Ultimate Guide To Fishing
Perhaps you’re new to fishing and you want to know how to catch fish? Or maybe you’re not new and you’re just in need of a little assistance to boost your success rate on the water.
Either way, we are here to help guide you through the ins and outs of this popular pastime and give you some renewed confidence when you next cast your line into your favorite fishing spot.
Why Is Fishing So Popular?
Every year millions of Americans go fishing, whether it’s with their families, friends or on their own, with 2015 seeing over 45 million people going fishing in the United States. So what makes it so appealing?
When you’re fishing you’re outside in natural surroundings, and being closer to nature is known to help reduce stress and increase happiness. You don’t even have to be in the wilderness for nature to have this effect. You will still gain the benefits from nature by sitting beside a river or lake in an urban environment.
Being close to water has long been considered relaxing and studies have shown that being in close proximity to water can significantly improve your mood and lower stress, as well as having a positive effect on those with mental health problems.
Consider the fact that people spend millions of dollars on beachside and waterfront properties all over the world. When you’re fishing, you’re often as close to the water as you can get without swimming in it, so you’re gaining that much desired waterfront spot but with the benefit of being outside.
The popularity of fishing could be down to the fact that almost anyone can go fishing. It’s not a sport that necessarily requires a lot of equipment, or a lot of expensive gear, with the average US household spending just $33.64 on fishing and hunting gear in a whole year, so it’s an affordable activity that just about anyone can get involved in.
Beginners can get involved without boats or fancy gadgets, as long as you’ve got a suitable rod, reel, line and some bait. You also don’t necessarily need a lot of technique at first, so long as you’re able to cast your line out, with a bit of luck you might get a bite on your bait, but even if you don’t, you’re still out there enjoying yourself.
No matter where you are in the USA, chances are there will be a public area for fishing not too far away. You will need to make sure you have a fishing license before you start but these can be obtained from your state government.
Your state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, or equivalent, will also be able to guide you to local fishing lakes and rivers, and you’ll often find that many of them are managed and stocked by the state.
Fishing is known to improve both your physical and mental health. First of all, it gets you out in the fresh air, so you’re not cooped up inside, which is known to improve your breathing and lower your blood pressure.
But as well as that, it is also known to be a good form of exercise, as it’s a low impact activity that will likely require you to walk or paddle some sort of distance to get to the best fishing spot.
Being in the outdoors will also increase the vitamin D levels in your body, meaning you’re better able to absorb calcium for stronger bones and teeth. This has also been known to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, strokes and diabetes.
Top Fishing Tips
What Do I Need? Essential Fishing Gear
Before you can start fishing, you will likely need a license or permit, that can usually be purchased online.
Each state in the US issues its own licenses through its state wildlife department. You can choose different licenses for your needs, such as for saltwater or freshwater, or both. You can also add hunting rights to your license if you want to.
Certain people may not require a license to fish in some states, such as children, some military personnel, as well as some people with severe disabilities, but you should check with your local state department to check with their individual laws.
Rods & Reels
If you’re just starting out, it’s not going to matter too much about how expensive your equipment is. You will want a rod that is light enough for you to cast and not too long or too short; one that’s around the same height as you should be sufficient.
Choosing a reel to go with your rod may seem like a difficult task if you’re a beginner but probably the easiest reel to work with is a spinning reel. While they may not always be as accurate as a baitcasting reel, they don’t tend to tangle up the line as much, which is ideal for beginners.
With a baitcasting reel, the line will let out as you’re casting, so if you cast too strongly and don’t stop the spool from rotating after your bait hits the water, you’ll end up with too much line being loose in the water, which could cause tangles.
Baitcasting reels will often take a little while to master but can be a lot better at precision casting, allowing you to drop your bait exactly where you want.
Lines & Bait
The type of lines and bait you’ll need will depend on the type of fish you plan to catch, as well as where you plan to catch them. Different fish will eat different food, depending on their environment, such as freshwater or saltwater habitats.
Your local bait shops will be able to give you advice on the type of live bait that’s best for the fish you’re hoping to catch, and they’ll also be able to offer you advice on which bait is proving recently successful for particular areas, seasons or species.
