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Fishing Tips For Beginners: The Ultimate Guide For New Anglers

If you’re new to fishing, you may feel overwhelmed by all the new terminology and the variety of gear. And you may be at a loss for any idea about how and where to find fish beyond your local grocery store! Sounds like you need some fishing tips.

That’s to be expected as a beginner, and it’s nothing to be ashamed about. Every angler started somewhere, and we’re a friendly bunch, ready to help.

To get you started on your fishing journey, we’ve put together this guide on fishing tips for beginners explaining the basics of fishing in easy to understand language. It’s a great place to start if you’re beginner, or if you just need a refresher on the basics.

So keep reading!

Environmental Awareness and Fishing Etiquette

You wouldn’t toss your napkin on the floor of a restaurant, elbow your way to the front of the line at a grocery store, or bring your own food to dinner with your in-laws, and there are rules of behavior that are just as respected in the world of fishing.

Generally speaking, obey the Golden Rule and all will be well: treat other anglers (and Mother Nature) as you would want to be treated.

Let’s break that down into some specific etiquette tips:

Always help your fishing buddies when they need bait, get thirsty, get hungry, or have a fish on the line!

This may sound like common friendship and courtesy, but you’d be surprised how often these simple kindnesses are neglected. If you’re bringing something cold to drink, pack enough for your fishing buddy. Ditto on lunch, sunscreen, and other basics.

And when your companion hooks a fish, do the right thing: reel your line in and give him a hand with the net.

Always make space for others, and ask before you fish anywhere nearby.

However big the cove, sea wall, beach, or pier, it’s a sign of a well-mannered angler to ask for permission to fish near someone who’s already there. Never crowd other anglers, and if you need to ask if you’re too close, you are!

100 yards or so is a sensible minimum for boats. If you’re close enough to talk, you need to ask permission to be there.

Always slow down for shore anglers, kayaks, and small boats.

You may not notice your wake, but I can promise you that a kayaker will!

Remember, not everyone’s on the water to fish, but their enjoyment is no less important than yours–and they have the same rights to the water as you.

Always be courteous when you pass swimmers, recreational boaters, or shore anglers. It’ll go a long way toward maintaining a good reputation for sportsmen and anglers.

Never leave trash, and pick up any you see, and never leak oil or gasoline into the water–not even a drop!

If you want to see your children and grandchildren enjoying the water, conservation is key.

Never transport water from one location to another.

This isn’t something you might have considered, but that bucket of water from your local pond can bring a host of microorganisms, aquatic invertebrates, and fish fry with it, introducing new species where they don’t belong.

Many localities have hard and fast laws about this, and most bait stores need a license for their water, allowing it to be transported with the baitfish.

As an example, Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources requires a three-step process:

  1. CLEAN all visible aquatic plants, zebra mussels, and other prohibited invasive species from watercraft, trailers, and water-related equipment before leaving any water access or shoreland.
  2. DRAIN water-related equipment (boat, ballast tanks, portable bait containers, motor) and drain bilge, livewell, and baitwell by removing drain plugs before leaving a water access or shoreline property. Keep drain plugs out and water-draining devices open while transporting watercraft.
  3. DISPOSE of unwanted bait in the trash, including minnows, leeches, and worms. It is illegal to release bait into a waterbody or release aquatic animals from one waterbody to another. If you want to keep your bait, you must refill the bait container with bottled or tap water.

This is a serious issue, and every angler needs to do their part in keeping species where they belong!

Always know the legal limits (and how to determine them!)

It’s not enough to get a fishing license–you need to know the legal limits for each species.

Whether that’s a question of how many fish you can keep or how big they need to be, we recommend that you carry the necessary information and a measuring device with you every time you go out.

It’s also important that you know how to measure each species, and this video from Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is a great place to start:

Fishing Tips, Tricks, and Techniques You Need to Know

Fishing Knots

New anglers might not realize just how important the right knot, tied well, really is. But the strongest line, sharpest hook, and best rod and reel are nothing if your knot can’t hold!

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of popular knots, but you can get by with just three at first.

Let’s take a look at each, explain its uses, and teach you how to tie them.

The Palomar Knot

The Palomar knot works well with any line type, as it creates tremendous friction with itself. With good mono, you can approach (and sometimes exceed) the line’s maximum break strength, which is simply incredible performance from any knot.

The Palomar is a great choice for attaching hooks, sinkers and weights, and any lure that’s small and single-hooked. It’s essential for the drop shot rig, and you’ll find it generally useful as it’s fast and easy to tie well.

You can use it to tie larger, treble-hooked lures, too, but as one step involves passing a loop over the entire thing, that can get tricky.

If you do choose to run braid or a fluorocarbon leader, the Palomar holds well in these lines.

Here’s how to tie it:

Palomar Fishing Knot

  1. Double-over your line and pass it through the eye. Make sure to double 6-8 inches of line.
  2. Bring your doubled tag end back to your doubled main.
  3. Tie a simple overhand by passing your doubled tag over and through the doubled main.
  4. Pass the doubled tag line over the entire lure or hook.
  5. Wet your knot and gently cinch it down.

The Uni Knot

The Uni is a staple knot that every angler should know. Easy and fast to tie, it’s very strong, and extremely versatile.

Useful for attaching pretty much anything to the end of your line (including your reel), it’s a knot you’ll tie often.

Without modification, the Uni holds well in mono and fluorocarbon, but may come loose in braid.

Here’s how to tie it:

uni knot

  1. Pass your tag end through the eye and form a loop back toward your lure or hook.
  2. Wrap the tag end around both the main and tag lines 5 to 7 times.
  3. Wet your knot and gently cinch it down

The Double Uni Knot

The Double Uni is the best knot I know for attaching mono to mono or mono to fluoro. If you’re new to angling, you may not realize just how much you’ll be doing that!

When you fish for big fish in challenging conditions, your main line may not be able to take the punishment of rocks, pillings, piers, and other underwater debris. But you don’t want to run super-heavy main line, as this causes problems of its own.

Instead, savvy anglers reach for a 2- to 3-foot length of leader–much higher test line like 50- or 60-pound mono or fluoro. That provides the toughness you need where it counts.

To attach a leader, the Double Uni is king.

Here’s how to tie it:

Double Uni Knot

  1. Run the two lines you want to connect next to each other, and overlap them at least 6 inches. Make a loop with the tag end of one, and run the tag end over itself and the other line 3 to 4 times.
  2. Wet your knot and gently cinch it down.
  3. Repeat this process with the second line.
  4. Gently pull both wet knots together.

How To Spool Line Properly

Before you can hit the water, you’ll need to spool line onto your reel. An essential step, this needs to be done correctly or you’ll have trouble casting later.

Spinning Reels

On a spinning reel, start with the bail open.

Pass the tag end of your line around the spool, and using the Uni knot, secure your line to the spool. Trim the tag end to about ½ inch. Close the spool, begin reeling, and the bail and spool should begin taking line.

Simply place the plastic spool of line on the ground, label-side up, and reel until the line collects on your reel to approximately ⅛ inch from the outer edge of the spool lip.

spool fishing line on spinning reel

This spool is properly filled. Any more or less will affect casting performance.

You’re not done there, though.

Now, open the bail and feed line through each of the guides. Loop your line over a branch or other object, and holding the end of the line and your rod and reel, start walking.

Keep going until your line is completely unspooled.

Holding the line gently to create slight pressure, re-spool your line. As you do, you’ll notice your line twisting and writhing. That freedom to move is allowing it to lose some of its memory and lie as flat as possible on your spool.

Try this tip and your casting distance will improve!

Baitcasting and Conventional Reels

Start by feeding the tag end through the eye of your levelwind. If your spool has holes, feed the tag end through the spool and out the other side.

Using a Uni knot, secure your line around the spool, trimming the tag end to about ½ inch.

Place the plastic spool on the ground, label-side up. Use your fingers to create a bit of pressure, and crank line onto your spool. This will improve the lay of your line.

 Fill the spool until about ⅛ inch from the edge of the spool where it meets the frame.

baitcasting reel spool

⅛ inch from the edge: this is a fully loaded spool.

Setting Your Drag

Strong lines and hard-fighting rods work in concert with the drag setting on your reel to tire big fish and soften stress on your tackle.

A good rule of thumb is that you should set your drag to ⅓ of the breaking test of your line, meaning that 10-pound line needs a drag setting of roughly 3 pounds.

The best way to be sure is to tie your line to a scale and pull. Adjust your drag until it starts to release at the ideal weight.

Once you get used to pulling line out by hand at the right drag setting, you’ll be able to skip the scale.

How To Set Up a Baitcasting Reel

To cast properly and avoid backlashes and bird’s nests, you’ll need to set up your baitcasting reel.

Once you’ve spooled your line on properly, as we explain above, you need to set the braking system to its lightest possible position. Reel manufacturers use different systems, so there’s no one-size-fits-all instruction.

Now, you’ll need to set your spool tension.

Tie on a lure that you intend to cast.

Then, standing with your rod held at about 30 degrees from your body, release the spool. Set the tension so that the lure falls slowly to the ground (roughly 2 to 3 seconds, or 3 to 4 if you’re a true beginner).

Next, return to the brakes and set them to maximum. This will shorten your casting distance considerably, but it will allow you to get the hang of casting without unmanageable knots.

Casting Tips

Whichever reel option you pick, you’ll need to spend time mastering the cast.

The best way is to find a nice open area, tie on a bullet sinker of the appropriate weight for your rod, and give it a go. A lot this art is about timing–releasing the line at just the right moment to send your lure along a shallow, long parabolic arc.

You might start with a few casts just to get a feel for your rod and reel, but very soon, you’ll want to work on accuracy.

Tips I find help new anglers include:

  • Practice in the wind As much as you’d like it to be calm when you cast, practice when conditions aren’t ideal to get the hang of it.
  • Keep a close eye on your rod’s limitationsPretty much every rod has clearly marked line and lure weights. If you exceed this range, casting will suffer!
  • Use two hands There’s nothing like leverage, and for long casts, using your off-hand as the power and your strong hand as the fulcrum delivers best.
  • Master a variety of techniques From side-arm to overhand, underhanded slings to shooting, you’ll need a variety of techniques to get your lures to where they count most.

Check out our in depth guide for casting tips and techniques!

Structure and Cover: Where Will You Find Fish?

The ideal time of day, conditions, and location varies from species to species, but there are some rules of thumb that hold true for most fish:

  • Low lightMost species of fish will most actively feed during the 90 minutes surrounding dawn and dusk, and low-light conditions like heavy cloud cover are also prime-times for fishing.
  • Points and drop-offsPredatory fish like to hunt places where there’s a steep change in topography, allowing them access to deeper water as well as shallows where prey are likely to seek cover.
  • Live weed bedsLive weed beds are among the most productive locations for anglers, as they hold prey items and the cover they need to hide. You can work the tops of these weeds as well as their sides.
  • Any change on the bottomAny unusual feature is likely to hold fish. A hole in an otherwise flat bottom, or a hump in the same conditions, a brush pile, a large rock–the possibilities are endless. But the idea is to find a feature that stands out.

When you do, you’ll find the fish.

Gearing-Up for Fishing

You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars getting ready for the water, and good tackle isn’t always expensive. That said, as in other areas of life, you typically get what you pay for.

But beyond a reasonable price point, every dollar you spend doesn’t purchase another dollar of performance.

What you’re looking for are products that deliver the most bang for your buck, not necessarily the flashiest gear money can buy. But when you’re just starting your angling adventures, it can be tough to see through the advertising hype and really drill down to what matters.

Fishing Reels 

Many new anglers aren’t sure about the different kinds of tackle, and they’re often confused about whether they should start with spinning tackle, pick up a spincaster, or jump right into baitcasting rods and reels.

Check out our buying guide for the best fishing reels.

That can be a tough choice, and there are strengths and weaknesses to consider no matter which option you pick.

Spincasting Reels

Pros:

  • Very easy to use
  • Shield your line from the elements

Cons:

  • Drag can’t compete with other designs
  • Durability isn’t great
  • Casting distance is inferior to other designs

Spincasting reels are entirely enclosed, housing the spool behind a metal or plastic shroud. This has some advantages, as your line is protected from harmful UV light that will degrade it over time, and you’re also much less likely to end up with a tangle when casting in the wind.

spincast reel with button

Spincasting reels cover the spool.

Spincasting reels use a button or trigger to actuate the take-up pins and allow you to cast. Essentially, these pins replace the bail on a spinning reel, but they’re not as robust and tend to wear out over time.

spincast reel with star wheel dragspincast reel with internal drag system

The reel on the left uses a button; the one on the right sports a trigger. Both are spincasters.

This push-button design is simple and intuitive, making it probably the easiest to use. Indeed, most anglers probably began their fishing careers with a Zebco spincaster, and they make a great choice for true novices.

Spincasting reels typically have a dial just above the button to control drag settings. While easy to reach, this type of drag system tends to be both weaker and less reliable than that found on spinning and baitcasting reels.

If there’s a more tried and tested spincasting reel than the venerable Zebco 33, I don’t know what it is, and this reel has proven itself over the years on everything from panfish to speckled trout. You can chalk that up to ceramic take-up pins and metal gearing, both of which allow this reel to do its thing season after season.

Please note that spincasting reels with a push button are meant to be paired with casting rods, but those with a trigger will need a spinning rod.

The difference is where the reel rides the rod: on top (casting) or below (spinning).

Spinning Reels

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Casts well in the wind
  • Excellent drag systems

Cons:

  • Not as durable as baitcasters and conventional reels
  • Casting distance will suffer with line over 10-pound mono diameter

Spinning reels come in a variety of sizes, from ultralights designed for panfish and trout all the way up to monster reels intended to tame striped bass and reds.

Generally, spinning reels are at their best with line of less than 10-pound monofilament diameter, since their basic design creates friction as you step up in line weight.

The spool on a spinning reel turns as you crank, but when you cast, your line must slip past its large retaining lip. Larger lines create greater friction as they do, generally decreasing casting distance.

spinning reel spool

The lip on a spinning spool creates friction with the line.

That said, spinning reels have many advantages, even when long casts are essential. 

Their design works well in the wind, and you’ll have virtually no trouble if you’re surf casting in a stiff breeze or hunting big catfish on a windy evening. They’re relatively easy to cast, as well, and pretty much anyone can learn to cast in just a few minutes. They sport excellent drag systems that provide direct pressure on the spool, meaning that they’re powerful as well as reliably smooth.

kastking spinning reels

A typical spinning reel. Note the bail and drag knob on the end of the spool.

Quality spinning reels typically locate the drag knob on the end of the spool, where it can apply direct pressure. By turning that knob, you can tighten or release the drag very quickly, and it’s easy to set properly.

One of our favorite spinning reels is the Cadence CS8. Available in sizes to fit pretty much any fish and situation, it’s a tough reel to beat, though companies like Pflueger, Shimano, and Penn also make very good spinning reels.

All spinning reels will require a spinning rod, so keep that in mind as you select your tackle!

Baitcasting and Conventional Reels

Pros:
  • Very durable
  • Excellent distance casting
  • Excellent drag systems
Cons: 
  • Challenging to learn to use
  • Casting suffers with light lines

Baitcasting and conventional reels come into their own when you need to use heavier line. By design, they have a spool that spins as freely as possible, and larger line sizes don’t encounter greater friction as they do with spinning reels.

The downside of this is that light lines don’t cast particularly well with baitcasting reels, and knots and backlashing are common.

tangled baitcasting reel

This really is as bad as it looks!

Generally speaking, baitcasting reels are more expensive than their spinning rivals, and that extra money translates into greater durability, smoother operation, and more precise, consistent drag settings.

Baitcasters typically mount the star drag knob directly beneath the crank, where it can be controlled precisely on the fly. Because these systems apply direct pressure to the spool, and because they’re so mechanically simple, powerful, silky-smooth control is possible.

baitcasting reel anatomy

Once you know what to look for, the differences between spinning and baitcasting reels are easy to see.

To cast a baitcaster, a bit of practice is necessary. After setting up your reel–a process we’ll discuss below–you place your thumb on the spool, depress the spool release, cast, and arrest the spool with your thumb.

That’s as complicated as it sounds, and though you get the hang of it with time, it’s tough to get right at first.

But once you do master a baitcaster, it’s hard to go back!

Some of our favorites include Shimano’s Curado K, Daiwa’s Tatula CT Type-R, and KastKing’s Kapstan Elite. Each is a fantastic option if suited to your conditions and experience–and the fish you’re after.

Conventional reels are baitcasters on steroids, and they’re designed for big fish and hard fights.

conventional and trolling reels

This Penn Squall Levelwind is a tough reel that’s designed for tuna, shark, tarpon, and other large game fish.

Conventional reels feature the same controls as baitcasters, just placed on larger, stronger frames and much bigger spools. We really like the reels from Penn, including the Squall and Fathom series, and you can be sure that they have what it takes to win the fight of your life offshore.

Fishing Rods

Check out our buying guide on the best fishing rods.

Matching rods to reels

Rods need to match the reels you intend to fit them with.

The difference is pretty elementary once you know what to look for: are the reel seat and guides above or below the rod?

spinning rod vs casting rod

If they’re above, it’s a casting rod. If they’re below, you’ve got a spinning reel.

There are some other differences, too–things like guide size and handle styles, but if you’re just getting started, what you really need to know is that:

  • spinning reels fit spinning rods
  • spincasting reels with a thumb button fit casting rods
  • spincasting reels with a trigger fit spinning rods
  • baitcasting and conventional reels fit casting rods

Check out our article on spinning vs casting rods!

Rod Power and Action Explained

Power

Power describes how much force is required to bend a rod. Together with its action, a rod’s power tells you a lot about how it will perform.

A rod’s power is determined by the material from which it’s constructed and the amount of that material present in cross-section (taper). It’s also affected by the length of the rod, with shorter lengths of the same material and taper being stiffer than longer lengths.

Ultralight

Ultralight rods are designed to provide the ultimate in sensitivity and excitement, increasing the feel of small fish on your line. Designed primarily for panfish species like sunfish, bluegill, crappie, and perch, they can also be used by experienced anglers to catch large- and small-mouth bass and trout.

Ultralight rods will bend easily under even modest weights, providing very little control should you hook a large fish. This can lead to an intense test of an angler’s skills with anything larger than a panfish.

But don’t get the wrong idea–ultralight rods are still plenty strong!

Ultralight rods are typically matched to tiny spinning reels, lines in the neighborhood of 2 to 8 pounds, and very light lures (typically as light as 1/32 of an ounce).

We recommend ultralight rods for:

  • Panfish of all kinds
  • Small- and largemouth bass in the hands of experienced anglers
  • Trout in the hands of experienced anglers
Light

Light rods are a step up in power from ultralight. This makes them an excellent choice for panfish, but also allows them to handle small-mouth and trout–and the currents they’re known to prefer!

Probably a better all-around choice than ultralights for less experienced anglers, they provide more control over struggling fish while still offering the sensitivity to detect nibbling panfish.

Light rods usually work best with line between 4 and 8 pounds and are almost always paired with small spinning reels. Typical lure weights vary, but a range between 1/32 and ¼ ounces is common. 

We recommend light rods for:

  • Panfish of all kinds
  • Smallmouth bass and trout
Medium-light

Medium-light rods are the sweet spot in power, allowing you to fish many different techniques and species well.

From crappie to perch, bluegill to trout, you’ve got the power to wrestle even the biggest of these species with authority, current or no current. And with good technique, experienced anglers can tackle walleye, too.

And as a finesse rod for largemouth applications like weightless senkos and drop shotting, it’s very hard to beat.

Medium-light rods are often paired with light- to medium-sized spinning reels, but you’ll find baitcasting rods with this power rating, too. Typical line weights run from 4 to 10 pounds, with lure weights in the 1/16 to 5/16 ounce neighborhood.

We recommend medium-light rods for:

  • Panfish of all kinds
  • Smallmouth bass and trout
  • Finesse techniques for largemouth
  • Walleye in the hands of experienced anglers
Medium

Medium-powered rods are a common sight in both saltwater and freshwater, as they have the strength and backbone to muscle substantial fish. Indeed, in shorter lengths and tough material like fiberglass, you’ll find anglers using them to troll for tuna, wahoos, sailfish, sharks, and other large species.

Medium rods are great for a variety of applications, from running crankbaits and jerkbaits, to yo-yoing swimbaits off the bottom. Great with live bait, too, there’s not much they can’t do–making them an extremely popular all-around choice.

They also provide the backbone you need to muscle larger, stronger fish like red drum, largemouth, walleye, and striped bass–pretty much any species that maxes out around 20 pounds.

Popular line weights range from 6 to 12 pounds or so, with lures between ¼ and ¾ ounces being common.

We recommend medium rods for:

  • Inshore fishing
  • Surf casting
  • Freshwater species like walleye
  • Treble-hooked largemouth bass techniques like crankbaits and jerkbaits
Medium-heavy

Medium-heavy rods have serious power, allowing anglers to muscle massive fish and drive single hooks firmly home. Very stiff, they’re often used by largemouth anglers for techniques that demand a firm hookset like worms and other soft plastics.

When composed of fiberglass, they can be very, very tough, making them a popular choice offshore, as well as for anglers chasing freshwater species like pike, lake trout, and steelhead.

And when tapered just right, bass anglers who like crankbaits–and who doesn’t?–find that they provide just enough cushion to keep those treble hooks where they belong.

This is also a popular power for surf fishing and inshore applications, especially when larger species are the target. From giant rays to big sharks, you’ll have the backbone to turn the fight to your advantage.

Typical line weights run from 10 to 20 or more pounds, and you should expect to cast lures no lighter than ⅜ of an ounce.

We recommend medium-heavy rods for:

  • Inshore fishing
  • Surf casting
  • Large freshwater species like pike and lake trout
  • Treble-hooked largemouth bass techniques like crankbaits and jerkbaits
Heavy

Heavy rods are as stiff and strong as they come, and they’re designed for the largest, meanest fish out there, or to provide an instant, powerful hookset on largemouth bass.

Expect backbone like steel, incredible control in a fight, and strength that just won’t quit.

In shorter lengths, heavy rods are a good choice for shark, grouper, tarpon, and other massive saltwater species. They’re also popular for lake trout and trophy pike.

In longer lengths, they’re a common choice for a variety of largemouth applications like flipping and pitching, as well as worm fishing with single hooks. Expect instantaneous hooksets, especially with braided line.

Heavy rods are typically built for line above 12 pounds, though lure size varies with the specific application.

 We recommend heavy rods for:

  • Offshore fishing
  • Freshwater species like lake trout
  • Single-hooked largemouth bass techniques like flipping, pitching, and worming
Action

A rod’s action describes where along its length it will begin to bend under load. Fast action rods are stiff for most of their length, bending near the tip. By contrast, slow action rods begin to give closer to the handle and reel seat, curving over a much greater percentage of their length.

Extra-fast and fast

Extra-fast and fast rods–of whatever power–preserve stiffness through most of the length of the rod. This provides better sensitivity at the tip, improves hookset, and allows anglers to impart better action to most lures.

Moderate fast

Moderate fast rods allow a bit more flex than faster options, offering some cushion for hooksets–often a desirable trait with crankbaits and jerkbaits. This can prevent anglers from snatching a sharp treble-hook clear of a fish’s mouth, and it still provides plenty of sensitivity at the tip.

Moderate

Moderate rods allow a nearly parabolic arc, bending the rod over most of its length. That often contributes to toughness, while preserving enough strength to muscle big fish. And while not ideal for hooksets for applications like soft baits, for treble-hooked lures and situations where durability is a priority, this can be a good choice.

Slow

Slow rods are usually composed of forgiving fiberglass, and they’re designed to bend along almost all of their length. Sometimes chosen for their performance with crankbaits, they offer a cushioned hookset that lets a lure hang in the mouth of a fish for just a second, improving connections.

describes power and action

Guides

Guide quality is essential on most rods, especially as you move up in power. 

Guides have two main purposes: they protect your line from friction, and they distribute force over the length of the blank. In both cases, more is almost always better than fewer, as more points of contact reduce the stress at any one point on both line and rod. (On spinning reels, they also help channel line from the spool, which is why you’ll find a large “stripper guide” nearest the reel on most spinning rods.)

Typically, you want one guide per foot of the rod, plus one.

There are some notable exceptions to this rule, specifically surfcasting rods.

When surf casting, more guides can reduce casting distance–perhaps the most important job the rod has. As a result, you’ll find fewer guides on rods designed for surf fishing.

But for most rods, most of the time, guide quality is not a point for compromise.

Guide material

Guides are attached to your rod via feet, and they’re secured with adhesives and some form of wrapping.

Three things are important here:

  • the guides need to be securely attached,
  • the guides need to be strong enough to take some abuse, and
  • the guides need to be corrosion resistant.

A common material for quality guides is stainless steel. It’s strong, it’s rugged, and it resists corrosion. Premium guides may also include an insert made from ceramic, further reducing friction.

Blank Material

Modern fishing rods can be made from a variety of materials, including carbon fiber, graphite, and fiberglass. Some feature composite construction, using more than one material in the blank that provides their backbone.

Graphite

Graphite is a common blank material, providing strength, stiffness, and light weight in a single package. Usually described with the word “modulus,” fishing blanks that have higher modulus numbers are–diameter to diameter–stiffer than those with lower numbers.

Graphite also provides excellent sensitivity, a hallmark of high stiffness.

But graphite’s weakness is brittleness, and when pushed too far, it tends to crack and break.

Fiberglass

Fiberglass is older rod technology, but that doesn’t mean it’s not excellent rod tech.

Fiberglass rods tend to be heavy, just like fiberglass boats, and inch to inch, foot to foot, they’ll weigh more than the other options. That said, fiberglass blanks can be very flexible and amazingly tough at the same time. They can also be extremely rigid in short, tubular lengths, making them an ideal option for offshore trolling rods.

Where fiberglass doesn’t shine is sensitivity or fast actions (except in very short lengths). It’s just not as stiff as other options.

Carbon Fiber

Carbon fiber is space-age tech, taking everything good about graphite and raising it up a level. Extremely stiff, amazingly strong, and surprisingly light, it’s a great choice for blank material.

Carbon fiber is sensitive to impacts, and a hard whack on a piling or boat can damage your rod.

It’s also extremely expensive, as you’d expect!

Composites

Some rod manufacturers combine materials in an effort to wring the best from each of them. One common example is a graphite core–providing stiffness and strength–around which fiberglass is then wrapped–offering flexibility and toughness.

When done well, these composite rods perform very nicely.

Length

Rod length matters.

Generally speaking, the longer the rod, the further it will cast. And generally speaking, the shorter the rod, the more accurately it will cast.

A good place to start is 6’6” to 7’. That’s the sweet spot of distance and accuracy: any shorter, and you’ll lose range; any longer and accuracy will suffer.

Handle

Much about which handle to choose is a personal decision, and what’s comfortable to me may be misery for you. There are two primary handle materials you’ll find on rods: cork and EVA foam.

Cork

Cork is a natural material that’s warm to the touch and just soft enough to provide a firm, comfortable grip. Premium-grade cork is attractive, too, and though not as durable as synthetics, it can take a beating.

EVA foam

EVA foam is a synthetic material that provides a soft grip. A bit colder to the touch than cork, it’s generally more inexpensive and durable.

Rubber shrink tubing 

Rubber shrink tubing is an excellent choice for surf rods. No-slip, it provides grip as well as continuously uninterrupted territory for your hands. It’s durable, long-lasting, and relatively inexpensive, too.

Line

Three types of line are available to anglers: nylon monofilament, braided superline, and fluorocarbon. You’ll find that there’s a lot of advertising hype and myth surrounding their comparison, probably to justify higher prices and “new” products.

But the truth is that most of the time, mono is the best pick. For anglers new to the sport, it’s an especially solid choice as it performs well in most respects.

Mono is composed of a single strand of tough nylon, giving it amazing resistance to abrasion. It also ties really easily and holds well, something we just can’t say about the other two options. That doesn’t mean that braid and fluoro don’t have a place in anyone’s fishing arsenal, but rather that mono’s strengths make it appropriate for 90% of your fishing needs.

That makes it good for pros, too, and savvy anglers know that they can depend on mono.

Our favorite monofilaments are Stren Original and Trilene Big Game. They both cast and knot well, offer incredible toughness, and stretch to absorb sudden shocks from big fish.

We’ve debunked line myths and explained the pros and cons of each option before. If you want to go in-depth, take a look at our myth-busting article on the best fishing line.

Hooks

Hooks are the business-end of fishing, and understanding why and how they work means more than knowing which is the pointy end!

They come in a range of sizes and shapes to suit a variety of techniques.

fishing hook sizes

Common hook sizes range from 15 to 9/0.

Hook sizing can seem confusing at first. The larger single numbers are smaller–but larger numbers over a 0 are bigger. For example, the smallest common hook size is 15; the largest is 9/0.

eagle claw hook size chart

Treble hooks use the same sizing system.

The basic parts of a hook are the:

Eye – The eye of a hook is the point where it’s tied to your line. Eyes come from the factory in three configurations: turned up, turned down, or straight. These different configurations change how force applied to the eye orients the point.

Shank – This is the length of the hook between the eye and the throat. Shanks come in different gauges of wire. Obviously, thinner gauges will bend more easily, and as we’ll explain in a moment, that’s not always a bad thing!

For now, keep in mind that longer shanks are generally easier to remove from a fish’s mouth, and they allow longer live bait options with some styles of rigging. 

When the shank features a few barbs to help hold a worm in place, it’s called a offset, either for rigging with soft baits, or to improve their performance, as in the case of Tru-turn hooks.

Throat – The throat is the place on the shank opposite the point and barb–the depth on the shank where the bend begins and the depth to which the hook will penetrate.

Bend – This is the curved portion of the hook connecting the shank to the point. There are many different styles of bend, and they’re one of the critical features of hook selection. Different bends mark the distinctions between many common hook varieties.

Gap – The distance between the point and the shank. This is another critical difference between hooks. The wider the gap, the more room for a minnow, but the weaker the hook per gauge.

Barb – The backward facing prong below the point. 

Point – The business end of the hook.

fishing hook anatomy

Some common hook types include:

Aberdeen – Easily the most common design for crappie, and an all-around excellent choice for panfish of all species. Aberdeen hooks are distinctive, sporting long, thin shanks and a gently sweeping bend that creates a large gap.

Aberdeen hook

Made from light-wire, these tiny hooks have some big advantages for crappie. That long shank makes them a snap to remove them from a wriggling fish. Their small gauge means that they do less damage to live bait, too, keeping it kicking longer, and the added flex and bend this provides prevents line-breaking snags.

In fact, with a light-wire hook, you can often force it to bend to release it, and simply reform it with a pair of pliers.

Circle – A common problem for anglers is gut hooking. This occurs when the fish swallows the hook before it’s set, often resulting in death–never a good thing! 

If you’re having trouble with gut hooks or want to increase the chance for a corner lip hookset, circle hooks can help.

As their name implies, they offer a pronounced, continuous bend that creates their distinctive circular shape, and this unique shape is paired with a turned-up eye. As a result, they behave very differently than a standard hook design.

circle hook for surf fishing

With a circle hook, you simply detect a bite and start reeling–no hookset is needed. The shape of the bend and eye causes the hook to turn and slide across the crappie’s mouth, resulting in a solid, ideal hookset in the corner.

Sickle – Sickle hooks use an unusual bend to make the standard Aberdeen stronger while still being just as thin. This makes them much less likely to bend under stress, and if you hate the pliability of Aberdeen hooks–and some anglers do–but need the thick gauge for live minnows, a sickle hook might be just the thing you’ve been looking for.

sickle hook

Tru-turn – Tru-turn hooks use a small offset in the shank to cause the point to rotate toward contact, improving the odds of a solid hook-up. For some anglers, this results in more fish, more often, and if you’re having trouble turning bites into catches, you might want to give this innovative design a try.

tru turn hook

Which choice is right depends on the fish you’re after and the technique you’re using.

But one thing’s true whichever option you pick: quality matters. Trusted names in hooks include Eagle Claw, Gamakatsu, and Mustad, and these are good places to start when you’re overwhelmed by the range of choices.

Weights

Anglers have a wide variety of options when it comes to weight, and the possibilities are staggering. Weights are used to keep a hook where it needs to be or change the action of a lure, and different purposes and situations call for different options.

We’d like to focus on the most common uses for weights and offer a few suggestions.

Slip Floating

When you’re running a minnow, cricket, or other live bait beneath a slip float, you’ll need to add just a tiny amount of weight to keep your bait from floating too high in the water. The idea is to weigh-down your insect without deadening it or to keep your minnow from circling the main line and causing a tangle. For this, split shot is ideal.

Water Gremlin’s removable split shot is a great choice. It’s easy to use: with pliers, just pinch the shot around your line. It won’t take much, but you’ll need to experiment a bit to get the amount just right.

removable split shot weights

Fishing pliers allow you to add and remove split shot from your line.

Start small–it won’t take much weight to work.

Drop Shotting

Dangling your hook on the bottom risks snags, damage to your line, and the destruction of your soft plastic or live bait. And with larger soft and live baits, a slip float may not be in the cards.

The solution is the drop shot rig.

Drop Shot Rig

Drop shot rigs work best with pencil weights.

A drop shot rig allows you to adjust the depth of your hook while keeping it near the bottom, and it protects your hook and baits by letting a weight take the punishment.

The best weight style for drop shotting is a pencil weight. Thin and cylindrical, it won’t snag easily, and the special eye is designed for easy on-and-off.

Just slide your line through the eye and tug it into place. It’s that easy!

Surf and Current Fishing

For some situations, either where you need extra long casts and/or you need to keep your terminal tackle in place in strong currents, a bit more weight is ideal.

That’s when you should turn to a bullet weight, essentially just a shaped piece of lead.

bullet weight for surf fishing

How much weight you need is determined by what your rod can cast (take a close look at the recommendations printed on the side of the blank!) and just how stiff that current is.

Bullet weights come in different shapes, sizes, and weights. More stream-lined shapes are better for not getting hung up, but on sandy bottoms, you might want to try pyramids and other designs that’ll work better to keep your hook in place.

pyramid weights

Slip Floats

When the idea of fishing comes to mind, many people imagine a lone figure on the bank of a river or lake, holding a rod and watching a small red and white bobber.

The common red and white bobber.

It’s obvious what bobbers do–they bob, floating on the surface and suspending a line, hook, and bait or lure below them.

But the common bobber is a mess.

Though it can be moved on the line, it’s fixed in place during a cast. That means that as you retrieve line to prepare, the bobber can’t run through the terminal guide on your rod, and you’ll inevitably end up with a length of line below the bobber and a sloppy cast.

The solution is as elegant as it is simple: the slip float.

slip floats

Slip floats come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Slip floats, as their name suggests, slip along your line. By using tiny rubber stops, sometimes in conjunction with beads, you can control the motion of the float, setting the depth at which it will suspend line.

But the magic is in that slippage. Since the float can move unimpeded toward your hook, when you retrieve your line for a cast, the float will come to rest just above your hook, making casting a snap.

Essential for a variety of very effective techniques, the humble slip float can be used to suspend everything from live crickets to jigs. Effective on species as diverse as crappie and catfish, every angler should have a few in their tackle box.

For small fish, our favorite is the Thill Crappie Cork. Available in a range of weights, you simply match the float to the weight of your jig head or split shot, rig it, and start fishing.

Rigging a slip float is simple, and these tutorials will have you fishing one in no time:

Final Thoughts

This guide is not exhaustive, and we’d need to write a book to get everything covered. That’s why we’ve pointed you toward some of our previous articles, especially on topics that demand depth.

But this is a great place to start, and we’re excited to welcome you to the sport we love.

If this guide has helped you, please leave a comment below!

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