How to Fish – The Complete Guide for Beginners

man with perch
Here is our guide to fishing for beginners. In this article we cover everything you need to get started including where to go, what gear to bring and how to set up and use your rod!

I get asked all the time by family and friends what’s the best way to learn how to fish. Having looked online, I found most guides lacked detail and clear instructions which was sure to leave newcomers on the water asking questions.

Having taught many of my friends how to fish, I decided to write up this guide to teach you everything you need to know before you get started fishing.

In this guide I will cover what’s called “spin fishing” which is one of the easiest ways for you to get into fishing. It’s great for catching some of the most popular fish like panfish, bass or perch.

Some of the things we will cover are:
Where and when to fish
Picking the right fishing gear
How to set up your rod
Casting, catching and releasing a fish

Keep reading to set yourself up for success on your next fishing trip!

Where and when to fish

A great idea before you start buying all your fishing gear is to plan your fishing trip. Finding a good spot to fish can really make a difference to how many fish you catch and how enjoyable your day is.

Knowing where you are going to fish will also be useful for picking the right fishing gear.

How to choose where to fish

Fishing along a shore is will be the best place for you to learn how to fish.

There are many opportunities for shore fishing such as by a river, besides a lake or along the coast. Man made structures like piers, walkways and bridges are also great and are usually easier to access.

While fishing off the beaten track might make for a good photo op, choosing a convenient location with public access is usually a better option (I’m sure you will still get an awesome photo!). This makes setting up and packing up a whole lot easier and lets you focus on fishing instead of not falling in the water.

If you don’t already have an area in mind you can google “your city” + “fishing spots” for some suggestions. Asking a friend who has been fishing before in the area is also a great idea to get the inside scoop. 

Also find out whether your spot has fresh or saltwater and the type of fish that live there. This is going to be useful information to make sure you pick up the right gear before your trip.

How to choose when to fish

The season, time of day, weather and tides all affect fish behaviour. The best time to go fishing is when fish are active and looking for food. This will often depend on the species of fish in the water but here are some general tips to give you the best chance of catching those fish!

Season and time of day

The best time of day to go fishing will depend on the season. As fish are coldblooded, how active they are will depend on the temperature. You will want to go fishing when the water is warm, but not too hot for the fish.

During summer, early morning is a great time to fish. As the water is warmer during this season, fish will be active even before the sun has been out for long. However, as the day progresses, the daylight starts to heat the water even more and fish begin to migrate to deeper cooler water. So catching a fish between mid-morning and afternoon is going to be a little harder. After sunset, the water begins to cool and fish start to come out of the deeper water. This is the best time to go fishing in summer.

For the milder seasons of spring and fall, early morning is a less ideal time to go fishing. At this time the water is still quite cool and fish will be less active. As the day progresses your chance of getting a catch increases as they start to become more active. From afternoon to the evening is the best time to go fishing during spring and fall.

Winter is probably the worst season to go fishing due to the cold weather causing low fish activity. But this doesn’t mean you can’t catch a fish! For your best chances, go fishing in the afternoon of a bright sunny day when the water will be its warmest temperature.

Weather

Sunny weather is good to go fishing, not just for the fish but also for you! A clear sky is best during spring or fall to help warm the water and encourage fish activity.

Cloudy days are also a great time to fish. Fish tend to feed more strongly with dimmer light conditions and are willing to swim further from their shelter.

While rainy days aren’t the most pleasant for us fishing, a light rain can be your friend especially in warm weather. The rain breaks the surface of the water, making you less visible to fish. It also washes insects and other food into the water making it prime feeding time for fish. 

Fish hate heavy rain as much as we do. This kind of weather disturbs the fish making them harder to catch. There is also the added risk of slips and falls so its best to avoid these days.

Tides

As a general rule, you want to go fishing during a rising or falling tide. This is when fish are more mobile and active, increasing your chances of getting a catch. During static high or low tides there is less water movement and fishing is usually slower.

You can check the tide times by googling “your city” + “tide times”.

Picking the right fishing gear

As I mentioned at the start of the article, spin fishing is the easiest way for beginners to learn how to fish. This means you will need a spinning reel and spinning rod for your trip. You can buy each of these parts separately but there are also combo’s which have the fishing rod already assembled which can make things easier.

You don’t need to break the bank when buying your fishing gear. If you are unsure about whether you will enjoy fishing, a cheaper combo might be the way to go. If you think you will like fishing or maybe you have done it before, it might be worthwhile investing a little more into your set up.

Choosing your rod

The first piece of gear you will need is a spinning rod. I recommend the following specifications for the best spinning rod for beginners. These specs will be available at online stores or will be printed on the rod near the handle if you are visiting a shop in person.

