Freshwater Fishing For Beginners
Fishing is one of the most popular sports in the world. It is competitive, exciting, and relaxing as well. Spending all day casting a line is considered by many to be one of life’s greatest pleasures. Obviously, you have decided to see what all the fuss is about since you are reading this article. You will get to learn need-to-know knowledge like:
How to Get Started in Fishing
- Freshwater fishing for beginners.
- 10 freshwater fishing Basics.
- Freshwater fishing tips and tricks.
- Open season information and state variations.
- Most important freshwater fish you will want to have on your list.
- Preparing for your fishing trip.
- What you should know about considering a guided hunting tour.
- Different types of fishing you can enjoy.
- Getting an idea of choosing the right equipment.
- Different types of baits you can use.
- Tips on fishing with children.
By the time you have finished you will not be an expert but neither will you stand out as a greenhorn! So, let’s get started in fishing 101!
10 Freshwater Fishing Basics
Although it is going to take practice to become an expert angler, it’s nice to go hunting and not look like you have no idea on how to fish or be unprepared! Luckily, there are ten steps you can follow to help you look and feel more than newbie:
- Get your basic freshwater fishing gear together. Grab some fishing line (monofilament is the least expensive), hooks, bobbers, and sinkers. If you have no fishing tackle you can read our ready 2 fish tackle box review that supplies the basic tackle you need. This is really all you need and it should not cost you more than $30 – $40. Very few hobbies are this cheap to start! Depending on your age we have also reviewed the top kids fishing poles to buy for 3 year olds to Young Adults.
However, if you decide to go with purchasing a starter setup, it is best to look at a spincast rod and reel setup instead of baitcasting. This is to help avoid the aggravation of getting your line tangled up or what we call a “birds nest”. When you feel more experienced, give baitcasting rods a shot and see which one works better for your needs and skill level.
Sinkers and weighted lures are the part that holds your bait down in the water. Like most fishing items, sinkers have a lot of choices to select from. A great recommendation for beginners is to use the split shot sinker – identified by on side-split. They have the same quality as other sinkers but save you money on price.
- Buy some freshwater fishing bait. You can buy them at a local bait shop if you want to or you can simply take advantage of your backyard. Look for crickets and worms at home and use a small net to catch your own minnows at any creek nearby and store them in a live bait container. If critters are not your thing, raid the pantry. Grab corn kernels, frozen shrimp, bread, cheese, or even Ivory bar soap pieces! Put your bait in a bucket and off you go.
- Many fishing retail stores swill put line on your rod for you when you purchase a rod/reel and line together. However if you buy them separate we have several videos explaining how to help you string a fishing reel. You will need a length of fishing line roughly the length of your rod. Tie it securely to the end of the pole and test to make sure it is tight enough. A great tip is to have several or so lines ready-to-go every time you fish. A frustrating truth about fishing is that the lines are going to snag on submerged objects or break when trying to reel in a fish. Avoid having to go through the disappoint of a fishing trip ending before it began by having extra lines to fall back on.
Make sure you have a swivel on hand. They are nifty tools to help keep your line from twisting. They are easy to apply and are attached to your line before you add the lure.
- Find a hook that is relative to the size of your bait. Tie it at the dangling end of the line with any knot you know, as long as it is securely fastened. Wet the line before pulling the knots tight. Keep in mind that hooks do come in various sizes. You will see to different kinds of numbers for hooks, fractions (such as 4/0, 30, etc.) that mean bigger numbers equal bigger sizes and whole numbers that use bigger numbers to represent smaller sizes. There are many types of hooks you can choose from.
When you get the right hook, make sure you tie it properly to your line. A recommendation is to use the Palomar Knot. You can easily research knot-tying techniques if you wanted to test a few of them.
- Pick the spot you are going to fish in. It’s a good idea to look for ponds or shorelines with large rocks or dead wood stumps. Fish love to hide around underwater structures. Check out what the weather is going to be like in the spots you are thinking of. Depending on the terrain and type of fish you are hunting, the weather could have positive or negative effects on the trip outcome.
