The No-Nonsense Beginners Guide To Fishing

So you are a new fisherman, just beginning your journey into a full-fledged angler. Congratulations! You've come to the right place.

I've created this beginners fishing guide for you. Over the many years that I've fished, I've noticed a pattern with new fisherman. The stories they have about how they came to want to fish are usually different, but the anxiety and fear they feel are almost universal. Their fear boils down to 2 key points:

1. They thinking fishing is easy for everybody else.

2. They are afraid of looking foolish to other fishermen because fishing isn't easy to them.

The good news is, fishing IS easy, once you've had practice casting a few times. The intimidating part is all the "stuff" surrounding fishing - the fishing lingo and vocabulary. The bewildering array of gear and gadgets. The knots, and what I call "fishing etiquette".

Well, I've got you covered. I hope you can use this as a crash-course in fishing. By the time you are done reading this guide, you'll not only have the basics of fishing covered but should feel confident tackling almost any fishing situation. Hopefully I've made you laugh a little as well - or at least groan at my bad jokes.

The Basics of Fishing Equipment

Fishing equipment, also known as fishing tackle, can be one of the more intimidating areas for a new fisherman.  There are a lot of terms thrown around that aren't easy to understand.  In this section, we'll go over some of the items you'll need to fish.

Basic Tackle

Hooks:  In the end, fishing is about hooking a fish on a line.  For that you need a hook.  There are a wide range of sizes and styles of hooks.  The style of hook you will use depends on the type of fish you are after and the kind of bait you are using.  Don't be afraid to ask your tackle dealer for advice - they will gladly help you pick out the right kind of equipment for the fishing you'll be doing that day.  Most artificial lures have the hook built-in.

Regardless of the species of fish you are trying to land, you'll need to keep the hook sharp.  If it's dull, you'll be less likely to set the hook when the fish bites.  In addition, if you are planning on catch and releasing (and you really should), you'll want to bend (or crimp) down the barb on the hook.  It'll be much easier for you to remove the hook, and the fish will suffer less permanent damage from the encounter.

Line:  Along with the hook, the fishing line is the next essential piece of equipment.  Unless you are a super-hero, you can't land a fish without fishing line. 

Fishing line is measured in pound-test.  A higher test line can handle bigger fish.  Of course, it has a little wider diameter as well so you can't fit as much high-test line on your reel as you could a smaller-test one. 

There are now three types of fishing line. You can spend a lot of time discussing the best fishing line.  I'm not going to do that here.  Monofilament is probably the best all-around beginning fisherman line   It has some stretch to it so you won't as easily lose a hooked fish. It also floats so you can use top-water baits without an issue.  As you fish more, you'll want to check out the pros and cons of braided and fluorocarbon lines - but for now a "mono" line will work fine.

Sinkers:  Sinkers are just weights.  They can help bring your bait to the bottom, keep your bobber upright, or add some mass so you can cast your lure farther.  These come in different weights and sizes to suit whatever need you have. 

Bobbers:  Also known as corks or floats, bobbers float on the water.  When attached to a line, they keep bait from moving and at a constant depth off the bottom.  They are great for letting you know when a fish has struck your lure because they will "bob" up and down. 

Bobbers come in a variety of styles and sizes.  Some are round, some are pencil shaped.  Most have a spring-loaded connector to keep them on the line.  These are easier to use than ones you tie to the line. 

Beginners Guide To Fishing Rods and Reels

Unless you want to try fishing by hand, you'll need a fishing rod.  The style usually depends on the type of reel you'll be using. A rod is just a long "stick" - either ofnatural or man made materials.  A reel is the name given to the device that keeps your line organized.  It allows line to go out when you cast, and lets you bring back the line by turning a crank when you want to retrieve.  You might see a rod or reel described as salt-water or ocean.  That just means it's more resistant to corrosion and probably can handle a bigger fish.  You could use it in freshwater fishing if you wanted to - no problems there.  Here's some types of rod/reel combos.

Cane poles: These are the simplest type of rod.  In it's most primitive form, it's a stick with a line tied to it.  To retrieve the line you either back up or pull the line in with your hand.  If you are looking to kill time this type of fishing works, but you can't catch a fish of much size this way.

Spincasting Rods and Reels: These rod and reels are often the first ones a beginning angler uses because it's the most forgiving to cast. The line guides are mounted on the top of these rods.  The line guides aren't very large. The reel is place on top of the rod, and has a button that's pressed when casting.  It's also known as a close-faced reel - so if you see that term you now know what it means.

spincast rod and reel

Spinning Rods and Reels:  Next up in order of difficulty  is the spinning rod and reel. A spinning rod has larger line guides on the bottom.  The reel mounts underneath as well.  It's a great all-around rod and reel setup.  While casting is a bit more difficult with a spinning reel, don't worry - you can get the hang of it.  As you can see in the picture below, there is no button to press while casting.  A few (such as this one) have a trigger to press.  Most don't - instead you open the bail manually before each cast and close it when done.

