Saturday morning fishing trips with Dad are as iconic as ballgames and crackerjacks.
The idea of taking a relaxing afternoon to cast your line and catch some fish is deeply engrained in our culture as a staple past time, and for good reason.
Even for those who do not experience fishing regularly, the itch to get out on the water is still there. But people are held back by a lack of specialized knowledge and experience on how to fish.
We're here to remove this roadblock.
We've created this list to share expert's best tips for beginner fishers. This is taking years worth of experience and condensing it down to a concise list of tips that can teach you everything you need to know.
Our hope is that with this information you can get out there fishing in no time and feel confident that you are doing everything just right. After some practice, you will be ready to come fishing in Alaska!
Quick tips for beginners
1. Learn How to CAst
Learn how to cast a spinning rod and a bait caster accurately – most times you'll need to put the bait with in a few feet of the strike zone where a poor casting results in missed opportunities and also lost lures.
When using plastic baits like worms, Senkos or craws, don’t jerk - I see this happen all the time, beginning anglers have a hard time distinguishing between a bite and a snag resulting in the bait moved from the strike zone.
The best way to determine a bite is to hold the rod steady with a little tension and see if there is a pulsation, if so then jerk. When using plastics bass will usually hold on to the bait for a couple seconds – enough time to figure if it’s a fish or a snag.
2. Use Cheap Lures to Be Brave
In order to maximize success, never use lures or rigs that you’re afraid to lose while fishing. If you’re fishing lures that you worry about losing, you’ll never put them in danger, where the fish live, and where they can work for you. Cheap lures fished in the right areas work better than expensive lures fished in “safe zones”.
3. Confidence is Key
My best tip for beginners is in regards to confidence. You should always have 200% confidence in what your throwing, confidence is key to helping someone successfully fishing a new bait. Always think, this next cast I am going to catch that 5 pounder!
4. Learn Your Lures
When using a new lure it will take some time to get the hang of it and develop confidence in it. A good way to do this is to go fishing with only that lure. This forces you to use that bait and learn how to work it to catch fish.
5. Use A Kayak
For new fishermen that want to get out on the water but don't have a boat, try kayak fishing. Kayaks are affordable, light weight, and easy to transport. They also allow you to get in those spots not accessible by foot or power boats that often hold some of the biggest, un-pressured fish!
6. Be Prepared
The most important tip I can give anyone is to be prepared for anything when going fishing. You never know what the fish are going to do. You never know what lures they want, you never know what the weather is going to do and how its going to affect the fish. The more prepared you are, the better chance you have of being a successful fishermen.
Marlin LeFever / Owner
7. Saltwater vs Freshwater
So it is pretty obvious to most, the differences between freshwater fishing and saltwater fishing, but there are some scientific points to consider in addition to simply the “Lake vs. Ocean” comparison.
Freshwater fishing is when a fisherman fishes in a body of water that has less than 0.05% salinity. It is different than saltwater fishing because the species of fish are entirely different. Except some fish like Salmon, who are born in freshwater, spend a few years at sea, and then return to spawn in the same freshwater body of water they were born in.
One thing to keep in mind is that lakes, like ponds, rivers and all other bodies of water will have creel limits. A creel limit is the amount of fish and/or size of fish you’re allowed to remove from that lake per day.
If you are like me, and live inland you don’t always get the opportunity to saltwater fish, but the alternative can be just as fun and rewarding!
8. Freshwater Fishing Tips
- Map It – When fishing in a freshwater lake or pond you’ll want to get a topographical map of that body of water. This will let you know what and where the different depths of the lake or pond are. Along with that it may also show you locations of sunken man-made fish cribs.
- Bait Matters! – The best type of bait is live bait! Worms, minnows, wax worms and soft shell (crayfish) are good ways to start. You will want to use the live bait is best for the species of fish you’re trying to catch. Some other types of live bait that are also used are leeches and frogs or anything else live you think the fish will go for! Artificial bait works also, with the popular options being spinners and crank baits.
- Check the Water Temp – The majority of freshwater fish species have specific water temperature and weather that they prefer. The hotter it gets outside the deeper you’ll need to fish. Fish tend to like cool temperatures and will move to deeper, cooler water as the temperature outside rises. During dusk and dawn, fish will come to more shallow water to feed. You’ll want to research the specific fish you’re trying to catch to figure out the best times and water depths to catch them.
- Keep those hands clean! – When fishing in water with little salinity you’ll really want to make sure you keep your hands clean. Fish have a great sense of smell and any foreign scent on your bait or lures can turn them off.
- Other Essentials – Aside from obviously needing a rod and reel, other things that you will eventually need would be a tackle box, needle- nose pliers, a net, and perhaps an ice chest. Also a nice pair of polarized sunglasses will not only block the UV rays from the sun and the sun's glare on the water, but they will help you to see a little better into the water to locate fish.
