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Prepare for Ice Fishing in the Forest Preserves

Photo by Brian Bochenek.

Cold weather brings along myriad opportunities to enjoy winter sports while out in the Forest Preserves of Cook County—including ice fishing! Home to over 40 waterbodies that offer recreational sport fishing, the Forest Preserves permits ice fishing on a designated 22 of these lakes when conditions are right. Ice fishing is a “fish at your own risk” activity in the Forest Preserves; read on to learn how to properly prepare for a safe and great experience.


The right gear is crucial to having a successful day out on the ice. There are many types of ice fishing equipment that can be used for this activity; however, be sure to bring along these basics.

  • Ice augers – This tool is a drill that cuts a hole in the ice enabling fishers to access the water. Bring a tape measure to ensure ice depth reaches a minimum of 4 inches. Additionally, Illinois regulations state ice fishing holes cannot exceed 12 inches in diameter.
  • Ice fishing rod – These rods are specially designed to meet to the challenges of ice fishing. The shortness of the rod allows for easier use to catch a fish and increase sensitivity to feel if a fish bites the hook.
  • Ice fishing lures – These lures attract fish to the hook since it looks like their prey. They come in many designs to help reel in a desired catch.
  • Proper bait – As with traditional fishing, having the right kind of bait helps attract fish. Common ice fishing bait includes worms, spikes (insect larvae), and small minnows—smaller bait types work better in colder conditions.
  • Fish locators – This device helps ice anglers find fish. Since fish have reduced activity during the cold months, it is a very helpful tool!
  • Bucket – This will make carrying caught fish much easier and convenient.


Safety should always be the number one priority! The Forest Preserves of Cook County does not monitor ice conditions, so be sure to check the thickness of the ice before heading out on any frozen body of water. A minimum of 4 inches of solid ice over the entire waterbody is recommended before attempting to ice fish. When choosing a spot, remember to never ice fish near flowing water, open water, dams and unsafe surfaces. Ice fishers should have a valid state of Illinois fishing license and familiarize themselves with a site’s rules, regulations and restrictions, as well.

  • Warm clothing – Dressing in the proper layers helps anyone enjoying wintertime activities stay dry and warm. 
  • Proper flotation devices – Since you will be on top of a body of water, proper flotation devices should be worn as a precaution.
  • Ice safety picks – This tool helps a fisher pull themselves out of the water if they fall through. Once out the water, be sure to roll away from where the ice has broken through to avoid further potential danger.
  • Inform others – Bring a buddy or make others aware of your ice fishing plans.

Check out our fishing page to learn about fishing at the designated ice fishing lakes, regulations and rules, a fishing guide and more. Also, check out the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for more information on ice fishing.