Beginners to fishing lack the knowledge on all aspects of fishing. The complete guide for beginners to fishing will cover every part of starting fishing. The guide will cover choosing the proper tackle, baits, and how to find fish. The focus on basics will give an overall foundation to become a complete angler.
The purpose of focusing on the basics is essential. Choosing a hook needs to be based on the species, bait, and how the bait is presented. The choices in lines have pros and cons. An angler must know which line is best for where and how they fish. The rods and reels encompass many pieces of information to make the right choice
Rods have different features and performance aspects. These apply to how you fish and the species targeted. Using the wrong tackle leads to poor results. Having the right gear is going to increase your enjoyment. The quality is related to cost. So choosing strictly on the price will not be beneficial.
Fishing is a sport needing some investment in the tackle. There are low-cost options in many pieces of gear. In general, you get what you pay for but do not need to pay high prices either. There is a sweet spot for rods, reels, and the other tackle.
A beginner will be able to get a basic set-up of all the gear for around two hundred dollars to start. Afterward, more tackle is added based on needs and budget.
As a beginner to fishing, reading articles does help. The problem arises from incorrect information or tactics specific to a certain species or region. Fish have differences in behavior and environmental needs. Learning the species is often overlooked by beginners. The complete guide for beginners to fishing will cover all these topics and more.
Guide for Beginners to Fishing; Species
Note; This article covers most aspects of freshwater fishing. Each section is a summary of subjects related to fishing. The sections have links to specific articles on each subject. Use the subject-specific links for a better understanding of the topic. The amount of information is too vast for one article.
Beginners fail to understand the importance of knowing the species of fish. The species will dictate what rod and reel are best. Also, the lures, lines, and tactics used to catch various species are different. Finding the fish requires knowing the behaviors and habitat. The behavior involves spawning cycles and transitions throughout the year. In other words, fish move around during the year.
Behavior and Habitat
Finding the right habitat and understanding the behavior are the keys to finding fish. As a result, knowing what the fish needs to survive helps locate the targeted species. An old saying among fishermen is “80% of the fish are in 20% of the water.” Fishing in the wrong place results in catching a few or no fish. Finding the right place leads to success.
You need to learn the difference in what a fish needs versus unproductive waters. Structure and cover are where every angler needs to start. Think of structure and cover as houses and paths or roads used by people.
The structure is the contour of the ground underwater. Fish will always be on the structure of some kind. Yet at times some structure will not hold fish. Anglers must know the various types of structures and when fish use them. During spawning, the fish move into the shallower water. During winter and summer fish tend to hold in the deeper waters.
Beginners need to read the shoreline. A steep bank leads to deep water. A shallow bank extends into the water. Points also extend into the water. Use the shore features to have an idea of what is underwater. The typical structure is stream beds, drop-offs, humps, points, and submerged roadways. Any significant change in contour is structure.
The cover is not structure although the two are often confused. The cover is rock-piles, brush, trees, weeds, and docks. Fish use cover as hiding or ambush locations. Look for the edges of cover or pockets inside the cover. Feeding fish use these areas to catch careless prey.
The larger fish take the best spots in the cover. Look for openings in denser cover as this is where the big ones will hide to ambush. Take your time working cover. It takes a few casts to get a fish to move. The retrieve rate or lure may need to be changed to get the fish to strike.
Species Specific Conditions
Fish gather in certain areas. The temperature, bottom composition and current affect their choice in locales. The chart below shows temperatures for some common species. The lower temperature is when they become active and prepare to spawn. The optimum temperature is when the fish thrive. The high temperature is when stress becomes a factor.
|Species||Lower Temperature||Optimum Temperature||High Temperature|
A few fish tolerate cold water while some handle rather warm water. Fish will seek the optimum range if possible. In a situation where optimum temperatures are unavailable. Fish tend to go into deeper water.
In water cooler than desired the fish will be less active but still feed. It requires a slow presentation of the bait. In hotter weather fish tend to turn off and not bite. Chasing prey causes stress that can lead to death.
