The Ultimate Guide To Fishing: How To Get Started

Our Editors independently research, test, and rate what we feel are the best products. We use affiliate links and may receive a small commission on purchases.

If you’ve never been fishing, it might appear complex. That’s not necessarily the case. With the right equipment and a little research, you can become a proficient angler in a relatively short period of time.

There are, of course, various kinds of fishing. This guide specifically introduces fishing with bait. This is the most popular kind of angling for beginners and arguably the easiest to learn.

Once you’ve mastered fishing with bait, you may decide to try fly-fishing. The skills you’ve picked up fishing with bait will not be wasted. Much of what you’ve already learned will remain applicable as you expand your angling experience.

Angling Equipment

Let’s begin by examining your equipment. You’ll need a small collection of equipment to begin. The most important items are the reel, rod, and bait.

Fishing Reels

The fishing reel is the spool on a fishing rod that is used to wind up and store the fishing line. There are three common kinds of reel used for freshwater spin fishing with bait: spin casting reels, spinning reels, and baitcasting reels. There are special fishing reels for saltwater fishing. You will have to decide which is the right kind of fishing reel for you.

Spincast reels

Spincast fishing reels are typically mounted above your fishing rod and can be used with relatively light baits. They are designed to prevent the problem of backlash. Backlash is the issue of the reel continuing to throw out more fishing line after the bait has reached its destination, which can lead to a tangled mess of line.

An external nose cone that protects the spool gives spincast fishing reels a distinctive shape. Spincast reels are relatively cheap and easy to operate, so they’re ideal for teaching your kids about angling.

Spinning fishing reels

These are the most common kind of fishing reel but are more difficult to use than spincast reels. They are typically mounted beneath your fishing rod. This design feature means that no wrist strength is required to keep a spinning reel in position because it’s not fighting against gravity like a reel on top would be. Spinning reels do not suffer backlash but are prone to twisting of the fishing line or trapped spools.

Baitcasting fishing reels

A baitcasting reel is typically mounted above your fishing rod. These do suffer from problems of backlash. However, more experienced anglers often prefer them because baitcasting reels enable better control and accuracy during a cast.

Saltwater fishing reels

Saltwater fishing reels are designed to handle thicker fishing line and handle heavier weights of fish, because that’s what you’ll encounter at sea (if you’re lucky!). You’ll also find that saltwater spinning reels are manufactured to be more durable than those for freshwater fishing. The saltwater might quickly corrode normal spinning reels.

Which fishing reel is best for you?

While baitcasting reels offer the most accuracy, many beginners prefer spin casting fishing reels because they are the least likely to suffer tangled lines. Spinning reels are easier to hold while fishing, because they don’t put pressure on your wrist, but can be subject to twisted fishing line issues.

Fishing Rods

The three most common varieties of fishing rod for freshwater spin fishing with bait are designed to complement the various kind of reel: spin casting rods, spinning rods, and baitcasting rods. For saltwater fishing, you’ll need a surf rod. You will need to choose the best kind of fishing rod for you.

Spincast fishing rods

Needless to say, spincast fishing rods are designed to be combined with a spin casting reel, which is mounted over the handle. Such rods have relatively small eyes to guide the fishing line. They resemble bait casting rods, and sometimes fishing rods are designed to be used with both spin casting reels or bait casting reels. Such dual-use fishing rods are called casting rods.

Spinning fishing rods

These fishing rods are designed to hold spinning reels, which are mounted under the handle. Spinning rods are relatively short and lightweight, being manufactured using fiberglass or graphite with a foam or cork grip. On average, they are between 5 and 8½ feet long.

Unlike spin casting rods, the eyes increase in size from the tip to the handle. This facilitates less friction as the line leaves the reel. The ergonomic design of spinning rods combined with their low weight and size makes them suitable for endurance fishing.

Baitcasting fishing rods

These fishing rods resemble spin casting rods but are designed for use with a spin casting reel. Baitcasting rods are made from similar materials to spinning rods but are stiffer and designed to carry heavier fishing line, lures, and bait. They are typically between 6 and 7 feet long.

Baitcasting rods are designed for fast and accurate casting. However, as mentioned above, some multipurpose rods can be used with both spin casting reels and baitcasting reels.

Surf rods

Surf rods, or saltwater rods, are stronger, heavier, and longer, designed to catch much bigger fish. Typically, these are between 9 and 13 feet long.