This image has the parts of a spinning reel to help identify what we are talking about when picking the best spinning reel

While it can look more intimidating that a spincast reel, a little practice is all it takes to get comfortable with a spinning reel.

The little learning curve is worth taking on if you plan on fishing even casually.  You can cast farther and have more control than with a spincast reel.  They don't have to be expensive either.

Baitcasting Rods and Reels:  If you continue to learn to love fishing, you may graduate to baitcast tackle.  The rod is similar to a spincaster - eyelets are on the top, and the reel mounts on the top.  It's much harder to cast - if you don't know what you are doing you can entangle the line pretty easily.  As a beginner, I'd stay away from bait-casters.  You have enough on your plate as it is.  As you get better, feel free to give a baitcaster a try.

Flyfishing Rods and Reels: Fianlly we have the fly.  It's an extremely rewarding type of fishing, but it's not easy.  It takes over a hundred hours of practice to get good at. Flyfishing is almost an art form.  When done correctly, it's like the line is the extension of the angler's being.

fly fishing can be mystical

When done poorly, it's like watching a slow-moving train wreck.  You want to look away, but you can't.  It's even worse when you are the engineer of the wreck, flailing and flicking your arms without much success getting the fly to go just where you want it.

As a begininer, just concentrate on spincast (or spinning if you are ambitious) reel casting, It'll make your life simpler, and you'll have more fun.

How To Cast

Depending on where and when you bought your fishing rod and reel, you might have someone who will show you how to cast.  This is the best outcome - and you'll have your best luck at a local tackle or bait shop.  But even there if it's busy or the owner is having a bad day, you might not be able to get in person instruction.  If that's the case, here's a quick rundown on how to cast.

Casting with an Close-Face Reel

If you are practicing this before heading out on the water, you'll want to make sure there's space both behind and in-front of you so you can move your rod without hitting anything or anyone.  Also, tie something to the end of the line that has a little weight.  New spincast reels sometimes come with a plug attached.  This will help prevent tangling and allow you to get some distance as you practice casting.  Read through these steps, and then give it a try.  If you have trouble, try watching the video at the end of this section.

  1. Stance:  You want to square your shoulders to the target area. 
  2. Grab the rod's handle in your dominant hand. Hold the rod at about waist-level, and point it towards the target. Place your thumb on the button and hold it down.
  3. Smoothly, swiftly - bend your arm at the elbow and bring the rod end up to eyelevel.  The rod-tip will now be behind you as you bend your wrist.
  4. Bring your wrist and arm forward.  As your hand goes past your face towards the target, let go of the button. 
  5. Follow through with the rod ending up pointing slightly above the orginal target.

Hopefully the plug went where you wanted it to.  If it didn't, here's a troubleshooting table:

If the plug went...

..you need to...

Up high, and landed way short of the target

Hold on to the button longer.

Toward your ffet, way short of the target

Let go of the button sooner.

Once you do it correctly, you'll see how easy it is.  If you are having trouble, watch this video below:

Casting a Spinning Reel

While this is a beginners guide to fishing, I do think most people can learn quickly how to cast a spinning reel.  It isn't quite as simple as a closed-face reel, but it really isnt that hard either.  Some people talk themselves out of giving this reel type a try.  Don't let that be you.

  1. Stance is the same as when spincasting - shoulders square to the target.
  2. Let a foot to a foot and a half of line dangle from the rod tip.  You need some line free in the next steps.
  3. Wrap your hand around the rod  with the reel arm between your ring and middle fingers.  This will leave two fingers and a thumb in front of the reel arm.
  4. Using your index finger, pin the line against the rod.   Trapping the line needs to be done before the next step..
  5. With your other hand, open the bail on the reel.  If you've done it right so far, the weight or lure hasn't moved, falling to the floor.  If so, repeat the steps but remember to pin that line!
  6. Now we will cast.  Swing the rod back past your shoulder. Quickly bring it forward in a smooth, swift arc.  Start the forward cast slowly, accelerate through the release, and then end up pointing at the target.
  7. While the rod is moving forward, release the line by removing your index finger from the rod.  This involves timing and a little practice to get right,.  Much like the button release above - if you wait too long the cast will end up at your feet.  Releasing early will send the cast high or who-knows-where.

Here's a video that shows in slow-motion detail how it's all done.  It's easy to follow, and pretty funny too.

