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Venturing outside during the winter months can be daunting – the days are shorter and the temperatures can be unkind. Nevertheless, one popular cold-weather sport has been steadily gaining in popularity over the past two years: ice fishing. Like most outdoor activities, fishing has seen a resurgence as people seek pandemic-proof hobbies, and new technology in gear and clothing allow anglers to enjoy many months out on the ice.

The typical ice fishing season can stretch from December into early April, though the busiest months are the first three of the calendar year, when bodies of water have had time to properly freeze over (at least four inches thick). Most northern states have ice fishers in residence, but L.L.Bean’s home state of Maine lays claim to one of the sport’s biggest markets.

A native of Maine, Matt Bickford has been venturing out on frozen waters as long as he can remember.

“One of my favorite things about ice fishing is that I’m able to do it in a group, with family and friends," says Bickford, a fishing merchant at L.L.Bean and a professional Maine fly-fishing guide and U.S. Coast Guard-licensed captain. "It can be a solitary sport for some – an escape to nature – but it can also be a larger event. Ice fishing creates the chance to spend time in the outdoors during a season when you’re limited on outdoor activities.”

Whether you are a returning hobbyist or entirely new to ice fishing, you might get reeled in by the sport. Here, we’ve compiled five tips for spending a day ice fishing, along with suggestions from the pros on the must-have ice fishing gear and apparel.

Tip #1: Phone a Friend

As Bickford points out, ice fishing offers a built-in social aspect, as anglers and their families and friends often spend a full day on the ice. It’s not uncommon to see groups gathering around a grill or enjoying a game of pick-up ice hockey while waiting for jack trap flags to extend upwards, signaling a catch.

While ice fishing can be more enjoyable in numbers, experts say groups are also safer – especially for beginners. Online forums dedicated to ice fishing are a popular resource for discussion around the nuances of the sport and groups on social media are an easy way to connect with community members who may have local tips and tricks. Though many find mentors and friends easily in these ice fishing communities, there are also professional ice fishing guides and tour companies who can help first-timers who are fishing alone.

Tip #2: Follow Safety Best Practices

Safety is key when participating in any new-to-you sport, but even more-so when it involves drilling through and setting up equipment on a frozen body of water. As a rule of thumb, be sure the ice is at least four inches thick for any light foot traffic you will bring.

The practice of carrying ice safety picks and using a chisel to test the ice are highly recommended, especially at the start of the season.

Tip #3: Visit Your Local Bait Shop

For advice from local experts, head to your local bait shop before heading out on the ice. These stores are generally located in popular fishing areas and staffed by local enthusiasts who can offer a wealth of knowledge, no matter your experience level. From info on local fishing regulations to tips on the best bait for your desired catch, an established bait shop is a must-visit.

Tip #4: Gear Up

Ice fishing is a gear-intensive sport, so make sure you have everything you need before you get out to your chosen fishing spot, and a way to transport it. You will likely need a jet sled to carry your gear in and out.

Though there are ice fishing essentials – jack traps, ice picks, etc. – don’t forget that you’ll need other gear to sustain you throughout the day. Remember items like a pack basket, cleaning knife and headlamp to make ice fishing safe, easy and comfortable.

(Be sure to check our gear recommendations below.)

Tip #5: Dress for Success

It is possible to stay warm while ice fishing, as long as you invest in the right clothing. Typically, experts suggest light but efficient base layers, solid outerwear, appropriate accessories (like gloves and hats), and a great pair of boots.

Today’s cold-weather apparel includes materials and technology that can withstand the chilliest temperatures and stand up to multiple activities and uses. If you love being outside in the winter, the right clothing is an investment you can use time and again.

RECOMMENDED GEAR, APPAREL AND MORE FOR YOUR ICE FISHING OUTING

Carrying Your Gear

The Allagash Pack Basket and accompanying Pack Basket Liner come in three different size options to hold all your ice fishing gear, and will help keep your tools organized and protected from the elements. In fact, the Pack Basket is most commonly used by L.L.Bean customers for ice fishing! It’s also important to protect and store your gear while in transit. Consider the Kennebec Angler’s Travel Case, which separates accessories in an easy-grip case, and the L.L.Bean Truck Seat Fishing Organizer, which secures your items so that you’re ready to hit the ice on-the-go. Better yet, the Travel Case and Fishing Organizer are multi-use and are designed accommodate accessories for year-round fishing, including spin- and fly-fishing.

Securing Your Catch

Use the Jack Traps Skimmer with Chipper to clean out a freshly drilled hole, or to chip out the skim left over from an old one. Once you’re prepared to set up your traps, opt for the best-selling Standard Jack Trap with Line, which has earned a reputation for its quality. The lines don’t freeze, making the sport easier and more enjoyable for beginners and experts alike as no gear needs to be adjusted without your gloves on. Also referred to as ‘tip-ups,’ these traps are what allow for the social aspect of ice fishing and are part of the traditional northeastern style of the sport.

Our founder Leon Leonwood Bean once described the Classic Trout Knife as “great for cleaning game fish and very handy for general camp and home use.” With an endorsement from the renowned outdoorsman himself, this knife is a must-have tool in your pack basket, especially if you plan on cooking fresh catch while out on the ice.

Warming Your Core

L.L.Bean has a wide variety of cold-weather apparel options to outfit everyone in the family for cold weather outings, with many of our favorites now available in more sizes and styles. Layering is key to ensure you stay warm from head to toe while out on the ice all day.

Outerwear

Adults' Mountain Classic Down Parka ( Men’s and Women’s) 

Adults' Wildcat Waterproof Insulated Snow Pant ( Men’s and Women’s) 

Mid Layer

Waterfowl Sweater ( Men’s and Women’s)

Men’s Maine Guide Wool Pants with PrimaLoft

Base Layers

Adults’ Heavyweight Base Layer Pant ( Men’s and Women’s) 

Adult’s L.L.Bean Heavyweight Base Layer Crew, Long Sleeve ( Men’s and Women’s) 

Protecting Your Extremities

The areas of your body that lose the most heat are your hands and your feet, so taking extra steps to protect your fingers and toes from the elements is in your best interest to stay warm out on the ice.

The Men's L.L.Bean Snow Boots are waterproof, lightweight and extremely warm, sure to keep your feet cozy and dry in harsh winter temperatures. These boots pair perfectly with our Winter Walker Snowshoes for trekking on wintery surfaces. Make sure to start off with a midweight sock such as the Adults’ Bean Boot Sock for additional warmth and comfort.

Chopper Mitts are our go-to mittens, guaranteed to keep your fingers warm. If you need some extra heat, bring out the Wicked Good Warmers to slide into your mittens and boots. The box comes with 10 pairs of toe- and hand-warmers, ensuring everyone in your group stays warm.

Make the Most of Your Outing

Plan an entire day of fun with your family and friends with the right ice fishing accoutrement.

A portable grill system such as the Eureka! Ignite Camp Stove is a must-have in order to cook throughout the day as you fish. The Jetboil Flash Camping Stove is also a popular addition to brew coffee or tea for a warm caffeine boost.