Perhaps you’re new to fishing and you want to know how to catch fish?
Or maybe you’ve been around the block a few times and you’re looking for a few tips to boost your success rate on the water?
Either way, we are here to help guide you through the ins and outs of this popular pastime and give you some renewed confidence when you next cast your line into your favorite fishing spot.
Table of Contents
Why Is Fishing So Popular?
Every year millions of Americans go fishing, whether it’s with their families, friends or on their own, with 2015 seeing over 45 million people going fishing in the United States. So what makes it so appealing?
When you’re fishing you’re outside in natural surroundings, and being closer to nature is known to help reduce stress and increase happiness. You don’t even have to be in the wilderness for nature to have this effect. You will still gain the benefits from nature by sitting beside a river or lake in an urban environment.
Being close to water has long been considered relaxing and studies have shown that being in close proximity to water can significantly improve your mood and lower stress, as well as having a positive effect on those with mental health problems.
Consider the fact that people spend millions of dollars on beachside and waterfront properties all over the world. When you’re fishing, you’re often as close to the water as you can get without swimming in it, so you’re gaining that much desired waterfront spot but with the benefit of being outside.
The popularity of fishing could be down to the fact that almost anyone can go fishing. It’s not a sport that necessarily requires a lot of equipment, or a lot of expensive gear, with the average US household spending just $33.64 on fishing and hunting gear in a whole year, so it’s an affordable activity that just about anyone can get involved in.
Beginners can get involved without boats or fancy gadgets, as long as you’ve got a suitable rod, reel, line and some bait. You also don’t necessarily need a lot of technique at first, so long as you’re able to cast your line out, with a bit of luck you might get a bite on your bait, but even if you don’t, you’re still out there enjoying yourself.
No matter where you are in the USA, chances are there will be a public area for fishing not too far away. You will need to make sure you have a fishing license before you start but these can be obtained from your state government.
Your state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, or equivalent, will also be able to guide you to local fishing lakes and rivers, and you’ll often find that many of them are managed and stocked by the state.
Fishing is known to improve both your physical and mental health. First of all, it gets you out in the fresh air, so you’re not cooped up inside, which is known to improve your breathing and lower your blood pressure.
But as well as that, it is also known to be a good form of exercise, as it’s a low impact activity that will likely require you to walk or paddle some sort of distance to get to the best fishing spot.
Being in the outdoors will also increase the vitamin D levels in your body, meaning you’re better able to absorb calcium for stronger bones and teeth. This has also been known to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, strokes and diabetes.
Top Fishing Tips – Essential Fishing Gear
Valid fishing license
Bait (or lure)
Polarized sunglasses – to protect your eyes and help spot potential catch
Pliers – for crimping and cutting lines, as well as removing hooks
Fishing backpack or vest – for on-body storage
Kayak – for fishing in otherwise awkward spots
Fish finder – help source fish by attaching to your boat
GPS – for navigation
Tackle box – for storing the smaller gear!
We’ll get onto the little accessories in a moment. But first….
Each state in the US issues its own licenses through its state wildlife department. You can choose different licenses for your needs, such as for saltwater or freshwater, or both. You can also add hunting rights to your license if you want to.
Certain people may not require a license to fish in some states, such as children, some military personnel, as well as some people with severe disabilities, but you should check with your local state department to check with their individual laws.
If you’re just starting out, it’s not going to matter too much about how expensive your equipment is. You will want a rod that is light enough for you to cast and not too long or too short; one that’s around the same height as you should be sufficient.
Choosing a reel to go with your rod may seem like a difficult task if you’re a beginner but probably the easiest reel to work with is a spinning reel. While they may not always be as accurate as, say, a baitcasting reel, they don’t tend to tangle up the line as much, making it ideal for beginners.
To make life easier for us all, here’s a list of the common rod/reel types that most fishing folk use…
Suitable for: Light lures, short casting, beginners!
A spinning rod and reel is suitable for fishing with lighter lures and lighter line. Spinning gear can be used for either freshwater or saltwater fishing, depending on the limitations of your particular rod and reel. They can be easy to use for beginners and can be ideal for targeting small to medium fish, such as bass or trout.
They can be used with a range of lures and techniques, including ice fishing, finesse fishing and various other tactics. The rods and reels both come in a variety of sizes, so you can match the power of the rod and reel to the style of fishing that you want to do, for example a short, lightweight rod and a light reel for finesse fishing.
To spool a spinning reel, make sure your line spool is facing up and coming off in the same direction that it’s going on your reel spool. Once you’ve tied a knot in the end of the line after looping it around your reel spool, you can begin to wind the reel handle to transfer the line from the line spool onto your reel, keeping the line tight as you turn the handle.