The bottom composition is part of the habitat. There is sandy, gravel, or mud bottom in most waterways. Species will seek a preferred bottom if available. Catfish will lay in mud while inactive. Smallmouth bass like gravel and largemouth bass like sandy bottoms.
Understanding what bottom structure is present also helps to locate fish. The various bottom compositions may hold food or be preferred for other reasons. These areas are used for spawning purposes also. Fish use different habitats to spawn.
A few like weedy areas to deposit the eggs in the vegetation. Other fish use gravel bottoms to spawn. They let the eggs fall into the gravel. A beginner’s best option is to read about each species they target. This will give more information to find the fish.
Search the United States Fish and Wildlife site or your local agency that governs fishing. The sites will have information on all species present in the state or province. The sites have information on the proper handling of fish. Plus cover management strategies also.
Guide for Beginners to Fishing; Environmental Factors
Once you know what habitat the fish like. The time of day, seasons, light, and water conditions come into play. All these elements have effects on fish. In general most fish dislike bright light. Light makes a fish visible to prey or predator.
The light makes life harder for them. Predators will find prey easier. Yet the prey will see the predator before it is close enough to strike. The prey and predator are both at a disadvantage in brightly lit water.
During the day when it is bright. Fish will seek dense cover or deeper water. Hiding is part of their survival instincts.
The best times to fish are mornings, evenings, and cloudy days. The light levels are lower. A few species of fish will be easiest to catch at night. This is part of understanding the species.
In addition, fish have seasonal behavior. During the spring the water warms. This triggers the spawning cycle. Fish move into the habitat best suited for reproduction. The exact time varies due to location and species.
In the south spawning occurs earlier than the north. The size of a lake has an effect also. Large lakes heat up unevenly. Some areas will warm enough for the spawn and others may follow 2-4 weeks later. The depth, amount of sun, and currents all influence the water heating up to spawning temperature.
Time of Year
In the summer, the shore areas can get too hot for many species. These fish seek deeper water with heavier cover. Fish always seek optimum temperature and oxygen levels. The warmer the water holds less oxygen.
If you have caught fish in an area during the spring. Then it becomes unproductive in the summer. The water is too warm or lacks oxygen. The fish have moved to deeper water.
Fall is a good time to catch a lot of fish. The water begins to cool off. The larger fish move in the shallows to feed. The baitfish that spawned in the spring is large and in abundance. The baitfish tend to stay in the shallows for protection among weeds and rocks. Fish are opportunistic hunters and go to where the food is located.
The fish are going to feed heavily at this time. They are preparing for winter. Fish bulk up for the winter since it is the lean season in most waters. The water temperatures are low. This decreases the activity of the prey. Predators will become less active too. In the winter, fish will not expend energy on a chase unless the success rate is high.
Guide for Beginners to Fishing; Waterways
Learning the waters you plan to fish is essential. Cover and structure have been mentioned. Achieving success at fishing means learning each waterway. The lakes, rivers, and streams all vary in several ways.
The current or lack of current, the color of the water, and where the cover and structure are located has an impact. Some fish like current while others avoid water with too much current. An example is smallmouth prefer current and the largemouth likes calm waters. This is why knowing the species is important also.
Rivers and Streams
Rivers and streams have challenges due to current and changing water levels. How to fish a river successfully takes experience. In the spring, the snowmelt and rains raise the river. This moves fallen trees and brush piles to new locations. The structure also goes through changes depending on the flow.
Debris and sediment are washed downstream. The debris will hang up when water levels drop or on the outside of bends. Tributaries have sediment build up below the mouth. These waters evolve constantly changing where fish may congregate.
The current and levels have an effect on the fish. In high water, fish move into tributaries or closer to shore. When the levels are low fish seek the deeper holes. An angler needs to adjust to the levels and current to be successful.