- When you are at your spot and have your fishing essentials ready, give bobber-fishing a whirl. Bobbers are easy to add to your line. Once you have fastened the bait onto the hook, place the bobber on the line about two feet above it. Lower your line into the body of water until the bobber settles on the surface. Try to keep steady!
- Practice the art of patience because fishing requires a lot of it! It will take time before a fish becomes curious enough to bite your bait or lure. Don’t drift off while waiting, it can happen quickly! If the bobber gets pulled beneath the surface, you have your first fish on the line!
- When you notice the bobber completely submerged or feel tugging on the rod, you know it’s game time! Set your hook by jerking back on the pole with a small amount of force. Lift the pole and line out of the water quickly and swing your fish to shore.
- Once it’s time to handle your fish, be careful. Fish have prickly fins so it is best to grab them behind the head gently and maneuver the pliers to remove the hook from its mouth. You can use need a pair of needle-nose pliers to help remove the hooks. Depending on how strong the pliers are, you can use them to snip fishing lines too. Although, fingernail clippers can do that for you – just don’t use your teeth!
- Now that you got your fish off the line, congratulate yourself for being an angler by taking a picture for Instagram selfie time! Then, you can either clean the fish if you are planning to eat it or place it back in the water. A fillet knife would be good to have when removing scales and guts.
Fishing Gear Tips & Tricks
There are certain items considered fishing essentials for beginners. You do not want to be caught without the items on this list so take it with you when you go shopping!
- Fishing Rod: Unless you are the fish whisper, you are going to need a good quality rod. When you are just starting out there is no need to purchase the most expensive one, but try to get the best that you can afford. You can always upgrade later. The wide variety of rods available for purchase may make your head spin.
There are many types of rods including spinning rods, baitcasting rods, and spincasting rods. If you really have no clue what you need, take the time to talk to the experts at the store where you buy your gear. Once you explain to them the type of fishing you are planning, they will give you several product recommendations.
- Reel: Unless you are simply planning to drop your line over the side of the boat, you are going to want a reel. There are three basic types of reels: fly reels, open and closed face spinning reels, and baitcasting reels. If you are very new to the fishing experience and have no idea what rod goes with which reel, you may want to consider purchasing a rod and reel combo that is appropriate for beginners. The type you use is still going to be based on the type of fishing you are planning but combos are available for every imaginable scenario. See our guide on how to restring a fishing rod and reel once you have decided which rod and reel combo you like.
- Read our reviews on choosing between the best Backpack Fishing Backpack or Fishing Tackle Box / Bag for fishing: Essential for carrying all your favorite lures and the rest of your gear.
- Hooks: Hooks are what catches the fish. They are relatively inexpensive so it is a good idea to several in a variety of shapes, styles, and sizes. Once you become a more experienced angler, you will have a better idea of what the different hook sizes are and the way numbering of hook sizes works.
- Fishing line: Without a fishing line, you will have no way to attach the hook. The line comes in three main types: braided, fluorocarbon, and monofilament. Monofilament is the least expensive of the three and it is used as a general all-purpose line. Fluorocarbon is the priciest line but it is used under the same conditions as monofilament. Braided line is extremely strong. It is thin and hard, capable of cutting skin right through to the bone.
- Lures and baits: You are going to want some type of lure or live bait in order to entice fish to bite on your hook. Knowing the right lure for the right type of fish and water is important. There is no need to spend hundreds of dollars but you do want to have several different types of lures with you. If one seems to not be working you can try your luck with another. The same thing goes for your live bait.
- Sinker or weights: Most often made from lead, this weight pulls the hook down towards the bottom of the water. Many fish are bottom feeders so in order to have a chance with them you need to get where they are. Like every other fishing apparatus, the variations in sinkers are mind-boggling. Pick out a few different ones and that should do the job 99% of the time.
- Pliers: These are handy for more than just taking the hook out of a fish’s mouth. The cutting edge also allows you to cut through fishing line, straighten out a bent hook, and pull apart split sinkers. You will want to choose one that has dependable manufacturing a high-quality.
