How to Fish: Ultimate Guide to Learn Fishing for Beginners

How to fish guide
Written by Neal Walker

Any outdoor activity requires preparation but today we will discuss fishing. First, if you want to be one of the best and you enjoy every minute of it, you would want to lay down all the right gears, equipment, and tools that you need before you sail into the water or sit on the shore.

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Learning how to fish, notably for beginners, would be challenging at first, so don’t be surprised if you’ll not be able to catch anything in your first few tries. However, the best thing about fishing is that once you learn the basics, you can proceed with the activity with great enthusiasm.

Fishing for Beginners – Where to Start?

So where does a beginner start if he/she wants to learn how to catch a fish? Some of the fishing essentials that you need to know are fishing gears, tackle types, and fishing bait. You also need to know the different fishing techniques in different bodies of water such as streams, lakes, ponds, rivers, and ocean.

Fishing for Beginners

You should get an understanding of the types of fish such as freshwater fish, and saltwater fish as well, while learning the simple steps in tying a knot, casting the line, spinning, catching the fish and removing the hook from the fish mouth.

Get your Fishing Gears

Your first reel & rod

For your equipment, the first gear that you should purchase for some rig versatility is the reel and rod. For beginners, look for something that comes together in one bundle; though as you move along with the sport, you can buy the reel and rod separately as you need them. You need not buy any expensive stuff. Check out our review of the fishing rods on a budget for more information.

You should go for simplicity and flexibility at the beginning, by choosing a medium spinning reel with a matching rod. The suitable line should go around 6 to 9 lb. when you test it; while it can have a 6-ft to a 7-ft spinning rod, with the action power sometimes appearing and labeled into the rod.

Your first reel & rod

This type of rig can bring in a couple of lures, along with a good choice of sinkers and hooks, which should give you the versatility for both freshwater fish and some small to medium saltwater fish species.

Go for medium-sized pole

Basically, a medium-sized pole will be recommended for beginners. Choose a rod that’s somehow with the same length as your height, with good enough weight that you can carry on your casting arm. You want to have something comfortable to get started with, which will not break the line. At the same time, it should still be strong enough, just in case you move ahead for a bigger catch.

There are two types of reels: 1) the spinning reel, which spools perpendicularly when you hold your rod; and 2) the bait cast reel, which spool vertically to the fishing rod. Spinning reels can be closed or open type, with the closed type, usually operating with a push button.

Next up – Hook & line

Get the corresponding fishing hook and line; though, for starters, choose a smaller hook and line to give you a greater chance for a faster bite. Don’t forget to match the line with the type of pole that you will get.

Keep in mind: You should have a very strong line if you have a rigid pole – while you should get a lighter gauge if you decide to get a loose pole. Just remember, for beginners, small lines provide the best probability to catch more fish.

Hook & line

Hook sizing system usually comes in sizes, with the most common being the number 1, 8, and 5/0. Hooks are numbered for certain types of fish, so decide beforehand on what type of species you wish to catch.

You should get the specifics for each hook from the angling shop where you will get your gears. Other types of hook size system include 1/0, 2/0,1,2,4,6. Since finding the appropriate hook and creating the hook knot can be tricky at first, you should ask the tackle shop owner and personally learn hands-on how to set it up. Do read our article on how to tie fishing knots for additional tips that you can use.

Get the right bait

With regards to the bait, most people are familiar using the earthworm; however, there are different types of bait that fishermen use. Some of the other baits that you can also use (other than worms) are cheese, liver, grasshoppers, bacon, shrimp, crickets, frogs, squid, and salmon eggs.

Fish actually eat aquatic life (as well as insects), so you may want to use live baits if you like to have that genuine fishing experience.

Fish actually eat aquatic life

You can gather your baits such as worms or grasshoppers in your lawn, most of which are plenty right after a long rainfall. Just keep them alive for your coming fishing gig by placing them in a pail of water. In addition, you can just buy live bait from angling shops. Alternatively, you can try synthetic lures such as Power Bait, which resemble colored, elaborate, and smell like live real baits.

Don’t forget a fish container

You should also get something to keep the fish that you catch. This container can be a fish box, cage, or net. If you’re going to keep your catch, you can buy a cage then have it placed in the water to trap it. Another option is using a net by having it wrangled after you grabbed the fish off the line.

