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Fishing Basics for the Complete Novice (Part One)

Learning some fishing basics could help you survive in an emergency

Fishing—a skill and an art that dates to the earliest recorded time—is both a popular pastime and an excellent survival skill. People have developed various methods for winkling those elusive, delicious fish out of the water ranging from fly-fishing to spearing. In this post we’ll talk about the classic method of fishing using a pole, line, reel, and bait.

We know there’s a lot of fishing experts out there, but if you’ve never been fishing before, here’s an overview on what items you’ll need and some basic skills to know before you go.

This article represents one technique/method for beginning anglers to use based on my own experience, advice from experienced anglers, and from fishing websites. We acknowledge that there are many other ways to fish and other advice for new anglers. We’d love to hear your advice as well in our comments section.

Get a Fishing License

In order to fish, you’ll need a state-issued fishing license. Each state has rules and regulations for fishing that you’ll want to be aware of. Fishing licenses are easier to obtain than you might think.

You can purchase one from a local sporting goods store (I went to Dick’s Sporting Goods) or even from a Walmart with a sporting section. You’ll have the option to buy a one-day pass, week pass, or year pass.

I found that if you’re serious about practicing fishing as a survival skill, the year pass is actually less expensive in the long run and seems to be a better deal, even if you don’t plan on fishing all the time.

You can even purchase a fishing license on your state’s Division of Wildlife Resources website. For other locations, check out TakeMeFishing.org to find out how/where you can get one. Some states even offer free fishing days where you don’t need a license. Check out this chart  to find out when the free fishing days are in your state.

Supplies You’ll Need

Word of Caution:
If you buy a rod that includes fishing line, the line may not be durable. It may tangle easily, get knots, and may make casting your line and reeling in your fish difficult. Store in your tackle box.

Fishing Rod
You can purchase fishing rods that already come equipped with a reel and line. As far as rods go, you want to make sure your rod is flexible, but also durable. According to Fishing League Worldwide, if you’re a beginner, you’ll want to have a “5-5 1/2 foot, two-piece [a rod that can be broken down into two pieces] . . . that’s easy to cast and transport, and will cast light lures.” A light lure is one that won’t have a lot of fancy features on it (feathers, weights, etc.) and won’t weigh down the line (see the section below to learn what a lure is).

If you’re a beginner, I’ve personally found that a spinning reel (see the picture below) is easiest to handle for adults (spincasters with push buttons are easier for children to use). Spinning reels come with a locking mechanism that you simply flip up and down to close and release your line (see the thin silver half circle on the right side of the picture? That’s the locking mechanism. In the picture, the reel is locked.)

Fishing reel

Rich, from Utah Fish Finder, suggests beginners start out with an inexpensive spinning reel combo. He says you can buy a spinning reel from Kmart or a fishing/sporting goods store. Once you are more experienced, you can experiment with different types of reels.

Fishing Line
The type of fishing line you get will vary based on the type of reel you have and the type of fish you’re looking to catch. That’s why it’s good to find out about the type of fish in the reservoir or lake you’ll be fishing in before you go.

When you go down the fishing line aisle there will be a variety of choices. There is line made of monofilament, co-polymer, braided, and fluorocarbon just to name a few.  So how do you know which one to pick?

If you’ve got a two-piece rod, you’ll be equipped for doing light-action fishing. According to Sportsmansguide.com, monofilament lines are “supple for long, easy casts, and few tangles.” It stretches and is durable, so it does not break easily during a fight with a fish. Monafilament is very buoyant, making it perfect for fishing with a bobber.

Word to the wise: A bobber is a plastic bubble you attach to your fishing line just above the hook. A bobber sits on the surface of the water until a fish bites it and pulls it under. It can also keep your bait above the bottom of the lake/pond. Bobbers are good for beginners because they sink when a fish bites your hook. If you see it sink suddenly, you know it’s time to set your hook (aka, yank back on your line) and start reeling in the fish.

Picking your Fishing Line

Rick Tilson, a champion angler, describes each of the different types of lines and what they work best for. If you’re looking for more of a challenge or found that monofilament lines don’t work for you, check out Rick’s informative article. Once you get to know the fish in your lake and talk to more experienced anglers there, you’ll start to learn what type of line works best. You can also visit a local angler website to find out. For more tips on selecting your line, check out noted angler, Babe Winkleman’s article, “Choosing the Right Fishing Line Is and Isn’t Easy.”

