Fishing 101: Basics For Beginners Complete Guide

fish in pond

If you're debating whether or not to jump into the sport of fishing, you have come to the right place. Here are going to cover fishing 101, which is a complete guide on fishing for beginners.

Here's the thing:

We could write thousands of pages on the subject of fishing, and that wouldn't even put a dent into the amount of information that is available regarding the sport.

I know what you're thinking...

It can be daunting for someone looking to start fishing with no prior experience. Guess what? I wrote this article with you in mind.

With that said...

We will cover the basics of what fishing is, the gear needed, and some tips to get you out on the water catching fish as quickly as possible.

​Once you get the hang of fishing, you can move on to even more challenging fish. Check out our Trout guide here.

Disclosure:   Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, where I make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Fishing 101

Before we dive into the topic, let's cover fishing basics. Fishing for beginners is all about learning the fundamentals, and then getting out and doing it.

Fishing is the process of presenting bait, live or artificial, to fish and attempting to goad the fish into taking the bait.

We use a hook that is set by the angler, which allows us to take the fish out of the water.

quiet lake

The amount of game fish is incredible, and you have a lot of choices as to methods to catch them.

In our fishing tips section, we address some of the better species of fish that beginners should go after to get their feet wet.

Depending on the species of fish, the tackle and the tactics needed to catch them can change pretty drastically.

You will find the most hardcore anglers with dozens of different rod and reel combinations that they use for specific types of fish or even the same species at different times of the year!

Don't worry about all of those decisions, though. You might think that you need a fishing for dummies guide, but that's simply not you because you are here studying. That's an awesome thing, and we definitely have tons of great info for you.

As you gain experience, you will figure out what type of fishing you enjoy and can start digging deeper into specific fishing strategies and philosophies.

Basic Fishing Gear

To get yourself onto the water and catching fish there are pieces of equipment that are necessary and others that will just make life easier.

Fishing equipment can range from very affordable to very high-end products, and you often get what you pay for.

Depending on the fish species and type of fishing, the gear can vary.

In this section, we are going to provide several different models of each piece of gear that are capable of fishing for the widest range of fish species possible.

We want you to be able to catch a lot of different fish and decide for yourself what you enjoy the most.

From there, you can start to customize and specialize your fishing gear set. Let's first take a look at the essential pieces.

Rods

Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 Spinning Rod

Rods can vary in length from 5 to 15 feet. Rods usually come labeled by the type of action and power they have.

The action is simply where the rod flexes while power refers to the amount of pressure it takes to bend the rod.

St Croix Triumph Fishing Rod

These two characteristics play off of each other and result in some rods that are very sensitive and others that can better handle large, powerful fish.

Most of the time, rod manufacturers make it easier and just use the terms ultra-light to heavy to indicate what size of fish they are built for.

This is all you need to know for the beginner angler.

The two options that are great beginner rods that can handle lots of different fish species while not breaking the bank are the Shakespeare Ugly Stix GX2 and the St. Croix Triumph.

Reels

Your reel, along with your rod, will allow you to cast your lure or bait. The reel is also responsible for retrieving your line and lure.

Hopefully, with a fish on the end of it. There are three general types of reels available for purchase that will suit a beginner angler.

Spincast Reel (Closed Face)

Zebco Omega Pro Spincast Fishing Reel

For someone who has never been fishing before, these are good reels to learn to cast.

They have a button release system and are forgiving. That means you won't be making a bird's nest of tangles with your line.

The retrieval speeds are pretty slow for these rods, so they are not the best for aggressive game fish.

The best spincast reel that you can get is the Zebco Omega ZO3Pro.

Spinning Reel (Open Face)

Pflueger President Spinning Reel

This type of reel is cast using a simple flip bail to release the line from the spool. Once cast, the bail can be closed, locking the line and can then be retrieved.

These reels offer a little more casting distance and can handle a wider array of lures than a spin-caster.

They do require more practice to become proficient on compared to a spin-caster.

The best spinning reel under 100 is the Pflueger President.

Baitcasting Reel

We list this type of reel to be thorough, but this is not the best reel for beginner anglers.

These reels are great once you get the hang of casting and can throw medium to heavy lures at far distances. These reels are definitely the most popular reels for hardcore bass fisherman.

Line

Your fishing line is the link between you and the fish. When picking out the line, you need to have a rough idea about the size of fish you are going to be catching.

This is because line comes in different pound tests that can withstand a certain amount of pressure exerted on it before breaking. If you are not sure, 10-15 pound test will cover most fish without sacrificing line sensitivity.

There are three main types of fishing line that are available.

Monofilament

Berkley Trilene Big Game Monofilament

As the name implies, this type of line is made from a single strand of material.

Monofilament is good for beginners because of the low cost, compared to other lines. It is also more forgiving.

