lodge for a great rental choice.

With so many fishable acres, ease of access, and guides, along with the ability to catch such a large variety of fish, Lake Michigan should be on the shortlist for any ice angler.

4: Red Lake (Minnesota)

Ice fishing cabin
A proper ice fishing cabin will give you better shelter
than being exposed to the cold

Coming in at number four on our list is Red Lake.  Red Lake is broken down into two lakes connected by a large channel.  Both the Upper and Lower Red Lakes provide fantastic hardwater opportunities for anglers. 

Located 40 minutes north of Bemidji, Minnesota, and covering almost 300,000 acres, Red Lake provides maybe the best Walleye fishing in North America.  In addition to walleye, giant perch, large crappies, and northern pike are extremely prevalent as well. The lake is broken down into multiple areas, via bottom terrain, which makes targeting your desired species easier here than in most places.

If you are after large crappies, spending time over the gravel runs is a great option that the local guides will direct you towards.   

The areas and towns surrounding the area are also home to multiple outfitters and places of lodging.  This makes the travel logistics easy, and pairing that with the incredible fishing Red Lake provides makes it completely worth the trip. 

If you are looking for a great place for ice fishing at Red Lake, I recommend the Red Lake Ice Fishing Rentals & Resort. It is located on the southern shore and is renowned for its better ice fishing.

3: Lake of the Woods (Minnesota, Ontario, Manitoba)

Manitoba Canada ice fishing
Lake of the Woods, Manitoba – is
not as busy as in other places

Lake of the Woods comes in at number three on our picks.  Not only is it one of the best ice-fishing lakes in North America, but it is also one of the best fishing lakes, period.

Spanning over 1 million acres, with lodges, guide services, and access points in Minnesota, Ontario, and Manitoba, The location is easily accessible and full of fish. Walleyes are the main fish targeted, as 30-inch and larger ones are pulled through the ice consistently.  In addition to walleye, northern pike, perch, and large panfish are extremely prevalent.

The only reason Lake of the Woods is not higher on the list is due to the distance required to travel to it.  Located in extreme northern Minnesota and southern Canada, the area is slightly more difficult to access.  However, the difficulty of getting there comes with two added benefits. One, it means fewer anglers to deal with, and two, the lack of people means the fish are not seeing nearly as many lines and hooks, which leads to less picky and more aggressive fish.

At 60 miles long and with a shoreline of 60,000 miles, it is also one of the most picturesque lakes in North America. With rock formations surrounding almost all sides of the lake and over 14,500 islands, it is one of the most beautiful bodies of water you will see.

These islands and rock formations also provide incredible structures for fish to hide and, in turn, for anglers to fish the lake more effectively.  Any destination ice fishing list would be incomplete without this awesome lake.

Check out some great Ice fishing rentals at the lake with the family owned Border View Lodge, which has over 40 years of experience in the area and includes guided walleye fishing.

2: Devil’s Lake (North Dakota) 

Devils lake ice fishing
Devils Lake holds some large-size perch and walleyes

Taking the number two spot on our list is Devil’s Lake.  Devil’s Lake has no defined acreage, unlike the other lakes on this list.  The lake is continually expanding, which is how it received its name. 

With the incredibly flat terrain surrounding the lake, when heavy rains come, the water has nowhere to drain and, in turn, raises the lake’s level, flooding any low area around the lake.  The lake is now six times larger than 25 years ago and shows no signs of slowing down!

While sad for family farms, the ever-increasing size of the lake has been incredible for fishing.  The new habitat is continually added, and with it, many more pieces of structure for fish to hide amongst.  The growth applies not only to the size of the lake and the amount of water but also to the fish that call it home. 

Known for its giant perch, ice anglers dream of having a picture holding one of the coolest fish on the planet.  In addition to giant perch, ice anglers will also find walleyes, sunfish, bluegills, and large crappies.

It is also one of the best lakes in the country for tip-up fishing.  Large northern pike patrol the weed lines and drop-offs and can put up some of the best fights you can have below the ice.  

