Gearing Up for Fishing

casting into an alpine lake
Angler at Kontrashibuna

NPS Photo/ T. Vaughn

Anglers are essential to conserving native fish in national parks. Using the right equipment can help keep native fish safe and help you avoid some of the common mistakes people make while fishing.

Determine what type of fishing you want to do, and adjust your gear list accordingly, most fishing builds off of the following essentials.

The Basics

Pack the 10 essentials with you. They include important fishing safety items such as food and water, sun protection, a flashlight, and an extra layer of clothing.

There are many hazards in natural bodies of water such as sudden drop offs, swift currents, and cold water temperatures. Even the strongest swimmers can quickly be overcome by water conditions. Plan to bring a life jacket, especially children, when fishing when on, in, or near the water.
Sunscreen, long sleeves, hat, and polarized sunglasses. Fishing takes patience, and a lot of time outside. UV damage to your skin can occur in as little as 15 minutes. Sand and water reflect UV increasing your exposure. Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 15 or greater and reapply at least every two hours or more frequently if you are sweating or getting wet while fishing.

Polarized sunglasses help you to see fish underwater without the glare of the sun. These are especially useful when you choose to forgo fishing and watch fish instead.

Many bugs live around water sources and some even carry diseases. Protect yourself from mosquitoes, ticks and other biting or stinging insects by wearing bug spray or protective clothing. There are different types of bug sprays (e.g. DEET, permethrin, picardin) and each type affects insects differently. Research and choose the type of bug spray that will be the most effective against the bugs you may encounter during your fishing trip
It’s always good to bring an extra layer of clothing for warmth or pack a rain jacket in case the weather suddenly changes.
Depending on where you decide to fish - urban, rural or wilderness environment - cell coverage will vary. Find out ahead of time if you have cellular coverage if you are heading to a rural or wilderness park. If you don’t have cell coverage, consider taking a personal locator beacon, should you need to call for help. If you are using your cell phone, keep the battery fully charged. Searching for a cell signal can quickly drain your phone battery, so consider turning off your phone or switching to airplane mode until you need it.

Fishing Gear

close up of fly fishing rod, reel, and line on cement
Rod, reel, and line set up for fly fishing.

NPS Photo/ B. Windell

Fishing License

For most parks a license is required; however not in all, and some may even require a park specific license. Read the regulations of the park where you are fishing to know which license to buy.


Depending on the type of fishing you want to do, rods will vary. Things to consider when fishing with a rod are its flexibility, strength, and length. Each of these elements will vary depending what type of fishing you want to do. There’s anything from a fly fishing rod, spin rod, or deep sea rod. When choosing a rod, choose one that will support the weight of the fish you are trying to catch.


The rod will determine the type of reel you are using as well as the type of line you use.

Fishing line

There are many types and sizes of line. Depending on your rod, reel, and what you want to catch, your line will also vary.

Note: Discarded fishing line has serious environmental impacts and can be lethal for waterfowl, wading birds and other wildlife. Always pack out your fishing line and dispose of it in a manner that ensures it will not find its way back into the environment.


The National Park Service recommends using single, barbless hooks for catch-and-release fishing. These hooks cause less injury to fish and help conserve them for future generations. If your hook has a barb, you can use needle nose pliers to pinch the barb down.


It helps to study the environment around you when choosing the tackle or lures you want to use. Notice the types of insects or fish around you, and match your tackle to the type of food your intended catch eats. Or, research the type of food fish eats before heading into a national park to fish.

Live bait is often prohibited in parks, but check with your parks regulations to see if they allow bait. Live bait should never be released except into the waterbody from which it was captured

various fishing flies arranged on white background
Fly fishing requires the use of flies that mimic insects that fish eat.

NPS Photo? Forrest Czarnecki

Needle nose pliers

In order to conserve native fish, they must be returned to the water unharmed. Needle nose pliers help to take the hook out of the fish mouth when returning it to the water.

soles of fishing boots side by side
Felt soled fishing boots (left) may be banned in certain parks. Check with the park before wearing felt boots into the park.

Photo / Todd Koel

Non-slip shoes and/or waders

Having a good footing is essential to reeling in a catch. Make sure that your shoes have a good grip. If fly fishing, you may need to wade into the water to get a better cast. Some parks ban felt soled boots due to the transport of aquatic invasive species.

Fish landing net

Fishing nets help to keep the fish safe after reeling in your catch. Use a rubber or nylon net or one without knots, that could cause harm to the fish.

A fishing buddy

It’s safer, and more fun, to fish with a companion, but if you prefer go solo, take extra measures to ensure that you are prepared since you will be alone.

Last updated: June 20, 2018