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Fishing 101: The Beginner's Guide to Fishing

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"The professional anglers that are on TV roar over lake water at high speeds and frantically toss lures, as if they’ll soon breathe their last. This is the wrong image. Catching fish isn’t frantic, nor does it require expensive gear. Figuring out how to fish is relaxing. What this guide will teach you are beginner fishing tips and fishing basics, how to catch fish, where to catch fish, and proper fishing techniques. Anglers enjoy Mother Nature’s beauty and share their hobby with their families. There’s no better lesson to hand down to your children.  So, let’s learn fishing below with this awesome beginners guide."

First, let’s review fishing reels, the mechanized devices that handle your fishing line. They help you put your bait or lure in front of fish. There are three basic reel types that all beginner fishing individuals can come across. They are overhead, spinning, and spincast reels.

Overhead reels wind line onto a rotating spool that sits crosswise to the rod. They are positioned above the rod. They are the most difficult to cast because on casts when the spool spins faster than outgoing fishing line, it instantly balls up into a knot, called a backlash. Undoing backlashes is tough. This YouTube video shows how to cast a common overhead reel, a baitcaster.

Spinning reels hold line on a fixed spool, sitting parallel to the rod. They hang below the rod. A bail on a rotor “spins” around the spool to guide fishing line onto the spool when you turn the crank, which gives us its name, “spinning” reel. These are easier to cast than overhead reels, as shown on this YouTube video.

Spincast reels are similar to spinning reels, but with a cover over the fixed spool. Sitting above the rod, spincast reels are the easiest to cast. Just push a button on the reel’s back, flip the rod’s tip overhead, bring it forward and release your thumb, as show in this video. Once you buy a spincast rod and reel, practice casting a heavy lure with the hook removed until you master this fishing technique.

Rods are built to match reel types, so certain rods match overhead, spinning, and spincast reels. Instead of trying to match rods to reels, it’s easier to buy a rod and reel combo, designed as a perfect pair. A simple beginner fishing tip is to buy a spincast rod and reel combination. However, if you’re looking to make a better decision, check out our fishing rod buyers guide.

Besides a rod and a reel, other fishing items you need include:

  • Hooks – Hooks are necessary, whether on a lure, or tied on the line and baited. Most every hook has: 1) a point, or sharp end that jams into the fish’s mouth; 2) a barb, the enlarged area just past the point with a point facing the opposite direction, that holds the hook in the fish’s mouth; 3) a bend, the curved hook part; 4) a shank, the straight hook part; and 5) the eye, where fishing line is tied.Single hooks have one point. Treble hooks contain three points. A new trend is barbless hooks, or hooks without barbs. Barbless hooks are preferred by catch-and-release anglers who instead of keeping fish, carefully handle them, and release fish to live another day. Barbless hooks are easier on a fish’s mouth.
  • Line – The two main line types are monofilament (mono) and fluorocarbon (fluoro). Mono is a single clear strand of nylon. It’s easy to tie and stretches. Mono’s stretchiness means you keep fish that jump out of the water, but it also makes it harder to detect fish that tenderly nibble. Fluoro fishing line is tougher, lets you feel light fish bites, and is more invisible than mono, but it’s harder to tie into a knot. The cheapest and most popular fishing line is mono. As a beginner angler, buy 10-pound test mono line. After you’ve mastered and understood these two types of line, braided line may be the next thing you can transition to. To understand how to best spool your reel, make sure to check this out.
  • Sinkers – Sinkers help send your bait to the bottom, in front of fish. Split shot sinkers have a slice through them and are squeezed onto your fishing line ahead of a hook. A heavier option is a bell sinker. You’ll want a few of each type. Several jigs, or a sinker/hook combination, are worth buying.
  • Floats (Bobbers) – You’ll want floats. Round bobbers of various sizes, which clip in two places onto your line, are handy. Here’s how to rig up a bobber on your line. More sophisticated stick floats are available, but start with easier-to-handle bobbers.
  • Leaders – A leader is either a tougher end to your fishing line, or a more invisible piece of line just ahead of your bait or lure. If you’re catching toothy fish, like freshwater northern pike or saltwater tarpon, you’ll need a leader. But, it’s easiest when beginners start without leaders.
  • Lures – Fishing lures number in the millions. Basic lure types include crankbaits, spoons, and plastics. Beware of lures that catch anglers and not fish. When buying lures, think like a fish and ask yourself, “Does this lure resemble food eaten by the fish I’m trying to catch?” Imitation minnows, frogs, crawfish, insects, grubs, and worms are safe bets.

The Only Knot You Need for all Angling

Beginner anglers become overwhelmed by hundreds of fishing knots. When learning how to catch a fish, it sometimes comes down to knowing just a simple, effective one for beginner fishing. If angling becomes a major hobby, then you can learn several fishing knots. A couple of excellent fishing knot websites are and

Basic fishing knots are broken down into: 1) knots that tie lures and hooks to your line’s end, 2) knots tying line to line, and 3) loop knots. An old angling trick is to use a loop knot to handle all of your fishing needs.

All you need to learn to tie is the perfection knot to get started. It originated as a mono fishing line knot, when monofilament first came out immediately after World War II. The perfection knot doesn’t slip when tied in mono line. This animated perfection knot demonstration shows you how to tie it.