What we mean by this is that monofilament is able to stretch. If you handle a big fish incorrectly or snag it against a log along the lake bed you are less likely to break the line.

For a beginner, we would recommend sticking with monofilament. It's pretty durable and is the cheapest of the three types of line.

Unless you get into some more technical fishing, the other two can wait.

Fluorocarbon

KastKing FluoroKote Fishing Line

Fluorocarbon is generally used as a leader.

This means that only a few feet of the line is used and is attached to the end of monofilament or some other type of line.

Fluoro is great when fishing crystal clear water or line-weary fish as it is nearly invisible underwater.

It is also good if you need a very sensitive line to feel and manipulate your lure’s movements or feel structures beneath the water.

This type of line can be pretty expensive and is the hardest line to manage on the list.

Braided

Braided line is made from several strands of material that are woven together.

Spiderwire Braided Stealth Superline

This is a super strong line with a small diameter that gives you some excellent sensitivity.

If you are fishing around a lot of submerged structures or weed beds, braided line is optimal.

One drawback is that this line is highly visible and should not be used for line wary fish. Otherwise, it's great stuff.

Hooks

Hooks come in a huge selection of sizes, and the size of the hook depends on the size of fish you are planning on catching.

If you are looking to catch some panfish such as bluegill, and you have huge hooks, the fish are not going to be able to get their mouths around it.

Bait

This is obviously what you are using to entice the fish and hook them securely enough to reel them in.

nightcrawler

Natural bait is a very popular method of enticing fish. Obviously, the real deal is going to be more efficient at tricking fish into biting the end of your line.

When deciding on a live bait, go with something the fish you are trying to catch would normally eat.

On lakes or rivers, this might be worms, minnows, or crickets. While fishing off the coast might be shrimp or small crabs.

Lures

The sheer number of artificial lures that are available is staggering and sometimes difficult to sort out the good from the useless.

That skill just comes with your experiences on the water.

Some lures are designed to imitate a source of food particular fish species normally eat. While others don't resemble anything in particular, but look like something that the fish would want to chow down.

PLUSINNO Fishing Lures Baits Tackle

Lures can be very versatile. Specific lures are designed to be retrieved at different depths in the water or sit on the surface.

They are also designed to make specific motions to entice fish.

Going into detail on the various lures is beyond the scope of this article, but local fishing shops and fisherman are a good source to point you in the direction of the lures you will need.

Some of the more popular types of lures include poppers, spinners, spoons, crankbaits, and soft jigs.

There are probably a few dozen more we could rattle off. What's important is that you understand there are options.

Each option has the place and time it should and shouldn't be used.

Now that we have the essential gear down, let’s look at several other pieces of equipment that, while not needed to catch fish, can make fishing a lot easier.

Tackle Bag Or Box

This is a great piece of gear to keep all of your hooks, lures, line, and sinkers organized and in a central location.

There are several options that provide durability and years of fishing use.

The two items we have listed are high-quality tackle storage systems that will be able to store most, if not all, of the gear you might need out on the water.

Spiderwire Wolf Tackle Bag
Plano Guide Series Tackle System

Fishing Pliers

Piscifun Aluminum Fishing Pliers

A good pair of needle nose pliers will make removing hooks and lures from fish much quicker and simpler.

It will also limit the amount of time fish are out of the water. If you plan on catching and releasing the fish, this is important.

Pliers designed specifically for fishing, such as our listed item, are multifunctional tools.

Net

For a lot of fishing in smaller bodies of water, a net might not be necessary.

However, when you land a wall hanger, a net can be an invaluable tool to have on hand.

Nets come in a variety of sizes, and you should select your net based on the size of fish you think you will most likely be catching.

With these items, you have an excellent fishing starter kit that will allow you go out to any body of water and start catching fish. You can even put together a mini kit for survival situations.

Now that you have your gear in order, it’s time to start thinking about catching fish.

How To Start Fishing

Get Legal

Before you head out to the lake or river, you need to be sure you are legal to fish. Individual states require a general fishing license and specialized stamps for some types of fish.

There are quite a few other regulations that you need to be aware of when fishing such as:

  • tackle restrictions
  • catch limit
  • seasons

Practice

This isn't just advice for beginner fisherman; it is equally true for anyone who wants to log some time on the water.

Trying to learn to cast while also trying to catch fish will end in frustration and disappointment.

By spending a few hours in the yard casting to a tire or some other target, you will get more familiar with your gear and be more confident once you are casting to the real thing.

Casting is not the only thing you should be practicing. Fishing requires a lot of knot tying.

Knots

From attaching the line to your reel, attaching leaders, or tying on lures and hooks to your line, tying knots is a fundamental part of fishing.