Bring fish container or net

Also, you can use other containers such as ice box or bucket to throw in all the fish that you caught, all the while, so you can continue fishing.

Other fishing essentials

If you will be fishing in a yacht or boat, don’t forget to bring other important gears when you go out on the water. Always bring life vests, emergency kits, as well as the necessary boat and fishing licenses. If you’re simply going to fish on the shore, you can bring a comfortable chair with some waders to help keep your feet dry. See our expert review of the best solo canoe on the market that you can check out.

Go Where There Are Lots Of Fish

You should make the necessary research to find the best location where you can start fishing. There is no point to fish in a spot, where there is nothing for you to catch. For beginners, picking the right spot where there’s a high probability of catching a lot of fish will make you enjoy the sport even more.

You can always ask the angling shops where you bought your gears, as well as talk to marina fishermen for the best locations you can start.

Most cities and states specify locations for the general public who intend to go fishing. At times, these can be crowded and would take time before you get your first catch, nevertheless, go where the fish are.

Other places you should look for are secluded areas such as lakes, rivers, and streams – where you can get the information from the natural wildlife and fishing department of the local government agency. At any rate, ocean fishing is usually the best available option, since the coast is basically open for everyone.

Finding the right spot

As soon as you decide on the body of water that you’ll go fishing – test out and see the species of fish that reside in the area – by throwing in scraps of food into the water. Wait for several minutes and observe the types of fish that swarm the food. You may need to do this several times in the same spot and then move to other areas.

Finding the right spot

Also, you can go to a place where shallow water meets deep water. Most of the fish commonly caught by experienced anglers say that fish often stay in deep water, which then move into the shallows so they can feed. To help you even further, do check on the best fishing apps for mobile that you can use to catch more fish.

However, these fish don’t spend all their time swimming in shallow water, as they would want to find other places; so you may want to proceed there quick and throw in their food sorties before they dart away in other locations.

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Some of the best spots where you see a lot of fish are log-filled and reed beds in lakes and streams, usually close to drop-offs. You will notice some bugs and aquatic life congregate in the cut banks, with formations of tiny inlets – which are generally the favorite feeding grounds for a lot of fish. On the other hand, if you see a lot of mussel beds in an area, chances are there is a hangout of catfish in that place.

If you plan to eat the fish that you will catch, make sure the water is clean. You can browse through the Natural Resource Department of the state you’re in to learn about the cleanliness of the water as well as know the area’s recommended fishing locations.

Right time to fish

If you like to catch a lot of fish, your best time to go fishing would either be during sunset or sunrise. Freshwater species are actually crepuscular feeders which come out only at dusk and dawn. Plan out the times where you would want to go on the time available for you and where you have a lot of energy.

You can go for an early morning session, usually around 4am to 6am; while in the evening, you can fish around 5pm to 8pm.

Right time to fish

Another tip: it is usually better to fish if the water is at low tide. The lower water level basically traps more fish and thus, gives you more chances to have your first catch.

Catching A Fish – Step by Step Guide

So you want to get your first catch? You first need to tie the hook on the line before you swing it into the water. Learning to tie the correct knot is half-way through the sport, so you should learn to clinch the correct knot the first time.

You can learn to tie a knot and see how experts do it – from fishermen in marinas or from an angling shop owner. Here are the steps you need to go through before you catch your first fish:

