Fishing can be an intimidating hobby to pick up. You can spend a lifetime on the water and still have lots to learn.
If you’re just getting started, we’ve put together some basic gear recommendations for fresh water fishing along with some tips that might help beginners reel in their first catch.
What Do You Need to Start Fishing?
Not much: A rod and reel, some line and lures – a stringer is nice to have as well if you want to bring your catch home. Of course, the ideal gear depends somewhat on where you’re fishing and what you’re fishing for, and there are countless products to choose from.
You can fish most bodies of fresh water with nearly any mid-sized tackle. That said, if you’ll be spending most of your time fishing creeks, rivers and lakes, a five-foot rod with a size 2500 reel is a nice compromise between being too large for narrow streams and too small for making long enough casts from shore.
Sizing up to a seven-foot rod is worthwhile if you’ll be spending most of your time on wider bodies of water, and spooling up with 10lb braided line is sufficient for reeling in a healthy trout or bass.
Here’s a guide with video demonstrations on how to start fishing line on a reel and how to tie a lure on your line.
In our experience, 1/4oz spinners are light enough for fishing shallow creeks yet heavy enough to haul a small mouth out of deeper water, while lures with plain gold and silver blades are more reliable than ones with wild colors – the paint and stickers usually chip off after a few sessions anyway.
Gold lures are better in darker conditions (deep water, murky water, night time etc.), while silver is more visible in clear water on a sunny day, though you can certainly put dinner in the pan by dropping a gold lure in shallow water on a bright afternoon.
You can catch huge fish on tiny spinners with small hooks like the 1/8oz or 1/4oz Panther Martin, but if you’re fishing somewhere with more small fish than big fish and you’re out there for a meal, you may want to cast with something a little larger to help weed out the fish that aren’t worth eating.
Tips for Anyone Just Hitting the Water
Be sure to tighten your drag before casting. When you cast, close your bail by hand instead of reeling the bail closed.
Closing your bail manually takes some practice, but the mechanism that lets you reel a bail closed will often break, especially on cheaper reels, and you’ll have to close your bail the hard way anyhow.
After making a great cast, you may feel the urge to start reeling immediately. If you’re fishing rocky rapids, that’s probably a good idea so you don’t get snagged.
In super shallow water, lifting the tip of your rod while keeping a finger on your line will prevent your lure from hitting the bottom before you start reeling. Flip casting is helpful in these areas.
However, don’t start reeling right away in deeper water – let your lure sink some. A lightweight spinner will drop through water at roughly one or two feet per second and there are bigger fish down there. You can tie knots or some other visual markers on your line to measure water depth.
Keep the tip of your rod down while reeling so you’re ready to set the hook when something bites, and check your line for frays frequently so your catch doesn’t swim away with your lure.
Braided line often won’t feed off a spool cleanly on the first cast of the day so we will sometimes make a few throwaway casts to wet the line before tossing our lure in a good spot.
“Good spots” vary depending on where you are, but fish gravitate toward structure and areas where they don’t have to rest against heavy current.
In creeks for example, look for spots where there are large rocks blocking the water, pools where the water drops off, pockets with white water bubbling upward, and just about anywhere with large shadows under rocks and logs.
“Good days” for fishing vary even more. Generally speaking, favorable conditions tend to be when:
- The air pressure is rising or stable between roughly 29.8 inches and 30.4 inches
- Soon after the air pressure starts dropping
- During a full moon or new moon
- In the morning when fish are just becoming active
- In the evening when they’re looking for their last meal
- And at high noon when there is the greatest electromagnetic effect from the sun and when plankton blooms are their strongest.
Windy days drive bait fish toward shores and big ones aren’t far behind. In the case of creeks, we often won’t waste our time heading upstream when conditions are already unfavorable and there’s no activity in places that usually have a trail of fingerlings following our lure.
Fish spook easily but they’re also curious. Also, fingerlings tend to become desensitized after a lure passes by a few times, and in our experience, a fish will either bite on the first few casts or not at all.
And yet you may very well pull something out of the water if you return to the same spot in a few hours. It can be hard to walk away from the perfect fishing hole, but your odds of catching something are greater if you try more spots.
Rigging the treble hook on a spinner with edible bait will also boost your odds. A segment of worm works best in our opinion, but you can also use other bugs, a small piece of food like corn, cheese or garlic, a piece of chum from a previous catch, or scented products like PowerBait.
Likewise, retrieving with different presentation styles can help encourage a fish to bite your hook. Try casting from different directions, retrieving at various speeds, and jerking your lure through the water while you’re reeling to create more action.
When you’re done fishing, loosen your drag so the springs in your reel aren’t compressed. Also, protect your reel from the elements – the components can rust quickly if left in the rain.