How to Actually Start Fishing (Ultimate Beginner’s Guide)


match rod

When I started fishing, at the age of 12, I didn’t know the first thing about it. No one had taught me about fishing and I had to learn everything along the way, which took a lot of time.

That’s why I wrote this article, so that you can learn all the basics needed to start fishing right after having read this ultimate beginner’s guide. It will teach you everything you need to know about the right fishing gear, fishing spots and fishing methods.

By following all the steps in this guide, you will be able to catch your first fish in no time at all. Let’s dive right in!

What Gear Do You Need to Start Fishing?

Before you actually head out to the water, you will need to buy some basic fishing gear. Definitely check articles and YouTube videos online, but don’t fill up your head with too much information and suggestions right away!

When it comes to both fishing tips and fishing equipment, the internet is a gigantic jungle and it’s pretty easy to get lost in it. The more you fish, the more gear and new methods you will be trying out, but not in the very beginning.

For now, the simplest of gear will totally suffice. Trust me on that! I started out with a very simple and cheap Walmart-type of rod and reel. That setup caught me many fish during those first years, and I have many fond memories of that equipment. It literally taught me how to fish with a rod and reel.

Rod & Reel

Your best choice is a light action spinning rod of 6”-7”. The advantage of such a rod, which you can buy as a combo together with a reel, is precisely its capability of being fished together with a reel. Hence, such a rod both allows you to cast, and to use either a lure or a bait on the bobber or float.

This is something you simply cannot do with a cane pole (a rod with only line and no reel), which many beginners tend to purchase prior to their first fishing experience.

I also recommend buying a 1 or 2 piece rod over a telescopic one, because the 2 piece generally has much more of a backbone and can handle even stronger fish without breaking. This is something telescopic rods tend to do, especially when you’ve hooked the bottom and start to yank your rod in order to get your hook free again.

As I mentioned, most beginner rods will come in a combo with a matching reel, which, if you buy the right one, can be of a very decent quality!

Generally, such combos will include spinning reels that match your lighter rod in size and weight. It should be a reel with a gear ratio of about 4 to 5.2:1, at least a couple of ball bearings, a smooth drag system and a line capacity that is suited for 6 to 10 lb line.

For most freshwater species that you are most likely to target when first starting out, a reel size of 20 to 30 should be more than enough! Such species would include roach and minnow (shiners), rudd, tench, perch, bass, bluegill, bream, crappie, as well as smaller northern pike and walleye or zander.

Definitely do not go for a baitcaster, as this type of reel is much more advanced and, quite frankly, not at all needed for a beginner.

Bass Pro Shops has a top notch beginner’s reel & rod combo for under $60, which would definitely be my personal choice. You can check out the Pflueger Trion Spinning Combo at Bass Pro Shops: here

Line

For your first fishing attempts, you can use a line with a strength of around 6 to 8 lb. The line strength is a rough indicator of the maximum weight of your target species. It is approximately that weight level that the line will be able to withstand without snapping, due to too much pressure and weight.

But, it is important to know that this really is a mere indication of an approximate weight limit. If you are handling your fish properly when reeling it in, than you can easily absorb, or even avoid too much pressure on your line.

And so, even heavier fish than your line strength can supposedly hold can landed without a problem! In the section “What do you do when you catch a fish” further down in this article, I will explain in detail how you can safely and smoothly reel in a hooked fish without loosing control over it.

One of my favorite lines, for all kinds of species, is the Berkeley Trilene. Not only is it very cheap and of good quality, you also get 1700 yards on a spool! And all that for less than $10. Bass Pro Shops has it on sale right now and you can find it: here

Here is an instructional video I made on how to put your new line on your fishing reel:

Bobbers and Floats

If you are going to fish with bait on your hook, then you should use a bobber, or float, in order to present your bait above the bottom of the venue you are fishing in. Floats, as the name suggests, float on the surface and act as bite indicator (more on that under the section “What fishing method is best for beginners?”).

It doesn’t really matter all that much what type of bobber you are using when you start fishing. Just make sure it is not too small or too big!

A too small one will be hard to see from a distance or in poor light conditions.

A too big one won’t give you a good bite indication. Also, the fish might actually feel the resistance of a floating body that is too big and heavy.

