Fishing may seem like a simple past time, but it may surprise you that it takes a little more skill than merely dangling a hook and line in the water. Not only is fishing a relaxing hobby for millions of people, but it also beneficial to your health.
If you’ve always wanted to learn how to fish, but never found the time it’s never too late to learn! This comprehensive guide has all the information on the basics of fishing and how to catch a fish so that you can learn easily and quickly.
People have fished for thousands of years, mainly as a food source. An estimated 10 to 12 percent of the world’s population relies on the fishing industry as their livelihood and fishing is a thriving global industry.
Although fishing is primarily an essential life skill for some, it’s also a hobby for millions of people each year. According to the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation and the Outdoor Foundation, more than 49 million Americans fished recreationally in 2017.
Aside from fishing for food, there are other benefits to going fishing, which include:
Everyone chooses to fish for different reasons. Maybe you want to have the skills needed to catch your own fish for food, or you are looking for a relaxing hobby.
Whether you learned how to fish as a kid but need a refresher course or you’ve never used a fishing pole, you will understand the basics of fishing and know how to catch a fish on your own after you read this guide.
Today’s fishing techniques and equipment aren’t much different from those used thousands of years ago, but modern fishing gear makes catching fish easier, enjoyable, and more successful.
While you don’t need much fishing gear to catch a fish, you do need some essential equipment.
To fish legally, you must have a fishing license. Each state has their own rules and regulations about fishing, which includes the type of fish you can catch, a limit on what you can keep, the kind of fishing gear you can use, and even certain times of the year.
Depending on which region you live in, or where you plan to fish, often requires a specific fishing license such as a saltwater or freshwater license.
While some states will honor another state’s fishing license, you typically need a specific license for the state where you are fishing.
Whether you decide to fish for a few hours or during the summer, you need a license. Before you purchase a license, check with license laws in your state or if you’re planning a fishing trip, check if special rules apply to you as an out-of-state visitor.
Buying a fishing license is easy, and there are several places where you can purchase one.
You can buy a license online or by phone and a variety of establishments from big box stores like Walmart to bait shops or gas stations.
If you want to purchase a fishing permit in person, a quick internet search should help you find a nearby establishment that sells fishing licenses. Most places that sell fishing gear also sell licenses.
The cost of a fishing license varies depending on where you live, the type of license you want, and other factors such as your age.
For example, a fishing license in Minnesota is free for individuals in the military or children under the age of 16 (if the parent has a valid fishing license).
An individual 24-hour license for a Minnesota resident costs $12 while the same type of license for a non-resident is $14. A lifetime fishing license costs up to $574.
In Oregon, a one-day license is $21, children under the age of 12 and military veterans can fish for free, and discounts apply to senior-aged citizens. Fishing licenses throughout the U.S. are comparable in prices, but there are varying factors to consider.
Keep in mind that prices are subject to change. If you have specific questions regarding fishing license costs, it’s best to contact your state’s fishing licensing headquarters.
A fishing pole is the most essential piece of fishing gear. A fishing trip wouldn’t be complete, or successful, without a fishing pole.
There are different types of fishing poles that we will discuss in greater detail in another section. The cost of a fishing pole varies greatly, and while some fishermen swear by a different type or brand, you can catch a fish with any kind of pole.
You don’t need to purchase a new fishing pole to be successful at catching fish, but the pole you use should be in good condition with fishing line and parts that work well, such as a reel.
You won’t have much luck catching a fish without bait. Depending on the type of fish you are trying to catch your bait may be anything from worms to lures.
We will expand more on fishing bait a little later in this guide, but it plays a crucial role in attracting fish to your line.
Fishing is a unique sport because you can try to catch fish most natural waterways, such as a river, lake, or ocean.
Each type of waterway is home to a variety of fish species and depending on which kind of fish you prefer to catch; you may find that you enjoy one fishing spot over another.
Some fishermen only like to saltwater fish, while others will take any opportunity to grab a fishing pole and try to catch fish.
You can cast a line (which we tell you how to do a bit later in this guide) by standing on the banks of a river, or you can fish from a canoe or kayak.
Wherever there’s a natural waterway, there’s a good chance that you can go fishing but make sure that you are legally allowed to fish there and not to trespass or to break any rules.