Being able to tie strong knots, and doing it quickly, saves you a lot of time messing with gear and gives you more time catching fish.

Some of the more common knots that are used in fishing are:

  • Surgeon's Knot
  • Improved Clinch Knot
  • Hangman's Knot

Find Water

fishing for dummies

After you have your gear and license and spent some time practicing your cast, the next step is to find some water that holds fish.

Lakes, farm ponds, tail waters, mountain streams, and coastal waters all hold fish worthy of chasing and catching.

Most bodies of waters in the United States have public access points, so gaining access should not be much of a problem.

Asking for permission from landowners that border water can also lead to unique and often less fished areas.

Fishing Tips For Beginners

What To Fish?

A question that gets asked by a lot of novice anglers is: what is the best fish for beginners? Honestly, a beginner angler can handle most fish.

I think what the real question is what type of fish is the less technical.

It's not that there are fish you just can't catch, but some fish require a little more expertise to catch consistently, and some require a lot more specialized gear to do so.

For a brand new angler looking to land some fish, here are the best fish for beginners:

  • Bass
  • Panfish
  • Catfish
  • Trout

Regardless of where you are in the US, there is going to be water around you that holds these best starter fish in abundance.

They usually do not have any fishing season, and with the type of gear we listed, you can catch all of them.

Once you know what type of fish you want to catch, you should seek out local bait and tackle shops in the area and pick their brains.

Local knowledge is unbeatable regarding insights on where the fish are, when they are feeding, and what they are feeding on.

Where Are The Fish?

When on the water, there are certain natural structures you should fish around.

These structures offer some protection and cover for the fish and are also areas where their natural prey localize.

fishing 101

When fishing a lake, whether on the bank or in a boat, look for overhanging trees and drowned logs.

Other great alternatives are boulder formations, steep drop offs, and weed beds. These are always hot spots for fish!

In rivers or other bodies of water with fast moving current, it is important to look for respites from the current. This includes large boulders or logs that will break the current.

Also look for seams in the current. This means areas where a slower current is next to a faster current. Fish like to feed in these areas and casting along these seams will land you more fish.

Where faster moving water turns into slower, deeper pools are also great places to look for fish, especially up along the banks of the pool.

What Time To Fish?

The best time to be on the water depends on the season and subsequent water temperature.

The water temperature has a huge impact on fish metabolism. In the warmer months, the highest fish activity is during the early morning and evening hours.

Night fishing is also a common trend during these months as the water cools to a more comfortable level for the fish.

It is possible to catch fish through all hours of the day, but keying in on when the fish are most active will result in more fish caught.

During colder weather when the water temperature begins to drop below 40°F, waiting until midday offers the most fish activity.

More shallow flats are also a good place to fish during this time.

Mud bottoms of lakes also retain a lot more heat so getting a lure down to those depths can give you a better chance of hooking a fish.

What Lure To Use?

Picking what lure you will use depends on how the fish are behaving as well as a lot of other environmental factors.

We mentioned in the last tip that water temperature could affect where the fish are.

fishing for beginners

This, in turn, will affect what type of lure to use as well or how much weight to put on with your live bait to get it to the correct depth.

With artificial lures, there can be a lot of tying them on and off until you find the lure that the fish are willing to bite.

A way to minimize this time is to nail down what exactly the fish are eating and where in the water column the feeding is happening.

This is where local knowledge can be invaluable.

If you know these factors, you can pick a lure that imitates the prey and can be fished at the proper depth.

That way you will spend a lot more time reeling in fish instead of digging through your tackle bag.

How Long To Fish?

It’s easy to find a good spot on the water and want to camp out there for a few hours.

This is completely fine if you just want to throw some live bait and relax with friends and family.

If you are serious about catching fish, you need to maximize the amount of water you cover.

This includes different areas as well as different depths in the water. That doesn't mean one cast and move on, but you shouldn't be casting to the same spot for ten minutes.

The more areas you fish, the more chances of getting on some willing takers.

Ending Thoughts

Watching videos online or outdoor fishing shows is not a realistic expectation to have when starting out fishing.

Fishing can become frustrating at times, especially when the fish are not cooperating.  Beginner fishing can be hard to get into initially, but if you give it time, its very rewarding and fun!

It’s important to remember that this is the case for even the most seasoned fisherman. Remember that persistence is the key.

There is always a lot to improve on regarding your fishing techniques. Work on some specialized casts and play around with lure types and retrieval speeds.

Hopefully, as you go along this journey, you will realize that fishing is an extremely enjoyable sport.

There is never an end to learning about fishing, even for those with years of experience. Each trip on the water can teach us something new.

We have covered the fishing basics, basic fishing gear, and how to start fishing and hope that this provides clear instructions and tips to get you fishing and catching consistently.

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