Lakes and Reservoirs
Lakes are stable compared to rivers and streams. The water level can raise or drop but is less dramatic. Plus lakes have little or no current. The cover tends to stay in place. In some instances, waters rise high enough to move trees and brush. Once the location of cover on lakes is found. An angler can be confident it will be there for years.
Reservoirs have a mix of the qualities of rivers and lakes. Where the streams enter there will be current. Towards the dam, there is little or no current. Also, reservoirs change levels more than natural lakes. Flood control waterways have large changes in the levels. In some lakes, a parking lot near the water at a normal level is underwater in the spring.
Anglers must study the water at normal levels and look at the shoreline. In high water, shoreline features become cover and structure and will hold fish. This applies to rivers and streams also.
Guide for Beginners to Fishing; Tackle
Understanding the species is part of selecting the right tackle. Rods and reels come in many sizes, powers, actions, and other features. The features determine which rod or reel is best suited to use for a species. Trout and panfish are small, an ultra-light or light power set-up is best. Fish such as bass, walleye, catfish, and similar sized fish medium or medium-heavy power tackle is best. Larger fish use heavy power or up rods. An angler needs to know what they are fishing for before buying tackle.
Choosing a Fishing Rod
Anglers need to know how to select the right rod. A rod to light makes fighting fish take too long or will fail. Rods too heavy give the fish little chance of a fight. The correct power is step one in choosing a rod.
|Bass||Spinning||Live Bait||7′ to 7’6″||Med||Moderate|
|Bass||Spinning||Lures||7′ to 7’6″||Med.or Med-Heavy||Moderate|
|Bass||Baitcast||Soft Plastics||6’6″ to 8’6″||Med.or Med-Heavy||Slow|
|Bass||Baitcast||Reaction Lures||6’6″ to 8’6″||Med.or Med-Heavy||Fast|
|Walleye||Spinning||Live Bait||6’6″ to 7’6″||Medium||Fast|
|Walleye||Spinning||Jigging||6’6″ to 7’6″||Medium||Fast|
|Walleye||Spinning||Crankbaits||6’6″ to 7’6″||Med-Heavy||Moderate|
|Panfish||Spinning||Any||5′ to 7′||Ultra-Lite or Lite||Fast|
|Trout||Spinning||Any||6′ to 7 1/2||Light||Fast|
|Catfish||Baitcast||Live Bait||7′ to 8’6″||Med-Heavy||Moderate|
|Musky||Baitcast||Lures||7’6″ to 9’6″||Heavy or above||Fast|
|General||Spinning||Any||6’6″ to 7’6″||Medium||Fast|
After choosing power, the action of the rod is next. Beginners will do best with a fast or moderate fast action rod. Once power and action are chosen you need to decide the length. Longer rods cast farther, while short rods offer better accuracy. A rod 6’6″ to 7′ is considered an all-purpose length for freshwater fishing.
The reel and line need to match the rod. The wrong size reel causes an imbalance in the set-up. This affects casting and causes fatigue in the hands and forearms. The line being too light or heavy causes additional problems. Either the line breaks if too light. The rod usually breaks with too strong of a line. All three parts of the set-up need to balance for the best performance.
Choosing A Reel
Choosing the right reel is easy following a few guidelines. Spinning reels are easier for beginners. The reel has an open face and controls the line coming off by design. The line goes across the lip of the spool creating tension.
How to choose the size of a spinning reel for the species and how you fish.
Size 1000; Ultra Light to light tackle good for freshwater trout and panfish.
Size 2000; Light tackle used for fish up to 15-18 inches and a few pounds.
Size 3000 Medium tackle used for all-around fishing and bass fishing primarily.
Size 4000; Medium tackle used for slightly heavier fishing applications such as catfish, larger lures or working fish out of heavy cover.
Size 5000 or above is a heavier tackle for saltwater, pike, musky, and other large game fish.
Spinning reels have line recommendations on the spool. Match the reel’s line rating to the rods line rating. A medium power rod uses an 8-14 pound line. A 2500 to 3000 reel falls into the same line rating. The two components will balance and match.
