How To Fish In 2023: What You Need To Know
ou want to learn how to fish. Should be easy enough, right? Find yourself a tree branch, try some string to it, put a hook on the end of that string, a worm on the end of that hook, cast the hook into the river, and wait until you get a bite.
Hey, maybe back in the 1800s that technique would work. But you don’t want to learn how to fish in the 1800s. You want to learn how to fish in 2023.
This is the guide for you.
We’re going to take you through everything from getting your fishing license to choosing the fish you want to catch (and how to catch them). We’ll even go through little things like fishing etiquette.
There’s a lot of good stuff in this article. Don’t know anything about fishing? Read from top to bottom—by the end, you’ll be ready to catch your first fish. Looking for specific information? Scroll through our table of contents, and jump to whatever interests you!
Table of Contents
5 Steps on How To Get Started Fishing
- Getting your fishing license
- Get your fishing gear
- Choosing your fishing tackle and lures
- Casting and catching fish
- Landing your fish
Improving Your Fishing Experience With a Fish Finder
Beginner’s Fishing Checklist
Want to start fishing? There are a few things you’ll want to do before you get started (check them off as you go):
- Get your fishing license: We’ll teach you how in the next section. You’ll also want to check up on local laws.
- Decide what kind of fish you want to catch: Talk to your angler friends—learn what they like to catch! Research the fish that are most common in the area you’ll be fishing in. You’ll expand to catching all kinds of fish as time goes on, but it’s a good idea to target one species at the beginning!
- Decide how you want to fish: Are you going to fish from the shore? From a boat? Are you going ice fishing? All of this will influence the equipment you’ll need to buy.
- Get your gear: We’ll tackle (pun intended) the gear you’ll want to get in the next section.
- Go fishing! Now that you’re all set up, you can go catch fish.
Don’t worry—this isn’t one of those “Draw a circle” “Now draw the rest of the owl” situations (props if you know what I’m talking about). We’re going to take you through where to find gear, how to pick tackles, and yes, how to start fishing.
5 Steps on How To Get Started Fishing
You’ve got your checklist in hand. Let’s get you from your computer chair and onto the water in just 5 steps:
1. Getting your fishing license
We recommend you start by getting your fishing license. You could take other steps, like getting your gear, first. The problem with doing things out of order is that you might forget to get your fishing license—and no one wants their first fishing experience to end with law enforcement chastising them.
There are a few different ways of getting your fishing license—we’re going to focus on how to get one in North America. In the United States, the Fish and Wildlife Service has a portal for buying a fishing license. Just click on the state you want to buy a license in, and you’ll be transported to their website.
In Canada, things are a little trickier. As in the States, different provinces have different rules and regulations—but there’s no online portal for fishing licenses. Fortunately, we’re here to help! Here are the links for each province’s online fishing license portal:
These websites should help both residents and non-residents acquire a fishing license—many provinces allow you to buy your license online! Some provinces, like Alberta and Ontario, require you to have a second type of license (an outdoors license) before you can obtain your fishing license.
Provincial licenses only cover your ability to fish freshwater. Want to fish in saltwater? You’ll need a saltwater fishing license. Are you in one of Canada’s national parks? You’ll need a different recreational fishing license—but they should sell them at the park.
Don’t want to go online? Depending on what province or state you’re in, most sporting goods stores will have fishing licenses available. When they don’t, they’ll know which direction to point you in.
In fact, we highly recommend going to a sporting goods store to get your license. Ask them about the rules and regulations you should know about in the area, and tell them it’s your first time fishing. Your angler buddies might know some of the laws—but you’d be surprised how often even the most experienced anglers get these things wrong. Laws change frequently, after all.
Now that you’ve got your license, it’s time to get your gear!
2. Get your fishing gear
The kind of gear you’ll need depends heavily on the kind of fish you’ll be targeting and on the kind of fishing you’ll be doing. You’ll find that anglers have all kinds of gear and rigs to help them fish in different environments.
That means we can’t build you a catch-all (again, pun intended) “best gear for beginners” list. What we can do is give you the basic gear you’ll need to catch any fish and a couple of tips on what to look for in that gear.
A fishing rod and reel combo: You can buy your fishing rod and your reel separately, but we encourage beginners to buy a combination rod and reel. There’s less setup involved (and we want to eliminate barriers to success), and they’re generally more affordable than buying a rod and reel separately.
We recommend starting with a spinning rod and reel combo. That’s because:
- They’re fairly easy to get the hang of.
- You can cast light lures pretty far, and you’ll be able to maneuver your lure under docks, bushes, and other obstacles.
- They’re useful for catching a wide range of different species of fish.
A medium power (lifting strength), medium action (flexibility) fishing rod is a good choice for beginners, because it’s well-rounded, and can help you catch fish of most sizes. A 6-7 foot rod is well suited to new anglers.
You’ll want to start with an affordable rod and reel combo. The Ugly Stik GX2 Spinning Combo is a great place to start—it meets all the criteria we laid out above, and you can get it for less than $100.
