The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Fishing (Technology Not Required)
by Sadie Marcheldon – Monster Fish Lodge in Waldof, Ontario
Looking to try fishing? Not even an iota of fishing gear to your name? No problem!
Many anglers make the mistake of thinking that fishing requires the best equipment and technology in order to have a quality experience or catch some trophy fish.
But even fishing with a basic rig using simple techniques from the shores of a lake or marina, the banks of a river can be a blast.
Most importantly, skipping the boat means only a minimal investment, which is important as you’re exploring a new hobby.
In this guide, we’ll go step-by-step through the types of fishing, finding what to fish for and where to find those fish, and what you’ll need to bring for your first-time fishing trip.
What’s more – and you’d never think purveyors of a fishing technology site would say this – fishing simply can be the most rewarding of all! Remember what our ancestors had to work with. Even our most basic modern equipment is amazing by comparison.
Table of Contents
Types of Fishing
Float fishing is pretty much the easiest way to start fishing. It basically involves casting out a float of some kind, beneath which the rig is suspended. The rig will include beads, line, a leader, a weight and a hook.
Bait like worms, leeches or minnows are generally placed on the hook and everything is cast out at once. Like many things, float fishing, with practice, can be very effective and enjoyable. Different sizes of floats, leaders, hooks and weights make it a versatile option.
Float fishing often allows for bait to be presented in a natural and unobtrusive manner which won’t scare or alarm fish. And it’s pretty basic; when your float disappears, you know you have a bite. Float fishing is popular in fast flowing waters like rivers, creek and streams.
Casting involves using a rod to basically throw bait or a lure out into the water. While it depends on what kind of water you are fishing, the depth of the water and what species of fish you are going to target, many different kinds of lures can be used.
Spinner baits, crank baits, buzz baits, spoons, plugs, top water lures, and even more traditional jigging baits like a metal jig head and a plastic tail or skirt, can all be used for casting. Doing a little bit of research into which baits work best for season, water depth, water clarity and species, is going to help you narrow down what to buy, what size of lure and even what colour.
Depending on the time of year, clarity of water, depth, structure and species targeted, there are many different methods and techniques for retrieval after casting out. Sometimes half the battle is technique.
Generally, casting may be easier for a beginner to learn, with a little bit of research into technique and where to cast. The set-up is relatively simple and straight forward with the lure often attached right to the line or to a leader and snap swivel. For the noob, the big trick is avoiding snags on the bottom.
Generally a jig is a weighted metal head with a hook attached and a soft plastic body or skirt to attract fish, though minnows, worms or leeches can also be used on a hook. Jigging can be done straight up and down or jigs can even be cast.
Using a jig can attract fish from many different species. Learning where to throw the jig, how to bounce it off the bottom or off of structure on top like lily pads or dragging and jerking it through heavier weed cover, might take a bit of practice and patience.
Some jigging may be easier to learn, like bouncing a jig off the bottom for walleye, but other techniques, like throwing off rocks or lily pads, may take more practice.
Choosing a more sensitive rod when jigging, if you have one, will help you feel bites, taps and strikes. Another reason to go lighter on the first rod you buy.
Where to Fish
Finding a good place to fish isn’t always easy. If you’re new to fishing and haven’t figured out exactly how to find a spot, one of the best ways is to start with an online search.
You can search many different bodies of water, parks, ponds, lakes, rivers and streams. Many sites will tell you what species are popular in a given body of water.
Using Google Earth and topographic maps or applications like Navionics will help pinpoint exactly what the areas look like. You can also ask friends, fellow anglers, locals or even people who work at tackle and bait shops to recommend a good area.
How to Pick a Spot
Once you’ve decided on a great body of water, don’t just think you can arrive and start bombing out casts and experience immediate success.
There are a few key things to look for, even on maps and images like Google Earth or on Navionics, or apps like Fishidy and Fishbrain. Drop offs, bays and areas with structure and cover, are all great places to start.
A great way to find fish is to do some research ahead of time into the species that you’re targeting. Bringing the proper bait or lures is going to increase your chances of catching.
Spend some time looking into a good spot before you arrive. Don’t be disappointed if one spot doesn’t pan out. Finding a productive fishing hole that consistently produces fish is an art and takes practice.
Use the links in this article, reference other angler’s sites, social media or YouTube videos. Don’t be afraid to talk to people, especially locals at tackle shops, stations selling bait or locals in the area. If you’re fishing in a park, there are often people who work there who can help make suggestions about spots and what tackle works at that time of year.