Surrounded by guide services on all sides of the lake, renting necessary equipment is simple and easy if you prefer not to travel with your own gear.  This amazing body of water should be at the very top of every ice fisherman’s bucket list.

I recommend an ice fishing package (including lodging) at the Woodland Resort, where they can provide a fish house and equipment rentals, a perch patrol guide, accommodation, a restaurant, and other amenities.

1: Brainerd Lakes Area (Minnesota)   

Brainerd ice fishing shack
One of my top all-year-round fishing locations
in the US – Brainerd, Minnesota

Taking the number one and the overall top spot on the list is the Brainerd Lakes area.  While Brainerd may not be at the top of everyone’s ice fishing destinations list, it should be.

Located just 2 hours north of Minneapolis, Minnesota, surrounded by resorts, hotels, and guide services, planning an ice fishing trip to the area is easy.  Besides the simplicity of the logistics side, there are over 450 lakes to choose from in the area, making it the perfect location for an ice fishing adventure.

With so many lakes to fish, you can chase whatever type of fish you prefer.  If you are after walleyes, look no further than Mille Lacs, Pelican, or Gull Lake.  If you are after large panfish and perch, then Lake Hubert is a perfect option.  Whitefish Lake is phenomenal if you want to try your luck at tip-ups chasing muskie and northern pike. 

There are also multiple mine pit lakes in the surrounding areas if you want to try to land rainbow trout through the ice.  This area provides options for almost every fish an ice angler would want to pursue.

If your main quarry is trout, you can learn more about winter trout fishing as I go through the essential tips, baits, and gear setups needed to be successful.

Another added benefit to the number of lakes that make up the area is the ability to hop around from lake to lake.  If one lake is not producing, another fantastic option is just down the road.  This alleviates the pressure and reliance on one body of water to produce the intended results.  

These reasons, along with multiple accommodation options and a simple trip up from the airport or surrounding states, make the Brainerd Lakes area my top choice for North America’s best ice fishing destination.

I know the area well, as I love to go on a bass fishing vacation to Brainerd in the summer, but you can also get great ice fishing rentals through Minnesota Recreational Rentals on Gull Lake; they also offer a single night rental, including gear and a fish house.

Honorable Mentions:

A few locations came in just behind these five that are worth briefly mentioning.

The Pactola Reservoir, located in Deadwood, South Dakota, is a small yet deep body of water home to large lake trout, which are regularly pulled through the ice.

The Antero Reservoir, located just west of Colorado Springs, is home to various trout species, which brings back some special personal memories. 

Lake Winnebago, located just outside of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is home to one of the most unique ice fishing prizes, the sturgeon.  There is even a spearfishing season specifically for them.

The Mississippi River section between Red Wing, Minnesota, through the northern Iowa/Wisconsin border, is home to frozen backwater, which provides fantastic ice fishing opportunities for monster perch, bluegills, and crappies. 

Finally, Lake Champlain, Vermont.  It’s home to a variety of species. Lake Champlain is a large body of water full of fish, surrounded by fantastic lodging and guide services, making planning a successful ice fishing trip simple. 

Multiple other destinations barely missed a spot on the top 5 and honorable mentions list due to one or two factors, though that does not mean they are not worth the trip. Montana, New York, and Maine are also home to fantastic ice-fishing lakes, and large fish inhabit these cold areas. Likewise, there are multiple spots (if not more) in Canada. 

Ice fishing safety
When ice fishing, always go with someone as thin
ice whilst melting is dangerous

Final Thoughts

The list above shows North America has countless ice fishing opportunities.  Almost every frozen lake provides a chance for a great time and to pull multiple fish through the ice. 

Lastly, if you love fishing at higher altitudes, check out my article on alpine trout fishing lakes for an alternative to lake ice fishing.

I hope our list was informative and makes life much easier when planning your next ice fishing trip! Check out my article on cold weather fishing gear, where I take a deep dive into all the winter fishing clothing you will need for your trip.

Daniel Mooers