Freshwater and saltwater fishing both offer a one-of-a-kind experience for any fisherman. If you’re looking for an answer as to which is better, you won’t find that answer here as it’s more about personal preference.
We are teaching you how to fish and will give you the basics of each type of fishing.
Many anglers are firm on whether they prefer saltwater or freshwater fishing, and the opinion is often based on what’s close by. If you live near an ocean, you are likely to enjoy saltwater fishing over freshwater because it might be the only type of fishing you know.
Saltwater fishing takes place on an ocean or sea. While the majority of saltwater fishing occurs on a boat, you can fish from the shore, which is known as surf fishing, or from a pier, which is similar to fishing from a freshwater dock.
The type of gear you use for saltwater fishing differs from freshwater gear due to the depth of the water, size of fish, and factors like waves.
Freshwater fishing includes rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and other freshwater waterways. Although many people assume that saltwater fishing is more challenging, freshwater fishing often has its own set of challenges.
Freshwater fish typically hide beneath structures such as rocks or in tall weeds.
Due to the type of equipment and size of vessel needed for fishing on the ocean, saltwater fishing is typically more expensive than freshwater fishing.
The costs depend significantly on whether or not you are traveling to your fishing destination or if you fish from shore or on a boat.
As we already mentioned, fishing is a unique experience due to the variety of options whether you’re fishing on saltwater or freshwater.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the different types of fishing to help you get a better idea about which type is best suited for you.
Have you seen someone standing in a river or stream “whipping” fishing line in and out of the water? The angler is fly fishing.
Fly fishing involves using long, thin, and flexible fishing rods, two types of fishing line, and lures, which are called “flies.”
While fly fishing can be a little intimidating for beginners, due to the technique, it’s not impossible to learn how to fly fish with a bit of practice and patience.
As someone who is reading this guide to learn more about how to fish, you likely want to learn more about spin fishing.
This type of fishing includes a rod and reel and is one of the most well-known and popular fishing methods. Not only is spin fishing versatile but it’s also great for beginners.
If you want to get into saltwater fishing, surf fishing is a great starting point for beginners. Surf fishing involves standing on the shoreline and casting into the ocean.
This type of fishing allows you to get a better feel for fishing in the ocean with factors like waves and depth.
Other types of fishing include:
Some types of fishing include hand catching, using a spear, netting, or controversial destructive methods. Since fishing with a line and pole is the most common type, and easiest to learn, we will only discuss this type in-depth.
Another option to consider when deciding where to fish is whether or not you want to fish with a guide. Guided fishing, which is also known as chartered fishing, involves hiring a guide or guide service to take you fishing.
Since guides are expert anglers, they know the best places to fish, and they typically guarantee at least one catch for each person on the trip.
Fishing guides also offer advice and show you how to fine-tune specific fishing techniques to improve your chances of catching a fish every time to go out on the water.
The cost of a guided fishing trip depends on where you fish and the length of the trip.
When you’re shopping around for a fishing guide look for listings that have customer feedback and reviews.
If you want to take your time and get comfortable with fishing at your own pace, unguided is most likely your best option. When you fish by yourself or with a few friends, you can explore various fishing spots, try out different techniques, and get a feel for what works and doesn’t work for you.
If you choose to go the unguided route, it’s important to find out the rules and regulations of your fishing location before you arrive.
Many waterways are open to the public and allow fishing but always choose a spot that is a safe distance from swimmers, boaters, and other anglers. It’s also important to be aware of whether you’re fishing on private or public property.
Not sure? It’s best to ask before you drop a line in the water.
Selecting the right bait plays an integral role in the success of catching a fish.
Keep in mind that even if you choose the preferred bait for the type of fish you’re trying to catch, there’s no guarantee that the fish will take the bait.
There are dozens of types of fish bait, and some attract certain species of fish more than others. Talking one-on-one with an expert at a bait and tackle shop is one of the best ways to choose fish bait, but we’ll give you some things to consider, so you know what to look for when selecting bait.
The type of bait you choose depends on whether or not you are saltwater or freshwater fishing, but you can use live or artificial bait in either setting.
Some anglers only prefer to use live bait while others only use artificial, and then there’s some who will try any type of bait to increase their chances of catching a fish.