Sportsmansguide.com and Fishing League Worldwide both suggest that getting a 10-12 pound monofilament line is a good place to start if you want to catch larger fish in a larger body of water. Beginners, however, will probably want to start in a smaller body of water (think lakes or creeks). If you’re fishing in a lake or creek, you’ll want to use a lighter line, like a 2-6 pound monofilament, because fish in natural environments are typically smaller than fish in reservoirs that are stocked regularly with fish.

What do I mean by Stocked? Usually, in state run parks, park authorities will stock the lake with fish. This means those fish were not born in that lake, but were brought there later on. Since these fish were raised in a more "controlled" environment, they were probably getting fed pretty well--hence, they'd be bigger than fish that had to fend for themselves in the wild.

Stringing Your Fishing Pole

When you get a pole with fishing line included on it, you’ll still have to “thread” the line through each of the “eyelets” on your pole. Make sure you’ve unlocked your reel so that you can have enough line to pull through the loops and still have enough to fish with. If you don’t have a fishing pole with the line already attached, or you want to change out the line on the reel, check out this video on how to put the line onto your reel.

Bait and Lures

Learn about the fish and what type of bait and lures they respond to before you go out on the location (I learned this the hard way.) Talk to other anglers. You may want to visit the lake you’re thinking of fishing at and ask the people who are catching fish what they use. But first, check your state wildlife laws. Some areas do not allow live bait.

Fish LOVE live bait—worms, crickets, maggots, and grasshoppers. It’s a good idea to take a variety of baits with you, both live and non-live bait (Powerbait, salmon eggs, etc.). This way you can test out what works best.

Unlike bait, lures are not alive.They’re either a piece of decorative metal or plastic that you can use to attract fish. Using a lure is a cleaner way to fish. When I caught my first fish, I only used bait so when I pulled my fish in, it was gut hooked (the hook went in too deeply and removing it was tragic for both me and the fish . . .).

Lures are a little more expensive than live bait. They can also cover more water than bait can; it’s easier to lose your bait than a lure if you are moving your line around to attract fish. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s not easy to lose a lure, too.

There are seven main types of lures:

  • Jigs (good for ice fishing)
  • Spinners
  • Spoons
  • Soft plastic baits (think gummy worms)
  • Plugs
  • Spinnerbaits
  • Flies

Spinners are great lures for beginners because they are easy to use: simply cast your line and drag the spinner through the water.

As you pull it through the water, it spins. A spinner is a small piece of metal that may have different colors on it. According to fishingnoob.com, “The spinning motion of the blade creates sound and vibration that can be picked up by fish through their lateral line.” This sound makes the spinner great to use in murky water.

Quick Tip: Bring a cooler full of ice so you can keep your fish fresh (after you gut them) or fresh until you get home, so you can gut them there and store them in your freezer.


Making a Fishing Knot

Once you’ve got your line on, you’ll have to attach your line to the hook. You’ll need to make a fishing knot to make sure your hook stays. There are a variety of knots you can use, but an easy one to start with is a loop knot. It’s good to know how to tie this knot because you’ll need to use it if you want to change out your lures or hooks while fishing. Check out this tutorial on how to make a fishing knot.

Now that your pole’s ready and you’ve got your license and bait, you’re ready to fish. The next thing to learn is how to cast your line. But that’s for another post . . .


For all you experts out there, do you have any advice or tips for beginners?




http://www.sportsmansguide.com/Outdoors/Subject/SubjectRead.aspx?sid=0&aid=166442&type=A http://www.flwoutdoors.com/fishing/fishing101/








6 thoughts on “Fishing Basics for the Complete Novice (Part One)”

  • randy

    When releasing fish too small to keep back into the water, always be sure to dip your hand in water before you handle the fish. Your dry hand can remove mucus (slime) that is on the fishe's skin to protect it from parasites.

  • Kelli McManus

    Excellant article ! If i was a beginner angler i would find this information helpful. When I did start fishing I had to learn some of it on accident ;-)

  • Peter

    For those interested Orem City and DWR do fishing class in the spring for ages up to 12 years old . Check with the Orem rec center for more info

  • sarrah

    Always take a firearm or some form of self-defense with you! This is not Norman Rockwell’s America any longer.

  • Jay Williams Smith
    Jay Williams Smith November 10, 2015 at 8:00 am

    This info is great, but if you want to know more about fishing lure types follow the link http://akfishinglures.com/

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