Fishing is so much more than a wonderful way to spend time in nature. It’s also incredibly satisfying when you finally get a catch! So if you’ve just started stocking your tackle box, we walk you through everything you need to know to start reeling in like a pro. Read on, or jump to where you want to start first:
Making sure your day is a success begins with safety first. Prioritizing this means you won’t have to worry about sunburns or hunger calling your day short. Even if you plan on a short trip, don’t forget the following:
Check the forecast before you head out. Wear weather-appropriate clothing to keep you comfortable. Don’t forget plenty of sunscreen and bug spray. It’s also a good idea to pack backup clothing for two reasons:
Refer to our fishing checklist to make sure you've packed everything you need!
Staying healthy and hydrated is key to a great day of fishing. Plus, a camping hot dog can be used for bait in a pinch! Lugging a spare cooler for snacks and water becomes even more essential for those extra-long fishing trips in the hot sun.
Even something small with a few essentials — like bandaids and Dramamine — will go a long way. Fishing involves handling small hooks as well as live fish who may be able to nip at your fingers. When you’re at a more remote lake, first aid or emergency help may be lacking when you need it most.
You’ll make several of your most important decisions right at home. Not all rods, reels, and tackle are interchangeable. The more intentional you are with your preparation, the better organized your fishing trip will be.
Knowing your ideal location ahead of time helps narrow down what you’ll need to buy and bring with you. Freshwater versus saltwater gear drastically. So do the types of rods and reels you’d use inshore and offshore. As for the actual spot you’ll cast? The best ones are often heard through the grapevine. Ask around or call ahead to find out all about them!
Generally, the bigger the body of water you fish in requires a bigger pole. This rule-of-thumb applies to your line and hooks, too. Beginners should start with smaller bodies.
Fish early, or fish late. Fish typically eat the most in the mornings and evenings. They also tend to stay quiet in the middle of the day. That’s not to say you can’t fish all day long! Just don’t expect as many bites at high noon.
Where you fish also determines what you are fishing. Doing some research into the particular species ahead of time sets you up for success! You’ll likely need slightly different gear for the various species you plan to catch. Once you gather info about your game, you can shop for the best rod, reel, lures, and/or bait for the job.
If you’re hoping to catch bass, you’ll want to use minnow-like bait. Fishing for walleye? They’ll usually hang out in weed beds or around rocky bottom structures.
Once you’ve zeroed in on the species you’re fishing for, you can decide the best type of bait and lures to bring. If you’re fishing with artificial lures, you’ll need to move your rod and line in a way that makes your lure mimic live bait in a natural way to get the attention of unsuspecting fish.
You’ll benefit from practicing everything from tying lines to casting on land before the lake (or sea). The way you knot your lure will affect the way they swim as will the weights you attach. Practicing your casting in an open grassy area, especially fly fishing, means you can get a feel for the technique long before you’re in or on the water.
Now that you know what you’re fishing for, you can build your kit around what you want to catch. Here are some tips for stocking your tackle box with purpose and avoiding unnecessary expenses:
Beginners won’t need ‘top-of-the-line’ gear in every category. Splurge where it matters. Based on what and where you fish, the following gear is everything you need to get started:
Rod and Reel: A spinning rod and reel combo is perfect for beginners. It’s sold together and easier to set up. They also allow you to cast a long distance with a light lure and are one of the more affordable options.
Lures: A Zoom 6” Trick Worm is a great beginner’s lure. They are easy to stick on a hook and don’t require any special knots.
Hooks: Keep your fishing hooks simple and multi-purpose. It should be an all-purpose hook that holds bait as easily as it ties it to your line.
Lines: We recommend a monofilament fishing line to start since it can hold its weight. It’ll be strong enough to reel in all sorts of different varieties of fish. It’s also very manageable and easy to tie hooks with.
Hook Sharpeners: Make your hooks look brand new with a hook sharpener. You’ll catch a lot more fish than you will with old ones.
Tackle boxes are a classic, durable, and waterproof option. Tackle bags and backpacks are also great alternatives for hauling even more gear. Choose an option that has sturdy straps and latches as well as several compartments.