Baitcasting reels are great fishing tackle. Yet they take longer to learn to use effectively. Beginners should think of them as an upgrade or second set-up. Learning to cast and other elements of fishing need to be learned first. Using a baitcast reel to start adds to the learning curve. Beginners need to keep everything simple at first.
Beginners need a guide to the fishing line. The choices in line and strength plus other characteristics confuse experienced anglers. The main lines are monofilament, braid, and fluorocarbon. There are pros and cons to each line. But all have a place, where they need to be used for optimum results.
Monofilament is a good choice for beginners. It is a low-cost line with good abrasion and shock resistance. The line handles being scuffed up a little by rocks and other underwater obstructions. Also has some stretch to absorb the thrashing a fish does when hooked. A fish will throw a hook if there is no give in the line or it is not played right. Beginners need to learn how to fight (play) the fish.
The downside of monofilament lines is that it is easily cut and does not last long. Sunlight and water cause damage to the line. You will need to change the line at least once a year. The line has memory. The line will make loops when slack that may cause problems.
Braided Fishing Line
A braided line is another good line for beginners. The braided line offers better sensitivity, strength, and durability. The line has a smaller diameter than mono for the strength rating. Thinner line casts farther. The current in streams and rivers has less effect on the line also. Braid does not stretch giving it better sensitivity. You will feel the bites easier.
Braided line has its issues too. The line is slippery due to the coatings on it. This makes knot tying important. Poorly tied knots lead to failure and lost lures or fish. Braid performs poorly in rocky areas. The rocks tear up the individual fibers reducing strength quickly.
A braided line will cut skin and other materials. Do not wrap or allow the braid to rub on skin or parts of the rod other than the guide inserts. It will cut or damage anything not designed to handle braid.
Fluorocarbon Fishing Line
Fluorocarbon is not a good choice for beginners to use for the mainline. It is unforgiving regarding knots. Tie the knot wrong and it will break or fail. The line has memory also. The line’s memory is worse than mono-filament’s memory traits. This makes it difficult to cast. It is good for a leader with braid.
Use fluoro with braid as leader material. Tie together with the double uni-knot. The fluoro gives shock strength and a little stretch. This helps when setting the hook and fighting the fish. Fluorocarbon has very good abrasion qualities also. It performs in weeds and rocky areas making the use ideal as a leader.
Guide for Beginners to Fishing; Terminal Tackle
Terminal tackle is hooks, sinkers, swivels, and other small items that get lost or wear out fast. Line and a few lures do fall into the terminal tackle. Although for clarity, they are covered in other sections. Terminal tackle is designed for certain uses. In other words, there is no one size or type that covers all species or types of fishing.
An angler must know which hook, sinker, or another piece of tackle works best for the situation. Using the wrong hook means lost fish. The wrong sinkers lead to snags or poor casting as the two primary problems. Swivels and snaps are misused often by beginners. They do serve a purpose and using correctly improves fishing success.
As a beginner hooks selection is daunting. There are various sizes for each species. Then the types for some species or baits take time to learn. The sizes range from 8/0 to 20 in common sizes. The /0 denotes larger hooks with bigger numbers for bigger hooks. Hooks without the designation are the smaller sizes. The higher the number means the smaller hook.
The 8/0 is large and used for the biggest fish. The size 20 is very small and for brook trout and other fish around 4-5 inches on average. The most used sizes are 2/0 to 10 and cover most fish. Panfish uses size 10 while largemouth bass 2/0 to 2 are common.
There is a preferred size and type for each species. Plus the size of the fish will require adjusting to a smaller or larger size. Plus hook strength is a factor. Larger hard fighting fish need a heavier strength hook. Read this article on hooks for specifics on each hook. It will cover common hooks and use.
Sinkers also called weights, aid in casting and controlling bait placement. There are many types for various conditions. There are no-roll, pyramid, and casting sinkers. Plus many more types for specific situations. An angler needs to know what sinker is best for where and how they fish.
