Ice fishing

Maybe New Year’s resolutions aren’t for you, but perhaps you are thinking about trying something new in 2021. If you’ve ever thought about picking up fishing, you don’t need to wait for warmer weather to get going.

Learning techniques and what equipment to use for different locations and conditions could take years, or even a lifetime, to master, but there are three things to key-in on as you get started.

1. Get some gear

You obviously can’t cast a line if you don’t have one, or a reel. And without a hook on the end of it, and some bait on that, the line itself won’t do much good.

Visit your neighborhood fishing equipment supplier and explain you’re a novice in need of some help with the basics to get started. Some stores may even let you rent gear so that you can try the sport a few times, before you invest significant funds, to see if you enjoy it.

The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department recommends this website, which has plenty of tips about what tools, tackle, and even clothing you should be seeking for a successful day on the ice:

2. Understand ice conditions and when it’s okay to go out on the pond or lake

The most important part of ice fishing is safety and knowing when it’s not okay to try and have some fun.

The Fish & Wildlife Department lists this set of tips:

  • As a general guideline, 4 inches of clear ice is required to walk on, and 8 inches is required for a snowmobile or ATV. Double those thickness measurements if the ice is white or opaque and not consistently clear throughout.
  • Ice never freezes uniformly, so frequently test ice thickness and solidness with a spud bar or auger as you walk out on the ice.
  • Ice that has formed over flowing water, springs, pressure cracks, old ice holes or around the mouths of rivers and streams can be weaker than surrounding ice. It’s a good idea to stay away from these areas.
  • Carrying a set of ice picks and a compass for snowy or whiteout conditions is recommended.
  • Let someone know where you will be fishing, your access point and when you plan on returning home. Bring your cell phone, placing it in a freezer bag to keep it dry.
  • Wear a personal flotation device and don’t fish alone.
  • Carry a set of hand spikes to help you work your way out and onto the surface of the ice if you fall through. Holding one in each hand, you can alternately punch them into the ice and pull yourself up and out. You can make these at home, using large nails, or you can purchase them at stores that sell fishing supplies.
  • Carry a safety line that can be thrown to someone who has gone through the ice.

A 2011 University of Vermont Extension publication says the Coast Guard advocates that “no ice is safe ice.” However, it goes on to provide some advice about what to do if you are out on the ice and happen to fall through:

  • First, try not to panic, and don’t remove your winter clothing. Heavy clothing won’t drag you down, but instead it can trap air to provide warmth and some buoyancy.
  • Turn towards the direction you came. That is probably the strongest ice.
  • Place your hands and arms on the unbroken surface. If you’re carrying ice rescue picks, this is where they will provide traction to pull yourself up onto the ice.
  • Kick your feet and dig in your ice rescue claws to work your way back onto the solid ice surface.
  • If your clothes have trapped a lot of water, you may have to lift yourself partially out of the water — on your elbows — to let the water drain before starting forward.
  • Lie flat on the ice once you are out and roll away from the hole to keep your weight spread out. This will help prevent you from breaking through again.
  • Get to a warm, dry, sheltered area and re-warm yourself immediately. In moderate to severe cases of cold water hypothermia, you must seek medical attention. Cold blood trapped in your extremities can come rushing back to your heart after you begin to re-warm; the shock of the chilled blood can cause a heart attack.

What if someone else falls in?

  • First, call 911 for help. Resist the urge to run up to the edge of the hole to help. This would most likely result in two people being in the water needing rescue. Heroics by well-meaning but untrained rescuers sometimes results in two deaths.
  • Preach: Shout to the victim to encourage them to fight to survive and reassure them that help is on the way.
  • Reach: If you can safely reach the victim from shore, extend an object such as a rope or ladder to the victim. If the person starts to pull you in, release your grip and start over.
  • Throw: Toss one end of a rope or something that will float to the victim. Have them tie the rope around themselves before they are too weakened by the cold to grasp it.

