Fair-weather anglers crowd many Indiana lakes in summer, but harsh winter winds have a way of weeding out anyone who isn’t serious about catching fish.
Yet Indiana offers excellent ice fishing opportunities for those willing to brave the cold. These opportunities are most prevalent in the northern part of the state, where numerous small to medium-sized lakes offer solid ice cover.
Pike and walleye are the primary targets of many ice anglers, but plenty of Hoosier anglers are more than content to drop lines for panfish like bluegill, crappie, redear sunfish, and yellow perch.
And why not? There are some impressive trophy-size panfish in many Indiana lakes. They’re hard fighters, and you won’t find many fish that make a better meal after a long day on the ice.
The length of Indiana’s ice fishing season can vary drastically. In some parts of Northern Indiana, lakes freeze as early as December. But most Indiana lakes don’t see safe ice until January, and many are on their way to ice-out by late February.
A string of warm, rainy winter days can throw a wrench in anyone’s plans, just as a sudden cold snap can solidify things again. So before planning an ice-fishing trip in Indiana, reach out to local bait and tackle shops to learn about current ice conditions.
Indiana’s Best Ice Fishing
When conditions are right, some outstanding fishing awaits at these Indiana ice-fishing lakes.
Spanning 802 acres in Steuben County, Hamilton Lake stands out in an area with no shortage of quality ice fishing options. Crappie are the objects of most ice-fishing trips here, and anglers pull some big pike out every winter too.
Crappie populations tend to be cyclical, and Hamilton Lake is generally better known for size than for numbers most years. Finding large schools of fish can be tricky, but many of the crappies you catch might be 14 inches or greater.
Crystal Cove is a popular area to fish through the ice, though the word among local anglers is that it’s become somewhat overfished in recent years. There are also some great holes just off the Hamilton Lake Public Access Ramp in the southeastern part of the lake.
The water drops off quickly to 25-foot-plus depths not far from the boat ramp. Anglers often catch fish between 12 and 16 feet in winter, though the ideal depth will change day to day.
Small minnows and ice jigs tipped with maggots are prime crappie baits, and the latter may also tempt a few big bluegills. Larger minnows get the call for catching northern pike and may nab the occasional largemouth bass.
Pike often hover close to the ice in Hamilton Lake and may grab your bait in just a few feet of water.
There are extensive shallow flats throughout much of the northern and western portions of the lake. Areas that maintain green vegetation in winter are prime pike territory.
Located a short drive from Muncie in East-Central Indiana, 800-acre Summit Lake is one of the southernmost lakes in Indiana to get safe ice consistently. Summit Lake State Park surrounds the entire lake and offers ample access.
Summit Lake supports good populations of various panfish species, from bluegill and redear sunfish to black crappie and yellow perch. Bluegill are the most common species and the first to bite readily as soon as Summit Lake’s coves freeze over.
There’s usually a great bluegill and sunfish bite in 6 to 8 feet of water, especially along weed edges. The Beaver Creek area at the lake’s northeast end is a great place to start, with ample shallow structure and scattered weeds down to 15 feet.
Anglers also hook plenty of fish farther south in waters just offshore from the state park campground. There’s a shallow flat with a steep drop-off out past the small island, which is a great area a little later in the season when safe ice develops on the main lake.
Perch are abundant in Summit Lake, too, though they move around a lot and can be tough to pin down. They also tend to set up deeper than bluegill.
Live minnows, jigging spoons, and jigs tipped with soft plastics are great for perch and may tempt a few walleye too.
The DNR stocks walleye here regularly, and there are solid numbers of 12- to 14-inch ‘eyes, along with a few measuring 18″ and up.
The area around the dam at the west end of the lake is popular for targeting perch and walleye. Locals often drill multiple holes to tempt walleye with minnows on tip-ups.
There are opportunities to catch just about every species you can think of at Clear Lake, an 800-acre natural lake in Steuben County. Anglers who approach the lake with a “whatever-bites” attitude tend to walk away happy.
The lake is essentially two deep basins with depths ranging from 80 to 100 feet, separated by a broad, shallow flat that forms the lake’s center. Each area of the lake offers unique opportunities.
The northern basin is known for its abundance of bluegills, which include a lot of chunky whoppers up to 10 inches. Fish with ice jigs tipped with bee moths or spikes in the 25-foot hole near the northernmost shore of the lake.