  • Length: 6-7 ft
  • Power (also called weight): Medium
  • Action: Medium
  • Line Weight: Range that includes 6 lb
  • Material: Fibreglass

The length of the rod is the distance measured between the butt of the rod to the tip. Longer rods allow you to cast further but are more challenging to manage for newcomers to fishing. For beginners, a rod length of 6-7 ft will give a good balance of casting distance and accuracy.

The power (or weight) of the rod refers to how stiff it is. This affects the rods resistance to bending and can range from ultralight to heavy. The lighter power is used for catching smaller fish and heavier for larger fish. We recommend a medium power rod as it gives the beginner the best versatility for catching fish with a range of sizes.

While power tells you how much a rod will bend, action tells you where the rod will bend. Fast action rods will bend more towards the tip, whereas a slow action rod will bend more towards the middle. Fast action is usually best for heavier baits and slower action for lighter baits. A medium action rod offers the most well rounded versatile option for beginners.

Line weight is usually presented as a range of values for the rod. We will talk about line weight later but at this stage all we need to know is that the rod is suited to fit a 6 lb line.

You may also want to consider the material used for your fishing rod. This is usually graphite or fiberglass. Graphite rods are usually more rigid and sensitive but are more prone to breaking. We suggest going for a fibreglass rod just because of the added durability and lower maintenance. However, if you like the sound of a graphite rod it is a perfectly fine choice as well.

Choosing your reel

Now that you have your spinning rod, you need a spinning reel to match. For the best spinning reel for beginners I recommend the following specifications. Like the rod, these specs will be available online or printed on the reel if you are buying in person.

  • Size: 2500-3500 (or 25-35)
  • Gear Ratio: 5:1
  • Ball Bearings: 4-6
  • Line Capacity: Range that includes 6 lb

The reel size is usually presented as a number in the thousands (such as 2500) or in double digits (such as 25) depending on the manufacturer. Don’t be confused by this, as they are considered the same size reel – just look at the first two digits. The range we recommend is 2500-3500 which is great for a beginners set up and pairs well with a 6-7 ft rod.

Gear ratio is not as important to consider but it’s good to be aware of. This tells you how many times the spool rotates per turn of your handle. A 5:1 ratio means the spool will rotate five times for every turn of the handle.

This doesn’t need to be exact, but a ratio near 5:1 should be a good choice. Avoid faster reels with higher ratios such as 7:1 for now.

Ball bearings provide the mechanism by which the moving parts of your reel rotate. Generally the more ball bearings the smoother the reel will feel. However, most people can’t feel the difference once they get beyond a certain number. A good guide will be to pick a reel that has between 4-6 ball bearings.

We will be discussing lines in the following section, but just make sure the reel is compatible with 6 lb line. The reel will also give a length usually in yds which is the length of that line that will fit onto the reel. For example, 6 lb/230 yds means the reel will accommodate 230 yds of 6 lb line.

Choosing your line

You don’t need to concern yourself too much with all the fishing line options available. I recommend the follwing specifications for best fishing line for your spinning reel.

  • Material: Monofilament
  • Strength: 6 lb
  • Length: 300 yds

Monofilament line is the best for beginners as it is easy to handle, forgiving and a good all-rounder performer. Other types of line are available but are best left for later in your fishing journey.

The strength of the line refers to how much weight it can hold before it breaks. For beginners, 6 lb line is a good place to start. It offers a good range of versatility and is easier to handle.

Ideally the strength line is matched to the type of fish you want to catch. So if you are targeting a larger fish species such as bass, you may want to increase your line strength to 8 lb. Make sure you adjust your rod and reel selection accordingly.

I have put 300 yds as an estimate for your fishing line length. The line length you should use will be determined by the specs of your reel. Try to keep it as close to the specification as possible. And remember you can always cut some off if its too long.

How to choose your fishing rig

This is for the business end of your fishing line which will contain the hook.

Your fishing rig will vary depending on the type of fish you want to catch. This is where it is handy to know what fish species live in the water body you plan to fish.

If your fishing spot has bottom dwelling species like carp or catfish, you will want to make a sinker rig. If there are fish like bass or panfish which like to swim closer to the waters surface, a bobber rig will be your best choice.

A basic sinker rig will require a hook, sinker and swivel. A bobber rig uses the same gear but replaces the swivel with a bobber.

These items come in a range of sizes and should be adjusted for the type of fish you are trying to catch. For beginners it’s a great idea to get a small kit with a range of hooks, sinkers, swivels and bobbers so you can mix and match.

For the hooks, you will want either a J hook or a baitholder hook. A baitholder hook is like a J hook but with extra barbs to help prevent your bait from falling off. A range of sizes between 2-6 is a good place to start for beginners.

To keep it simple, get either some ball or split shot sinkers. For ball sinkers the line threads through a hole in the middle, whereas split shot sinkers need to be clamped onto the line using pliers. If you are using a sinking rig, we recommend using ball sinkers while split shot sinkers work well for bobber rigs. It can be a good idea to get both so you can switch between the two. A range of weights between 1/64-1/8 oz should have you covered.