Which fishing rod is best for you?

Beginners usually find spin casting rods easier to use, essentially because there are fewer problems with backlash on a spin casting reel. However, more experienced anglers typically prefer baitcasting rods which offer more accuracy, strength, and speed.

Types of Bait

Bait can be in the form of live bait, artificial bait, and lures.

Live bait

Experienced live-bait anglers hoping to catch a specific kind of fish use bait that is a prey species of the fish they seek. Typical live baits include frogs, insects, leeches, minnows, salamanders, and worms.

The reason these baits are effective is that they tempt the target fish with the color, odor, and texture of their favorite food.

Strangely, though it’s not a natural prey species, anglers have found success using cheese as a bait because of its strong odor. Blue Stilton and Danish Blue are commonly used for this purpose because of their particularly strong odors.

Artificial bait

It’s now possible to purchase manufactured bait that accurately emulates the color, odor, and texture of a prey species. For example, Powerbait is a product used to catch trout in still water.

Powerbait is a putty-like substance you shape around the hook that the manufacturer claims is more effective than live bait because it concentrates those elements of odor and color that the target fish favors.


Lures are decoys designed to attract target fish in some way. This may be through imitating the shape, size, and color of the fish’s natural prey. Alternatively, it may use some element of color and movement aimed to trigger a territorial response or curiosity in target fish.

The most common lures look like small fish or frogs and have fishing hooks attached in strategic locations. When the target fish attacks the lure, the hooks are positioned to engage in an effective manner.

Other Angling Equipment

There are a few other pieces of equipment every angler uses. For example, bobbers (fishing floats) that float on the water until a fish takes the bait when they bob to alert the angler.

A landing net is used to help lift heavy fish, such as carp, out of the water. Needle-nose pliers are useful for untangling hooks from a fish’s jaws.

Organized anglers will use a tackle box to keep all these items organized and stored for ease of use. If you’re an adventurous angler who wants to fish in remote locations, then consider buying a tackle box in the form of a backpack for hiking to prime fishing spots.

Fishing Clothes

The kind of clothes you wear to go fishing will depend on what kind of fishing you’re doing. You’ll want to ensure you’re protected against the elements, but some fishing clothes are especially designed to improve your chance of a fine haul.

When fishing in shallow rivers or lakes, for example, a pair of waders will help you get closer to where the fish are found. In strong sunshine, good quality fishing sunglasses will enable you to read the water better (see later).

Intrepid anglers hiking over long distances through rain or strong sunshine should adequately protect themselves from sunburn and the elements with a specially designed fishing hat. Such hats are also useful when standing or sitting for long periods of time in an exposed position along lakeshores or riverbanks.

In cold weather, remember the importance of wearing layers. Your outer shell, in particular, must protect you from the wind, waves, snow, and rain.

In warmer weather, your middle layer may need to act as your outer layer. In that situation, a fishing shirt designed to wick sweat and dry easily will be immensely helpful.

Keep Learning

Great! You now have all the right equipment for the kind of fishing you want to enjoy. But what next? Well, you need to know stuff. And the best way to learn about fishing is to speak with experienced anglers.

Consider joining a local angling club and speaking with older members. Buy books written by reputable anglers who have earned accolades in the angling world. As you collect tips and general advice, write it all down in a notebook for later reference.

If you cannot connect with local experienced anglers, YouTube is, of course, a valuable resource.

Fishing spots and bait

Speaking with experienced local anglers will save you a lot of time and money. They’ll be able to direct you to good fishing spots and tell you what bait has worked best for them in that location. Some club members may even be happy to go out with you and pass on techniques and knowledge that has served them well over the years.


Knots are important when fishing, and there are many different kinds developed for specific purposes. The knot must be as strong as possible. Experienced anglers wet the line with saliva before tying the knot, which helps prevent line damage. Trimming loose ends afterward prevents snagging during use.

Reading water

With experience, you will soon learn how to read the water. Reading water is all about knowing whereabouts in the water fish are most likely to gather and bite.

Going on fishing trips with more experienced anglers will enable you to ask questions and learn how to read water quicker than if you just work it out for yourself.

Fish typically have two aims: eating and avoiding being eaten. Their location in the water will be connected to these two aims. In rivers, this will be places where the fish find good cover, such as overhanging branches to protect them from predatory birds.

