Where to buy ice fishing gear
As I mentioned on the about page, I have been through all kinds of ice fishing gear over the years. I started out buying most of my ice fishing equipment in person. I hardly had any other choice. Sure there were some mail order catalogs around, but they were tedious to deal with. On the other hand, I could walk into a number of stores and pick whatever I wanted to buy right off the shelf. That way was quick and easy, and there were no surprises.
As years went on, I started to get more involved in the internet. I found it to be a great, if underutilized tool, for doing research. Eventually, I also found that it was a great way to find all kinds of ice fishing gear.
Shops are limited by their size, turn over and ability to hold onto inventory. Most stores want to sell as much of their inventory as they can each season. So they don’t stock a lot of specialty items if they think there’s a risk they won’t sell. Online sellers on the other hand usually have nothing but storage space. Since they don’t have to worry about filling up shelves, they are able to stock more products even if they don’t fly right off the shelves.
Today I spread my purchases between internet stores and brick and mortar tackle shops. I make the bulk of my purchases online but I do spend some cash “in real life” as well. I usually stop into the shops once a season just to see what they have. I’ll also stop at shops on the way to a lake if I need to pick up any last minute supplies or grab some live bait. While the internet is good, it is always nice to talk to knowledgeable local shop staff too. Most of the smaller shops are happy to share information, especially if you make a few purchases while you’re there.
I have seen the good, the bad and even the ugly when buying ice fishing equipment. With new technology and websites like this, hopefully you will only see the good. Here is my list of the best places to buy ice fishing gear.
Cabela’s – Cabela’s is one of the best known outdoors stores in the United States. Since Bass Pro Shops bought Cabela’s recently I don’t know what the future holds for the many Cabela’s retail shops around the country. For now they are still there, and if history is anything to go by, the Cabela’s stores in areas that get ice are usually stocked with at least a moderate supply of ice fishing equipment. I wouldn’t go too far out of my way to visit a Cabela’s looking for ice fishing gear, but when they are nearby I usually stop in for a look.
Field & Stream – The newer Field & Stream stores actually have little to do with the magazine their name originated with. Apparently some Wall Street firm bought the rights to the name and used it to open a string of stores. It sounds a little fishy, but the fact is that the Field & Stream stores I’ve seen in areas that get ice usually have a decent ice fishing display. Field & Stream can be a little pricey but they do run deals and specials. If you get a free Field & Stream card they send you coupons when you make purchases. For whatever reason, the Field & Stream stores are a lot better than the relatively paltry Field & Stream website.
The local bait shop – In some ways, it’s tough to beat the local bait shop. They rarely have the biggest inventory or even the best prices, but they usually have live bait and lots of local information. The staff at the best bait shops will know what the ice is like in most surrounding lakes and even be able to suggest some other places if the local water doesn’t have safe ice. In some places local bait shops close up when the snow starts to fall. In other areas the local bait shops go into high gear when the water starts to freeze. It all depends on the location. The best local bait shops for ice fishing are found where the water frequently freezes and the fisherman frequently go out on the ice in search of fish. Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Poconos in Pennsylvania come immediately to mind, but there are surely all season bait shops in other parts of the country too!
Amazon – In my opinion, Amazon is fast becoming one of the best places to buy ice fishing equipment. The gigantic website is backed up with a chain of warehouses and countless individual sellers who push their wares through the Amazon marketplace. Amazon also offers great prices on ice fishing gear and free shipping when more than $25 is spent. That’s hard to beat. Unfortunately, the ice fishing equipment on Amazon isn’t always presented in the most organized fashion but it can still be found. You can either search for the specific product you want or browse the ice fishing section on the site.
Cabela’s – While the Cabela’s shops can be hit or miss depending on the location and time of year, the Cabela’s website is open 24/7 and easy to reach when any computer or smart phone. The catalog is also deep and easy to search. Cabela’s carries a wide range of ice fishing equipment on their website and they are pretty good and shipping quickly. I have ordered several ice fishing rods from Cabela’s over the years without a single isuse. Cabela’s often has liquidation sales and they offer free shipping on many occasions.
Bass Pro Shops – Bass Pro Shops started in the south where the only thing more rare than ice is ice fisherman. Still, the Bass Pro website does contain a decent amount of ice fishing equipment. Now that they’ve taken Cabela’s on they will probably expand their ice fishing selection even further. That’s just a guess, but I’ve been right before. Bass Pro Shops is constantly having sales and they offer free shipping on certain orders.
Fish USA – Fish USA is a fishing retailer based up in Erie, Pennsylvania. They started with just a website but later opened a shop not far from the lake too. In Erie, steelhead are one of the most popular fish. The Fish USA website and store reflects that. They do sell a good amount of ice fishing equipment too. Most of what they sell reflects the region but they have plenty of gear that would work anywhere. They also offer free shipping.