  1. First, you need to thread the end of your line through the hook, after which you need to wrap it around 5 to 6 times before you go back into the reel.
  2. You have to feed the line’s end back into the loop, then pull the line tight. To lubricate the loop, spit a little into the line, then make sure to pull really tight.
  3. Attach the weights into the line. If you’re in a river, attach weight sinkers around 12 inches, just above the bait. It should pull down the line, which essentially keep the bait in its place, a few inches just above the water surface – right in the area where the fish will most likely swarm.
  4. Use a big bobber from the bank so can easily catch a fish. With this bobber, the angler should strike from the fish, as soon as the bobber begins to jerk and then disappear under the water surface. Place just enough sinkers, though you can compensate for a bigger bobber to avoid difficulty in seeing the biting actions of the fish coming in.
  5. Attach your bait into the hook. Even if it depends on what bait you use, you would want to work the bait securely through the hook. Hold the hook in one hand, then start a third of the way from the bait’s bottom – then push that straight and through.
  6. You would have to bend the bait backward into the hook, then pierce it again halfway through. There should be around 2 or 3 piercings, though it may look gross to see a worm pierced 3 times – you want the worm to stay in place and don’t wriggle free as soon as you cast.
  7. Beginners usually cast the line – by casting side arm – in the same way when you skip some stone across the water surface. Start bringing the rod back into the side of your body, moving it smoothly into the direction where you like to cast, then release the line pointed to the preferred spot.
  8. Depending on the reel that you use, release the line. The closed-variety and push button type work well for beginners, as you simply push the button to release the line. As soon as you cock back the rod, push the button where you direct it and then release.
  9. Wait for the fish to come into the bait. You should patiently wait and see some of the fish that starts to gather in the lure, with some slow and light jerky motions, which somehow gives the fish an impression that the bait is alive.
  10. Alternatively, you can just sit still quietly and just wait, without any noise or big movements. Try out with different fishing styles until you get your catch. However, don’t reel back immediately when you’ve cast.

What to Do? You’ve Caught A Fish!

There are several ways to know if a fish is biting. You can just watch movements in the bobber, line, or attaching a bell to the rod. You need to slowly move the rod, making sure there’s no slack in the line as you try to hook your catch.

As soon as you feel the tug on the line, or feel it being taken, set the hook. Simply, give the fishing line a firm and quick jerk backward and then pull it up. The fish would usually fight back the pull, but your line would follow the movements of the fish.

You've caught a fish

Pull the fish upwards by lifting and pumping the rod vertically, while simultaneously you start reeling in. Don’t solely use the reel in pulling the fish, not unless it is a small fish. You should keep the line tight, then use your arms to pull that toward your body, then start reeling the slack line.

Keep in mind that more fish are usually lost because of loose lines more than any other factors. Any loose line basically provides a chance for the fish to throw the hook back, right out of their mouth so they can wriggle free.

Always keep some tension on that line, as it ensures the hook remains in the fish mouth. Almost all types of reels have the flexible drag, though the nylon lines can still be adjusted by simply pulling it with your hand.

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If somehow you feel the nylon is stretching, the drag should start working in. Most big fish would get tired with the constant pulling against the pressure of the line. Try to use your rod to direct the fish into the open.

Bring in the fish with your net as soon as you’ve got the fish tired out in the pulling pressure. Reeled it in by bringing it out of the water surface, then have your partner catch the fish in the fishing net. If you don’t have a partner that can lend a hand, carefully catch and hold the fish yourself. Be careful of the sharp spines of the fish, as well as the hook, which usually stick out through their mouth.

Putting a fish in the net

To remove the hook without ripping the fish’s mouth, use the fingers of your other hand to hold the mouth open, while you remove the hook. Gently bring the hook out, so that it would come out, in the same way that it came in.

You can also use specific angling tools for removing out the hooks, though a simple pair of long-nosed pliers can work just as fine. Also, you can use the pliers to just crush the hook’s barb, as this makes it easier to remove later. You can do this before casting out the line as it soon makes it easier to release the catch.

Release or Keep the fish

Decide if you would like to keep the fish or release it back into the water. Most people catch fish for fun and enjoyment, and just release all their catch after a day in the water. You can simply take a selfie with the fish that you caught, post and share with your friends – then gently return the fish back into the water.

Releasing a fish

If you plan to cook the fish, make sure to thoroughly clean it. You may also want to keep it alive in a fish box or underwater cage, then just clean and cook it later.

Did You Enjoy Your Fishing Time?

Fishing is one of the most popular outdoor activities done by most people – as it is generally rewarding and a stress reliever. Whether you like to have some fishing time all by yourself, with your friends or with your family – fishing is a great way to spend your time in nature.

In the process, you will come across with many different fish species and would then learn to appreciate marine and aquatic life in ponds, lakes, rivers, and oceans.

Do you have fishing stories to share in your first session to cast the line? Feel free to send them here in our comment section.


Neal Walker

Neal Walker started fishing when he was 4. His father took him to the fishing trips all over USA and Canada. Later he took Angling Education Program at Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, but most of his knowledge comes from experience. Now he takes his sons with him to share his passion.