9. Safety Information
- Safety first! – Growing up in Florida I can say, look out for Gators as tip numero uno! Especially if you are in the south and are using a small boat or canoe.
- You always need to have the proper fishing license and/or stamps, if you’re caught fishing without them you could be in hot water.
- If you are going to wade in a river, pond, or lake make sure to use a wader belt to prevent water from rushing into your waders. If in a boat, grab a life jacket. It is always good to have handy and necessary by law in most places. Lastly, don’t forget to drink plenty of water and apply the sun screen.
10. Lake Fishing Tips
- Inlets and Outlets and Hang out Spots – Like humans, fish like specific temperatures and will generally hang around areas of a lake that they find comfortable. Places where water enters or drains from a lake will generally be much cooler and favorable to fish. Bait fish like to hang around these areas, along with the giant fish that eat them.
- Find Sunken Junk and Treasures – Fish like to hang around structures that make them feel safe and that provide the opportunity to ambush other fish. Structures such as sunken trees, branches and man made fish habitats are a great place to fish. It’s a safe haven, or so they think… kind of how coral is in saltwater.
- The Wind is on Your Side – On days with a strong breeze you can expect the bait fish to get pushed closer to shore, meaning the big fish will come closer to shore to feed. Watch for drift lines and follow them, they will lead to bait fish, which will lead to the big fish you are looking for.
- Scout for Weeds – A lot of big fish, like northern pike and largemouth bass like to stalk their prey from a nice cozy weed bed. Locate some weed beds in the lake your fishing in and try getting your bait and/or lure in that area to see if you can coax a fish to bite. The weed beds that lead to deeper water and create a break line are the best spots!
11. Keep it Cheap
Remember, you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on fishing gear. Freshwater fishing should be fun, easy, and affordable. About 90% of the tackle on the market is meant to attract the fisherman, not the fish.
12. Keep it Simple
Keep your rig simple and size down tackle to meet your needs. You can’t catch a shark in a 5-acre pond!
Marcos J. De Jesús
13. Practice Your Cast
I would suggest that beginners practice casting before going fishing. This way they are making quality casts on the water and, hopefully, catch quality fish!
14. "Match the Hatch"
Meaning, your bait should be, or at least mimic (with artificial bait) what the fish are eating. Use baits and lures that look like and are the same size as the naturally found forage in the body of water you are fishing. Live bait always works best.
Having been a 300 day per year fly fishing guide around the world for many years, and in the fly fishing industry with Sage, RIO and Redington for the past dozen or so years, I would tell you that the most important tip I can offer someone is to learn to cast, and learn to cast well.
While great gear (rod and line) will certainly help one’s cause, it is not a magic bullet, and no substitute for simply becoming a good caster. When learning to cast, learn how to double haul immediately… without learning the double haul, one will always be held back in their casting ability, and in certain situations (the permit, tarpon and bonefish flats), dead in the water right out of the gate.
All that said, being a good caster requires practice, and that practice should be done before you go fishing, when you can concentrate on what is most important at that stage in the game... learning to cast. Once a person becomes a good caster, the rest will fall right into place.
16. Use the Right Bait
Be aware of what fish you are trying to catch and what kind of bait attracts them. Catfish, for example, respond to raw chicken liver while bream fish like insects like crickets. The wrong bait could mean a very long unfruitful day, not the way you want to start when embarking on this beautiful endeavor!
17. Be Aware of the Law
Every state has different rules, laws, and regulations, so make sure to check your local fishing laws in the area you will be fishing. A great way to measure your trophy catch and follow the law is to use a Release Ruler. You can quickly estimate weight of your fish based on length, and safely release it back in the water.
More info about 20+ species specific Release Rulers can be found at:
18. Clean Up
The most important thing you can do is remember to take EVERYTHING with you when you leave - every gum wrapper, cigarette butt, bait container, beer can, soda bottle and hook package - that you carried with you. Being respectful of the places you fish, the people that are fishing there and the people that own or maintain the land is the single most important thing you can do.
19. Study the Environment
Many beginner river fisherman in seek of trout or salmon (here in Alaska, or anywhere for that matter) tend to focus their attention mainly on selecting the right gear to catch a particular species. Less time is spent on studying the river itself and identifying quality habitat for the species they are targeting.
Understanding and identifying habitat is key to maximizing your catching experience. Study the biology of a river first and then adapt your fishing methods, gear, etc. second. This is a good approach even for seasoned anglers fishing new river systems.
Over time, you will develop this uncanny talent to think like a fish and read water and identifying fish holding spots. You will also develop an appreciation for the dynamic environment that is a river or stream.
