Fishing may seem complicated to first-time anglers, but that doesnâ€™t have to be the case. With just a bit of gear, a fishing license, and the information in this guide, youâ€™ll be able to get on the water andÂ try your hand at catchingÂ some fish by this weekend.
This guide specifically covers spin fishing, which uses a rod with a spinning reel and lures or live bait to attract fish. For new anglers, itâ€™s one of the easiest ways to get outside with minimal investment, but fly-fishing, saltwater fishing, ice fishing, and other types of gear fishing that utilize different reels are all options that may interest you down the road.
Before you head out, make sure you have a current fishing license for the state youâ€™ll be fishing in. Licenses are sold onlineÂ or at fishing shops and occasionally in convenience stores. The price of a day license is usually fairlyÂ inexpensive (less than $20), but the exact price depends on the state and your residency, as fishing licenses cost more for nonresidents. But annual licenses are a better bang for your buck, typically going for between $30 and $150. If nothing disastrous happens your first time (donâ€™t worry, chances are low), you might even want to go again.Â
Itâ€™s always best to talk to a real person about where to fish, as they likely have the most currentÂ and comprehensiveÂ information about local water. In a pinch, a crowdsourced fishing app like Fishbrain or the more data-heavy FishAngler provides good information onÂ local spots. In general, lakes are a great option when youâ€™re just starting outâ€”they usually have a bank or dock to fish fromÂ and often have a larger volume of hungry fish than you would find in a river. Lake fishing mostly involves species like bass, panfish, or rainbow trout, while rivers are almost exclusively fished for salmon or trout species, like rainbow, cutthroat, or brown trout, among others.
Itâ€™s important to learn good fishing etiquette earlyâ€”beÂ respectful of other anglers, the fish you catch, and the environment youâ€™re in. Donâ€™t crowd a spot that someone else is fishing: I like to give other anglers no less than 50 to 60 feet on the most crowded water and more than a couple hundred yards if there arenâ€™t manyÂ people around. Donâ€™t keep more fish than you can eat, and always adhere to leave-no-trace ethics. Be sure youÂ know whetherÂ the section of the water youâ€™re on is catch and release, limited toÂ artificial lures (no live bait), or fly-fishing only. You canâ€™t always count on a sign to tell you this information, so check a local regulation book or your stateâ€™s forestry departmentâ€™s website for facts as well as updates on closures.
A spinning reel and rod comboÂ isÂ your best bet as a beginner. â€śComboâ€ť is the key word hereâ€”it signals that the reel and rod are sold together, which usually means theyâ€™re easier to set up. Hereâ€™sÂ a great video that outlines the basic parts of a spinning reel. An employee at your local tackle shop will be able to point you in the right direction in terms of a good beginner rod that will meet your particular needs.
Lures and bait will be your next step after a rod and reel. Live worms or PowerBaitâ€”a scented puttylike material that you form around a bare hookâ€”are good starting points, while lures, which are decoys designed to attract a fishâ€™sÂ attention,Â are another effective option once you get comfortable using bait. Youâ€™ll also need some bobbers, which are small floating balls that sink or bob when something hits your lure, indicating you have a fish on. A rubber net (which is easier on a fishâ€™s skin than string or nylon nets), needle-nose pliers to retrieve lures from the inside of the fishâ€™s mouth, and a small tackle box to keep all of your lures and bait in one place are also helpful.Â
Like any outdoor pursuit, your fishing needs will only continue to expand as you gain more experience; youâ€™ll likely want to upgrade your gear after a few months, while waders and boots could also be added to your kit down the road.
The most important knot in fishing is the improved clinch knot. This knot attaches your hook or lure to your line. Once youâ€™ve nailed this one, youâ€™ll be ready to go.
This knot is another option to connect your hook to your line. Itâ€™sÂ known for its strength and ease of tying.
A double surgeonâ€™s knot is used to connect two pieces of line. This could be used if you get snaggedâ€”whenÂ your lure gets caught on a log or rock and the line breaksâ€”and need to fashion more line before attaching your hook.
Itâ€™s helpful to know where fish may be hiding so you can target them betterâ€”in other words, â€śreading the water.â€ť In lakes, fish usually hang out in or around weeds and downed trees close to shore. They might also congregate near drop-offs; for this reason, some lakes are easier to fish if you have access to a canoe or kayak. Similar tactics apply to rivers, where youâ€™ll want to look for places that may provide good coverâ€”logjams or overhanging banks, for exampleâ€”since a fishâ€™s main objective beyond finding food is hiding from predators.
Casting with a spinning reel is as simple and intuitive as winding up and chucking your lure as far as you can, like throwing a baseball. Start with about six inches of line out the end of your rod, withÂ the reel below your dominant hand. A spinning reel employs a bail (a thin wire arm) to keep your line from coming out of the spool. In order to cast, youâ€™ll need to flip this bail, hold the line with your finger, bring the rod tip up and slightly behind you (think of the motion youâ€™d use to pick up a phone), and cast forward using your wrist and elbow. When your rod is vertical or just slightly forward from vertical, release the line to send your lure flying. Once your lure is in the water, flip the bail back over and begin reeling.
When hooking a fish, there are two things you want to prevent: the fish â€śspittingâ€ť out your lure, or your line breaking under the weight and power of the fish.
To keepÂ those two things from happening, youâ€™ll need to properly â€śsetâ€ť the hook into the fishâ€™s mouth once it has bitten your lure or bait. This means setting it at the right time and with the right pressure: when you see your bobber sink or jerk, point your rod tip up and pull back with moderate pressure to keep the lure in the fishâ€™s mouth without ripping any part of its lipâ€”good timing here will ensure the lure is firmly set in the lipÂ rather than deeper in the mouth. Once you have a proper hookset, youâ€™ll need to focus on keeping your rod tip up while â€śplayingâ€ť the fishâ€”allowing the fish to tire itself out while you try to keep it on your line. Cranking the fish in immediately after hooking it will often result in it breaking off,Â as the fishâ€™s power and weight can often be greater than the strength of the line. By tiring it out, youâ€™ll have the upper hand and eventually be able to reel the fish in.
A few additional tips:Â always keep your â€śslackâ€ť in (that is, make sure your line is taut), and familiarize yourself with your reelâ€™s drag system. All rods have a drag dial that affects how your reel will handle fish of different sizes and strengthsâ€”less drag is needed if you expect to catch small fish, while more drag (and a bigger reel) may be necessary if youâ€™re chasing larger or stronger species.
Youâ€™ve successfully hooked, played,Â and reeled in the fish, and now itâ€™s close to shore. A net will give you a huge advantage here.Â Once you reel the fish into an armâ€™s length of your feet, use the net to scoop it up, being sure to avoid letting it flop on the bank or rocks. To further minimize harm after landing a fish, do not squeeze its stomach or touch its gills when handling, and try not to keep it out of the water longer than you can hold your breath, if you intend to release it back.
To keep improving your fishing skill set, it helps to do some research and get out on the water with more experienced anglers. Here are some other resources that will help you advance:
While it can be intimidating at first, fishing can beÂ one of the simplest outdoor hobbies to pick up. Catching your first fish is as easy as finding a lake, doing some research, investing in some basic gear, and casting a line.