Yellow perch are common catches too, and the most reliable area is the 6-foot flat between Paradise Point and Kasota Island. Schools of perch often move up and down between the flat and the drop-offs on either side.
The steep drop-off on the southern tip of the island is also a great spot for pike and walleye, especially early in the season. Neither species are abundant, but anglers catch decent numbers of 16- to 18-inch walleye and the occasional pike topping 20 pounds.
The DNR stocks rainbow trout here yearly, and perch anglers are sometimes surprised by an occasional holdover rainbow.
Clear Lake is also one of Northern Indiana’s best bass lakes. Although few ice anglers target them specifically, plenty of largemouths and smallmouths are pulled through the ice every winter.
The only public access is on S. Clear Lake Drive at the southern end of the lake, and parking is limited, so get an early start.
Another great multispecies lake in Northern Indiana, Lake Wawasee is the largest natural lake in the state at 3,000 acres.
It’s an especially well-regarded ice-fishing lake for excellent populations of crappie and bluegill, but you never know what you might catch here.
Due to its large size, Lake Wawasee typically takes a little longer to freeze over than most lakes in this part of the state. As a result, the early season ice action focuses mainly on the smaller bays and especially on the channels cut adjacent to Johnson Bay at the lake’s northeast end.
Similar channels off Conklin Bay, at the opposite end of the lake, freeze shortly after. Both areas are great for targeting crappies and bluegills during January, with ice flies and micro-jigs tipped with maggots.
The middle of the lake often isn’t safe until well into January. Once that happens, though, some tremendous mid-lake humps that support year-round weed beds attract a mixed bag of panfish even under the ice. Anglers catch some nice pike here too.
The edges of the main lake’s flats are excellent places to target pike using jigging spoons or minnows on tip-ups. Look for spots where a steep drop-off comes close to an 8- to 10-foot flat. Many healthy 24-inch pike are available, along with some much bigger ones.
Lake Wawasee’s only public access is on E. Hatchery Road at the southeast end.
Pine Lake spans 564 acres in Laporte County and offers some great panfish options through the ice, along with moderate populations of bass, pike and walleye.
The shoreline is highly developed, but there are a couple of good spots for anglers to get on the water.
Some anglers park alongside Waverly Road at the south end of the lake, while others walk out onto the east side of the lake from Kiwanis-Teledyne Park in the city of Laporte. Access to get to the ice may be limited, but fortunately, once you get on it, there are great fishing areas throughout Pine Lake.
Bluegill and crappie fishing is great early in the season, and anglers catch many of these fish in the southern portion of the lake in as little as 2 to 6 feet of water. Larvae baits like wax worms, mousies, and spikes on teardrop jigs are the baits of choice.
Yellow perch are common as well, though larger ones are rare. Many 6- to 8-inch perch hang out between Kiwanis-Teledyne Park and the tip of Holmes Island.
Areas throughout the lake feature steep, stair-step-like drop-offs that link weedy shallows to deep holes, and these are productive areas to fish throughout the hard water season. As winter progresses, the fish often gradually shift a little deeper.
This movement is especially true of pike, which often strike shiners and suckers in less than 15 feet of water early in the season, but head out to much deeper waters by midwinter. Pike will return shallow again as ice-out approaches, and they prepare to spawn.
Northeast Indiana’s Sylvan Lake has become one of the best walleye lakes in the state since the DNR began its current walleye stocking program in 2001.
Ice cover is relatively reliable at Sylvan, and winter is one of the best seasons to target these fish.
Several areas throughout the 669-acre lake have proven productive for walleye, but the key area lies between Bishop Island and Big Island (also known as Boy Scout Island) in the middle portion of the lake.
This area is loaded with bottom structure, including boulders, gravel, and sand at roughly 10-foot depths. Anglers also catch some walleye in the Chicken Coop Island area at the eastern end and along the dam at the west end.
Jigging Rapalas and live minnows are great bait choices. Typical catches are between 14 and 18 inches, but plenty of 5-pound-plus walleye measuring 24 inches and up are brought through the ice every year.
Sylvan Lake also offers some great ice-fishing opportunities for panfish. The Cairn Basin, which lies at the eastern end of the lake, is well regarded as a bluegill hot spot, and anglers occasionally get into some good crappies and perch here too.