Baitcasting rods and reels can be effective when it comes to casting longer distances and can be useful in open water conditions. They can also be ideal for using with heavier lures because they can support heavier line. Baitcasting rods often tend to be longer in length, which can help for long casting.
However, they can take a little bit of getting used to because of the casting technique, which can sometimes cause your line to birds nest, when the line continues to spool out after its cast. But once you get the hang of using a baitcaster they can let you cast more accurately than spinning gear, for instance.
Thread the end of the line through the guide on your rod and then through the guide on the reel before tying it around the spool. You can then reel the line onto the spool by winding the reel handle slowly while keeping a finger on the line at your rod to keep it tight.
Suitable for: Ultra light lures, panfish
Spincasting gear is different to spinning gear but, like spinning gear it can also be easy to use and easy to learn with. Spincasting rods and reels are designed to be used with very light lures and light line. The reels have a lower line capacity than some other types of reels, which means they are probably not as suited to long distance casting.
They can be used to fish for small fish, such as panfish, but they may not be great for larger species or advanced fishing techniques.
First, take the cap off the top and put the end of the line through the first guide on your rod and feed it through the top of the reel cap. Tie a simple knot in the end of the line and wind it around the reel before tying another knot to tighten it against the reel.
You can then wind the line on after replacing the cap, keeping the line tight.
Suitable for: Fly fishing, trout, salmon, bass
Fly rods and reels can be a little different because they are designed for ultra light fly lures and unlike other types of rods and reels, the line that is used is weighted so that you can propel your fly when you cast. This is because the fly has very little weight to propel itself.
Fly fishing usually requires different casting techniques and the rods can be much longer than standard spinning rods to allow for the casts. Your rod, reel and line should ideally be rated for the same weight so that performance is not negatively affected. The lighter weights are usually for smaller fish, with the heavier weights being more suitable for larger fish.
To spool a fly reel you should wind the backing line around the reel first, about 100 yards but this will vary with each reel. This is then followed by the fly line and the leader. You may find it easier to load it in reverse to know how much backing you’ll need before taking it all off and spooling with the backing first.
Suitable for: Saltwater fishing, long casting
Surf rods and reels are designed for fishing from the beach, so the rods will tend to be long to allow for casting longer distances. You may find that you need to learn a different casting technique in order to cast with surf gear.
Surf gear should be corrosion resistant because of the harsher saltwater conditions where you will be fishing. Surf rods and reels are generally meant to handle larger fish and can be used with heavier live baits, but, as with most gear, you can also use artificial lures.
However, you may need to opt for a faster action surf rod if you plan to use lighter artificial lures, so that you can cast them a greater distance.
Surf reels will often be spinning reels designed for saltwater fishing and should be spooled in the same way as a spinning reel.
Suitable for: Trolling (and pretty much only trolling!)
Trolling reels are designed for trolling in either freshwater or saltwater and they are not really designed for casting. This means it has less versatility than some of the other reels, as it can only really be used for the one technique. It can hold more line and can let you cover more water with your lures and may be better suited to trolling for larger freshwater fish than for smaller fish.
These can be spooled by turning the reel handle to wind the line off of the line spool and onto the reel spool. However, these reels also need to be calibrated in order for the line counter to work effectively.
Lines And Baits
The type of lines and bait you’ll need will depend on the type of fish you plan to catch, as well as where you plan to catch them. Different fish will eat different food, depending on their environment, such as freshwater or saltwater habitats.
Your local bait shops will be able to give you advice on the type of live bait that’s best for the fish you’re hoping to catch, and they’ll also be able to offer you advice on which bait is proving recently successful for particular areas, seasons or species.
You can catch your own live bait, such as minnows, if you’re hoping to fish for freshwater fish. Or you can collect worms or insects and attach them to your hook as live bait. For saltwater fishing, you might prefer shrimp or other shellfish.
Artificial lures are also available in fishing outfitters and bait shops, which you might find preferable if you’re just starting out, as you’ll be able to reuse the bait again and again. More on lures below.
Types Of Lines
There are generally three main types of line that you will come across, although there are different types that have special uses, such as fly line. The three types are monofilament, fluorocarbon and braided. Each one has its benefits and disadvantages.
Monofilament line is probably the most frequently used because of its versatility and affordability. It is abrasion resistant and can be used for both freshwater and saltwater fishing, but it does have more memory than some other types of line.
Fluorocarbon line can be a good choice for fishing in very clear conditions because it is almost invisible underwater, so fish may not see it.