Before leaving for your fishing trip, practice your knot tying! You likely won’t be a pro at this for a little while. But the more you do this, you’ll begin to feel more comfortable. When you lose a fish you’ve just hooked, more often than not it's because your knot fails. Prevention and patience can help keep your catch hooked.
Although the most successful fishing trips start at home, here are a few things to keep in mind while reeling (or waiting to reel) them in.
Consider using a fish finder. While skilled anglers can actually catch what they can’t see, you might need some extra help. Think about adding a fish finder to your kit! They’re so much more useful than you’d think for knowing what’s under the water (and where), water depths, and other cool features.
Don’t have your own boat? Attach a castable fish finder to the end of your line and cast it out to get a closer look at what’s beneath the water.
Patience is just part of the sport! If you’re not catching anything, you’re likely not doing anything wrong. Don’t head home empty-handed. Try a new spot on the water, a rig, or new bait. Once you’re home, reassess your prep work, what’s working well, and what isn’t.
Fishing requires a lot of trial and error — even for the most seasoned pros!
Start simple with live worms and PowerBait. Fish are smart. Even if you’re squeamish or sensitive to using live bait, local bait shops usually have frozen options that still make a difference!
Worms are a natural food source for many types of fish. They release enticing smells when they wriggle on your hook.
PowerBait is a moldable, man-made substance that achieves this same effect — minus the wriggling.
Whenever possible, head to the local bait shop. They’ll have the best selection of live bait and will know better than anyone what the fish are biting that day.
If you’ve done your research ahead of time, you’ll also know which lures to use in (and around) the weeds or at the top of the water. Lures are also better if you’re planning on catch-and-release.
Fish are less likely to swallow the whole hook, which makes it easier to get them off your line and safely back in the water.
You can use this ‘rule’ to help you learn about which type of lure is best. When in doubt, go for something shiny with feathers — or anything wormlike. Fish love worms, after all!
Some fishing spots only allow you to fish with artificial bait and lures. Make sure to check for any restrictions ahead of time so you’re prepared.
If you stock up your tackle box, you won’t have to be restricted to one tactic or strategy! Modify your lures, rig, knots, hooks, and even casting styles depths until you find where the fish are.
Be flexible. You may get out on the water and find that you have to change plans — and even locations. Experimentation often rewards determined anglers! This is also the best way to get a feel for fishing!
To fully troubleshoot any weak points in your cast or reel in, consider keeping a journal to document a few things. Record your progress with the following:
If the bite gets slow, you can reference this journal to see what successful tactics you used in the past. You’ll also have the benefit of documenting your journey and progress should you ever want to pass this info on or down to someone in your family later on!
Don’t worry about getting your line wet. Instead, focus on your family. Be patient. Help the kids cast their lines, bait their hooks, and remove fish from their hooks. They’ll grow into better anglers as they get older or fish more frequently.
When you fish with small children, have fun first! Kids may see the water and want to play. The fish swimming close to the surface may also interest them more than learning the technical things required to properly fish. Make it a positive, fun family experience. Take lots of pictures, and keep things lighthearted.
Think beyond the fish. Let kids explore the water, catch crawfish, collect rocks, and splash around nearby — even if this means not catching fish as that will likely scare them away.
As tempting as it may be for the adults, large fish are often harder to catch. At the very least, they’ll most certainly demand more robust fishing gear than you may have. Nothing spoils the fun of a fishing trip quicker than a snapped rod! Fish small. Bluegill and crappie, for example, are just two easier-to-catch species that tend to bite more often.
Make sure all the kids leave any portable devices at home. These often take away from the group’s fun. The best fishing experience is one without the distraction of these screens. You’ll also completely avoid potentially replacing a tablet that accidentally falls to the bottom of the lake!
Capitalize on everyone’s undivided attention. Getting everyone involved helps to keep from anyone being bored. You may have someone in your family squeamish about touching fish. Give everyone a simple, entertaining responsibility. This keeps them involved with the rest of the family.
Now that you know our expert’s favorite fishing tips, you’re ready to hit the water! These will give you a good foundation to start your fishing journey. Still not sure if you’re fully prepared? Check out our guide covering the essentials you need in fishing equipment and gear. Have fun out there!