What is the science behind ice fishing?

What is the science behind ice fishing?


River Fisheries of Maine Bag-net fishing for smelts under the ice, Penobscot River, Maine Subject: Smelt fisheries, Fishing nets, Ice fishing Geographic Subject: United States–Maine–Penobscot River Tag: Fisheries Techniques
C. G. Atkins – Goode, George Brown (1887) Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United StatesWashington, DC:

Ice fishing is a unique and challenging activity that involves catching fish through a hole in the ice covering a frozen body of water. While many people assume that fish become dormant during the winter months, the reality is that fish can continue to feed and be caught throughout the cold season. In this essay, we will explore the science behind ice fishing, including the behavior of fish in cold temperatures and the factors that influence their feeding habits.

Alaska, Western Canada and United States Collection

Firstly, it’s important to understand that fish are cold-blooded animals, meaning that their body temperature is regulated by the temperature of the water around them. As the water temperature drops in the winter, fish become less active and their metabolism slows down, which means they require less food to sustain themselves.

What is the science behind ice fishing?

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However, this does not mean that they stop eating altogether. In fact, some fish species can actually become more active and feed more frequently in the winter, especially when there are periods of warmer weather or increased sunlight that can stimulate their feeding behavior.

Ice fishing participant Sonja patiently waits for a bite. Photo by Mary Stefanski/USFWS.
USFWSmidwest – Angler Sonja 1

The reason why some fish continue to feed during the winter is due to their need for energy to maintain their bodily functions and survive the cold temperatures.

When fish feed, they are converting food into energy through a process called metabolism, which provides them with the necessary energy to swim, digest food, and maintain their body temperature. During the winter, fish may feed less often, but they will still need to eat in order to maintain their energy levels and avoid starvation.

Mussel Fishing Through the Ice, Winter of 1898-99, Mississippi River near Leclaire, Iowa Subject: Mussel fisheries, Ice fishing, Leclaire (Iowa) Geographic Subject: United States–Iowa–Leclaire Tag: Shellfish

However, not all fish are equally active and willing to feed during the winter months. Some fish, such as largemouth bass, prefer warmer water temperatures and may become less active or even dormant during the winter.

Other fish, such as northern pike, became known for their aggressive feeding behavior and can become caught throughout the winter season.

E. lucius caught by an angler using a lure in lake Finzula, Croatia
SpinfisherCRO – Own work

A variety of factors influence the feeding habits of fish. Including water temperature, sunlight levels, and the availability of food sources.

Experienced fisherman Gary Newton said; “it’s more the change in atmospheric pressure that puts the bite off and the seemingly small change in water temperature. When ice fishing one fishes well below the surface and the water temp is a constant 4 degrees Celsius. And bass seem to be more sensitive to cold temperatures than trout.”


When it comes to ice fishing, anglers need to understand the behavior and feeding habits of the fish they are targeting in order to increase their chances of success. This involves choosing the right bait and fishing techniques for the specific fish species and paying attention to environmental factors that can impact fish behavior.

For example, using live bait or lures that mimic the natural food sources of the fish can be effective in enticing them to bite. Additionally, paying attention to changes in water temperature or weather conditions can help anglers predict when fish will be more active and likely to feed.

A young angler clears the ice from her spot during the ice fishing event. Photo by Mary Stefanski/USFWS.
USFWSmidwest – Angler Allyssa 1

What is the science behind ice fishing?