Freshwater Fishing Tips for Beginners

So, you’ve finally decided to learn how to fish. Anyone can drop a line in the water, but it’s not easy to be a successful angler. When you’re a beginner- in addition to finding fish- the biggest challenges are using the right fishing tackle and techniques. 

Use these freshwater fishing tips to get started on your exciting new hobby.  

Set Realistic Fish-Catching Goals

Your first goal should be catching fish in the simplest way possible. While learning the basics, it’s usually easier to catch smaller panfish near the shore. Once you’re ready to move on to larger species, like bass and walleye, it’ll take some more advanced fishing techniques.

Find a Good Fishing Spot

Google your area for public fishing spots. Your state’s DNR website is also a good place to start, and many local parks contain stocked ponds where you can fish from the shore. Fishing off a dock or pier is also a good idea at first.

Before arriving at your destination be sure to pick up a fishing license. After all, who wants to get fined on their first day? 

Get a Good Fishing Rod and Reel  

Buy yourself a rod and reel “spinning combo” that’s made for freshwater fishing. Make sure that your fishing rod is sturdy enough for bigger species once you get the hang of landing smaller ones.

Since inexpensive spinning combos tend to break easily it’s best to invest a little more money in a combo that can also handle advanced casting and retrieval techniques. 

For example, a medium or medium heavy 6 1/2-foot, fast action fishing rod from the Bulldawg Trophy Series works well when paired with 6-12 lb. monofilament line and a mid-priced reel. 

Prepare Some Basic Fishing Tackle 

Since you’ll be catching panfish at first, you won’t need a lot of fancy tackle. Start with some hooks, sinkers, snap bobbers and a dozen nightcrawlers. When going after perch, bluegill or sunfish, a razor-sharp size 2 or size 4 Kitana hook is all you need.  When you’re ready to step it up a notch, grab a pack of Jerky Js.

Tie your hook on the fishing line with a double knot and then pinch a 3/0 (“three-aught”) split shot sinker about a foot above the hook. Then, snap your bobber on the line 2 to 3 feet above your sinker. 

How to Fish with Live Bait 

Worms are always a panfish delicacy. Once you’re at the fishing spot cut a 1 to 2-inch section of worm and then thread it carefully onto the hook. Pierce the bait at least twice and be sure that the hook’s sharp point is covered. 

Panfish scavenge for food near shore or fixed objects, so try to fish off a dock in 4 to 7 feet of water. Once the hook is baited simply open your reel bail and allow the rig to fall into the water. 

If a dock or deeper water isn’t available, you’ll have to learn some casting basics. Here’s how to use a simple cast and retrieval technique:

  1. Hold the rod in your throwing hand with the reel’s shaft in-between your ring finger and middle finger. 
  2. Open the reel’s bail with your opposite hand while pinching the line between your index finger and rod handle. 
  3. Slowly direct your rod to the side of your body at a 45-degree angle. 
  4. Gradually bring the rod back to center with your body, releasing the finger that’s pinching your line once the momentum of your rod is in front of you. 

Catch and Release Basics  

Up and down or side to side bobber movement usually means a fish is biting your worm. Since small panfish aren’t strong enough to completely submerge your bobber wait about 5 seconds before setting the hook. 

To set the hook slowly reel in your line until it’s taut. Gently lift your rod tip several inches to set the hook into the fish’s mouth. Once you feel the hooked fish tugging on your line gradually start reeling it in. As the fish breaks the surface gently lift them up with your rod. 

Carefully remove the fish from the hook with your fingers or a pair of pliers. Return your catch to the water by holding it in the palm of your hand and gently submerging it in the water- a process known as “catch and release”. Congratulations! You’re on your way to becoming a serious angler.

Build Out Your Tackle Box

Now that you’ve got the basics down you can start fishing for larger species like walleye, pike and bass. Learn how to use a soft bait like the Reaction Strike Chunky Shad or a swimbait lure like the Castaic Boot Tail.  You can also build out your tackle box with a sinking crankbait like the Backstabber Lipless Stabber or a specialty fishing lure like the RS Buzz. The versatile Kitana Scrounger Jig is also great for fishing with live bait or an imitation soft bait such as the RS Thin Shad.