No matter where you fish, good underwater structure is key since fish use this to hide from predators, but also to strike and feed. Finding good structure like weeds, fallen trees, drop offs, changes in depth, rocky points or ridges is an excellent place to start.
This might be trickier without consulting a topographic map for the area, unless you happen to have a castable fish finder. These little pods pack a huge punch of technology on a budget that most beginner anglers can afford. Casting the pod out helps define the depth, water temperature, structure and even water clarity.
Experimenting with current and banks on a river is also a good way to find fish.
Narrowing the search down further, we come to structure. Just like structure, finding cover underwater, while tricky, can be quite rewarding.
Cover consists of any submerged object or feature that enables fish to avoid direct exposure to the surface or open water.
Some examples of cover:
- Underwater logs
- Submerged trees (common in dammed lakes)
- Weed beds
- Dock piers
- Bridge posts
- Underwater logs
How to Fish
Prepping the Trip
Once you’ve decided on a spot and purchased your gear, pack everything carefully, Remember that if you’re going to be fishing from shore, you’re going to have to be the one to carry all your own gear.
Investing in a good backpack, a waterproof bag that is easy to carry, a great tackle box, a small folding chair, a soft cooler that doubles as a backpack or something easy to port around, are all great ideas. Bug spray and sunscreen are a great addition to any pack.
In addition, if you plan on keeping fish, bring along the necessary filleting equipment like a good knife, maybe even a small cutting board and a few plastic bags with zipper seals.
Filleting your fish at the water is going to save you having to carry a whole stringer back to your vehicle, packing them in there and doing the messy work at home.
Filleting at the water ensures an easier clean up and you can take the fillets home in a sealed plastic bag, which can be stored in your cooler to keep the meat from spoiling.
Keep the environment and weather in mind. If you know you’re going to be trekking to a muddy area or wading through deeper water to get to the perfect spot, bring along the necessary equipment like hip waders or rubber boots, unless you don’t mind getting wet.
If you know ahead of time where you’re going to be fishing, take along the necessary equipment. For example, when fishing rapid waters, be prepared with safety equipment and the appropriate tackle and bait.
Target a Species
Often, depending on area and time of year, it’s likely going to be helpful to have a target species in mind. This helps lighten the load, especially when it comes to tackle.
For example, if you’re targeting bass, it’s likely best to bring bass lures along and leave the fourteen inch plugs at home. Depending on time of year and water clarity, mimicking a fish’s prey is likely going to produce better results, though bringing along a few brightly coloured baits isn’t going to hurt, provided you have room in your tackle box.
Fishing in shallow waters or weedy areas, you should consider investing in some weedless baits and smaller baits that are going to glide easily through heavy cover without getting snarled, tangled or even ripped off.
Again, it’s the kind of thing a local tackle shop will be able to help you decide.
Finalizing Your Spot
If you haven’t done any previous research, used maps, Navionics or Google Earth, it might be tempting to just hunker down at the first spot you come up to, but resist the urge. Safely exploring the area is a great way to ensure success.
Try and find an area that looks like it might hold some underwater structure. Rocks, weed beds, fallen trees and vegetation in the water are all things you might want to look for. If you can, get right up to the water and watch for small bait fish schooling up.
Remember not to give yourself away. Be as quiet as possible and try to keep your shadow off the water.
As a beginner angler, there are a few things to keep in mind. These aren’t hard and fast rules by any means, more of a courtesy to fellow anglers.
If you’re worried about not knowing you’re doing, the best way to prepare is to practice at home. Spool your reel ahead of time so that you can get right down to fishing when you arrive.
You can also practice rigging up your tackle, especially a float rig, so that you know what you’re doing when you arrive.
While you can’t really practice casting at home, you can find a secluded spot when you arrive at the lake or river, well away from anyone else. Don’t worry about messing up. There probably won’t be anyone to see but yourself.
Be courteous to other anglers. If you see someone fishing from shore, even if they look like they’re having great luck, don’t barge in on their spot. Take a wide berth if you can and fish well away.
If you’re fishing with a buddy and there are other anglers around, try and minimize the noise, within reason. No one needs to hear an entire day’s worth of conversation when they are looking for a silent, relaxing escape.
Remember, the sport is called fishing, not catching. As annoying as that old saying is, it’s true. Being a good sport is preferred to swearing or throwing tantrums or becoming impatient.
Take care of the environment and set a good example. You can do this by knowing ahead of time what the limit is where you’re fishing and the slot size. Only keep what you’re willing to eat and use. Familiarize yourself with filleting techniques ahead of time if you’re going to be filleting at the water.