In lakes, fish often gather around underwater obstacles, like sunken boats or fallen tree trunks. If you have access to a kayak, you will find it much easier to reach the best locations for fishing.


Just like with baseball or golf, you can’t expect to cast perfectly the first time you pick up a fishing rod. It’s a matter of listening to good advice and practice.

As a beginner, you’ll find casting easiest with a spin cast rod and reel or a spinning rod and reel. You begin with around 6 inches of line hanging from the end of your rod.

Raise the rod tip up and just behind you, then cast forward using your elbow and wrist. Once your rod reaches the vertical, you’ll need to release the line. The momentum of forward motion will then send your lure flying toward the water.

Once your lure hits the water, you’ll need to reel back to tighten the line. The mechanism for releasing the line and reeling back will depend upon the kind of reel you’re using. It’s best to get an experienced angler to demonstrate the action and watch you through your first few casts.


Okay. So, you’ve used the right bait, chosen the right spot, and cast your line into the water. What happens when your bobber bobs?

There are three possible outcomes. You’ll successfully reel in your first fish, the weight and vigorous movement of the fish will break your line, or the fish will spit out your hook. To guarantee the first option, you must do two things: set the hook and play the fish.

Setting the hook

The first thing you’ll need to do is set the hook. This means ensuring that the hook is properly fixed in the fish’s jaw and won’t come loose.

When the bobber bobs, don’t panic. Smoothly point your rod tip up and then pull back. Don’t pull too hard or the hook will rip the fish’s mouth. Conversely, if you don’t pull enough, the hook may slip free. Achieving the correct level of pull is a matter of experience.

Playing the fish

Once you’ve set the hook, the fish still has a good chance of escaping if your line breaks during its struggles. If you attempt to reel in the fish immediately, you tighten the fishing line and make such a break more likely.

The trick is to keep the line taut, so that the hook doesn’t come loose, but not to make it too tight. You need to give the fish time to grow tired before slowly reeling it in. The more tired it is, the less likely it is to move with enough energy to break the line.

Landing your first fish

You don’t have to reel the fish all the way to shore. Once the fish is within arms-length, use your landing net to scoop it out of the water.

If you intend to catch and release, don’t keep the fish out of water for too long. As a guideline, don’t keep it dry for longer than you can hold your own breath. When handling your fish, don’t touch its gills or squeeze its stomach.

Be a good neighbor

Unless you’re shadowing an experienced angler, who tells you to, do not encroach on another person’s fishing spot. Aim to leave at least 50 feet between yourself and other anglers—more in remote and uncrowded areas.

To preserve stocks, don’t ever remove more fish than you are able to use. Also, watch out for local rules. For example, you’ll find many places where live bait is not allowed due to cross-contamination issues.

When you’ve finished for the day, aim to leave no trace of your passing. Preserve the environment for future generations of anglers.

Don’t forget to get a license!

Buying a license to fish is mandatory in most areas. Ensure that the license you’re using is valid in the state where you plan to fish and in date.

Funds generated by fishing licenses are essential to finance conservation projects in many states across the nation. You can obtain a license from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service or fishing stores.

If you plan to fish regularly, annual licenses work out a lot more affordable. Day licenses typically cost $20 but annual licenses between $30 and $150 depending on your state and residency.

Where do you go from here?

Your progress as an angler is a matter of practice and experience. Until you begin fishing, you won’t know what kind of angling you like best or which species of fish you prefer to target. With time, you’ll soon learn what you enjoy most.

But one of the great things about angling is that you can find great fishing spots all around the world. That means you can combine fishing with a trip to Hawai’i, a hike through the Rockies, or a family vacation in Ireland.

Fishing is a way to enhance your vacation experience and meet local people with a mutual interest but a different world of experience. I hope you have fun!

Notice: is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program. earns fees from products sold through qualifying purchases by linking to Amazon offers a commission on products sold through their affiliate links.

Robert Baker

Robert is a content writer and editor at Outside Pursuits where he shares his love for the great outdoors. He also writes in-depth travel blogs for other websites around the world. Robert is passionate about the environment and uses his writing to educate people about the advantages and importance of sustainable living. Robert enjoys creative writing. In 2009, his children’s novel Sally Hemings & the Good Associates won the Children’s Fiction section of the You Write On Book of the Year Award.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button