20. Use the Right Knot for Your Line
Here is a knot tying tip that will help all anglers; with braided line, the best knot to use is a palomar knot. With fluorocarbon, a palomar is the worst knot you can tie because it burns itself as it cinches down and will break easily. Use an improved clinch knot with fluorocarbon. With monofilament, you can use either knot.
21. Learn the Top Water Bite
For bass fishing, learn the art of the early morning top water bite. It’s one of the most exciting bites in the sport. Set yourself up with a classic top water bait like a Zara Spook or Pop R and remember to set the hook down. A ton of top water fish are missed by inexperienced anglers yanking the lure straight into the sky when they see a fish crash through the surface for it.
22. Trust the Locals
Always ask locals what is biting and what type of bait to use and keep your lines tight.
23. Take it Slow
On my boat the most common mistake I see beginners make all the time is going too fast. They make a great cast and seem to be in such a hurry to cast to another likely spot they retrieve there lure way too fast. They also can't seem to wait to get to the next spot instead of thoroughly picking apart the area they are in.
My tip would be don't rush, slow down everything you are doing. Pay attention to every little detail that may lead you to fish.
Capt Ed Zyak
24. Use a Multi-Purpose Lure
One of the most durable and multi-purpose lures on the market, the StingRay Grub® from Mann’s catches all fish species and under all types of conditions. No other soft plastic bait produces a more erratic or natural swimming motion, depending on the type of rigging and retrieve.
For fish busting the surface, cast it out and hold the rod tip up letting it break the surface of the water. This method of keeping the bait high also works when casting over weed lines or exposed stumps or tree tops. Although not weedless, it is very difficult to snag the StingRay Grub during retrieve.
The lure darts and dives based on retrieval speed and the raising and lowering of the rod tip. Rip it off the bottom with quick, steady retrieves. Slowly bounce it on the bottom. Vertically jig it in deeper water. You can fish the StingRay Grub nearly any way you choose and consistently limit out on fish.
Largemouth, smallmouth, spotted bass love it, as do speckled trout, redfish, and walleye, pike, even big slab crappie. Strike very quickly as the fish usually hits this bait on the downfall. The grub is also very effective at hopping over lily pads with no weight a weedless hook setup.
25. Use Al's Goldfish for Trout
Casting spoons like the Al's Goldfish are great for youth anglers. They are very simple to use and very effective. Simply cast, let drop a couple seconds and retrieve. That's it. The Goldfish in particular is great because while it's great for trout, it will catch pretty much any fish species because it looks like a swimming minnow. The lure became wildly popular in the 50's and 60's with baby boomer due to ease of use and effectiveness.
You can see it in action here:
26. Stay Calm and Keep Your Tip Up
I can think of a bunch of tips from my experience dealing with customers who don’t fish very often, are very excited when they catch a fish and inadvertently screw up the processI try to be cool and understanding but occasionally I develop a small facial twitch when an especially nice fish is lost.
One such event I am reminded of was a few weeks back, fishing had been a little slow due to weather and we were working hard for our fish. I had decided to troll for king salmon at the water fall across from Pelican at tide change high water slack and we quickly picked up a nice 25 pound king salmon, the guy fought it for a while and was doing very well, brought it up the back of the boat and I very nearly had it netted when the salmon made that “one more run”.
At that point the guy fighting the fish dropped the tip of the rod and pointed the fishing pole directly at the fish. When he did this several things happened; he effectively gave up the advantage of having a fishing pole as there was no “bend” or flexibility to take up the shock and force of the salmon’s momentum. As the fish was very close the line was shorter and so had less % of stretch available than if it had been longer, say 100 yards vs. 10 yards and a 3% stretch in the line would mean you have significantly less ability to absorb the shock of a large pissed off king salmon making a sudden run a 30 miles an hour!
Needless to say the line quickly stretched to the limit and snapped like a gunshot right at the reel. The fisherman had a very sad look suddenly as he realized what he had done. My comment to this man was, “Well, there’s one fish that you will remember forever, late at night as you are trying to go to sleep.”
And that is likely the truth, sometimes the ones that get away are more valuable over the long term than the ones that end up on the dinner plate as, if you are like me you will always think back to that fish over and over and wonder how big it was and what you could have done different.
27. Wear Sunglasses
My best tip for beginner anglers, especially children, is to always wear sunglasses. Safety first – you never know where those hooks can end up!
28. Mystic Fly Rod Tip
When choosing a fly rod, choose the rod that is right for you. Do not buy a rod because your buddy has one and likes it or because you read a review where a single person rated the rod high on the performance scale or because it was advertised on the back cover of your favorite fly fishing magazine.
