Why dark skies mean hot ice-fishing for pike, walleye and perch

Fish under dark skies

When the winter weather turns dreary, it’s time to take advantage

With as much as five feet of ice and snow separating you from the fish, you’d think the weather would play much less of a role in the winter than it does during the open-water season. But you’d be wrong.

Almost every year for the past 15, In-Fisherman TV host Doug Stange has visited me at least once, and often several times over the winter, to film a show. We usually kick off the season in early January immediately after the lake trout season opens. If the weather is unseasonably mild, the sky is dark and dreary and flurries are punctuating the air—all indicative of an arriving front—we knock the trout ball out of the park. However, we typically take twice as long to shoot a show if the pressure is high, accompanied by plummeting sub-zero temperatures, mile-high blue skies and bright sunshine.

Dark days and shoulder hours are best for targeting pike. Credit: Gord Pyzer.
Dark days and shoulder hours are best for targeting pike. Credit: Gord Pyzer.

The difference in the action is even more profound when we’re targeting black crappies, northern pike, walleye or yellow perch. When it’s dazzling bright outside, you can generally set your watch on the fish—especially pike and walleye—biting best when the sun comes to rest on the horizon between 4 and 4:30 p.m. Prove it to yourself this winter by monitoring the weather and timing your ice-fishing adventures to coincide with snowy, dark, overcast conditions. On the other hand, if you find yourself ice fishing on ultra-cold, crisp, clear, sunny days, be prepared to work hard for those bites.

Every Friday this winter we’ll be sharing Outdoor Canada’s top ice fishing tips for 2017. Check back regularly to learn about the latest tackle, tips and techniques for icing more walleye, perch, northern pike, lake trout, crappies and whitefish.

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