I first sank my teeth into the craft of fishing as a child. After watching my grandfather fish for most of the morning, I figured I would join in, too. With a stick, a paper clip, and some hay string, I fashioned my first ever pole and headed to the water. While I may not have caught any fish that day, it sparked an interest that brought me searching for answers from anyone who would share their secrets. Over the years, I’ve learned fishing tips for beginners from older fishermen in bait shops, avid fishermen sitting in lawn chairs dangling their lines over interstate bridges, and folks looking to get lucky at the pier.
All in all, I’ve discovered that every fisherman (or fisherwoman) has to start somewhere. While there’s arguably a “wrong way” and a “right way” of doing things, there’s a whole lot of wiggle room (get it?) in between. To help you explore one of mankind’s oldest arts—here’s my round up of 15 fishing tips for beginners.
Fishing Tips for Beginners on How to Prepare
1. Buy a Tackle Box
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. My first tackle box was an old screwdriver case. A lot of fishing is thinking on your feet and being creative. Have an old lunch box? Feel free to repurpose it.
2. Keep Your Tackle Box Stocked
Despite what some folks will tell you, fishing does not have to be an expensive hobby. You can get by with the basics and still be a great fisherman. But there are items that will enhance your experience.
I always make sure to pack extra fishing line, extra lures, bait, extra hooks, pliers and a good pair of gloves. Some fish have nasty spines that you don’t want sticking you. The gloves help prevent any unwanted pain. Likewise, a pair of pliers will make hook removal go more smoothly for everyone and every fish involved.
Fishing Tips for Poles and Hooks
3. Size Matters
I know firsthand the overwhelming feeling of walking down the fishing aisle at Walmart. Often there is too much to choose from and little help in the decision-making process. One rule of thumb I follow is size matters. The longer the pole and the more sturdy, the bigger the body of water you are fishing in can be.
If you plan on fishing on the shore, on a river, pond or lake, go for a small to medium pole. The only time you’ll need a larger pole is if you plan to go deep-sea fishing.
The same goes for the line and hooks you choose. If you are fishing on a river, pond or lake, always opt for an eight to 10-pound line. If you pick anything smaller, your line is bound to snap—leaving you empty-handed and the fish with a new lip ring to show off. If you opt for a heavier line, you probably won’t feel the fish nibbling on your line.
The bigger the hook, the bigger the fish you’re trying to catch. I know it is tempting to pick out the biggest and baddest one, but leave some room for practicality. If the hook is too big, the fish you are trying to catch might not be able to swallow it. If it’s too small, it might not hook properly.
When just starting, start small. Wherever you decide to fish, there will likely be small fish and big fish. Unless you want to spend four hours reeling in the 100-pound river monster on your first trip, aim for a humble eight-pound bass.
Regardless, make sure your hooks are sharp. It will be helpful to you and the fish. It’ll be less painful for them and it’ll make removal easier for you.
4. You Don’t Have to Buy the Most Expensive Items to See Results
There are plenty of high-quality poles, lines, and hooks that won’t break the bank. Most poles you’ll be fishing with range from $20 to $30. Just make sure you buy a pole with a reel attached. I recommend a spinning reel over a spincaster. While it is a little more complicated, you’ll get a better feel for traction and the flow of the water.
5. Change Out Your Line on Your New Pole
While you can leave the line that comes with your pole on, I always opt to replace it with a new line. It gives you an opportunity to get a feel for your rod and the mechanisms that make it work and you can guarantee that the new line is of higher quality.
The Best Bait Fishing Tips
6. Live Bait is Always Better
Fish are smart. They can tell the difference between real and fake. As such, they’re much more willing to take a bite out of a tasty treat than a shiny piece of metal. If you can, try to find live bait. If you can’t find live bait or the notion of sticking a hook through something wriggling is upsetting, frozen works too. Local tackle shops tend to have better selection of bait than other retailers, and the folks there know the same waters you will be fishing. They’ll know what the fish are biting that day. Always shop local when you can.
7. Catfish are Everywhere and They Will Eat Anything
Catfish are a beginner’s best friend. I remember the first year I became serious about the sport, the only thing I caught was catfish—and, that’s okay!
I’d head to the river with my favorite chum: chicken livers soaked in kool-aid, a trick I’d learned from an old fisherman in Kentucky, and by the end of the day, I would have caught enough channel catfish to call home about. You don’t need the most eloquent bait for those bottom feeders. Pretty much anything you can get your hands on that is edible, they will eat.
