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Great Gifts for the Beginning Freshwater Fisher

I spend almost every weekend during the summer fishing on the McClusky Canal near my home in North Dakota.

Me and some fresh-caught North Dakota walleye.

Me and some fresh-caught North Dakota walleye.

When I came back to North Dakota from North Carolina a few years ago, I had to deep-six my saltwater fishing gear and buy all new freshwater fishing supplies. I spend almost every weekend during the summer fishing on the McClusky Canal.

Even winter can't slow me down! The fish still bite when it's cold—you just need an ice auger to get through the ice. On extremely cold days, here in North Dakota that's below zero, a portable ice shelter is essential.

If you know someone who has just caught the fishing bug, either a child or an adult, the following fishing gear will definitely be appreciated. Even an experienced fisher always appreciates receiving these fishing staples (hint, hint family).

I love my Ugly Stik!

This is the rod I use and I love: an Ugly Stik by Shakespeare. It is lightweight, flexible and most importantly, durable. Using this rod I have caught many fish: bass, perch, blue gill, northern pike, and walleye.

Rod and Reel

While you can use the old-fashioned branch, pin and a string method of fishing, nowadays most people prefer a rod and reel.

Rods and reels can be purchased separately, but for a beginning fisher you may want to buy a rod/reel combo—no assembly required.

There are two basic types of freshwater fishing reels: an open or closed face. Check my links below for a webpage that explains the two.

I recommend a closed-face reel for young children about five years old and below. A closed-face reel is much easier to cast and less likely to tangle.

A combination rod and reel can range in price from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars. The cheaper rods tend to be very flimsy and probably won't last more than a few months. There are many rods in the $20 - $30 price range that are not only affordable but will last many seasons.

This video explains the different types of rods: The Ultimate Guide to Fishing Rods.

Lures, Hooks, and Weights

To buy lures and hooks, you will need to know which type of fish are in your area, and use the lures recommended by other fishers or online experts. The video below explains lures and how they work.

If you don't want to cast for fish, you have two options: bobber or bottom fishing.

  • For bobber fishing, you'll need some weights to hold the bait down in the water. Simple split shot lead weights will suffice for the most basic rigging. The weights are cheap and you can buy packs that have a variety of sizes.
  • Bottom fishing rigs utilize large weights that sit on the bottom, with special rigging that allows the bait to float in the water.

If I'm not on my boat fishing, I prefer the ol' hook, bobber and live bait method of fishing. I can spend a whole day near the water watching my bobber. Fishing is supposed to be relaxing after all!

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Excellent smallmouth bass lure


Bobbers, also known as floats, come in all shapes and sizes. They can be made of wood, plastic, or cork.

They keep the bait off the bottom of the water. When a fish hits your hook, the bobber will submerge.

I use the medium-size round bobbers. They are easy to see when the water is choppy, but not so big that you won't notice a fish hitting your hook.

I used a net to land this whopper walleye from the McClusky Canal.

I used a net to land this whopper walleye from the McClusky Canal.

Fishing Net

Losing a fish before you can land it on the boat or on the shore is something all fishers have to deal with at some time. A nice fishing net will cut down on some of these fish losses.

Nets come in a variety of sizes, shapes and materials. Know what type of fish the angler is after; if he is going for a 20-pound northern pike, you'll need a much bigger net than if he is fishing for crappie.

Make sure the net floats! Nets can be dropped in the water during the excitement of hooking a fish. There is no sense watching money sink to the bottom of the lake.

Fish Grabber

A surprising number of people are reluctant to grab a fish—either from fear of being pricked or bit or from a general reluctance to touch something so "slimy."

I don't have that problem myself, though it can be hard to grab a slimy northern pike with your bare hands.

Other fishers like to use a fish grabber just because it is easier to hold a flopping fish with a tool rather than with your bare hands.

Fish grabbers are designed to either grab the body of the fish or the fish's lips.

My stringer of fish.

My stringer of fish.


If you aren't fishing on a boat or it isn't practical to have a cooler with ice in it, you will want to have something along to keep the fish alive until you are finished fishing.

A stringer is the perfect item. It is not bulky and can easily fit in your tackle box.

There are two styles:

  • A rope with a steel point which will slide through the fishes mouth and gills and then through a metal loop at the other end. This is an easy to use and inexpensive solution to keeping fish alive in the water.
  • A metal stringer which has individual catches that fasten through a fishes mouth and gills. These are also inexpensive, but a little more bulky than a rope stringer. I prefer this style. When you have caught a lot of fish, the ones at the bottom of the rope stringer tend to get squished.

An important note on stringers: Do not forget to tie them to something secure. You don't want to watch your fish swim away!

Tackle Box

Fishers are going to need a place to store all their fishing lures, stringer, bobbers, etc.

Don't skimp on an inexpensive tackle box. The cheap ones won't last, and there is nothing more aggravating than trying to untangle a huge knot of lures, line and hooks after the tackle box has taken a tumble.

Look for a good size metal or plastic box with multiple trays. Individual compartments in the trays are a big help keeping everything separate and easy to see and grab.

A waterproof tackle box will keep everything dry and prevent the rusting of metal items.

An electric filet knife is a favorite of fishers


Every fisher I know has at least two knives they use for fishing.

The first type of knife is a small paring type knife or a Swiss army knife. These are useful for cutting line or cutting up bait.

The second type of knife is a good quality filet knife. A dull or cheap filet knife wastes meat and slows down the cleaning time. Invest in a knife sharpener also to keep the knife at its sharpest.

If you really get into fishing, an electric filet knife is wonderful. It can cut your filleting time by two-thirds. I spent most of my life without an electric knife, but since I recently bought one, I never plan to use anything else. Look for flexibility as well as power for those big fish.

A Boat!

A boat is not essential to be a successful freshwater fisher, but it does expand the areas you can reach.

This may seem to be a crazy idea that is out of most people's budgets, but some boats are surprisingly affordable.

Pedal and inflatable boats are very affordable. Pedal boats can be equipped with a trolling motor. Many inflatable boats claim to be puncture proof.

Small used boats can be bought for under a thousand dollars. Check eBay or your local garage sale ads for an affordable boat if you are on a budget.

Want to try ice fishing?

I caught quite a few fat perch that last winter. Dress warm!

I caught quite a few fat perch that last winter. Dress warm!

Ice fishing essentials

Ice fishing rods

Ice scoop



Portable ice shelter

Ice auger

Portable heater

Video: Basic Fishing Knots


Gable Rhoads (author) from North Dakota on October 04, 2017:

Hi, Larry. I do love to fish. I lived in NC for 26 years and did some pier and shore fishing, but I never could get into it. I much prefer freshwater fishing.

I'm sorry you had to sell your boat. Hopefully you have friends that will take you out on their boat!

Larry W. Fish on September 26, 2017:

I can see that you really do like to fish. My wife and I did so much of it when we lived in PA and also some here in NC. Ice fishing is fun, I only did it once with my dad years ago. I love the photos you posted, really great. I just sold my little 11 foot boat because we are moving to another apartment complex soon I can't park it there. Hated to get rid of it, but it couldn't be helped.

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