Focus on weed edges and rocky drop-offs using larvae baits on small jigs. Sylvan lake has big bluegill over 8 inches, but you often have to go through schools of smaller fish to reach them. The big ones often hold a little deeper or a little farther offshore.
Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site is the best place to access Sylvan Lake for ice fishing. Parking is available, though getting out on the ice requires a bit of a hike.
Yellow perch are the main quarry for most hard-water anglers who fish Tippecanoe Lake. This 880-acre lake is the deepest natural lake in Indiana, with depths up to 120 feet.
Due to that depth, it takes a long time for Tippecanoe Lake to freeze, resulting in one of the shorter ice fishing seasons in the northern part of the state. Even so, anglers who manage to get out on the ice catch a lot of yellow perch, including quite a few measuring 10 to 12 inches.
Patona Bay, at the east end of the lake, is a good area to target perch. Try minnows, spoons, and Jigging Raps in 7 to 15 feet of water around rocky and gravel-bottomed areas.
Farther east, many perch are also caught from Government Point south and eastward toward the mouth of Grassy Creek. There’s a lot of great structure in this area, including humps and ledges adjacent to shallow flats. Use caution close to Grassy Creek; the ice is often unstable closer to the inlet.
Bluegill and crappie inhabit similar areas as perch but typically school up a little shallower. Bass and pike are available too, and the most reliable tactic to find them is to seek out green weed bets.
The trouble with Tippecanoe Lake is access. Private property lines almost every inch of the shoreline. The best bet is to reach out to the marinas on the lake, which often offer parking and allow anglers to access the ice through their property. Always get permission first.
Plymouth Lakes Chain
Northwestern Indiana is usually one of the first parts of the state to get safe ice.
The Plymouth Lakes Chain in this corner of the state, just south of Plymouth in Marshall County, is an excellent destination for some winter panfish action.
The chain includes four to six lakes depending on which ones you count, and they total just a few hundred acres of water. Any way you slice it, bluegills, redears, and crappie are abundant, and the small water makes patterning fish reasonably easy.
Neighboring Holem Lake and Cook Lake, two lakes connected by a channel at the center of the chain, are among the best. Both lakes are known for producing 7- to 9-inch bluegills and redear sunfish stretching a tape measure to 10 inches or more.
Unfortunately, there isn’t any designated public access on these two lakes. However, Myers and Lawrence Lakes—the two easternmost lakes in the chain—have public boat launches, and anglers can walk on connecting channels from one lake to another when safe ice allows.
Myers and Lawrence also have some excellent panfishing of their own. Black crappie are abundant throughout the chain, though sizes are less impressive. Expect to catch a lot of fish around 9 or 10 inches.
The above species are often caught in weedy areas less than 10 feet deep throughout the Plymouth Lakes Chain. Some yellow perch are available too, usually in deeper water, and the lakes support a lot of largemouth bass right around the 14-inch keeper mark.
A small, picturesque lake that often goes overlooked among Steuben County’s many great ice fishing options, Silver Lake is a 238-acre gem in the northeast corner of Indiana. Panfish anglers, in particular, have some great opportunities here.
Silver Lake is known for producing whopper bluegills and redear sunfish in the 8- to 10-inch range, and these fish are a lot of fun to catch through the ice on light tackle. The best spot for sunnies is between the north shore and the cattail-covered peninsula.
There’s a large hole about 17 feet deep in this area, and anglers can catch gills and redears here all winter long. The drop-off is steep enough that you can walk a little way to try multiple holes at various depths to locate fish.
Yellow perch are on the table, too, though they’re less common than other species. The deepest part of the lake (about 37 feet) is in the lake’s northwest corner. Anglers catch perch up to 10 inches in the vicinity of this deeper water. Schools of perch are often on the move, forcing anglers to do the same.
There’s a gravel boat ramp on the south shore of Silver Lake, which is the only official public access. However, on the north shore near that deep perch hole we mentioned, the church just off U.S. Route 20 is also known to accommodate angler parking and access.
Silver Lake produces some big pike too. Though they’re not common, anglers seem to catch pike over 32 inches every year. Gold shiners under tip-ups are the go-to pike bait.
Catch More Fish
Still have a thing or two to learn how to catch fish when you’re literally standing on top of the water? We had one of our winter-fishing experts put together a simple guide on the best ice-fishing techniques and tips to help you catch more fish while staying safe.