3. Get a fishing license

The most legally-important aspect of ice fishing, just as with normal fishing, is to make sure you have a license to do so. Vermont Fish & Wildlife-issued licenses are non-refundable and non-transferable.

If caught fishing without a license, you could face penalties including a fine up to $1,197. Game wardens also have the authority to confiscate your gear depending on the infraction and circumstances. Additionally, you are required by law to have your license on you while fishing and could face a penalty if you are unable to produce it at the request of law enforcement.

If caught fishing without a license, you could receive a penalty that would cost $122 if you don’t try to contest it; if you do try to contest it, however, the fine could range up to $1,197. Additionally, you are required by law to have your license on you while fishing and could face a penalty if your are unable to produce it at the request of law enforcement.


While traditional fishing licenses come with a cost, there are exceptions. The first is that the state is holding its Free Ice Fishing Day Saturday, Jan. 30 when anyone can go fishing in Vermont without a license.

There are opportunities for Vermont residents who are legally blind or have paraplegia or a permanent, severe, physical mobility disability to obtain a free permanent license with proper documentation. This also applies to Vermonters who are a veteran of the armed forces of the United States and are, or have been, 60% disabled due to a service-connected disability.

No fishing license is required for children under the age of 15. For residents ages 15-17, the annual cost is $8 while the cost for adults each year is $28. You can also purchase a three-day license for $11 or a five-year license for $134.

If you start fishing and develop a passion for it, you might want to think about investing in a lifetime license. For Vermonters 1-15 years old, a fishing-only lifetime license is $448. For those 16-24 years old, the cost is $868, and the lifetime license fee for a state resident who is 25-65 years old is $728. You can also take a gamble and hope that a baby will grow up to be an angler, as lifetime licenses for Vermonters under one year of age cost just $224.

Vermont seniors who are at least 66 years old can purchase a permanent license for a one-time fee of $60. The license, however, does need to be updated annually.


Authorized agent offices are currently closed for in-person license purchasing, but you can still get one easily either online, over the phone, through email, or through U.S. mail.

To purchase or renew a license, visit If you have never held a Vermont sporting license, you will have to create a new profile by entering basic personal information such as your name, date of birth, mailing address, phone number, and email address. If purchasing for a child, you will need to make a separate profile for them.

After creating your profile, you will be asked to declare whether you are a Vermont resident or out-of-state resident before making your selection as to which license options you want to purchase. Before checking out with your payment information, you’ll be asked to electronically sign and certify that:

  • The information in the form is true to the best of your knowledge.
  • No Vermont hunting, fishing, or trapping license of yours are currently under revocation in Vermont or any state participating in the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact.
  • You are not delinquent in any obligation to pay child support.
  • You are in good standing with respect to any unpaid judgment issued by the Judicial Bureau or Vermont Superior Court, Criminal Division, for fines and penalties for a violation or criminal offense.

To conduct business through email, send a message to For phone purchasing, call (802) 828-1190.

If you prefer or need to send an application through the mail, you can print one off at

Lifetime licenses cannot be purchased online. Visit and select the “Lifetime License” tab to print the application that you will need to mail in along with the appropriate fee and the required proof of age and residency. You can also call (802) 828-1190 for more information on how to apply.

Military personnel

Vermont offers no-cost or reduced-cost licenses for active military personnel as its way of saying “thank you for your service.”

Any resident of Vermont who certifies that he or she is serving on active duty in the armed forces of the United States or is performing, or is under orders to perform, a homeland defense or state-side contingency operation for a period of 120 or more consecutive days may obtain a no-cost fishing license or combination hunting and fishing license.

A person who obtains a license under this provision may keep the license until it expires, whether or not the person continues to serve in the armed forces.

Military licenses are available online and through license agents. Any questions on eligibility for military licenses should be directed to (802) 828-1190, or sent to:

Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department

ATTN: Licensing Dewey Building

1 National Life Drive

Montpelier, VT 05620-3208

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