Catfish are great for beginners because they help you get a feel for how to reel and they really help boost your confidence and spur you to keep fishing for those more elusive, harder to find fish.
8. The Bait You Use Matters Where You Are Fishing
An experienced fisherman in Alabama once told me to always use shrimp if you are fishing in warm salt water and squid if you are fishing in cold salt water and I have never looked back. I don’t know the science or nature behind it, but it works.
If you are lake fishing or specifically looking to catch bass, use minnow and shad. Shad is a fan favorite at any local bait shop—but be sure to arrive early because they are always in high demand.
Pro Tip: When baiting shad, you’ll have better luck if you run the hook through one eye and through the spine. This will keep you from losing your bait with every cast.
While worms may seem cliche, they work on all kinds of river and pond fish, including our catfish friends. When in doubt, pick you up a pack of night crawlers.
9. When in Doubt, Use a Campfire Hotdog as Bait
While it is important to always be prepared, sometimes you have to get creative and think on your feet. Yesterday’s hotdogs could be today’s next great catch. I’ve used hotdogs, corn cobs, and marshmallows while on camping trips and have seen some interesting results.
Fishing Tips for Beginners on Lures
10. Know When to Use Them and When to Not
I know it is tempting to pick out all of the fun lures. Like the fish I am trying to catch, I, too, am captivated by the pretty colors and the shiny parts. But there is a time and place for them.
If you are fishing in clear, warm water then you are going to have more luck with them. If the water is clear, it’s easier for both you and the fish to see the lures.
Some places only allow artificial bait or lures. In stocked rivers and ponds, it gives game wardens better control over the size and stock. Artificial lures also kill less fish because it’s less likely for the fish to swallow the whole hook. It’s always good to keep a few of your favorite lures in your tackle box just in case you get down to your spot and have to change plans.
11. Size Matters with Lures, Too
The lure section has hundreds of options. From three hooked yellow bellies to crimson metal rigs, it can get overwhelming fast. When making decisions, remember the rule of thumb: size matters.
More often than not, you aren’t going to need the biggest, most fancy rig. Instead, stick to the same size hooks you are used to and go from there. Unless you’re trying to catch a 100-pound fish, go with the single hook.
12. Keep to the Classics
When picking out lures, I always opt for the shiniest one I can find and any lures with feathers. Feathers help replicate a minnow gliding through the water. It’ll help attract those more aggressive, predatory fish like largemouth bass.
I’ve found lures resembling frogs also do well. In the same fashion as feathered lures, they replicate movement and help draw those aggressive fish in.
While it’s tempting to pick out the flashiest lures, there is nothing wrong with the old-school classics. I’ve seen my greatest successes with artificial baits like salamanders, dragonfly nymphs, and worms. They’ve been around a long time and are a favorite for many fishermen for a reason.
13. Get Creative
Don’t be afraid to try new things out. If you have a favorite lure that has served you well but lately, it hasn’t been working as well….make a sharpie and add new stripes. This might make your bait more visible.
You can also play around with casting styles. Take time throwing it out and reeling it back or letting it sit and then calling it back. Different lures have different weights and this will help you get a better feel for them.
Fishing Tips for Beginners on Optimal Timing
14. Go Out During Peak Eating Times
Fish prefer to eat a big breakfast and a big dinner. So, the best time to go out is at dusk and dawn. You will see your best fishing at those times. When the sun is at its highest, you’re less likely to have any luck. Unless you have some super yummy, enticing bait or chum, you might be waiting for that special catch.
15. Be Patient
Patience is the name of the game. At times, it can be frustrating and you might feel like you are doing everything wrong. That’s okay, more often than not, you’re not doing anything wrong. If you don’t catch anything, go back to the drawing board. Assess what worked best for you and what didn’t and apply it to your next trip out.
Fishing can teach you a lot about yourself. It won’t be easy at first and there’s a lot of trial and error involved but it is incredibly rewarding when you make that first big catch. Talk to as many people as you can, collect as many fishing tips for beginners as you can, and carry on the legacy. Be confident and remember to always keep trying.
Em Holter’s love of the outdoors and fishing began in her home state of West Virginia. Her love for the sport has brought her across the country looking for the next big catch. In her free time, she can be found on the James River fishing for bass, sunfish and the occasional catfish.
Photo credit in order of appearance: Adobe Stock – Goodluz, Tyler Way, Adobe Stock – Smiltena, Adobe Stock – MexChriss, Adobe Stock – Kaninstudio, Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™ Hill Country, TX