Beginner Fishing Gear Checklist

two people on a boat reeling in a fish

There are many different reasons people enjoy fishing—to relax and unwind, to spend time outdoors, or for the thrill of the catch. If you’re just getting started with fishing, it’s hard to know exactly what gear to invest in first. Our Fishing Experts share a checklist of the basics that every beginner should have for a more successful and exciting freshwater fishing experience.

âś” Fishing License

Before anything, you must have a fishing license that’s province- or state-specific to where you plan on going. Each state and province has slightly different requirements and costs, so it’s always important to understand the local regulations. Stop into your local SCHEELS to purchase your fishing license.

âś” Fishing Rod

There are several different types of fishing rods to choose from depending on the target species or season. Most beginners use a spinning rod because they are easy to use and versatile for a range of different species, weather conditions, and lures. They are simple to cast with light lures and baits and typically offer a more nature feel in hand.

âś” Fishing Reel

To pair with your spinning rod, you’ll want a spinning fishing reel. Like rods, there are several types of fishing reels available, but spinning reels are easy to learn and versatile. They are lightweight and balanced making them easier to cast and retrieve with minimal effort.

Expert Tip: Many new anglers start out with a spinning combo, which means that the rod and reel are already paired together to take the guesswork out of buying.

âś” Fishing Line

Once you have your rod and reel, it’s time to add fishing line to get your set-up ready. There are plenty of options when it comes to choosing a fishing line including different types and tests. For beginner anglers, it’s common to use a monofilament line because it’s the most versatile and easy to use. As for the test weight, keep in mind that the greater the number, the larger the fish it’s suited for. 

âś” Tackle & Bait

Your tackle and bait make up what’s known as the presentation. This refers to how you rig your hook in order to attract the fish. Typically, the tackle and bait you use should pair well with the vegetation within your local river or lake as well as appeal to the species you’re targeting. There are a lot of different options when choosing tackle and bait, so our Fishing Experts share tackle options by popular species:

Shop Panfish Tackle >

Shop Walleye Tackle >

Shop Bass Tackle >

âś” Tackle Box or Bag

To store all these small fishing essentials, be sure to have a big enough tackle box that can store all your hooks, tackle and lures, fishing line, and other small fishing tools. The best tackle boxes feature multiple storage compartments, zippered pockets, and dual-carrying options.

Expert Tip: Be sure to have a pair of fishing pliers and line cutters to make tying knots and retrieving hooks easier.

âś” Clothing

Many anglers overlook what clothing they wear while fishing. With innovative technologies, there are so many layers to choose from that feature UPF fabric technology to help protect your skin from the sun. Aside from wearing clothing with UPF technology, we recommend wearing a hat and using sunscreen too. 

âś” Basket & Net

If you’re planning on keeping your catch, you’ll want to have a stringer or basket with you to hold the fish until fileting. Depending on your target species and the lake you’re fishing, you may reel in a large fish, so having a net on your boat will make landing the fish easier.

âś” Fishing Life Jacket

If you’re fishing from a boat or kayak, you must have a life jacket with you. You’ll frequently see anglers wearing an inflatable life jacket or a kayak-specific one depending on their preferences. The most important thing is that the life jacket fits properly

âś” Knot Tying Skills

This isn’t fishing gear, but rather a skill set that will make your time more enjoyable. Practicing two commonly used fishing knots—the uni knot and palomar knot—before going out will help you feel more confident and spend more time fishing. Our Fishing Experts explain how to tie these fishing knots:

Now that you have all the basic fishing gear, you’ll be ready to hit the water this season. After several outings, you’ll be hooked and ready to build your fishing gear collection to include fishing technology like a locator or use different fishing techniques like planer fishing. With any fishing questions, be sure to stop into your local SCHEELS to speak with an Expert.