Since most fish are attracted to the scent of their food, live bait is often the best option but many of today’s artificial bait comes “scented” to fool fish into thinking it’s live bait.
Types of live bait include, but is not limited to:
While not technically alive, cut bait is also a popular type of live bait. Many anglers will cut up a smaller fish that they catch to use it as cut bait or cut bait is also available as a frozen bait.
Some anglers use food like hot dogs, bread, corn, or chicken livers to catch fish, and may work in a pinch, but most successful live bait includes some of the types we listed above.
Since there are some regulations on which type of live bait is legal, including cut bait, make sure you check your state’s laws about the use of live bait.
For example, in Idaho, you can use crayfish as live bait when freshwater fishing, but it may only come from the water from which you are fishing.
One of the benefits of using artificial bait is that you can reuse it rather than needing to buy live bait every time you go fishing. Artificial bait includes “soft bait,” which looks, moves, and feels similar to live bait like worms, leeches, and insects.
Some soft bait comes with a synthetic scent which smells like live bait and helps to attract fish.
Artificial bait also includes lures, which are often made of metal and are available in a variety of colors and shapes. Lures reflect light under the water, which helps to catch the attention of some species of fish.
Some fish bait will work more effectively than others. Regarding living or artificial bait, the “best bait” is often based upon an angler’s personal preference.
One of the many exciting things about fishing is that you can try out all types of bait to see which one works best for you.
If you’re trying to catch trout, the best type of live bait includes earthworms and nightcrawlers, minnows, and crickets. Salmon is easy to catch with bait like herring or cured fish roe (eggs). Saltwater anglers find success in catching tuna with blue runners or herring as live bait.
As we already mentioned, you can try a variety of bait to see what you like best, but it’s always a good idea to talk to an expert at a bait shop to see what they suggest.
“Chumming the water” refers to throwing bait into the water to attract more fish. Chumming can result in catching more fish in a shorter amount of time, but this method is often controversial.
Chum usually consists of a variety of items from alfalfa pellets to ground-up fish. Chum is typically not sold in bait shops, and there are dozens of recipes online for making your own chum to bait the water.
It’s important to note that chumming is unlawful in some states, so as with other fishing rules and regulations, you need to find out if using chum is legal before you use it when you fish.
Shopping for a fishing pole is an exciting but often overwhelming experience for first-time anglers.
While you don’t need to buy the most expensive fishing pole on the market, you should make sure that it’s the right type of pole for the kind of fishing you plan to do, such as fly fishing or surf fishing.
Before we discuss the most common types of fishing poles and what kind of fishing they are best suited for, let’s take a look at the different materials used to make fishing poles.
Most of today’s fishing poles are fiberglass or graphite. A fiberglass pole is a popular choice for beginners and works well for catching larger fish that like to put up a battle, such as a walleye or a pike.
Graphite rods also work well for big fish that put up a fight but are often a popular pick for advanced anglers. Due to the lightweight and flexibility of a graphite rod, beginners may have a hard time feeling that they have control over a graphite pole.
Graphite poles are not exclusively for experienced anglers, just keep in mind that it may take you a bit to get used to using this type of fishing pole.
Some anglers use bamboo rods, but these are usually expensive and not as common. As someone who is learning how to fish, your best option is either a graphite or fiberglass pole.
These types of fishing poles are affordable, durable, and typically require very little maintenance.
You can purchase a fishing pole which comes as one piece, but you may find that it’s more convenient to use a telescoping pole, which typically comes in two parts depending on the length of the pole.
Most fishing poles are designed for a specific type of fishing. Fly fishing requires a fly rod in order to follow through with the correct technique.
A fly rod is lightweight but is available in various weights and lengths depending on the type of fish you want to catch.
The most common sizes for a fly rod are between eight and nine feet long. A #3 rod is the light and ideal for brook trout while a #7 is best for catching salmon.
A spin casting rod has small guides for fishing line and lining up the pole and other than having a design to specifically hold a spin casting reel (more about reels in a bit), spin casting rods are similar to baitcasting and spinning rods.
Baitcasting rods similar in design to spin casting rods, but the spool of the reel is positioned perpendicular to the rod rather than parallel to the rod.
Baitcasting rods are more popular with experienced anglers because the rod and reel require more practice to master the accuracy and control of the revolving spool.