The swivel size won’t matter too much, just don’t get anything too large. Any size around 4-8 will be fine.

Bobbers come in many different shapes with their own sizing. If you are getting a ball bobber, a 1 inch size will do. Check the rating of the bobber to make sure it will float with the sinkers you plan to use.

How to choose your bait

Bait isn’t something you want to buy in advance. It is best to pick some up on the day you are fishing so it is fresh and doesn’t spoil.

The type of bait you buy will depend on whether you are fishing in fresh or saltwater. If you are fishing in freshwater, leeches or minnows are good choices. For saltwater, eel, shrimp, cut pieces of fish or squid can work well.

If you’re not sure which bait is best, worms are a good all-round option. They are suitable for a whole range of fish like panfish, bass, walleye or catfish. Ask your local tackle store for any recommendations on what works well for the fish in your area.

Other fishing gear

Here is a list of some other gear you might want to bring along to help you with your fishing.

  • Clippers – for cutting the fishing line.
  • Pliers – to help remove hook from the mouth of the fish.
  • Towel – helps with handling fish and prevents getting stabbed from spines.
  • Net – can help with landing a fish.
  • Bucket – help keep bait fresh or to store fish if you are taking home.
  • Fishing ruler – if you want to take fish home you need to ensure they meet the size requirements of your state.

Buying a licence

Most states will require you to buy a license to fish and you should check your state’s requirements. If you are outside the United States just google “your state” + “fishing licence” for more information.

How to set up your rod

Depending on whether you opted for a combo or purchased the gear individually, your rod may or may not have the following steps completed.

How to assemble your reel and rod

Most fishing rods will come in two detachable parts. The first step is to connect these two making sure the line guides are aligned properly. Press the two parts together firmly and check to make sure it isn’t loose.

To connect your fishing reel, first find the indentation on the rod near the handle. This will be on the same side as the guides on the rod. Open the mount by unscrewing and slide the feet of the reel into the indentation. Using your fingers to hold the reel in place, screw down the rod mount firmly to hold the reel in position.

How to spooling your fishing reel

If there is already a fishing line on your reel you can skip this step. If you purchased your line separately, you’re going to have to transfer the line from the packaging onto your new fishing reel.

To start, grab the end of your fishing line and feed it through the guides of your rod, working from the tip towards the reel. Open the bail of your reel and tie your fishing line to the spool of your rod using an arbour knot. Below is a quick and easy tutorial on how to tie it.

Next flick your reel bail back and hold the line with your hand a foot or two above the reel. Start to turn the reel handle and your line should start winding around your spool. You don’t want to hold the line too tight while doing this, but firm enough that there is some tension in the line. 

Keep spooling until you get to 1/8th an inch below the rim of the spool. You can cut the remaining line and secure the spooled line to your reel. Below is a helpful tutorial showing you the process from start to finish.

How to set up your fishing rig

As we mentioned earlier, depending on the fish you want to catch you will use either a sinker or bobber rig.

To set these up, you’re going to need to tie some fishing knots. The type of knot you should use to set up your rig is called the clinch knot. We will use this for tying the line to all the parts of our rig. Below is a great demonstration of how to tie it.

If you plan to use a sinker rig, first you want to cut a length of fishing line approximately 1ft long. Tie one end of this line to a swivel and the other end to your hook using a clinch knot. This is what’s called a leader.

Thread the line attached to your reel through the sinker then attach it to the other end of the swivel using the same knot. Below is a good tutorial.

If you are going for a bobber rig you will first want to secure your bobber to the line. How you do this will depend on what type of bobber you are using.

If you are using a slip bobber rig, remove the slide from the bobber and run the end of your reels line through the hole. This length of line is going to be how deep your bait will hang in the water. Slide the stop back into the plastic then attach your hook to the end of the line using a clinch knot. Next attach your split shot sinkers to your line using pliers about 3 inches above the hook.

If you have a slip bobber, here’s a great video tutorial on how to set up your rig.

If you have a globe shaped bobber, you might want to check out this video below.

How to set the drag

After you have set up your rig, you want to set the drag on your reel. This allows you to set how much pressure the fish feels when they pull on the line. You want to set your drag so the line can hold enough pressure to reel the fish without breaking.

When the pressure on the line is greater than the drag, some line will start to come off your reel. Don’t worry, this is fine as it stops your line from breaking when the fish pulls hard.

To adjust the drag, you need to adjust the knob on your reel which is on the end of your spool where your line is kept. Twist the knob and have a feel how much pressure you need to pull the line at its maximum and minimum settings. You will want to set your drag somewhere in between so your line will have a steady moderate pressure when fishing.

Here’s a good video tutorial on how to set the drag on your spinning reel.