- Swivels: Nothing is more annoying than trying to untangle a woven web of fishing line. Although there is no full proof way to keep it straight and true all the time, swivels do help with prevention. They go on the line just before the lure.
- Knife: If you are not planning on catch and release, you are going to need a fillet knife to clean your catch. It is much easier to do it on the water than in a sanitized kitchen at home. The thin blade of a fillet knife makes easy work of gutting and descaling. They can also be used for other miscellaneous tasks you might not initially think of needing.
- Net: Eventually, you will get tired of fighting back and forth with a fish when you are fishing for long periods of time or are still building your angler-muscles. This is where a net is essential. Once the fish is within reach, it is often a simple matter to scoop them up with the net.
Fishing Season Regulations and Open Times
Just like hunting for deer, bear, or moose, not every fish is in season at the same time. It depends largely on the area in which you live, what species are available, the current population of the particular fish, and what time of year it is. Some states use your drivers license to prove you have registered, others also have a special card you can carry with you like I do from the Wisconsin DNR. In the Midwest your fishing licenses will allow you to go ice fishing during the winter as well.
Each state has its own set of rules and regulations so you should never assume that what is permissible in your home state will be okay to do when you visit Uncle Joe several states over. To show you how this works, we are going to compare seasons in two different states: New York and Washington.
New York State: These are just some of the available seasons for anglers in New York:
- Trout season: From April 1 – October 15
- Hybrid, brown, brook, and rainbow trout: Limit of 5 daily, any size
- Lake trout: Limit of 3 daily, must be 21″
- Salmon season: From April 1 – October 15 – Read our guide to the Great Lakes Salmon Run for best times.
- Kokanee salmon: Limit of 19 daily, any size
- Pink, Chinook, and Coho salmon: Regulations vary by county
- Landlocked Atlantic Salmon: Limit of 3 daily, must be 15″
- Walleye Season: The 1st Saturday in May – March 15
- Limit of 5 fish daily, must be 15”
- Perch Season: All year long
- Limit of 50 daily, any size
- Pickerel and Pike Season: Starts 1st Saturday in May – March 15
- Tiger Muskellunge: One per day, must be 30″
- Pickerel: Limit of 5 daily, must be 15″
- Northern Pike: Limit of 5 daily, must be 18″
Washington State: The following seasons apply to fishing in Washington State and are much less complicated than New York:
- The official start to the season for freshwater fishing is from the last Saturday in April until either September or October. However, many freshwater lakes in the lowlands remain open all year.. There are specific rules for river fishing as well as type of gear and species.
- During the open season, anglers are permitted to fish 24 hours per day. Reservoirs, ponds, and lakes are year round for game fishing, but any body of freshwater is closed to green sturgeon, grass carp, salmon, Columbia River smelt, Dolly Varden / Bull trout, and lamprey unless specifically noted otherwise in the special rules.
- Saltwater seasons are staggered throughout the year based on the area and species of fish. Certain areas and species may be caught year-round, but the WDFW has 13 designated marine fishing areas that each have their own set of rules. To save yourself some potential headaches, grab a copy of the annual pamphlet “Fishing in Washington.” Just be forewarned that emergency regulations can come into effect with no prior notice.
Freshwater Fishing Species
Freshwater fishing is very common among anglers because it is easily accessible, especially inland. Many people do not have access to the oceans but have plentiful nearby lakes, rivers, and ponds to choose from. Like ocean wildlife, freshwater sources do have trophy fish – whether for sport or cooking – for anglers to look for.
- Bass: Bass is the named shared by a great many species of fish, both marine, and freshwater. Oddly enough, the name comes from bars, a Middle English term meaning perch. Smallmouth, spotted, and largemouth bass is North America’s most popular game fish for anglers. It is also a much-loved fish across the globe.
