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Top 11 Items for Beginner Ice Fishing

Since moving to Nebraska, my husband and I have taken up ice fishing. We didn’t have many opportunities for the sport in southern Illinois, and so far we have learned a lot -- including a lot through through trial and error. Honestly though, I dislike winter. No, I take that back...I hate winter! I don’t like the cold or being cold. Yet, some of my favorite activities, including ice fishing, require it!

To help others that are interested in getting into ice fishing, I’ve created two lists of items to help you get started. The top list is for those who want to make do with items found around the house before investing money. The bottom list is for those who are ready to invest in new ice fishing gear.

Items Around the House:

  1. Axe or Spud Bar

  2. Handled Kitchen Strainer or a Mug

  3. Fishing Rod and Reel

  4. Split Shot Weights

  5. Bait

  6. Pliers and Forceps

  7. Bucket/Seat

  8. Bucket/Seat/Gear Bag

  9. Boots

  10. Ice Pick

  11. Sled

Purchasing New:

  1. Ice Auger

  2. Ice Skimmer

  3. Ice Fishing Rod and Reel

  4. Split Shot Weights

  5. Jigs/Live Bait/Lures

  6. Pliers and Forceps

  7. Seat

  8. Rod Holder

  9. Boots

  10. Ice Pick

  11. Sled

Axe or Spud Bar/Ice Auger: It’s not ice fishing until you break ice – otherwise it’s just fishing. I know not everyone will have an axe so; you might have to break down and purchase an auger. Manual augers go for $40 - $60. I would recommend trying to borrow one from a friend a couple times before investing.

Handled Kitchen Strainer or a Mug/Ice Skimmer: Keeping the drilled hole free of ice will allow you to get a line into the water and gives you room to work the lure. It also delays the hole from refreezing.

Fishing/Ice Fishing Rod and Reel: By no means do you need ice fishing rods and reels – but if you are going to start and continue ice fishing, I highly recommend buying some. Your current lightweight fishing gear will get you by while testing out the waters.

Split Shot Weights: Split shot weights aid in getting your line to the bottom – where the fish generally are in the winter months.

Jigs/Live Bait/Lures: If you are ice fishing for the very first time, I suggest using a hook and wax worm, minnow or night crawlers. With this set up, you can target panfish. They can be found in nearly every body of water and provide excellent opportunities to catch fish. Once you have some ice experience, you can look into specific jigs and lures to target specific species of fish.

Pliers and Forceps: Take pliers and forceps for the same reasons you would while fishing open water: attaching weights and taking hooks out.

Bucket/Seat and Rod Holder: A five-gallon bucket is invaluable when it comes to ice fishing on a budget. It carries your gear, doubles as a seat and pole rest/holder. Lastly, it will hold your fish after a good day on the ice.

Boots: Be sure to wear warm, waterproof boots. Even though you are on ice, drilling holes and landing fish can lead to wet feet. I also highly suggest having boots that provide good traction while on ice. They do have metal and rubber ice cleats that go over the top your boots. Cleats start around $10 and go up from there.

Ice Pick: An ice pick is good to have for safety reasons.

Sled: A sled is most convenient way to get all your gear on and off the ice. It also gives you a place to keep things dry.

Follow all of Jesse's adventures on Instagram at @jessehcampbell.

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