I recommend using slip bobbers, as they are really practical and easy to use. You can read more on them in this article I published: How to Rig a Slip Bobber (An Illustrative Guide)

Hooks

Similar to floats, hooks have to match the size for both your bait and the fish you are targeting. Large hooks might not fit into a smaller fish’s mouth, and small hooks might not have the necessary size and gape to hook a fish properly.

Generally, for the above mentioned target species, you can go for a hook size of 6 to 10 (the hook gets smaller the higher the number gets), which would equal medium-sized hooks.

Those will both hook the fish very well and carry your baits without being too visible.

Lures

There are a few lures that are easier to cast and reel in for beginners. Lure fishing, and more importantly, lure casting, requires some training and skills, which you perhaps won’t jet have when you start fishing. But, you will learn as you go and the lures I suggest in this section are a much better fit for beginners (and their budgets) than other, more advanced types.

Such lures include spinners, spinnerbaits, spoons and crankbaits. For all of these types of lures, go for medium sizes and weights, so that a presentation in the upper to middle ranges of the water is possible.

  • For spinners and spinenrbaits, a size 3 to 4 would be optimal
  • For spoons, choose a length between 2 and 4 inches and a weight of 1/2 to 5/8 oz
  • For crankbaits, go for a length of 3 to 5 inches. Also, they should be floating

Insider tip: Go for cheap lures in the beginning, as you will most likely be loosing a few to getting hooked to the bottom, stones, trees or branches. Loosing lures can otherwise be both very costly and frustrating.

Baits

Whether you buy your baits or catch your own, there is a variety of them that you can use for your fishing. A few of them include:

  • Worms
  • Meal worms
  • Night crawlers
  • Maggots
  • Sweetcorn
  • Crickets
  • Bread
  • Shrimp
  • Baitfish

All of those can either be found in your local supermarket, your local fishing shop or in nature. If you don’t want to spend money on worms or baitfish, go and find a compost pile or a wet lawn (for worms) or find the nearest creek to catch yourself some minnows.

In order to catch those baitfish, all you need is a pole, a dip net or a minnow trap. Just make sure that fishing with live baitfish is actually allowed in your state. Check out this article I wrote for your state’s laws: Is Fishing With Live Bait Illegal (A State-by-State Guide).

What Fishing Method Is Best for Beginners?

The easiest and fastest way of catching fish when you are just starting out is, undoubtedly, with a float/bobber and bait on a hook.

Here is why that is. First of all, you are much more likely to spot smaller fish near the shore, or close to vegetation in the water, that will take your bait if you cast it near them.

Think like this; lure fishing is targeting mostly bigger predators that are more commonly by themselves or in very small packs. Float fishing is targeting mostly smaller fish species that can often be found in larger shoals.

If you can find one of those shoals and cast your float right next, or into it, you will most likely end up getting a bite fairly quickly!

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that you shouldn’t be lure fishing! I just advice you to not start with it, if you just want to try out fishing and see what it is like to catch a fish. Float fishing will most likely get you there sooner.

Quite naturally, any new activity or hobby is only fun and exciting for so long, if there is no action to it. So, you should regard float fishing as a type of “gateway drug” to the wonderful hobby that is fishing, and then slowly move up to other fishing techniques that can take longer time to catch fish.

Fishing requires you to have patience more than anything else. I wouldn’t want you to give up after your very first try, simply because you haven’t caught anything! Fishing is way too amazing for you to miss out on it, once you’ve tried it.

So, start fishing with a float or bobber a few times until you actually catch a few fish, so that you get a feel for it.

Then, advance to the next level of fishing and try out casting with lures. It is because of this combination of float and lure fishing that I suggest a light spinning reel and rod combo for you! It’s the perfect fit for both methods.

How To Float Fish for Beginners?

How To Float Fish

The set up and fishing with a float or bobber is pretty simple. You attach your float to your mainline, either through a float ring or swivel, and a float stop, or with the help of small float rubber rings that will hold your float or bobber in place on your line.

Beneath the float, you will have to attach a few small sinkers,or shots, on your mainline. These will cause the float to actually stand up in the water, instead of just lying flat on the surface. The trick here is to find just the right amount of weight to perfectly balance your float, so that it does not get pulled down by the shots.

And finally, beneath the shots, you can knot your hook directly onto your mainline as well. DO so by using the universally best knot ever, which is called the improved clinch knot. Here is an instructional video on hoe to tie that great knot:

Once you are at the water, you will have to see how deep you want your line to go from the float. In order to adjust the depth, you will have to move the float stop, or the float with the rubber rings itself, up or down the line.

The float will stand up, if the hook and sinkers do not hit bottom! If your float or float stop is too high up the line, meaning that the depth is too great, then your float will be lying flat on the surface and you’ll have to adjust further.

Once your float stands up perfectly straight in the water and you have put your bait on your hook, the waiting for a bite begins!

How To Fish With Lures for Beginners?

How To Fish With Lures

Lure fishing, as previously mentioned, is somewhat more advanced than float fishing and should be step number two of your fishing experience. It is also a more active way of fishing, which demands some casting skills.

Once you feel comfortable with casting out your bobber or float, and you have caught a couple of fish, use your reel and rod combo to now fish with a few lures.

Simply take off the float set up and attach the lure of your choice to the end of your mainline, using the improved clinch knot again (check video above).

Now you are all set to lure fish! As mentioned previously, make sure you are using lighter spinners, spinnerbaits or spoons, as well as floating crankbaits, in order to fish in the upper to middle ranges of the water. This way, you will have an easier time to avoiding the bottom, and hence, you will loose fewer lures and save more money.

Depending on the lure you are using, you will have to find the right speed to reel it in, once you’ve cast it out into the lake. When you do, just keep repeating that casting and reeling in routine and cover as much open water as you can, until you get that first bite on your lure!

How Do I Know When a Fish Is Biting?

On the float or bobber

The float will start to twitch, wonder around, rise out of the water or disappear under water! If it merely twitches or wonders around a little bit, do not strike again, as the fish is most likely only nibbling at your bait, or trying it out. Striking now would not actually result in a hooked fish, as the bait, and thereby the hook, is not fully in its mouth yet.

If it instead rises or sinks, or starts to do that after having twitched or wondered around, you are ready to set that strike and hook your first fish on the float!

Simply strike by yanking your rod upwards or to one side or the other, not too strongly, but not too softly either. Yank your rod until you start feeling the weight and movements of the hooked fish.

On the lure

When a fish is taking your lure, you will most likely feel it in your hands and arms through your rod! Often, it is kind of a small hitting or bumping sensation you are going to feel. If and when that happens, it is extremely crucial to strike immediately.

That is why lure fishing is somewhat more advanced than float fishing, when it comes to beginner fishermen. You actually have to have a very good reflex and reaction time!

If your strike hooks the fish, then start to play it and reel it in towards you. If your strike fails to hook your fish, do not despair, it actually happens quite often that a fish will attack the lure again, which then gives you a second chance of hooking it.

What Do You Do When You Catch a Fish?

If you manage to keep some control over your fish and reel it in close to you, you can land it either with your hand or with a landing net. Do not do so too prematurely though, instead, wait until the fish tires somewhat and becomes more quite. If it moves less, it will be much easier to land and handle.

The next step is to bring it on land. Now, you can either kill it, if you want to bring it home and eat it, or you can take a nice quick picture of your catch, perhaps weigh it (if you have a fishing scale) and then release it into the water again.

Fish are actually quite resilient creatures and the method of catch&release is a scientifically proven way of fishing sustainably. If you want to read more about this, you are welcome to read this article I wrote on the topic of releasing fish: 5 Great Benefits of Catch and Release Fishing

Of course, there is nothing wrong with taking home a few fish, just always be conscious about the amount of fish you are actually taking home, as this can have a direct impact on the fish population in your local water. You know what’s best!

Where Should You Start Fishing?

Freshwater

where to fish in a lake

No matter where you live, you will most likely have a few ponds or smaller lakes near by. Such venues have often a lot of fish in them that are easier to catch. Due to their size, you will also have an easier time studying their features, so that you can find potential fishing spots fast and easy.

Try finding waters close to your home when you start fishing, as shorter distances will save you valuable time that you instead can focus on trying to catch a fish. If you don’t have access to a car or can’t drive yet and no one can take you, close by waters also allow you to reach them quickly on your bike.

When you have found such a pond or lake, take the time to explore them! If possible, go around the entire venue and look for features that might look fishy. Such features usually include the following:

Reeds

These tall, grass-like water plants are the perfect hideout and ambush place for lots of fish species. They are also home to numerous water insects. As such, they both provide food and shelter for fish, which makes them brilliant fishing opportunities.

If you find fields of reed in the venue you want to fish in, definitely start there! Fish the edge of such a field, or in small openings along it. Even a yard or two off the reed edge is fine, as long as you always keep close to this vegetation.