The lakes, dams, creeks, and rivers of South Africa are a popular spot for largemouth bass. Effective bait types for bass are lures that mimic the movements of crayfish, mice, baitfish, frogs, worms, or a variety of live bait. Other varieties of bass you may have heard of include:
- Striped bass
- White bass
- Giant sea bass
- Black sea bass
- How to Fish for Walleye: The walleye is a freshwater fish that is native to the Northern United States and a large portion of Canada. It is also called pickerel in some parts of English-speaking Canada. The name comes from the outward pointing eyes; as if the fish were staring at walls. Walleye are perfect freshwater fish for beginners.
They see very well at night, making this a popular time for anglers to try their luck. They are often found in deeper water and seem to prefer rougher water conditions. To keep the population at high enough levels, for more than a century walleye have been artificially propagated.
- Salmon: Like bass, salmon refers to several different species of fish. Close cousins of the salmon include grayling, char, whitefish, and trout. They are native to the tributaries of the Pacific Ocean and the North Atlantic, but in recent years, they have been introduced to areas such as South America and the Great Lakes. With the demand for salmon rising among consumers, it is one of the most farmed fish throughout the globe.
An interesting fact about salmon fishing is that they are anadromous. They begin their life in fresh water before making their way to the ocean. When it is time for them to spawn, they return near the spot where they were born. Some common types of salmon include:
- Chum salmon
- Chinook salmon
- Atlantic salmon
- Sockeye salmon
- Coho salmon
- Pink salmon
- Trout: Trout also have a variety of species sharing their name. This popular fish relates closely to char and salmon. They classify as an oily fish, and they are a crucial food source for bears, humans, and birds of prey. Also like salmon, trout can be found in both the sea and freshwater. Many fisherman crowd the streams during spawning season with their fly fishing equipment.There is a huge list of fish that bear the name trout:
- Lake trout
- Rainbow trout
- Speckled trout
- Flathead trout
- Brown trout
- Greenback cutthroat trout
- Apache trout
- Golden trout
- Bull trout
- Perch: This freshwater game fish is carnivorous by nature. There are three types of perch around the world, European perch, Balkhash perch, and the yellow perch. The yellow perch is the smallest of the three and is commonly found in the waters of Canada and the United States. It is cultivated in hatcheries and harvested for food. Yellow perch rarely reach a size larger than 1 kg, compared to the other two who can grow up to six pounds.
Since perch are so small, the daily limit is quite high. On the Canadian side of the St. Lawrence River, it is the same as New York State, 50 per day, any size. Perch is highly prized as a delicacy in Eastern Ontario and is on the expensive side in most restaurants.
- Northern Musky (Muskie, Muskellunge): The mighty musky is the ultimate prize for any sports angler. In recent years, a successful strategy has been put into place to stock Northern musky deep down in the southern states. Its natural habitat runs through Canada, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, through the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes water system, to the upper Mississippi valley. They are migrating slowly on their own, found in Maine, Chattanooga, and South Carolina.
They present a challenge when hooked and put up an exhilarating fight. Guided tours for Northern musky are growing in size every year and catching the big one is on every true angler’s bucket list.
Preparing for a Fishing Trip
Nothing is more exciting than getting ready to head out for a fishing trip. Whether you are flying solo or it’s a fun vacation, there are many things that you need to prepare before hitting the road.
- Verify you are fishing in a regulated season for your area. Skipping this simple step can be very costly in fines if you mistakenly fish out of season.
- Find a good fishing spot near you
- Find a local bait shop near your fishing location.
- Research the kind of fish you are hunting for to learn their habits, preferred bait types, and best locations to catch them in. Also, check for regulations on size and catch limit per day.
- Make sure you have all the tools and equipment needed for any circumstances that may arise.
- Bring appropriate clothes and accessories. It is also a good idea to bring along at least one full spare set of clothing since you never know when you might take an unexpected swim.
- Ensure you have legal fishing licenses and information specific to the area you will be fishing in.
- Start walks or a workout schedule a few months prior to your departure for fitness and endurance.
- Pack any important maps that relate to the area.
- Do not forget a first aid kit with all the basic necessities just in case there are any injuries.