Do your best and remember, with time and practice, you’ll only get better. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing or how great others can cast or how professional they look. Be proud of your own growth and success. Ultimately, fishing is about having fun and getting away. Even if you don’t catch anything, the escape is still worth it!
Casting is Key
Once you find a great spot, be mindful of how and where you cast. Fish tend to take cover in vegetation, deep weeds, the drop off between a shallow area and a deeper area, rocky points or be up shallower rather than deeper, in the middle of nowhere.
Try and maximize the amount of time your bait or lure spends in these areas by casting horizontally, as you will likely experience more bites and strikes than if you just cast haphazardly into deep water and hope for the best.
Lures and Technique
Choosing a lure for the specific type of fish you’re targeting is probably best, to ensure you don’t have to carry a massive tackle box, but ensure you’ve given yourself enough options.
You can experiment with different lures and different sizes and colours of the same lure. Brighter color lures often work better for murky or choppy water.
Mimicking the color of baitfish and the movements of what a fish normally likes to eat can be very effective.
Research different casting or jigging techniques ahead of time. Practicing these techniques or speeding up or slowing down retrieval can sometimes make all the difference in being successful or not.
Leave As Found
Having respect for the environment is crucial in ensuring the health and wellbeing of that environment and all the creatures and species that live there. Don’t leave garbage lying around.
Bottom line: Leave the area as you found it.
Caring for Your Equipment
Take care to clean your equipment and store it properly. Putting your tackle back in an organized manner is going to ensure you can find it again next time.
Beginner’s Fishing Gear
Rod and Reel
The kind of rod you choose is going to be largely dependent on what type of fishing you’re doing and the technique you’re going to employ. If you don’t have a rod yet, one of the easiest ways to set yourself up is to visit any tackle shop. For most fishing, you’re going to want a six or seven foot lightweight or medium weight rod with reel.
Buying a rod and reel combo is going to save the hassle of trying to figure out which reel is compatible with which rod. Buying a combo is also going to be the cheaper route anyway. If you go to a tackle shop versus buying online, you can actually test the quality of the rod, how it feels in your hand, the weight, the balance and whether or not you like the way the reel feels.
If you’re going to be fishing rushing waters like a large river or going for trophy sized fish and using large lures, you’ll likely want to upgrade to a seven and a half foot to eight foot heavier rod. Better for the learner to focus on more realistic conditions.
It’s most likely that you’re going to be faced with choosing between a Spinning reel and a Baitcasting reel, even when choosing a combo. While many people love Baitcasting reels for their power and accuracy when casting, they do have a learning curve to get used to using.
Some beginner anglers find that they tend to spool up, meaning that the line becomes snarled in the reel, sometimes on the first cast. No one wants to spend the rest of the day trying to respool a reel.
If you’re absolutely certain that you want to use a Baitcaster, be prepared for the learning curve and possible frustration before the fun starts.
Spinning reels are a very popular choice amongst anglers for their ease of use and adaptability.
They are generally easy to set up and use and the learning curve for operating one and casting is much smaller. Spinning reels are a great choice for beginner anglers and can be quite affordable.
Here are some highly-rated spinning rod-and-reel combos.
After picking out a rod and reel, the next decision you’re going to have to make is about line. The test refers to the weight the line can generally hold without snapping. For example, fifteen pound test will generally be able to hold the weight of a fifteen pound fish.
You’re going to have to pick the test that you think is right for you. Some anglers like to put on a heavier test, around fifteen pound, even if they think they are going to be fishing for fish smaller, just in case.
When fishing a river or rushing water or targeting larger fish, obviously you’re going to want to pick stronger, heavier test.
There are many different kinds of line, but the choice is likely going to come down to a monofilament line or a braided line.
Braided line is a great choice if you’re looking for sensitive line. Jigging or fishing for walleye or perch or smaller fish that have a more sensitive bite, braided is going to be a great way, as a beginner, to learn to feel those subtle tugs.
Braided line will generally hold more weight than it says before it snaps, so if you happen to get a big fish on light weight line, you may still be able to land it. The downside of braided is that it may snap easily on rocks or sharp objects and that it can be visible in the water.
Monofilament line is generally easy to use and versatile. It is flexible and feels almost stretchy which is forgiving when the hook gets stuck or the drag is set too tight.
It’s easier to tie into a knot than some line and comes in a variety of colors, all from high visibility to low visibility. Monofilament isn’t as sensitive as some line so you may miss subtle bites. It also won’t sink as fast or as deep.