By pushing the loop you create with this knot through a hook’s eye, or a lure’s eyelet, flipping the loop over the end of the hook or lure, and then pulling it tight, you’ve successfully tied on your lure or hook. You can also connect two loops tied on the end of two lines the same way you’d attach two rubber bands.

The Simple Rig – A Snap Swivel and a Lure

Just as there are bewildering amounts of fishing knots, there are several angling rigs. A rig is a combination of fishing line, sinkers, swivels, leaders, hooks, or lures on the end of the fishing line that keeps everything untangled. It’s hard for a beginning angler to remember several fishing rigs.

Here’s an easier answer. Use the simplest angling rig available. It’s just a snap swivel and a lure. Swivels are important fishing hardware, because they keep your fishing line from twisting. After tying your perfection loop knot, add a snap swivel in the manner described in the knot section’s last paragraph, above. Then snap on a lure. You’re now ready to go fishing.

Where to Fish

You can find fish in predictable places, depending on where you fish…in rivers/streams, in lakes/ponds, or in saltwater. Wear polarized sunglasses when searching for fish, because you’ll see fish better than with your uncovered eyes. Here are some beginner fishing tips for finding fish in each of various bodies of water:

  • Rivers/Streams – Effectively fishing small streams means stepping lightly, so you don’t scare fish. Look for slow-moving pools behind boulders, beyond waterfalls, after log jams, immediately following fast-moving riffles, under big trees, where a feeder stream enters the river, behind weeds growing in the river, or under the bank on the inside curve of a river. Us a bobber to float your bait or a lure into these slack-water eddies. Work upstream in a river, because fish downstream sense your presence, spook, and don’t bite.
  • Lakes/Ponds – You can fish small ponds and lakes from shore. You have better luck fishing from a boat in medium and large lakes. Look for cover, which includes sunken trees, weeds, large rocks, piers, docks, or dips and gullies in the lake’s bottom. Big fish invade shallow water, off the edge of weed beds, behind rocks and boulders, in search of feed, such as insect larvae, worm, minnows, crawfish, and frogs. The twilight hours of early morning and late evening are perfect times for catching big fish in these areas. In large lakes, fish near points at either end of a bay. Try in front of rocky dams on reservoirs.
  • Saltwater – Tides are important when fishing in saltwater, so check your local tide times in either a tide book, or online. Fish feed mostly on a flood tide, or when going from low to high tide. Check rock outcroppings, jetties, piers, sandbars, and near seaweed beds. When in a boat, look for water color changes, slick water, lines of floating seaweed, or live animals, such as dolphins, whales, or feeding birds. These are all signs of fish feed and potentially, fish you’re trying to catch.

Bringing in a Fish

Look at your spincast reel. It contains something called a drag, which puts continuous pressure on a fighting fish that is pulling line off the reel. To adjust your reel’s drag, find a small wheel on the reel with a plus (+) and minus (-) sign stamped on either side of it. After threading line through all of the guides of your rod, turn the drag to the minus sign until you can easily pull line off your real. Then, tighten the drag until you put a nice bend in your rod before the line comes off your reel. Now, your drag is set.

After you’ve cast bait or a lure into the water, you’ll eventually feel a tug on your line when a fish bites. When this happens, you set the hook by using both hands and bringing your rod upward in a quick and solid motion. Follow this motion by turning the crank to bring in line.

If the fish fights hard enough to pull line off your reel, let it happen without turning the crank. Turning the reel’s crank at this point only twists your line. The instant there is less pull on your line, reel in quickly to maintain line tension. Bring in big fish by raising your rod’s tip, followed by reeling in line while you lower the top. When you see the fish, either lift it out of the water, or use a landing net to retrieve your fish. For an in-depth guide, check out our 5 Tips On How To Catch Fish.

Handling Fish You Catch

If you don’t plan on keeping fish, use catch-and-release tactics. When you’re keeping fish, kill them humanely with the ike jime method, bleed the fish by cutting numerous gill arches, then instantly chill the fish in a cooler containing ice slurry of two parts ice and one part water. At home, either gut or fillet your fish.

Websites and videos describing these procedures are:

The Only Fish Recipe You’ll Ever Need

Two points to always remember when preparing fish to eat is that simple cooking is best and don’t overcook fish. The following recipe works for all fish meat:

  • 2 pounds fish meat
  • ¾ cup flour
  • ¾ cup cornmeal
  • 1½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • oil

Rinse meat in water. Mix all ingredients, except oil, in a bowl. Oil a frying pan and put it on medium heat. Coat both sides of your fish in the dry ingredient mixture and carefully set it in the pan of hot oil. Cook four minutes on one side and less time on the opposite side. The fish is done when the meat is flaky white.

Enjoy Yourself

Going fishing means enjoying yourself. Even if you wet a lure or drop down a wiggling worm and never get a fish bite, going fishing is immense pleasure. Don’t imitate those frantic TV anglers. Instead, take time and have some fun. Then, catching a fish or two is the crowning trophy for a great day out amongst the jewels of Mother Nature. If you enjoyed this ‘fishing for dummies’ beginners guide, please share it with your friends and family and plan your trip now!

Author:  Andrew Marco.   Check out Andrew's website "The Outdoor Elite" for more great fishing articles to help you catch more fish!

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