Considering a Guided Fishing Trip
Hunters go on guided hunts all the time to give them the best chance of bagging their elusive quarries. The same types of options exist for anglers. There is a huge variety of package types, starting with just a couple of hours right up to a week or longer. Even if you have been fishing before, considering a guide is a great idea, especially if you are traveling to a new area.
Fishing guides are generally locals of the area you will be fishing. There are several benefits in booking with a guide, including:
- Catching more fish: Since the guides are so knowledgeable about the habits of the fish in their waters, they are able to bring you to spots where you are much more likely to catch fish than going out on your own. They go out almost every day so they are able to keep up with changes in feeding and swimming patterns that you would not be aware of. Many guides use a gps fish finder with pre-marked locations.
- Trying out new equipment: One of the best ways to test out new gear is by going fishing with a guide. Their equipment is always brand new and generally top of the line. They are more than happy to let you test out their equipment and show you the best ways to use it.
- Learning about the water and the area: Guides have so much knowledge to share about the uniqueness of the waters they fish and the land around it. They not only know the best areas to fish but they also know the safest ones.
- Learn new knowledge: Another benefit to using a guide is having them show you new techniques that they have learned. They can also show you which particular fly patterns are best for their water.
- Added safety factor: There is always a safe way to get in and out and guides know where it is. They are also certified and trained in CPR and First Aid in case something serious occurs.
- Easy and fun: There is no work for you to do since the guide brings you right to the best spots. All you need to do is catch fish! They are also quite friendly and generally enjoy telling stories and jokes to keep the party entertained and laughing.
Types of Freshwater Fishing
Just like there are many different types of fish to go looking for, there are also different types of fishing. Some types are dependent on the species you are planning to catch, while others are just personal preference. Freshwater fishing basics are explained in more detail below.
- Boat fishing: This is simply fishing from inside a boat, either stationary or slowly moving.
- Lake fishing: You do this type of fishing either from a boat or from the shore.
- Shore fishing: Just like it sounds, you stand on the shore and toss your line in the water.
- River fishing: River fishing is usually done in waders. You cast the line and let it drift, then reel it in and repeat the process.
- Pond Fishing: This type of fishing provides a tranquil environment if you are looking for peace and quiet. There is a great chance of catching fish, especially if the pond has been stocked.
- Trolling: Trolling is done from inside a boat. The line swings back and forth through the water as the boat moves.
- Ice Fishing: One of the most exciting times for fisherman in the midwest. Ice Fishing can last months and requires a whole different set of warm clothing. A good pair of ice fishing gloves and boots that are rated for under -20C or more are needed.
Knowing How to Choose the Right Equipment
If you look through the aisles in any store that sells fishing supplies, you just don’t know where to look first. It seems like there are hundreds of everything! How can you possibly figure out which is the right equipment for you? We have many fishing tackle tips to read through for various types of fishing. Make sure to bring your freshwater tackle box checklist with you as well.
This is where the knowledgeable sales staff is essential. They know exactly what is best for each species and specific fishing type. Until you know what you will be fishing for and where, it can be impossible to find the proper fishing essentials for beginners. However, there are some basic ground rules to steer you in the right direction.
Aim to get a rod and reel combo around the medium price range. As a beginner, you will likely want to choose a spincasting set. As you advance and experiment more, you will be able to buy other types of rods and reels.
The variety of lures makes the choice come down to personal preference, or whatever catches your eye. Decide what types of fish you are most likely to catch and buy several different ones specific to that species. There is no need to have hundreds. Just a few of each will do.
While you are wandering the aisles, look for a sturdy tackle box. Your basic starter tackle box list will include things likes lures, hooks, sinkers, bobbers, fishing line, pliers, a small first aid kit, swivels, and a fillet knife. When picking items for your tackle box, like hooks and sinkers, steer away from the least expensive brands. They are likely not as sturdy and may bend or rust easily.