For first-timers, unless you know you’re going to fish for something much heavier, it’s probably safe to go with 8- or 10-pound test line.
The leader is the piece of line that is tied either to the snap swivel or the end of the fishing line. It basically stops a fish from being able to bite through line, and when made of fluorocarbon, can also serve to make the line less visible, increasing the chance of a bite in the first place.
In most cases, since there is a clip at the end of a leader, lures can be removed and changed out easily. When fishing for walleye, for example, many people choose to omit the leader and tie the weighted jig head with the bait or plastic tail directly to the line, as some anglers find walleye won’t bite with a leader attached.
As with line choices, it’s safest to go with an 8- or 10-pound fluorocarbon leader.
Often overlooked, a swivel is a piece of metal hardware with eyes at each end and a swiveling barrel in the middle. This swivelling connector has two functions.
The primary function of a snap swivel is to stop the line from tangling and snarling up, as the swivelling action allows the line to unwist during casting and retrieval even as the lure stays (relatively) steady.
The secondary function of the swivel is ease of attachment. A category of swivels called “snap swivels” features an easy-opening eye at one end. This snap allows the lure to be easily removed and swapped for a different lure as needed.
What kinds of lure you buy is going to be totally dependent on the type of fishing you’re doing. Spoons, crankbaits, top water bait, plugs, spinner baits, jigs- it’s going to be dependent on the species targeted, the size of fish, and also the area you’re fishing.
If you’re planning on using just bait, you’ll want to buy hooks in a variety of sizes and the bait to put on them. If fishing with a float or casting out and you want the bait to remain on the bottom in a fixed place (like when fishing in rivers), you’ll want to buy some assorted weights as well as either pencil floats or bobbers.
Information on lures and colors is plentiful and everyone has a different opinion on what works, size, color and technique. Reference the following videos for a starting point for picking out lures, but your best bet will be to speak to a local tackle shop pro to get specific recommendations based on species and time of year.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKYlI6_8Ojo (a video on float fishing basics)
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rB3KWpthjI (a video on how to rig up a float or bobber)
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dA9IA_DIkyw (how to pick a lure)
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpQTh_tnJ6c (how lure color makes a difference)
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apkGzawOOPc (different types of lures explained)
Again, nothing beats the knowledge at a local tackle shop, but there is a wide selection of better lures to be found online
Portable or Castable Fish Finder
OK, I know we said no technology, but we just can’t help it. We’ll call this category optional.
The advances packed into the latest generation of castable fish finders is supremely helpful to first time anglers, who enjoy having a portable fish finder and being able to cast out and see what’s on the bottom of a given area. The information will help you determine if a spot is going to be good to fish, or whether it’s best to move on and find a better spot.
There are many different brands and portable fish finder options for every budget, and the latest generation of castable fish finders can connect via wirelessly to your smartphone, giving you a high-quality fish finding experience at a reasonable cost.
This article features some solid castable fish finder choices.
When fishing from shore, you probably are going to want to buy something that’s easily portable. There are soft tackle boxes that come with straps that loop over the shoulder for easy portability.
It’s likely best just to take what you think you’re going to need and omit the extra tackle. Some tackle boxes even have room for a bottle of water, sunscreen, bug repellent, a filleting knife, pliers and sunglasses.
Some solid tackle storage choices.
The Little Things
Pliers and Jaw Spreaders
Don’t go fishing without a good set of pliers and jaw spreaders. Catching the fish is one thing, but taking them off a hook can be quite another. Some fish will swallow the lure so far back into their mouth getting it out without damaging the fish is going to be tough unless you have a good pair of jaw spreaders and a good set of pliers.
Even easy releases are made that much easier, and safer for your hands, if you have a good set of pliers.
Solid plier choices and good jaw spreaders.
If you plan on taking fish home, having a good filleting knife, a small cutting board (if required) and some plastic bags with a zipper seal is probably going to be easier than hauling fish back to your vehicle and filleting at home.
Invest in a good knife. Filleting fish isn’t always the easiest process and having good equipment really speeds things up and helps ensure less waste.
If you plan on keeping fish, you’ll want to bring a filleting knife along as you probably want to fillet right at the water.
Here are some good filleting knives.
That’s It, Landlubber!
A simple learner-friendly approach to fishing is a great, budget-friendly way to ease into a wonderful sport. Fishing can be a rewarding, relaxing, enjoyable experience that produces real quality fish.
While getting there might take some research and finding that one spot that you can consistently return to time and time again isn’t going to be easy, but it is well worth it.
Even beginner anglers, with some time, research, patience and practice, can be successful!