Spinning rods are the easiest type of fishing rod to use because they are lightweight and use spinning reels. Like other types of rods, spinning rods come in a variety of lengths and weights, which makes it a versatile rod for anglers of all experience levels.
Surf rods look similar to bait and casting rods, but the most significant design difference is that they are longer (up to 14 feet) and have the ability to catch bigger fish in all types of water conditions.
Surf rods may take a little getting used to due to their size, but they are the best type of rod to use when saltwater fishing.
Fishing poles all have a basic design and the same parts, but rods are categorized by the type of fishing reel. The reel holds the fishing line and plays a vital role in casting and retrieving your fishing line.
While most fishing rods come with a reel, you can often change out the reel depending on your preferences. As an inexperienced angler, you will probably use a spinning rod that comes with a spinning reel.
The best way to learn more about reels and how they differ is to visit an outdoor sporting goods store and talk with a sales associate who specializes in rods and reels.
The first step in learning how to fish is knowing how to cast. Casting your line is the best and most effective way to get your fishing line in the water.
Casting your line takes practice, and it’s essential to keep in mind that it may take you several casts before you drop your line where you want it to land.
Not only does casting take practice, but there are other factors to consider, such as wind and avoiding obstacles such as trees. Many anglers spend off the water practicing their casting.
Don’t hesitate to watch online videos of anglers casting or head out to an open space like your backyard and work on casting.
Casting your line is similar in most types of fishing, but we’ll point out a few of the differences in casting various types of rods.
Start by holding the rod with your dominant hand and the reel should be below the rod and under your hand.
Your grip should be tight so that you have control but comfortable enough that you can control the release button on the reel. The “butt” of your pole should hit about waist level.
Reel out your line so that your lure, hook, and bait is between 10 and 18 inches from the tip of your fishing pole. If you release too much line, simply reel it in and try again.
Before you cast out your line, press and hold your thumb on the release button on the reel.
Pull the rod tip back over your dominant shoulder, bring it forward and aim your rod tip at your target on the water. As your rod comes forward, let go of the button on the reel to release the line. If done correctly, your line should hit the water.
Once your lure hits the water, turn the handle of your reel to retrieve some of the line, so there’s no slack in your line. Your line should be tight so that you can see and feel a bite from a fish.
When casting with a baitcasting rod, your technique is the same as a spin casting rod but rather than pressing your thumb onto the release button on your reel, hold your thumb against the line on the reel until you’re ready to cast.
The same casting technique applies when positioning the rod tip behind your shoulder, bringing the line forward, and aiming towards your target on the water.
Reel in any slack and don’t get too frustrated if you need to recast. Remember, the perfect cast usually takes several tries.
The most significant difference in casting a spinning rod is that you hook the line on your forefinger when you open the bail on your reel.
Don’t let go of the line until you cast the line over your shoulder and towards your target.
Check out this video to get a better idea on how to cast your line using a spinning rod.
The way you cast your surf rod is dependent on the type of reel you have on the rod. If you have a spinning reel, follow the same steps that you usually would when casting a spinning rod.
The most significant difference is the length of the surf rod and making sure you have enough line let out before you cast.
We recommend letting out enough line so that the sinker lines up with the bottom guide (or eyelet) on the pole. Since surf rods are more massive and often difficult to control, make sure that you position your body correctly with one foot forward and your hips square and facing the water.
Follow the same technique when casting and retrieving.
Hold on to the cork handle, and if your hand is positioned correctly, the reel should be below and behind your hand.
The goal of casting a fly rod is to throw the line in a straight path. As you’re practicing, visualize your rod tip hitting the ceiling and coming back down. The elbow on your casting arm pivots and you never put the rod tip behind your shoulder.
Even though you don’t put the rod tip behind your shoulder, the goal is to cast the line backward to create a straight line. When this occurs, the rod will bend and project the line farther when you cast forward. Fly rod casting is probably the most challenging type of cast and requires a lot of practice, but you can learn to perfect it over time.
This video shows an excellent example of how to cast with a fly rod.
It’s important to remember that when you’re casting any type of rod that you have enough room to cast, especially when fishing with other people. Avoid casting near trees or other obstacles that will snag your line.