Freshwater Fishing Bait
One of the biggest parts of catching fish is convincing them to take a bite. You are going to want a good bait to trick them into hooking on for their next meal. There are a variety of baits you can choose:
- Worms: One of the most common freshwater fishing bait types are worms. Nightcrawlers are the most popular. They attract a large variety of fish, both small and large. Using the whole worm is great for catching carp, catfish, etc. Small sections of nightcrawlers are used to attract panfish, bluegill, perch, and rock bass. They are readily available if you do not want to dig. You can buy them at gas stations and bait shops
- Baitfish: This entails using a live fish to catch a live fish. There are numerous choices of baitfish for different catches, and they come in a variety of sizes. Buy them at any bait store, and choose from common ones including smelts, suckers, chubs, shiners, minnows, herring, and shad.
- Leeches: The thought of touching leeches grosses out most people but fish of many species find them delectable. You can keep them alive for weeks at a time just in a container with water. They work best in water temperatures above 55°. Among the best fish to hook with leeches are panfish, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, northern pike, and walleye.
- Dough balls: There are thousands of recipes to make dough balls that fish can’t seem to resist. They are most popular among anglers looking to hook trout, carp, and catfish. The majority of recipes consist very simply of bread, cereal, and flour.
- Random baits: Your kitchen is a plethora of fishy delights. If you are out of bait and need some in a hurry, consider trying hot dogs, corn kernels, cheese, salmon eggs, chicken liver, bread, etc.
- Artificial baits: Artificial baits are just what they sound like – bait that looks real but is not. By mimicking the movement and appearance of real fish, artificial bait is a big draw for predatory fish. They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They are usually rubber, plastic, or metal, and they are fishing tackle box essentials.
Fishing with your Kids
Finally, not every fishing trip is a trip out with the guys – sometimes the family comes along for the fun! Fishing is a terrific activity and skill for the kids to learn. To make the experience as enjoyable as possible for them, there are some tips you can follow:
- Pick a location: When fishing with kids you want to have a successful trip. Part of making that happen is choosing a location that you know has plenty of fish. This way you will increase the chance that your little one will catch their own supper. You also want a place that is kid friendly because if your child gets bored they are going to want to run around playing and exploring.
- Get them excited: Talk to your child ahead of time about the trip and all the fun you are going to have. If they are very young, consider showing them a book about fishing and telling some of your fishing stories
- Rules and expectations: Leading up to your trip it is wise to go over safety rules and any expectations that you have.
- Be prepared: Before you set out, check that you have packed crucial items like plenty of snacks, sunscreen, bottled water, bug spray, wet wipes, blankets or chairs, and at least one change of clothes. Buy a fishing pole for kids if you do not have one yet.
- Decide on bait: Bait choice does depend on the type of fish you are angling for and the location, but see if your child has any preference. Some children will find a bucket of worms endlessly fascinating while others are going to need some cheese slices or other inanimate objects!
- Do not forget the bobbers: Watching for the bobber to get pulled under the surface is just what kid fishing is all about. Who doesn’t remember those red and white balls floating tranquility along and then -WHAM – under it goes?
- A job for everyone: Giving kids a job to do makes them feel more included in the outing. It also gives them something to shift their focus to. Consider letting them bait the hook or remove any catches from the line.
- Fun, fun, fun: Even adults get frustrated when nothing is biting so don’t expect any different from children. During quiet periods, keep it fun by exploring around, talking, playing games, or bringing out the picnic basket.
- Adjust your time: If your shortest fishing trip is eight hours long, you will end up being disappointed. Plan a short period so that your child stays interested and wants to go back again.
- Practice responsible fishing: Explain to children what responsible fishing is and how to practice it. Make sure to emphasize leaving the area as you found it and to keep only the fish you are able to eat.
Get Started on Your Way to Becoming a Fishing Pro
Now that you have taken the time to read this guide on how to get started in fishing, what is your next step? Visit your local store for the proper equipment that you need and make sure you have the proper fishing licenses in place. All you need then is the closest body of water and some cooperative weather.
What a sense of accomplishment you will have when you bring home fresh supper for your family. Not only is fishing a sport and a hobby, it is also a way to survive if you ever happen to get lost. You are prepared fully and with all the information you have learned.