Ice Fishing Equipment

THIS is the ONLY list you need

Print it out...check it off...have FUN!

This is the main ice fishing checklist of ice fishing equipment you need when going ice fishing. If I am missing something on this list, let me know and I'll add it.

Minimum gear to take if you are just 'tagging along':

So you just started getting interested in ice fishing. Now you need the most basic piece of equipment: The Ice Fishing Rod.

Gander Mountain, Fleet Farm, Cabelas, Scheels, Bass Pro Shops...Walmart...all of them are places to buy an ice fishing rod.

So where do you start?

Well, quite frankly you don't need one. Nope. You could just buy some ice fishing line and drop your hook and bait down the hole and wait for dinner to grab that bait. This really does work! In fact, in a pinch this is just fine. When you learn about tip-ups, you will note there is no rod at all, you pull the line up by hand.

Read more about: Ice Fishing Rods-with large guides, a sensitive tip, and with some 'backbone'.

Micro spinning reels baby! Now that's what I'm talking about. Infant versions of those reels that catch the larger fish in the spring, summer and fall.
Or not.
Simply put, the best ice fishing reel is one that works for you. You can catch the large fish with that small reel. Yes you can.

Why are the reels so small?

You may ask, "Why are those reels so small?" I'm glad you asked, because the reason is quite simple. Normally you are going to be fishing with maybe 15-25 feet of line out.

Read more: Ice Fishing Reels - Micro-spinning reel

Well, if you read the two previous articles I wrote on ice fishing rods and ice fishing reels then you know I'm all about saving you money.

However, this article is all about the ice fishing line and why this is the time to splurge a bit.

Twenty years ago, when I first started getting into ice fishing, I really had no idea what to use for fishing line on the ice. I just figured, "water is water!", so I used leftover monofilament line I had from summer. Yes, it worked "ok", but I didn't know anything else. I'm pretty sure this was before the new Firelines, the braided lines, Teflon lines, etc.

Read more: Ice Fisihng Line - 4-8 lb test ice-line (you could go thinner if you'd like)

The end of your ice fishing rod should be dangling an interesting combination of sight, sound and smell when you are out on the ice.

These three things make the difference between a bucket full of fish, or going home empty-handed. There actually four things, but let's start with the obvious.

Can the fish see your BAIT?

While this may seem obvious, it might not be. Yes, the fish can see bait, but that isn't the question. The question is, "Can they see your BAIT?"

Read more: Ice Fishing Bait - crappie minnows, wax worms, fatheads, etc...

They used to give them away, and they always smelled like old pickles.

Some people used them like adult EZ Steppers when things got a little crazy around New Years Eve. Around 3 AM, I'm thinking.

Somewhere, somehow, some old geezer (and I am probably called an old geezer, nowadays), thought it might be a neat idea to take one of those and use it as a seat when ice fishing. And why not? It was just about the perfect height, it held all your ice fishing equipment, it held up under the cold weather, and it smelled like old pickles!

Read more: A 5 gallon bucket (to sit on)

They are sold in little packages for around $1.00 each. Later in the season they can usually be bought for around 1/2 price because they do have a shelf life. I have used 5 year old warmers and they still have about 10-20% of life in them, but those aren't going to help except in a pinch.

I can say the first time I bought some of these I was impressed. They were really cool. You just ripped open the package, shook them up, and put them in your gloves, or pockets...and they just got warm. It is in excellent idea if you aren't going to be in a heated ice fishing shelter. Out in the wind...and snow are standing on ICE for goodness sake!

Read more: Hand warmers

These simple tools have been the headlines in the New York Times for at least 3 weeks.

Or never.

But if you want to go ice fishing...and your over 40 years'll need these.

Let me tell you why.

The perfect pair

Suppose you want to switch out your ice fishing jig...that teeny-tiny thing? The bite is hot...and you need (with your cold hands) to remove the jig that isn't performing and replace it with a jig that is working for your buddy? Good luck with that!

Read more: Needle nose pliers

This tip should almost be at the beginning of the list, but it is fine here.

Simple tip: Get one, and don't forget it.

As far as I know, no state offers a 'ice fishing only' fishing license, and that means that your license will only be good until the start of the next fishing season, which is often April 1st of the following year. (Some may be March 1st, or some other date.) If you are going early in the ice fishing season, then you really don't need to worry when the fishing license expires, but later in the season you will need to be aware of the expiration date of your license.

Read more: Fishing License

Simple thing...your ID. Make sure you have it with you (along with your fishing license) in case you are checked by the local game warden.

It seems obvious, but some people don't carry it with them when they are on the ice. It is a bad idea for this reason:

If you get checked by the game warden and your ID is somewhere else, you will waste valuable fishing time trying to convince the game warden you are who you say you are. Don't waste that time. Have your ID handy.

Next up: A compass

Read more: Proper Identification

I can give you sixteen reasons why you should carry a compass when you go ice fishing, but I just don't have the time. Just consider this...

You drop your cell phone down the hole, get mad...go out to start your car/truck/atv...etc...and it is dead.

To make matters worse, a snowstorm is starting...

How are you going to tell which way to walk? A simple little compass will help you.

They are cheap. Get one.

Next up: Bobber stops with beads

Read more: A compass

Grad some. They will set you back no more than $3. Bobber stops take a lot of time to rig up, so I suggest you get them ready ahead of time. You don't need to actually use them when you are fishing, you can still "free hand" it (jig), but if you have more than one hole you are in control of, then using a bobber on a 'dead stick' is really handy.

Read more: Bobber stops with beads
  • An assortment of split-shot
  • Ice fishing bobbers
  • Fingernail clipper (to cut line)
  • Ice scoop
  • First Aid kit
  • Jigs and spoons and hooks...etc.
  • Sipping whiskey for your host. Or beer. Lots of it. Trust me. This works wonders.

  • Ice fishing equipment if going alone:

    • Ice auger
    • Sled for auger or vehicle if the ice is thick enough.
    • Mouth spreader
    • Hook sharpener
    • Bait bucket
    • Small shovel-collapsible if possible
    • Ice picks-could be a lifesaver!

    Preferred ice fishing equipment:

    • Vexilar - Fish Finder
    • Ice Fishing Shelter
    • Propane heater
    • Spud bar (for checking ice thickness)
    • Camera (disposable works best) - Deprecated - Get a smartphone!
    • Ice cleats
    • Ice Anchoring System
    • Small flashlight. (I prefer one that you wear)
    • Lantern  - If you want to fish at night
    • Matches or Lighter (for propane heater)
    • Tip-ups-preferably the freeze-free type
    • Leaders for tip-ups
    • Quickstrike rigs for tip-ups
    • Bait for tip-ups-herring, smelt sardines, etc.
    • Cell-phone
    • GPS - Deprecated - Get a smart phone!
    • "Glow-buster" glo-jig light.

    Luxury Ice Fishing Equipment:

    • Underwater camera
    • Two-way radios to talk to your buddies - Deprecated - Get a smartphone!
    • Ice Fishing House
    • Strike sensors for tip-ups

    Optional Ice Fishing odds and ends:

    • Food
    • Drinks
    • Hand Towel
    • Gaff- to remove large fish
    • Sunglasses

    If you take kids:

    • Extra gloves
    • Tissues (those noses run all the time!)
    • Lots of snacks
    • A small sled to entertain them