You can catch your own live bait, such as minnows, if you’re hoping to fish for freshwater fish. Or you can collect worms or insects and attach them to your hook as live bait. For saltwater fishing, you might prefer shrimp or other shellfish.
Artificial baits are also available in fishing outfitters and bait shops, which you might find preferable if you’re just starting out, as you’ll be able to reuse the bait again and again.
Accessories (apparel and extras)
There are some accessories that you might find are essential for a fishing trip. One important thing to have is some sort of vest or piece of clothing that has pockets or pouches, so that you can keep your spare lines, hooks etc. handy.
If you’re fishing in daylight, having a good pair of sunglasses is vital, as this will reduce the glare on the water, as well as protect your eyes from harmful UV light.
You may also find that you need a good set of pliers to help you remove hooks by crushing the barb, help you cut line, tighten knots, or anything else you might come across.
Once you start getting more into the sport and want to get deeper into the action, than fishing from the shore or dock, you might find yourself wanting other accessories, such as waders, a float tube, kayak, or even some electronic gadgets to improve your catch rate.
When Is The Best Time To Fish (in each season)?
The best time to fish will mostly depend on the type of fish you’re hoping to catch and what season it is. But generally there are certain things to keep in mind no matter what you’re fishing for.
The best times to fish during the spring are in the late afternoon and early evening to dusk. During spring mornings the air and water will likely still be a little too cool for bugs to flying and fish to be feeding, so it’s better to wait till the sun has had a chance to warm the water during the day before you head out.
This is when the waters will be warmer and there will be plenty of bugs around, so during the early mornings, just before the sun comes up, can be a great time to catch fish. Sunset can be just as lucrative, with the fish coming out of the cooler, deeper waters into the shallows to feed, avoiding the hottest part of the day.
A lot like spring, the mornings and early afternoons can be a tricky time to catch fish because of the cooler autumnal weather. But if you wait till the sun has a chance to heat the water a little, then late afternoons and early evenings could see more fish biting.
You may find that fish are biting more at this time as they try to fatten up in advance of winter.
With less bugs around and water temperatures much colder, fishing in the winter may not always be successful, as the fish are a lot less active in order to preserve energy. However, if you’re ice fishing, you may have more luck, especially if you head out when the moon is rising or setting.
Freshwater fishing is by far the most popular type of fishing in the USA, with 35.8 million anglers in 2016, of which 27.5 million were freshwater anglers compared to 8.3 million saltwater anglers. So, it’s no surprise that the most popular fish to catch are freshwater species.
Bass is the most popular fish to catch in the USA, which is likely because it can be found everywhere across the entire continental US, as well as in Hawaii.
They can be caught using a range of different baits and techniques but they may also be able to avoid a lure if they think they’ve seen it before.
Panfish are the third most popular type of game fish caught in the USA.
One of the most popular species of panfish to catch is a bluegill, as they can be caught in open water and near shorelines and sandbars, using a variety of different fishing methods and baits.
Another popular fish is the catfish, which can grow pretty large and is very popular in Southern cooking recipes.
They can be easy to catch with the right bait, which can be anything from crayfish, minnows and insects to hot dogs and chicken liver.
Another popular fish to catch in the USA, trout can be found in lakes and rivers and can often be caught using night crawlers, crayfish and minnows as bait.
Trout is also a popular species to eat, being a member of the same family of fish as salmon.
How To Catch A Fish (And Unhook)
Knots 101: Know Your Knots
Attaching A Hook
In order to catch anything you’re going to need to know the best way to attach your hook to your fishing line, and to do that you’ll need to know about knots.
For attaching your line to your hook, you may find it better to use an improved clinch knot.
To do this, thread the line through the eye of the hook and, as you pull it back towards itself, wind it around the rest of the line 5 or 6 times.
Next, take end of the line back towards the hook and thread it through the loop closest to the hook’s eye. You’ll see there’s now a larger loop that’s appeared, so thread the end through that large loop. Now, pull both ends of the line to tighten into a secure knot.
One of the most common types of bait is worms, because it can be used in different types of fishing. To attach a worm to a hook, simply pierce the hook through its body several times so that the hook is mostly covered.