Buy the rod that fits your casting stroke or style. Buy it because you cast the rod and it feels good to you. That is why fly shops allow you to take the rod outside of the shop and put it through a couple of exercises. In the long run, you will be happy with your purchase and it will make you a better fisherman.
29. Set Your Expectations
As a beginner fisherman, you've got to set your expectations correctly and understand that fishing is a patience game. Just go out there and enjoy being in nature! As you gain more experience, you'll learn to select the right lures and bait for your target fish/location. Having a fish finder certainly helps too!
30. Stay Within Your Budget
Choose the best gear you can afford. You usually get what you pay for, but don't worry that you don't have the most expensive gear today.
31. Don't Crank to the Tip
The most coming mistake rookie anglers make is cranking a caught fish to the tip of the rod. Why is this bad?
- If it is a big fish, there is no where for the fish to go. It's fighting the rod tip and the lines strength only. By stop cranking the reel with a rods length of line still out the working angle of the rod is engaged. The fish fights the flexing action of the rod and there is enough line for the fish to swim around and tire.
- When the fish is hanging at the tip of the rod you must put the rod down to unhook the fish. That's down in the bottom of the boat, sandy beach, weeds and muck or into the water if you are wading.
- With a rods worth of line out, all you have to do is lift the rod up like the boom of a crane and swing the fish into your other hand and then slide the rod under your arm while you work with unhooking the fish.
- When you are trying to unhook a fish at the tip of the rod you end up fighting the rods flexing strength and the flopping fish... and the hook may end up in you. With a rods worth of line out none of this happens.
32. Learn the Basics and Catch a Fish
Here is my best advice for beginning anglers. It seems that everyone talks about catching more and bigger fish, but the truth is that before any angler can become the best, they need to learn how to catch the first one.
One of the best anglers in the history of bass fishing, Larry Nixon, said that the most important thing that he learned from his father was to "just get a bite." An angler will be better served by learning the basics of fishing than trying to go out and throw the biggest swim baits or the most complex technique to try and be the guy who caught the biggest fish on their first outing.
What any angler who wants to improve is to start at the beginning. Learn the proper casting technique and learn how your equipment feels. Then, go to the most likely, fishy looking spot on the body of water you are fishing and just try to get a bite. It is impossible to learn without getting some feedback from the fish, and the smallest fish can often be the one that gives up a lot of clues about his bigger relatives.
So, don't discount small fish and try to learn from every bite you get. Think to yourself after every fish; where was that fish, what kind of object was it holding on, how deep was it, how was I moving the lure or bait.
Asking yourself those questions, and being able to give yourself an answer are keys to help you duplicate what you were doing and you can begin to catch more and get better.
33. Clean Fly Lines
New appropriately matched fly line for you rod is the best help a beginner can find. Not old, used up fly lines that do not encourage growth. The fly line is the most important part of the entire equation. Rod, reel and fly line. It is the vehicle that delivers the fly to the target. Clean the fly line daily for ultimate performance.
34. Fish Smart
When fishing in saltwater, fish peak tidal flows for the best action. Also, watch the weather; fish will feed more on a falling barometer as fronts approach rather than following a front when high pressure settles in.
Capt. Rick Grassett
Snook Fin-Addict Guide Service, Inc.
35. Learn Tricks and Hire a Guide
First thing is to be patient and willing to learn any tricks. Little things matter. Next is to go out with someone experienced or hire a good reputable guide.
36. Hire an Experienced Guide
If you are new to fishing, it's great to go with a guide who knows the area and has equipment you can use. I recently tried fishing for the first time in Maine and hired a Maine Guide to take me out and teach me about casting and where to find the fish - and also learn about the area. It was a great choice and made the whole experience that much more enjoyable as I had someone to ask questions, and get my line untangled!
37. Visualize the Strike
My number one tip for beginners would be to always visualize the strike so that you have your fundamentals down. Keep your rod tip where it needs to be for setting the hook. Always think about the bite so that your response is automatic and fundamentally sound. So often, beginning anglers have poor fundamentals where they miss opportunities because they simply are not ready.
38. Stay Quiet
If your searching for big fish do it as quietly as possible. Big fish didn't get that way by accident. Fish can hear extremely well, and it's been proven that they can communicate with each other to find each other or hunt together. They also can tell people or boat noise from food.
I caught the World Record striped bass by replicating the sound of lobster, one of there favorite foods. I put this sound that they listen for inside my sinkers, to attract the biggest ones. So I can't stress enough the quiet approach the stealthy approach to fishing will be the best. If your going to make noise, make it something that attracts them.
It will take time to fully absorb and implement everything in this list, but practicing is half of the fun!
Good luck and don't forget to enjoy your time out on the water.