Beginners Guide To Fishing Lures

We've covered the line, rods and reels.  We've also covered how to cast so you can actually fish.  Here's where fishermen (and fisher-women) get a little crazy - the world of bait and lures.

I'm going to go over ALOT of different items that people put on their line to try to entice fish.  Frankly, trying different combos of lures, weather conditions, fishing locations and fish can be a lot of the fun of fishing. But as a beginner, I can't stress this enough - you don't need a lot of tackle.

Let me repeat - YOU DON'T NEED TONS OF FISHING LURES!  You do need a fishing license though - so please go get one.  Most states now have licenses available online, so it's quick and painless to do.  It helps fund the Natural Resources department of your state and I don't want you getting a big fine for no reason.

Tip: Most fishing stores or departments will have a closeout bin of lures and other tackle.  If you know you need a particular type of lure, it's a great way to add to your collection on the cheap.

If you are just starting out, once you have your rod and reel you can head out with just a bobber or two, some eagleclaw hooks and sinkers, and a dozen or so worms.  In most parts of the world, that will catch fish.  (I've added links to Amazon for the products, but you should be able to find these locally at the same prices).  That'll run you about $7 max.

Eventually, you'll want to start building a collection of lures and try out some other live baits as well.  You can take your time in building up a collection, so don't feel like you need to rush out and get all of these at once.  My advice is to figure out what type of fishing you are going to the most often, and buy one from that category.  Of course, if you have the resources, go ahead and buy a few in different colors and styles.  Trying out different lures is part of the fun.

​My recommendation to you is to pick up a good spinner, some jigs, and then a spoon or a plug for your first lures. If you will be fishing for bass, a spinnerbait is a good choice as well. Here's a quick rundown table -I'll follow up below in more detail on the lures I recommend.

Lure Type

Topwater or dive?

Beginner Friendly?

Pros

Cons

Spinners

Both

Yes. Very Easy.

Easy to use, versitile

Can snag on rocks and weeds

Jigs

Bottom water

​Yes. Some skill needed.

Can catch almost anything, cheap

Fisherman skill is needed for presentation

Spoons

Just under top

Yes. Very Easy

Easy to use, can be made in weedless form

Slightly harder to cast than spinners.

Plugs

Depends.

Yes

Easy to use.

More expensive.

Buzzbaits or Spinnerbaits

Usually top to 6 feet under

Mostly.

Great for bass.

More expensive, some skill required.

Plastics

Will sink.

Yes

Easy to use, can be weedless

I'd rather use real bait.

Flies

Top

Not really.

Fun to use.

Harder to use, specialized to area, season and fish type

Spinners For Beginners

​These are solid lures you will use often.  There's not a lot of talent needed to use a spinner and land a fish. They are made by putting a spinning blade around a solid metal tube. Sometimes the hook will have a faux-fur covering disguising it; often it will be bare.  

beginners guide to fishing - meps spinner

When you reel in a spinner lure, the blade begins to rotate around the shaft.  This causes vibrations in the water that fish can pick up. The fish can find your lure without needing to see it from far away. This makes spinners an excellent choice for dark, murky water.  It's a good clear sunny day choice as well, because the blade reflects light which causes fish to investigate.  

How to use? It's easy.  Cast it out; begin the retrieve after the splash.  In rocky or weedy areas you need to be aware of how quickly this lure sinks so you don't get snagged.  Other than that caveat, the lure does everything on it's own.

Tip: If your spinner lure isn't spinning, the shaft maybe bent.  This happens sometimes when it gets snagged or it gets hit by an aggressive fish.  Simply bend it back into place and it should spin freely again.

Jigs for Beginners

Beginners Guide To fishing - jigs

Next into your tackle box should be some jigs of various sizes.  There are A TON of different types of jigs.  That's because it's one of the most versatile types of lures available.  You can catch almost any fish on a jig - it just needs to be the size that matches the fish you are after.  I'd start with a variety pack of sizes; failing that get a ten pack of both the 3/8 and 1/2 oz lures, and you'll be ok.  

Don't sweat the weight too much.  The weight determines how fast a jig will fall - the more active the fish the quicker they'd like the lure to fall (in general).  More weeds require a heavier jig as well. But in the end a jig is just a hook with a weight on it - so the size doesn't matter too much (within reason).

How to use? Unlike spinners, how a lure moves in the water (known as "action" will depend totally on you. If you don’t move the line the jig will sink to the bottom. that's a good thing.  One way to fish a jig is to cast it out and wait until it lands on the bottom. The line will go slack when it rests on the bottom. Begin to reel in the lure with in a series of jumps or hops. You make it jump by lifting the rod tip up, then lowering it while reeling in your line.  Play around with this. Try slow and fast speeds, big and little hops, until you find what works.  Keep a feel on the line for a strike.  Most of the time it'll be very faint, so you need to pay attention to make sure you know when a fish has bit.  