Reeds are suited for both float and lure fishing.

Water Lilies

Water lilies are another great source of shelter and food. In Summer, they also provide a good amount of shade underneath them, which results in a slightly lower water temperature.

Fish frequently seek out water lilies for these reasons and chances are very good that you will get your first bite in or around a water lily patch.

Once again, fishing the edge of such a patch is the key to success. When you are getting better at casting, you can even try placing your float in small openings in the middle of such patches, where even more fish can sometimes be found.

Water lilies patches are best fished with a float or bobber.

Small Bays

Smaller bays are often shallow, warmer and richer in vegetation than deeper areas of the lake or pond you are fishing in. Fish like such areas, which is why you should try finding a small bay and fish it.

Especially smaller species and prey fish, which are the ones you are most likely to go for in the beginning, tend to keep to small bays, as they offer some shelter and are excluded from the main water body, where most of the predators will be. It is kind of a parking area next to a highway.

Bays can be fished both with a float or a lure.

River Mouths

If you are fishing in a lake that is connected to a river, make sure you are fishing the area where the river mouths into the lake! This is a brilliant spot to be fishing in, because a lot of smaller food particles will be flushed into the lake here.

Here, the oxygen level of the water will also be higher and in summer, water temperature will be slightly lower.

You can fish directly in the current, or just on the edge of it, which is where most fish will be waiting for food to pass by.

River mouths are suited for both float and lure fishing.

Overhanging Trees

This is a classic fishing spot in smaller lakes and ponds, where there usually are a lot of trees growing around the venue.

Trees provide excellent cover and shade for fish, which is why they can be found directly underneath the overhanging branches.

Another advantage of trees is that a lot of small insects are constantly falling of them into the water, which are a much appreciated and easy to catch food source for fish.

Try to fish as close to the overhanging branches as you can, without casting into them (you will get there after a little casting practice).

Here, it is best to fish with a float or bobber.

Saltwater

where to fish in the sea

If you are living near the sea, you will have access to an entire fishing world! However, such big bodies of water can be rather intimidating and it can be difficult to know where to go. This is why the following sea fishing spots are a great way to start:

Ports

Ports usually mean two things for fish; a lot of shady areas and a lot of food. A port, big or small, can be the perfect fishing spot to catch your very first fish in the sea.

Plenty of fish are making their rounds and feeding in port basins and it can be rather easy to catch them there. Alternatively, they can just hide out beneath boats that are anchored up in a port, and fishing close to those boats can bring you easy bites as well.

Both float and lure fishing works well in port areas, just make sure you are not casting at someone’s boat and damaging it.

Smaller Bays

Much like in freshwater, smaller bays are perfect hideouts for fish in the sea. Bigger predators will usually not be present here and smaller fish tend to gather up in such areas that are somewhat excluded from the deep blue sea.

Such bay areas are often shallower as well, which makes them easier to fish in.

Smaller bays are suited for both float and lure fishing.

Beaches

Beaches, as well as their surrounding areas, can be very good fishing spots as well. Here, shelter is not really provided, but instead, smaller fish can flee from predators into the shallower areas of a beach.

Perhaps, there are also a lot of bigger stones present, which fish can use as a hideout or ambush point.

Try to fish beaches in the evening or at night, when there are no people bathing and disturbing incoming fish.

Here, you can fish with both a float or a lure.

River Mouths

And finally, another hot spot that shares its superiority with its freshwater sibling. But freshwater rivers that debouch into saltwater can definitely be considered an even better fishing spot!

It is here that two water worlds are meeting each other and so are all kinds of different fish species. You will have freshwater prey fish, bigger saltwater predators and everything in between all mixed up around the mouth of a river.

Fishing hear can most certainly bring you that first bite. Just like in freshwater, try fishing along the edges of the current. If you are float fishing, try letting your float or bobber drift out into the open sea, simply let the current of the river take it out there. Chances are good that your bait is going to meet plenty of fish on its way out.

More Inspirational Content on Fishing

I really hope that you liked reading this article and that it will help you to start the amazing hobby that is fishing. Below, you will find more even more inspirational articles, in case you still need to be convinced. Tight lines!

Max Loesche

Hi, I'm Max, the founder and head author of Strike&Catch. I have been a passionate fisherman since 1997 and spend as much time as possible on the bank. Click on my name to read my full biography.

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