Casting sinkers work well for casting distance. Yet may not hold well in current or sand. The no-roll sinker is great for strong currents but will snag easier in rocky areas. In other words, what sinker to use depends on where and how you fish.
A beginner needs to understand the waterways they fish. Taking a little time to study the depth current and bottom composition. This lets an angler know what sinker is best.
Then weights are used with soft plastics. These are egg, bullet and other specialized weights. Using the weights with a certain hook makes a rig. Common rigs are the Texas, Wacky, and Neko rig for bass. Walleye fishermen use Lindy rigs or bottom bouncers.
Part of fishing is learning what rig and weight works best for the species and presentation. The average angler needs to know about a half dozen set-ups and weights.
Swivels and Snaps
Swivels and snaps are effective when used correctly and when needed. They should not be used unless needed. The addition of more tackle makes chances of tackle failure increase. The swivels and snaps need tying requiring more knots. The weakest part of the set-up. The snaps and swivels add weight increasing possible imbalances with lures.
Swivels are a bearing type device. The purpose is to reduce or prevent line twist. Use swivels with spoons or spinners. The rotation of the lure will create a line twist. The swivels may have a snap connected as part of it. This is a snap swivel. Changing lures is faster with the device.
There are swivels without snaps. Use these for live bait slip rigs or on lures. A split ring will connect the swivel to the lures. Eliminating the snap removes the weak part of a snap swivel. Fishing for larger species this is the preferred method.
Snaps are used to change lures quickly and often. In some cases it is beneficial. The snap needs to have a round area where it attaches to the lure. The snaps with an angle were the lure connects will make a lure run out of tune. In general, it is best to avoid snaps if possible.
It is okay to use one when using various lures to find out which lure is productive. Once you find a productive lure tie directly to the line except when using spinners or spoons.
Guide for Beginners to Fishing; Lures
Lures are a big part of fishing. The amount of lures to choose from is overwhelming. Experienced anglers get confused with all the choices available. The type, color, and size of the lure all matter in one way or another. Beginners should not despair as there are a few rules to get started.
Keeping lure choices to the easier to use types will help. Some lures use techniques requiring a lot of time to learn. The easy ones can be used effectively right away by beginners. The following list is the easy to use lures.
These four types of baits do not require finesse. An angler casts and retrieves the lures. The spinners and crankbaits cover an area fast helping to find active fish. The top-water is for specific situations and times but easy and effective. A jerk bait is versatile for a beginner. They come in floating sinking and suspending models.
The retrieve on a jerk bait can be varied a lot. The speed, jerks, and twitches all can be changed to help get a fish to strike.
Lure Color and Size
The colors vary on the water clarity. Having a bright, dark, and baitfish pattern is recommended to start. The water clarity and amount of light determine what color is best. After gaining experience choosing colors becomes easier. At first pick lures that provide the best silhouette.
The size of the lure matters too. The lure size needs to match the prey preferred by the species of fish. Fishing for bass 2-5 inch lures work well. Use smaller or bigger lures for other sized fish. There is no one size fits all in fishing.
Using live bait is easier for beginners. The common night crawler catches almost any species of fish. There are other baits also. Minnows work well with predatory game fish. Using corn, chicken livers, and dough ball are good for catfish.
Studying the species will let an angler know what bait is preferred by a fish. An example is crappies eat minnows and are rarely caught on any other bait. A red worm below a bobber is best for panfish.
Fishing is a sport requiring knowledge of all the equipment, targeted species, and lures or baits needed. Add in the water and light elements and there is a lot to learn. This article summarizes the basic topics with links to detailed information.
Take your time to learn as much as possible. The more you know about the water and fish will help catch more fish. Learn the aspects of the tackle. Understanding what power and action do in a rod. Learn to match the line, reel, and line to what you are fishing for in a species.
Using lures and live bait start out simple with productive choices. The easier options work most of the time. Later on, soft plastics and jigs can be added for finesse fishing. Keep it simple and enjoy fishing.