Braided line has a higher strength to diameter ratio than monofilament and has less memory, which can make it more sensitive to bites. But it can be more visible underwater.
Using a leader with your fishing line can let you have the best of both worlds. They can let you combine the strengths of one type of line with another, for example an invisible fluorocarbon leader on a braided line.
This means you can attach your lure to the leader so that the fish won’t see the line but have the strength of the braided line for reeling the fish in.
A sinker is essentially a weight that can help you get your lure down to the depths where the fish are, whether the fish are suspended or on the bottom.
This can be useful if you have a light lure or if you’re fishing in current.
Types Of Lures
There are various types of lures, including:
Deep diving lures
Each type of lure will excel in a particular type of conditions, and there are others that can work well in a range of conditions, such as soft plastics or jigs.
You’ll notice that lines will often have a pound test strength, which is basically how much weight the line can handle under pressure before it breaks. Braided line will generally have a higher pound test rate than the equivalent diameter of monofilament.
The higher the pound test strength, the stronger the line will tend to be. But there are general recommendations for types of species, so it may not be wise to choose a super heavy line if you’re fishing for small fish, or vice versa.
For trout or panfish, you’ll generally want a lighter pound test strength, such as around 2 to 4 pounds of monofilament. But for bass, you may want to opt for something around the 6 to 12 pound range.
You will also notice that your rod and reel will be recommended for use with a particular weight of line, so you should stick to the limitations of your gear to maintain performance.
Remember that you will likely be able to fit more braided line on your reel than the comparable monofilament because of its narrower diameter. However, your reel will often indicate the maximum capacity of both monofilament and braided line.
Accessories (apparel and extras)
There are some accessories that you might find are essential for a fishing trip. One important thing to have is some sort of vest or piece of clothing that has pockets or pouches, so that you can keep your spare lines, hooks etc. handy.
If you’re fishing in daylight, having a good pair of sunglasses is vital, as this will reduce the glare on the water, as well as protect your eyes from harmful UV light.
You may also find that you need a good set of pliers to help you remove hooks by crushing the barb, help you cut line, tighten knots, or anything else you might come across.
Once you start getting more into the sport and want to get deeper into the action, than fishing from the shore or dock, you might find yourself wanting other accessories, such as waders, a float tube, kayak, or even some electronic gadgets to improve your catch rate.
And of course, you’ll want to think of a bag to carry your tackle box in.
When Is The Best Time To Fish (in each season)?
The best time to fish will mostly depend on the type of fish you’re hoping to catch and what season it is. But generally there are certain things to keep in mind no matter what you’re fishing for.
The best times to fish during the spring are in the late afternoon and early evening to dusk. During spring mornings the air and water will likely still be a little too cool for bugs to flying and fish to be feeding, so it’s better to wait till the sun has had a chance to warm the water during the day before you head out.
This is when the waters will be warmer and there will be plenty of bugs around, so during the early mornings, just before the sun comes up, can be a great time to catch fish. Sunset can be just as lucrative, with the fish coming out of the cooler, deeper waters into the shallows to feed, avoiding the hottest part of the day.
A lot like spring, the mornings and early afternoons can be a tricky time to catch fish because of the cooler autumnal weather. But if you wait till the sun has a chance to heat the water a little, then late afternoons and early evenings could see more fish biting.
You may find that fish are biting more at this time as they try to fatten up in advance of winter.
With less bugs around and water temperatures much colder, fishing in the winter may not always be successful, as the fish are a lot less active in order to preserve energy. However, if you’re ice fishing, you may have more luck, especially if you head out when the moon is rising or setting.
What About Times Of Day?
Dusk and dawn can be ideal times to fish at most times of the year, but especially in the warmer months, as this is when fish will often come closer to the surface to feed on insects and larger fish will follow to feed on the baitfish.
On cloudy days, and in winter, the middle of the day can be a great time to fish.
Night fishing can also be a good tactic to try and can be useful in the summer when fish may shy away from activity during the day. Nighttime can be a time when some fish, such as bass, will take advantage of the cooler temperatures and quieter water.
Areas where there is some artificial light can be good, such as boat docks, as this can often attract bugs which can attract baitfish and subsequently bass.
Freshwater fishing is by far the most popular type of fishing in the USA, with 35.8 million anglers in 2016, of which 27.5 million were freshwater anglers compared to 8.3 million saltwater anglers. So, it’s no surprise that the most popular fish to catch are freshwater species.
Bass is the most popular fish to catch in the USA, which is likely because it can be found everywhere across the entire continental US, as well as in Hawaii.
