Fishing is unique. It’s simultaneously a sport, survival tool, hobby, art form, meditation and, perhaps most importantly, a great excuse to drink beer.
Nothing else is quite like it. Hunting is tedium and tension. Golf comes close, in its constant lessons of failure and foolishness, whether you’re plunking a ball into a pond or hooking your line around a tree. But unlike golf, a successful fishing expedition can give you a primevally satisfying dinner. It’s more zen, more natural.
However, fishing can also be intimidating. If you’ve never done it, you probably think you needed some kindly father figure in your childhood to teach you. Well, you can still find guys to teach you - they’re usually named Cody - but you can also teach yourself with a few videos and a lot of patience. The basics are simple.
Start slow, have fun, and make sure that cooler is stocked.
Read on for a few beginner’s tips.
Here are a few fishing adages that are cliched for a good reason.
It’s called fishing, not catching. The meditative peace of nature is what you fish for. The actual catching is a bonus. Like most anything worth doing, don’t expect instant success.
Patience and humility are mandatory.
To this end, it helps tremendously to find a friend or two to go with.
An Ounce of Preparation: Proper knowledge will help you more than the most expensive fishing pole ever will. If you have a local fishing shop, the best thing you can do is walk in and ask for advice. They won’t tell you their secret spots (they’ll take those to the grave), but they’ll give you local fish & location info, gear, and permit information. Fisherman, it turns out, love talking about fish.
90% of Fish are in 10% of the Water. Each species is different, in terms of diet, active hours, habits and cover preference. You need to know what you’re after. Are you fly fishing? Are you going for freshwater or saltwater? Was the lake stocked? If so, when? Are you in season? Do you have a permit? Remember: the Fishing Cops are very serious. They hide underwater with SCUBA gear and pounce on unpermitted fisherman with harpoons. Or so we’ve heard...
Like many sports, fishing gear scales exponentially. You really don’t need to go that fancy at first. For the sake of this post, we’ll assume you’re a beginner looking to fish freshwater, likely trout, bluegill or bass. Don’t fly fish unless you know what you’re doing (you’ll probably wind up with a hook in the back of your head).
Rod: I won’t get too granular. Rods come in varying levels of size, power and action. Other terms for this are stiffness and bend. Don’t fret too much. Look for an approximately seven foot rod, with medium action and medium power.
Reel: Similarly, the reel size corresponds to the type of fish you’re going after. Big fish range out farther. Look for a spinner reel between 1000-3000, depending on the fish weight you’re after. Larger sizes are more for saltwater fishing, or for optimistic fishermen.
Combos: Reels/rods are often sold as combo packages. An Ugly Stik GX2 combo is a classic cheap, efficient beginner’s choice. You can get a decent combo and fishing line for under $60. That will save some room in your budget for tackle, bait, and beer.
Tackle and Bait: Each type of fish has its own ideal hook size, bait and lures. It’s worth doing the research. There is no universal lure that works for every fish. No need to go crazy, but get a few options so you can mix them up if (or rather, when) the fish aren’t biting. Remember: your goal is to mimic a delicious, tasty bug with your lure. Live bait can work miracles, though it’s not always necessary.
Line: Mono-filament lines are versatile, user-friendly, and not too difficult to untangle when you manage to wrap your line around your wife, dog, child and nearby poison ivy bush. An 8-12 pound line is versatile.
A Net: Because nothing feels worse than watching your fish dance out of your hands at the last moment.
Cleaning Gear: You’ll need needle-nosed pliers, a sharp knife, a scaling tool and a cooler of ice to keep your fish cold. A cutting board, newspaper, bucket and platter can’t hurt, either.
Time of Day and Year: You won’t be as lucky in the middle of the day. Fish feed on insects at dawn and dusk. Insects feed on people around then, too, so bring some bug spray. Research what season you should be going after your fish. Baby trout are out in spring, big trout are out in fall. That said, the big ones who haven’t been caught all summer long are usually pretty smart. It might be hard to catch ‘em...
Know Your Knots: People are just as nerdy about knots as they are about fish, but for basic freshwater fishing you only really need to know the Palomar and the Improved Clinch Knot. Practice them at home to save yourself some time or get a how-to-knot app on your phone for quick reference. This is so you tie a lure to your line properly. You don’t want this to break. Consider picking up some dual locks or snap swivels to make it easier to swap out your lures.
Location Location Location: Let’s say you’re at a lake you know is viable. Try looking for where water flows into a lake.
Look for deep pools. Big fish tend to go where the water’s deep.
They also usually like a rocky cliff that flows into deeper water. Look for vegetation. Are there birds, turtles, frogs? Follow nature’s lead. Explore.
Cast: Give your setup a quick once-over before you cast, every time. Every. Time. And of course, practice your technique. Watch some videos. But once your lure’s hit the water in a good place, be patient.
Pull: When reeling in, certain lures require certain techniques. It might be a long slow pull, or need a few quick jerks. Either way, bring it in, cast it out. Slow it all down.
Mix It Up: Don’t be afraid to change your whole vibe. Vary your retrieval speed, cast your lure in different places, switch up your lures and move down the coast. If they’re not biting, they’re telling you something.
When You Actually Hook One: Try not to scream too much with excitement. Reel it in slowly. Don’t pull too hard. Once it’s close, net it. You did bring a net, right?
Pry Out the Hook: Hold the fish down firmly and use a pair of needle-nose pliers to pull the hook out as painlessly and quickly as you can.
Catch Or Release? Hopefully you know what kind of fish you just caught.
You might need to measure it to know if it’s legal. This is partially to avoid fines, but really, it’s about not damaging the local ecosystem.
It’s in everyone’s best interest for the baby fish to grow up. And if you’re not planning to eat it, definitely let it go back home. Gently set it in the water after you’ve removed the hook and give it a push.
If You’re Eating It: Give it a bonk, with either a rock like the true caveman you are, or with a specialized tool. Minimize the poor creature’s suffering.
Cleaning it: Next, you will need to scale and gut your fish. Try to gut it near the water if there is no cleaning station nearby. You’ll need a sharp knife. Start the cut at the bottom of the tail, cut up to the stomach, then pull out the innards. After, keep your gutted fish cold until you’re ready to cook. Also, don’t chop off the head, depending on your location. If a Ranger comes by, they might want to measure how big the fish is, or maybe isn’t.
Hopefully these tips give you the tools to get started, but you should find some buddies to fish with. Not only can fishing buddies give you more specific tips, but now you and your friend can guffaw at each other’s inevitable bungling, which is really half the sport.
Good luck and be patient!