Ice fishing season is something that I look forward to all year. It's a nice change of pace from the traditional methods of fishing, and with big game and waterfowl season coming to an end, I'll look for any excuse to stay outside in pursuit of adventure.
If you haven't been fortunate enough to experience the unique thrill that is ice fishing, you're seriously missing out. The comradery and scenery that accompanies sitting on the ice with friends and family waiting for a big strike is something that is hard to match through any other pursuit. The good news is, any fan of the outdoors and fishing can have the opportunity to experience these frozen honey holes with little expense, the important part is knowing where to go.
You'll hear countless stories about massive pike caught on the ice in Minnesota, or people camping overnight in skid houses catching seemingly limitless walleye in Wisconsin. But the truth is, you don't have to live or even visit those states to make the most of the winter catch. There are several states that get overlooked for their ice fishing potential simply because they don't make headlines, however, I'd argue that those undervalued, sleeper states, are the spots I want to be at most this winter.
Here are five sleeper states that offer some of the best ice fishing you'll ever experience, and you won't even have to beat the crowd to enjoy it.
The Bay State is known for a lot of things. Great sports teams, prestigious universities, rich history, but unfortunately, it often gets overlooked for its ice fishing. Over the years the winters in Mass have gotten seemingly more mild, leading to a much more narrow window for ice anglers, however, when ice forms, get ready for some of the best fishing there is.
Chauncy Lake near Westborough is one of the more common spots for anglers to gather at. Though a relatively small lake, anglers have reportedly taken some massive musky, some even weighing over the 18-pound mark. Pike, perch, smallmouth and pickerel are other commonly caught fish here. If this spot isn't on your bucket list, it should be now.
Maryland has long been a coveted state when it comes to fishing, however that is usually in the case of avid fly anglers targeting redfish, or saltwater enthusiasts congregating by Chesapeake Bay looking for flounder and rockfish. But Maryland is often overlooked for it's incredible ice fishing, but it shouldn't be.
Lake Habeeb, located within Rocky Gap State Park is known to locals as ice fishing heaven, as well as providing the most incredible scenery you may ever see. Known for the "bluest water in the state of Maryland," Lake Habeeb holds giant smallmouth bass, yellow perch, rainbow trout and even catfish. If you're looking for a spot that doesn't get pressured during the winter, this just might be it.
The midwestern states get a lot of credit for providing some excellent ice fishing opportunities, but one state within that region that doesn't get as much hype in comparison is my home state of Ohio. The Buckeye State has a lot of manmade lakes, which don't require weeks of freezing temps in order to become solid. Thus, you can always count on having a pretty long ice fishing season here.
Lake Erie is by far the most common ice fishing spot in the state, holding record breaking Walleye and some respectable perch numbers as well. If you're looking to escape the crowd, I would suggest Atwood Lake or Wallace Lake. Both offer easy access for visitors, and are stocked annually with a great variety of fish species.
Before everyone gets on to me about identifying Oregon as a "sleeper" state, let me start off by saying, yes, Oregon is often mentioned as a great ice fishing state. However, the reputation the state holds doesn't nearly meet what it deserves.
The Lake of the Woods alone is one of the most iconic ice fishing destinations in the entire United States, yet so many dismiss it in pursuit of midwestern lakes. This 1,000-acre lake is as picturesque as you might imagine, and while the scenery is beautiful, the fishing is even better. From trout, bass and even salmon, this lake provides an experience unlike any other and will forever be one of my favorite ice fishing destinations.
Heading back to New England to end our list, the Pine Tree State provides incredible fishing year round, but where it truly stands out is its excellent, yet hushed, reputation for ice fishing. While it is likely that the reason Maine is such a sleeper state is because of its proximity to the rest of the United States, however, I would argue that it is more than worth the trip.
Moosehead Lake, which is the largest lake in the entire state, has become known by residents as one of the greatest ice fishing lakes in existence, and even as a nonresident, I can attest that it is accurate. This lake holds incredible numbers of trout as well as salmon, and it seems like the fish are almost always eager to bite. Unfortunately, the secret is out to residents about how great this lake is, so you might be fighting a crowd upon arriving. If you're looking for a more private destination, Rangeley and Long Lake are less populated spots that still provide incredible fishing, year after year.
While there are countless of undervalued and often even missed spots that provide incredible ice fishing, these five states have proven to be ice fishing meccas with seemingly little hype around them, making it great for any angler to jump on before the secret gets out.
Ice fishing season is here, and I encourage every sportsman and outdoor enthusiast to get out on the ice and enjoy one of the best winter activities there is. Having said that, fishing on the ice can be unpredictable at times, and it's important that you take every safety precaution to protect yourself and the people you are enjoying it with. Be safe and have fun!