They can be caught using a range of different baits and techniques but they may also be able to avoid a lure if they think they’ve seen it before.
They are often easy to catch for beginners and can be found in freshwater where there is lots of vegetation.
Panfish are the third most popular type of game fish caught in the USA.
One of the most popular species of panfish to catch is a bluegill, as they can be caught in open water and near shorelines and sandbars, using a variety of different fishing methods and baits.
Another popular fish is the catfish, which can grow pretty large and is very popular in Southern cooking recipes.
They can be easy to catch with the right bait, which can be anything from crayfish, minnows and insects to hot dogs and chicken liver.
Another popular fish to catch in the USA, trout can be found in lakes and rivers and can often be caught using night crawlers, crayfish and minnows as bait.
Trout is also a popular species to eat, being a member of the same family of fish as salmon.
How To Catch A Fish (And Unhook)
Knots 101: Know Your Knots
In order to catch anything you’re going to need to know the best way to attach your hook to your fishing line, and to do that you’ll need to know about knots.
Here’s the biggies…
Hooks suitable for: Most hooks
Best time to use: Tying hooks to line
A palomar knot can be one of the most useful knots to know, as it can be one of the strongest. It can be used with all types of fishing line but may be better used with braided line.
It is probably most often used to tie line to a hook but can also be used in fly fishing to tie a fly onto a leader or tippet.
Improved Clinch Knot
Hooks suitable for: Most hooks
Best time to use: Tying hooks, swivels, or lures to line
The improved clinch knot can be another useful knot to learn because of its versatility. It can be a very strong knot and can be ideal for fighting fish. However, because it can be a small, tight knot, it may not be the best choice if you’re using particularly heavy line.
It can be a good choice to use for tying line onto a hook or for attaching artificial lures
Double Surgeon’s Knot
Hooks suitable for: N/A
Best time to use: Tying leader to line
The double surgeon’s knot is generally not for tying line to hooks. It can be more useful for tying together different pieces of line. This can be in the case of attaching a leader to a fishing line, or attaching a tippet for fly fishing.
It can be particularly good for tying together two lines that are different diameters
Hooks suitable for: N/A
Best time to use: Tying leader to line
A blood knot, like the double surgeon’s knot, can be a good and easy knot to learn. While it may not be for tying hooks to fishing line, it can be a good option for tying two pieces of line together, such as to attach a leader.
However, the blood knot may be best suited for tying line together that is the same diameter. For two lines that are not the same diameter, you may be better using the double surgeon’s knot.
Hooks suitable for: Most hooks
Best time to use: Tying line to leaders and hooks
The uni knot is a versatile knot that can also be extremely strong. Because of its strength it can be a good knot to use with fighting fish and can be a good option for saltwater angling.
Can be used to tie your line onto your hook but can also be used as a double uni knot to tie two pieces of line together, in the case of attaching a leader.
Knots – Attaching A Hook
In order to catch anything you’re going to need to know the best way to attach your hook to your fishing line, and to do that you’ll need to know about knots.
For attaching your line to your hook, you may find it better to use an improved clinch knot.
To do this, thread the line through the eye of the hook and, as you pull it back towards itself, wind it around the rest of the line 5 or 6 times.
Next, take end of the line back towards the hook and thread it through the loop closest to the hook’s eye. You’ll see there’s now a larger loop that’s appeared, so thread the end through that large loop. Now, pull both ends of the line to tighten into a secure knot.
Knots – Attaching Bait
One of the most common types of bait is worms, because it can be used in different types of fishing. To attach a worm to a hook, simply pierce the hook through its body several times so that the hook is mostly covered.
For attaching minnows, you can either put the hook under its jaw and through the top, if you’re dragging it behind you. Or you can put the hook through the fish’s back, either in front of the dorsal fin or near the tail, as long as you avoid its spine.
Attaching Weights & Bobbers
Having weights and bobbers on your line can be a good idea in moving water, as it should help keep your bait at the correct depth for catching fish. How the weight attaches to your line will depend on which type you choose, with some slotting over your line and others requiring to be tied on.
A bobber can be attached to your line through its own hook eyes, allowing you to set the depth of your bait, with the weight holding it in place.
How To Cast…
If you’re just starting out, chances are you’ll be using a spinning reel, as these are widely considered to be easier to use than baitcasters. To cast with a spinning reel you should first open the bail to allow your line to be able to feed out, while keeping your index finger on the line as you’re holding the rod.
As you cast, on the power part of your casting technique, release your finger from the line to let it feed out. This will let your bait travel as far as the strength of your cast. As the bait hits the water, you can then close the bail to protect it and have it ready for reeling in your catch.