For attaching minnows, you can either put the hook under its jaw and through the top, if you’re dragging it behind you. Or you can put the hook through the fish’s back, either in front of the dorsal fin or near the tail, as long as you avoid its spine.
Attaching Weights & Bobbers
Having weights and bobbers on your line can be a good idea in moving water, as it should help keep your bait at the correct depth for catching fish. How the weight attaches to your line will depend on which type you choose, with some slotting over your line and others requiring to be tied on.
A bobber can be attached to your line through its own hook eyes, allowing you to set the depth of your bait, with the weight holding it in place.
How To Cast...
If you’re just starting out, chances are you’ll be using a spinning reel, as these are widely considered to be easier to use than baitcasters. To cast with a spinning reel you should first open the bail to allow your line to be able to feed out, while keeping your index finger on the line as you’re holding the rod.
As you cast, on the power part of your casting technique, release your finger from the line to let it feed out. This will let your bait travel as far as the strength of your cast. As the bait hits the water, you can then close the bail to protect it and have it ready for reeling in your catch.
If you’ve ever tried to fish with a baitcasting reel you’ll know that it’s not always easy. To avoid having a tangled mess of line to deal with, the first thing to do when you’re learning is turn the dial at the side to max, which will slow the speed at which the line is released from the spool.
As you cast, you release the button, allowing the spool to release the line. But the important thing to remember is as your bait starts to descend into the water, slowly put your thumb on the spool to start to slow it down, so that when your bait hits the water, you can firmly press down to stop your line feeding out.
How To Reel In Your Catch
When you finally feel that bite on the end of your line, the first thing to do is to set the hook in the fish’s mouth. To do this, simply move your rod to jerk your line upwards so that the hook gets stuck in the fish’s mouth.
After this, the fish will probably start to fight back by trying to swim away. This is when you will need to start to slowly reel it in. The bigger the fish, the more power it will have and the more of a struggle it will be for you, so keep the line tight by pulling with your rod and reeling in the loose line.
Try pulling up with your rod, so that the tip begins to point towards the sky and then reel in your line as you lower it back down to around a 45 degree angle. This process can be repeated until the fish is close enough for you to pull out of the water.
Removing The Hook
Removing the hook from the fish can be daunting, but there are simple ways to do this without harming the fish. One way is to simply push down on the hook and turn it slightly, so that it goes back out the same way that it went in.
If that doesn’t sound easy enough, you also have the option of using your pliers. This way you can use them to flatten the barb on the hook, which will make it easier for you to push the hook back through the fish’s mouth, again in the same way it went in, which will minimize any damage to the fish.
Keeping vs Catch And Release
Once you’ve caught your fish, you’re going to need to decide what you’re going to do with it, whether you keep it or release it. In the USA, in federal or state managed areas, you will usually find that there are limits to the number of fish you can catch to keep.
The number you’re allowed to keep will depend on both the state and the particular body of water that you’re fishing in, so it’s always best to check with your local authorities to find out what the laws are.
You will also find that there are often restrictions on the size of fish you’re allowed to keep, which will differ with each state’s regulations.
If you decide to release your catch, try not to handle it too much and you can simply place it back in the water after you’ve removed the hook from its mouth, allowing it to live longer, get bigger and get caught again in the future.
Storing Your Catch
One way to keep your fish fresh after you’ve caught it is to use a stringer through both lips of the fish. Go in under the chin and tie the other end tightly to the shore, meaning the fish can still swim around and stay alive while you continue to fish.
There are also baskets that allow the fish to swim while they’re safely contained.
Alternatively, you can kill the fish quickly and store it on crushed ice in a cooler, as long as you keep replenishing the ice in the cooler. You can gut the fish and clean it prior to this and fill the insides of the fish with crushed ice.
Smaller fish can be put in a cooler, in a swimming position, filled with crushed ice, which should mean they are killed quickly, as long as each fish is completely covered in ice.
Now that you’ve read about the basics of fishing, you’re probably eager to get out there to try it for yourself. Hopefully you’ve learned some essential skills and techniques that might be useful to you on your next fishing trip.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading our guide and will share it with your friends who might want to learn more about this popular, relaxing pastime.