After you cast your line, it may take a while before you feel a tap on your line or notice that rod tip is moving.
Even if you feel a “bump” on the line, there’s no guarantee that you’ll land the catch, but these next steps should help you improve your chances.
After sitting for a bit and without a bit, you might want to move your line around to try and attract fish. If you’re using a brightly colored lure, the slow motion of moving your line up and down can grab the attention of a fish that’s passing by or the bait you use can look like it’s moving.
When you fly fish, you spend more time casting in and out to simulate a live insect on the water. If you are surf fishing, the constant motion of the ocean should be enough to attract fish but if you are fishing in still water, you may need to reel the line a bit more.
Like other aspects of fishing, setting the hook requires a lot of trial and error. Even some of the most experienced anglers try to set a hook too soon (or too late) and lose a fish.
While you might be eager to set the hook as soon as you notice your fishing line tapping, it’s best to wait until you feel the weight of the fish on your line.
Fish may spend a lot of time nibbling on the bait before they put the hook in their mouth.
To set the hook, jerk your line upwards. If done correctly and if the fish is in the right position, this should set the hook. It’s easier to set a hook in some types of fish than others, but this is the basic steps to take when trying to set the hook.
With more practice, you can familiarize with how your line feels and looks right before the fish takes the line.
Now that the hook is set, you need to reel in your fish. Even if the hook is set, the fish can free itself, and you might end up empty-handed.
You’ll know it’s time to reel in your fish when the fish stops taking the line off of your reel and when the drag stops moving on your reel. Until then, keep your rod at a 45-degree angle to the water. When you’re ready to reel in the fish, lift the tip of the rod towards the sky and at about 90 degrees.
Start reeling in your line as you lower the rod back to your 45-degree position.
Continue lifting your rod to 90 degrees as you pull the line and reel as you lower the rod to 45 degrees until you see the fish surface.
Depending on the depth of the line and size of the fish, reeling in your catch may be difficult, but it’s best to try to keep your movements controlled and make sure that your feet are firmly planted so that you don’t lose your balance.
Once your fish gets closer to the surface of the water, lower your rod to your waist level and slowly reel it in. If you catch a small fish, you can carefully lift it out of the water on the hook, while bigger fish may require gently pulling them to shore or up onto the boat (or in a net).
As the fish tires out and slows down, it’s easier to reel in and land your catch.
Some anglers prefer to catch and release their fish, but if you decide to keep your fish, there’s a good chance that you need to know how to clean a fish.
It’s best to keep your fish on ice until you can clean it. Since there are several ways to clean a fish, we will give you some basic tips.
Before you clean your fish, make sure you have a cutting board, sharp knife, and a place to properly dispose of the parts of the fish you don’t use.
Since many fish feel slimy and are difficult to handle, you may want to rinse your fish in cold water before you start scaling and gutting the fish.
Some anglers like to leave the scales and skin on, and others don’t. If you’re removing scales and skin, make sure you have a solid grip on the fish and carefully slide a knife along or beneath the skin.
Don’t use too much pressure or you may damage the meat of the fish.
Gutting your fish is typically the least favorite part of the fish cleaning process, but with a sharp knife, you can do it quickly and move on to filleting the fish.
If you don’t know how to filet a fish, there are plenty of in-depth online tutorials, and even some cookbooks will explain how to go through the process depending on the type of fish that you’re filleting.
If you take a guided fishing trip, one of the perks that you often pay for is the cleaning and filleting of your fish. Even if you pay for this process, but still want to know the basics don’t hesitate to ask for some pointers.
Check out these tips from the South Carolina Department of Resources.
Many anglers spend a lifetime learning how to fish, and it’s typically not something you learn overnight. While anyone can learn how to fish, part of the fun is learning and perfecting techniques.
Fishing gear and techniques play an essential role in the success of catching a fish, but other factors such as water temperature and even weather can affect how many fish you catch.
Whether you fish from shore or on a boat, it’s important to be a good swimmer. Even when fishing from the shoreline, you may catch a big fish that puts up a good fight and knock you off your feet and into the water.
Personal floatation devices are always a good idea when fishing from a boat, but don’t hesitate to brush up on your swimming skills as well.
Patience and practice are key to learning how to fish. Rather than giving up after the first try, test out different fishing spots or other types of rods.