If you’ve ever tried to fish with a baitcasting reel you’ll know that it’s not always easy. To avoid having a tangled mess of line to deal with, the first thing to do when you’re learning is turn the dial at the side to max, which will slow the speed at which the line is released from the spool.
As you cast, you release the button, allowing the spool to release the line. But the important thing to remember is as your bait starts to descend into the water, slowly put your thumb on the spool to start to slow it down, so that when your bait hits the water, you can firmly press down to stop your line feeding out.
How To Reel In Your Catch
When you finally feel that bite on the end of your line, the first thing to do is to set the hook in the fish’s mouth. To do this, simply move your rod to jerk your line upwards so that the hook gets stuck in the fish’s mouth.
After this, the fish will probably start to fight back by trying to swim away. This is when you will need to start to slowly reel it in. The bigger the fish, the more power it will have and the more of a struggle it will be for you, so keep the line tight by pulling with your rod and reeling in the loose line.
Removing the hook from the fish can be daunting, but there are simple ways to do this without harming the fish. One way is to simply push down on the hook and turn it slightly, so that it goes back out the same way that it went in.
If that doesn’t sound easy enough, you also have the option of using your pliers. This way you can use them to flatten the barb on the hook, which will make it easier for you to push the hook back through the fish’s mouth, again in the same way it went in, which will minimize any damage to the fish.
Keeping vs Catch And Release
Once you’ve caught your fish, you’re going to need to decide what you’re going to do with it, whether you keep it or release it. In the USA, in federal or state managed areas, you will usually find that there are limits to the number of fish you can catch to keep.
The number you’re allowed to keep will depend on both the state and the particular body of water that you’re fishing in, so it’s always best to check with your local authorities to find out what the laws are.
If you decide to release your catch, try not to handle it too much and you can simply place it back in the water after you’ve removed the hook from its mouth, allowing it to live longer, get bigger and get caught again in the future.
Storing Your Catch
One way to keep your fish fresh after you’ve caught it is to use a stringer through both lips of the fish. Go in under the chin and tie the other end tightly to the shore, meaning the fish can still swim around and stay alive while you continue to fish.
There are also baskets that allow the fish to swim while they’re safely contained.
Alternatively, you can kill the fish quickly and store it on crushed ice in a cooler, as long as you keep replenishing the ice in the cooler. You can gut the fish and clean it prior to this and fill the insides of the fish with crushed ice.
Smaller fish can be put in a cooler, in a swimming position, filled with crushed ice, which should mean they are killed quickly, as long as each fish is completely covered in ice. Don;t forget a fillet knife for afterwards.
Should I Use A Kayak To Fish?
A kayak can be a fantastic tool to help you fish. It can help you get closer to where the fish are hiding, letting you access parts of the water that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to get to, for example if you were on foot or in a larger bass boat.
Kayaks are quiet, environmentally friendly, and let you stealthily approach fishing holes with minimal disturbance compared to a louder motorized boat. There are also lots of accessories that can let you customize your kayak to create your own personalized fishing vessel, with the option of adding a trolling motor, extra rod holders, gadgets and whatever else you fancy.
However, there may be some limitations when it comes to kayaks, such as the amount of fishing gear you can take with you. You may also have to consider how you transport your kayak to and from the water.
Additionally, fishing kayaks are generally designed for one person, sometimes two, so if you plan to fish in a group, you may need to think about using several kayaks.
Check your local or state department of wildlife website for state or community fishing areas nearby. There are also various apps and sites that can help you find local fishing spots.
What Line Should I Use?
Generally, heavier line for larger or more powerful fish and lighter line for smaller fish. But the line should be suitable for your rod and reel. Invisible line, such as fluorocarbon, can be better for clear water and braided may be better for fishing in vegetation or for topwater lures.
Is Fishing And Angling The Same Thing?
Angling is a type of fishing where you are fishing with a rod, reel, line and hook. There are other types of fishing that is not angling, such as commercial fishing and net fishing.
Is Fishing Expensive?
It doesn’t have to be. You can fish with simple gear, such as a cane pole or even just a line but you can also spend a lot of money on high quality fishing gear.
Should I Join A Fishing Club?
If you want to meet up with other like-minded anglers or learn new techniques from other fishers, then why the heck not?! Can be a great way to socialize!
Now that you’ve read about the basics of fishing, you’re probably eager to get out there to try it for yourself. Hopefully you’ve learned some essential skills and techniques that might be useful to you on your next fishing trip.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading our guide and will share it with your friends who might want to learn more about this popular, relaxing pastime.