Spoons For Beginners

Spoons are metal lures that originated when someone broke the handle off of a real spoon and used it with a hook to catch fish.  ​They haven't changed much over the years other than coming in a multitude of sizes and colors.  When a spoon is reeled back, it warbles much in the same way a wounded fish would.  That can cause a strike reflex in nearby fish - exactly what you are looking for when out on the water.

How to use? ​You work a casting spoon in the same way as a spinner.  Cast it out, and reel it in.  The only slight difference is you need to make sure the lure wobbles rather than spins.  If you catch your spooning starting to spin uncontrollably, just slow down how fast you reel it in.   

Much of fishing is about personal taste.  I've always preferred spinners to spoons, except when in really weedy conditions.  Why?  As I ask myself that question as I write this, I really don't know.  Both Bryan and I have caught our bigger fish with spinners, and haven't had as much luck with spoons. Maybe that's it? 

That's the great thing about fishing - there's no wrong way.  Of course, if you never catch fish, some might say that's wrong  but I digress.  As a fishing newbie, you owe it to yourself to give a spoon or two a try.  It might end up becoming your go-to lure in your box. 

Plugs For Beginners

Plugs are lures that look like something a fish would actually eat in real-life.  ​We are talking about lures that look like small fish and frogs.  There are a wide range of these lures as well.  Often they will be called by the type of noise or action they provide - so if you've ever heard of crankbaits, jerkbaits, surface plugs, floating/diving plugs, rattlers and poppers - those are plugs.

Plugs are great lures, but they are a bit more specialized.  Rattlers make (not surprisingly) a rattling noise​ which is great for low-light or murky water.  Divers go deep, floaters stay on top of the water.  If you already have one or more of the other lures, you should probably look to pick up a plug or two as your next items.  For example, a frog shaped plug that floats and rattles is a great pick - as long as the area you are fishing at has frogs that time of year.  

​That's why I recommend one particular plug to begin.  It almost seems like a right-of-passage for a fisherman to get their first Rapala minnow plug.  It's really an great all-around plug: it floats when you stop reeling it in, and dives a bit as you pull it.  

beginners fishing guide

How to use? You use it my casting, and waiting for the ripples to fade away.  Start reeling it in, and occassionally twitch the line, pause - use your creativity.  Different fish will react differently.  Of course, if you get a different plug, you'll have to figure out what way works.

Locations

Now you have the gear, you need to have somewhere to go fish.  I'm going to make this section brief because there's no one-size-fits-all guide for where to fish a lake or stream.  These are just general tips:

Where to Fish a Lake 

If you don't have a boat or kayak, you're choices are more limited.  That's ok.  Just find a lake with a public pier, or a friend with some shoreline access and cast away.  Still pay attention to the tips in the next section - if you can you'll want to try to cast to those structures if they are closeby.

With a boat or kayak, you can work the whole body of water.  When picking out where to fish, try to think like a fish.  Fish are worried about finding food, and not becoming some other fish's dinner.  ​ That means you should:

  • Keep an eye out for baitfish.  If you see a bunch of smaller fish, the bigger fish will generally be on the prowl to find them.  Therefore, if you see a bunch of little fish near shore, cast out a bit farther - the big pigs might be closeby.
  • Look for protective cover.  This means lilly pads, weeds, a sunken log or tree branch.  All of these structures provide some safety for fish​ to hang out - so you'd expect to find them there.  Unfortunately, these areas also are ones where you can snag your hook so be extra aware when fishing there.
  • Deep water.  If it's hot out, some fish head deeper to cool off.  This is a big generalization - there are a lot of other factors in play - but if you aren't having luck in the normal protective spots try the deeper areas of the lake.

Where to Fish a River

​Just as for lakes, thinking like a fish will help you in river fishing.  Besides food and protection, keeping out of the current is another concern of river fish.  So keep on the lookout for:

  • Undercut ledges or​ banks
  • Large deep pools 
  • Fallen trees or sunken logs
  • Areas behind large rocks.

Parting Thoughts

There's a lot of information to take in.  I wanted to make this beginners guide to fishing as thorough as I could, while still making it fun to read.  If you don't have everything down-pat - don't worry.  Just go fish!  

Getting out there and doing it will teach you as much as reading can.   So grab your rod, reel, and whatever bait/hook/lures you choose, and enjoy the day fishing.  Maybe I'll see you on the water!

About the Author Arnold Martinsen

Leave a Comment: