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How To Fish

A Step-by-Step Fishing Guide
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! 

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 how to catch fish explaining the fundamentals 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.
how to fish

How To Catch Fish - The Definitive Guide

Chapter 1

Fishing Basics

fishing basics

This guide provides tips on each step for learning how to fish. You'll learn everything from the legal aspects of fishing to the basics of being an angler.

Environmental Awareness & 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:

Get A Fishing License

Before you make your first trip, you need to buy a fishing license in the state you live, and study the regulations to know the legal limits on the fish you catch. These vary from state to state and even sometimes season to season, so know what you’re doing!

You have to purchase a license in the state in which you plan to fish.

The best place to purchase a license is online. To buy a fishing license in the state you wish to fish in, visit the state's online fishing license purchasing system. You can pay with a debit or credit card and immediately print your license. Make sure to have the following information on hand:

  • Country and state of residency
  • Date of birth
  • The license type
  • Your driver's license or ID card number
  • Credit or debit card information

If you don’t have access to the internet, a quick trip to your local WalMart, wildlife management office, or most sporting goods stores can get you a license in just a few minutes.

We’ve covered how to get a license there before, and it’s a simple process:

Can You Get a Fishing License at Walmart?

Setting Up A Fishing Rod

Step 1

You’ve got your new rod unboxed and found that it probably comes in two pieces. Not all rods do, and if your rod is a single piece, you can skip this part.

The section of your rod that allows the two pieces to connect is called the “ferrule,” and it consists of a “male” and “female” side. fishing rod male female ferrule

Taking each section in hand, carefully slide the male end into the female end, gently rotating them together. 

Don’t use as much force as you can!

This is a friction fit, and you only need to use enough pressure to seat the two ends to the full depth of the female side.

Step 2

Rotate the ferrules until the guides are lined-up.

match up guides on fishing rod

Your guides may not line up perfectly, but that’s not a real issue. Just get them basically in line by twisting the two sections of rod until they align.

Step 3

Locate the reel seat on the underside of the rod. It will be on the same side as the guides.

Twisting counter-clockwise (left to loosen), open the reel seat completely.

Step 4

Its time to attach your reel. Slide the reel foot into the fixed side of the reel seat. Which end moves will vary with your rod.

spinning reels

Step 5

Slowly tighten the moving end of the real seat, turning it clockwise (right to tighten) until hand-tight.

Don’t try to over-tighten the reel seat! Hand-tight is enough!

At this point, you should have your reel attached to your rod, looking pretty much like this:

reel seat on spinning rod

This reel seat tightens from the back, so you slide the reel foot into the top of the seat first.

For more, view our in-depth guide: How To Set Up A Fishing Rod

Setting Up A Fishing Reel

Spinning Reels

Spinning reels are essential tackle for every angler.

From their wind-busting ability to cast to their simplicity to use, it’s easy to see why. And whether you chase bluegill on your local lake, catfish in a slow-moving river, or specks and reds in the surf, you’ll find that a spinning reel will quickly become a trusted ally.

If you’re new to angling, however, knowing how to set up a spinning reel may be a mystery. And if you’ve just unboxed your new reel, but have no idea what to do next, we’d like to help.

Here , you’ll find an easy to understand, step-by-step guide for setting up any spinning reel

How To Set Up a Spinning Reel: A Step-By-Step Guide

Baitcasting Reels

Many new anglers are intimidated by the learning curve associated with baitcasting tackle. And while it’s true that they require a bit more technique and know-how, don’t let that keep you from trying one!

Ideal for everything from bass to tuna, baitcasting tackle is something every angler should learn to use. And while setting up a baitcasting reel is a lot more complicated than simply tying your line to the spool and setting the drag, there’s no high-mystery to it.

We’d like to help you optimize the performance of your baitcasting reel, and whether you’re an old-hand or a new angler, the tips and techniques we’ve assembled will help you get the most from your baitcasting reel.

How To Set Up a Baitcasting Reel: Easy Step-by Step Instructions

Choosing Lures and Baits

When it comes to lures and bait, there are key distinctions between natural vs artificial offerings that new anglers should learn. While using bait that is more appropriate to the kind of fishing you are planning to do is important, the great news is that fish like both artificial lures and bait and natural bait.

  • Consider what fish eat. Live (or natural) baits are anything alive or previously alive that you use to catch fish. Some of the best freshwater fishing bait include worms, leeches, minnows, crayfish, crickets and grasshoppers.
  • For saltwater fishing, select good baits such as worms, eels, crabs, shrimp, strips of squid, and cut-up pieces of fish. You can purchase live bait you could catch your own.
  • Always check your fishing regulations to make sure the bait you choose is legal where you’re fishing. And keep in mind that live bait only catches fish if you take steps to keep it alive and cast gently so it remains on the hook.
  • If you are using artificial bait or imitation choose among spinners, jigs, poppers, flies, and spoons that come in various sizes, styles, colors and patterns. When used, these are seen by fish as a natural food such as a minnow or mayfly.
  • Check your budget. While bait fishing can be less expensive, the best types of fishing lures can be more fun because the lure needs the angler to provide the motion – giving you complete control. Just be sure to read the instructions on a lure package to learn how to use each lure.
  • Learn about the differences between natural bait vs artificial to understand how to choose bait for fishing. There are advantages and disadvantages to both kinds, so whatever type of freshwater or saltwater baits and lures you choose, just make sure you know how to choose bait for fishing the species you want to catch.


Basic 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.

For more fishing knots check out our guide: Best Fishing Knots 

Basic Fishing Rigs

The right rig can make all the difference.

More than just a way to attach terminal tackle, fishing rigs are designed for different purposes and techniques. And the best of them have earned cult-like followings among anglers for the dependable performance.

If you’re new to fishing, or just need a refresher, we’re here to help.

Here, we’ll discuss the seven best fishing rigs, covering pretty much any situation you might find yourself in:

Best Fishing Rigs

Finding a Fishing Spot

When it comes to finding 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 light - Most 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-offs - Predatory 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 beds - Live 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 bottom - Any 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.

For a more detailed guide visit: How To Find Good Fishing Spots

For weather related tips, visit: Best Weather For Fishing

How To Hook Live Bait

When you hook live bait, you’re trying to accomplish three things.

  • First, you want to keep your bait on the hook.
  • Second, you (generally) want to keep your bait alive as long as you can.
  • And third, you want to place your hook where it has the highest probability of a strong hookset.

That doesn’t sound too complicated, and it’s certainly not as mind-bending as filing a tax return with the IRS. But it isn’t as simple as it might seem, either.


Many of the most common hooking techniques also affect how the bait behaves, causing it to dive, swim head up, or run far and fast. That can make a huge difference in your catch rate, and knowing the ins and outs of hooking live bait is one thing that separates the weekend angler from the pro.

Has that got you interested?

Learn more here: How To Hook Live Bait: Head to Tail

Casting Tips

Whichever type of reel 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 limitations - Pretty 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.

For an in depth guide on casting techniques visit our guide here: Fishing Rod Casting Techniques for Beginners and Advanced Anglers

How To Set The Hook

As an angler new to the sport, you may not know much about setting the hook on a fish, and truth be told, it takes a bit of practice to get it right.

There’s more than one way to do it, depending on the hook you’re using and the specifics of the lure or bait.

That may sound complicated, but it’s not - and we’ll teach you everything you need to know.

If you want to know how to set a hook properly, click here: How to Set a Fishing Hook: Everything You Need to Know

How To Reel In a Fish

The excitement of the fight is a big part of what keeps anglers coming back to the water, and knowing how to reel in the fish you’ve hooked is an important part of learning the sport.

What you may not realize, though, is that your technique needs to be adjusted to the size and strength of the fish on your line, as well as the tackle you’re using.

And while this isn’t as complicated as it might sound, you need to get a firm grasp of the techniques involved.

If you want to know how to reel in a fish, check out our guide: How to Reel in a Fish: Everything You Need to Know

How To Handle and Release a Fish

Believe it or not, the way you handle and release fish is one of the most important things you can do for the future of the sport.

Improper fish handling kills nearly as many fish as gut hooking, and while it’s relatively simple to do, plenty of anglers don’t know how to do it right.

As a new angler, you’ll want to learn why mishandling fish can be lethal to them and how to safely handle and release your catch.

If you want to know how to properly handle and release fish, read our guide: How to Handle and Release Fish: The Right Way Explained

Chapter 3

Fishing Techniques

how to plan a fishing trip

This section covers in-depth details about the most popular fishing techniques, how to fish different environments, and how to use different types of lures and baits.

Types of Fishing Techniques

Using Lures and Baits