How to catch a fish

The hard parts all over so now it’s time to catch some fish!

How to attach the bait

How to attach your bait to the hook is going to depend on the fish you want to catch and the type of bait you have. There are so many types of baits out there which we can’t possibly cover in this article. The best way to learn is to search for a video tutorial about your specific bait on Youtube.

However, if you followed our recommendation of using worms, we’ve found a great video for you below. It covers how to bait worms for a whole range of fish from panfish to bass to carp.

How to cast

Now everything is set up, we need to get your bait in front of some fish.

Casting for the first time can be a little tricky. If you’re unsure, make sure the area is clear of other people so you don’t accidently hit someone. It can also be a good idea to practice at home before you get to your fishing spot to get the hang of it. If you have trouble with your first few casts don’t worry, it gets easier with practise.

To cast, you first want your rig hanging the approximately 1 ft. from the end of your rod. If it’s too far you can wind it in using your reel. If it’s too close, open the bail of your reel, let some line unwind and flip the bail back. Next hold the rod with your dominant hand with two fingers above and two below the foot of the reel. 

Rotate the bail of your reel so that the line is as close to your hand as possible. Grab the line with your index finger and open the bail of your reel. Double check that your rig is still hanging around 1ft from the end of the rod. Place your other hand at the end of the handle to give you better control of the cast.

The casting motion should be more like a flick rather than a throw. This should happen at approximately a 2 o’clock plane. Release your finger from the line to let it unravel from the reel.

After your cast, point the tip of your rod at the bait as it is flying through the air. Once the bait has landed in the water, flip your bail back using your non-dominant hand to engage the reel.

Here’s a great video tutorial on how to cast with a spinning rod. 

A common problem people have when casting is letting go at the wrong time. If your bait is not going far and spiking into the water directly in front, you are holding onto the line too long. If your bait is going really high up in the air but not very far you are letting go too early.

How to set the hook and reel in a fish

Now is the time for patience. Don’t reel in your line every minute to check if your bait is still on or if there is a fish.

While you wait you will sometimes feel nibbles on your line – don’t reel in your hook just yet! You will want to wait for a proper bite where the hook is in the fish’s mouth. When this happens, you will feel a pull on your line. If you are using a bobber, you will usually see it go under water.

When the fish has the bait in its mouth, it’s time to set the hook. Reel the line in till it is taught and pull the tip of your rod up slightly to set the hook in the fish’s mouth. Don’t over do it, you could rip the hook right of its mouth and lose your catch.

If you can still feel this fish on the end of your line, its hooked! Now you can start reeling it in. 

Once you have your fish near the shore, be careful not to reel in too much line. You will want a decent distance between the tip of your rod and your sinker or bobber. If you wind in too far, your line can break and you will lose your catch!

When the fish is close enough, lift it out of the water with your rod. Grab the line above the fish to take the tension off your rod. 

Congratulations, you’ve caught your fish! Now is a great time to get a photo.

How to release a fish

Now that your fish is out of the water, try to keep it off the ground. You can use a towel to handle the fish and be careful of any spines it might have. It is usually best to hold a fish around the belly with its spines pointing upwards.

To remove the hook, we recommend using a pair of pliers. If you don’t have any, the technique is still the same but you will be using your hands.

Rotate the hook so only the barb end of the hook is sticking out of the fish’s mouth. Push down in the opposite direction the hook entered. The hook should be in the mouth of the fish now. Gently remove it, being careful not to hook the fish on the way out.

To release the fish back into the water, cradle the fish around its belly and submerge it into the water. If you’re fishing from a ledge, gently drop it into the water from a height as low as possible.

If you’re not catching any fish

Sometimes when you’re fishing you’re just not feeling any bites. Other times you’re feeling bites but not hooking any fish. Here are some tips to help you out in these scenarios to hopefully get you a catch!

If you aren’t getting any bites on your line there could be a few reasons. One common mistake beginners make is not securing the bait properly to the hook. When they cast, the bait either flies off in the air or when it hits the water. If you don’t feel any bites and wind your reel in to find your bait missing, this could be the problem.

If your bait is still attached to the hook, you might need to be a little more patient. If that’s not the problem, it might be where you are casting. Try aiming near structures in the water where fish will hide. Don’t get too close though, as you don’t want to get your hook stuck on a log or rock.

If you are getting lots of bites but you can never set the hook, it might be because your hook is too big. Try swapping your hook for a smaller one which will fit into the fish mouth better and increase your chance of setting the hook.

Final advice

My final advice to you is to have fun! Fishing is often best enjoyed with friends and family.

Remember you aren’t always going to catch a fish every time you go out. But sometimes the most rewarding part of the trip is the time spent with your loved ones. Catching a fish is just the bonus!

I wish you all the best on your next fishing trip and if you have any questions you can send through a message via our contact form and I’ll do my best to help you out.