Fishing line: We’re sticking to the most middle-of-the-road equipment we can—this can help to ensure that you’re going to catch fish, even if you’re not sure what fish you’re angling for. A 6-10 pound monofilament fishing line is an excellent choice for beginners, and it pairs well with our Ugly Stik recommendation. Choose one that’s clear—this makes it harder for fish to see.
Fishing hook: The hook you’ll choose will be heavily influenced by the fish you’re angling for and by the bait you’re using. For the reel and rod combos we’ve talked about, hooks ranging from size 6 to size 8 are a great choice.
Hook sizes are a bit confusing—the larger the number, the smaller the hook. At least, that’s the case until you start getting to 1/0, 2/0, 3/0, and more—then, things are reversed, and larger numbers do mean larger hooks. Confusing, we know—so for now, just go for our recommended size 6 to 8 (not size 6/0 to 8/0).
Here’s where things get complicated. Hooks don’t just come in a variety of sizes—they also come in a variety of styles—treble hooks, J-hooks, and more. For beginners, we recommend a J-hook. They’re simple to set up, and they’re great at catching fish. They’re the most commonly used style of hook for a reason!
Next, we’re going to get into the rest of the gear you’ll need before you start fishing, like tackles and lures. Before we do, though, a bit of a disclaimer on what we just covered.
The setup we just gave you is a great all-around fishing kit. That doesn’t mean it will work for every fish. Going ice fishing? You’ll want an ice fishing line. Fishing for Pike? You’ll want a leader.
That’s why we highly recommend knowing how and what you’re going to fish before you buy any equipment. We’ve got some guides on our site, so once you know what you’re fishing, take a look at our recommendations!
3. Choosing your fishing tackle and lures
Here’s a thing most beginners don’t know: Fishing tackle refers to almost all of the gear you’ll use to fish. We’ve already talked about the most important tackle—your rod, reel, line, and hook!
You’ll need more than just those to have a successful fishing trip, though. Here’s some more fishing gear we highly recommend you purchase:
- Lures and bait: Like the J-hook, worms are a classic for a reason. They’re a great all-around bait, and we highly recommend them for your first fishing trip. Minnows are another excellent choice. Prefer artificial baits? You can try plastic worms. Looking for something a bit more exotic? Crankbaits and spinnerbaits are excellent lures to have in your arsenal.
- A net: Once you’ve caught your fish and tired it out, you need to bring it into your boat. This is known as landing the fish—and the best way to do it is with a net. We recommend one with a rubberized or knotless mesh. We’ll talk more about nets in the “landing your fish” section
- Bobbers (floats): Bobbers serve a dual purpose. They help you keep your lure and hook combo at a specific depth, and they sink below the water when a fish strikes, giving you a visual indicator that you’ve got a fish on the line.
- Needle-nose pliers: You’ll use needle-nose pliers for everything from removing the hook from a fish’s mouth to cutting fishing line. That’s just a small sample size—getting a high-quality pair is highly recommended.
- Tackle box: Unless you’re really good at juggling, you’re going to need a tackle box to hold all of this stuff. A small one should do fine for now.
As you get more experienced, you’ll learn what baits, lures, nets, and other equipment you really like. You’ll adjust your rod, reel, and more and create custom setups to help you catch your fish of choice. What we’ve laid out here should be more than enough to get you started, though.
Best of all, if you’ve got some angler friends, they’ll probably be more than happy to lend you a thing or two.
4. Casting and catching fish
Now that you’ve got all the equipment you need, it’s time to go out there and catch some fish. Let’s cover the basics of casting and catching fish!
Setting: We recommend choosing a calm lake or river for your first experience. You can certainly start out by fishing from the shore—as long as there’s ample room to cast, you’ll get plenty of experience. Getting into a boat and fishing is a particularly serene experience, so if you can find a calm, clear lake or reservoir, it’s a great way to go. Ice fishing is less beginner-friendly, so we recommend going with a friend who has some experience.
Casting: Before you even worry about how to catch fish, practice casting. You can cast in an open field and just practice hitting a target—but there’s nothing better than casting on the water. Here’s how you do it (with a spinning rod and reel):
- Let about a foot of line hang off the end of your rod.
- Place your dominant hand above the reel. Rotate the bail (a part of the spinning reel locking the line in place) so that the line is as close to the rod as possible. Pinch the line up against the rod with your index finger.
- With your free hand, open the bail (there will be a handle-like switch that you can pull to open it). Then, move your free hand back to the handle of the rod for greater stability.
- Bring the rod tip up and behind you.
- Cast the rod forwards. This isn’t a big motion—more of a flick. Let your index finger off the line as you cast. Let the rod and reel do the work for you.
- Once the lure hits the water, flip the switch back to close the bail. You can start reeling immediately to attract fish, depending on what you’re trying to catch.
Hooking: There are a ton of techniques to get a bite—as you practice, you’ll learn how to swim your lure naturally rather than reeling it in quickly, to get a catch. Eventually, a fish is going to find your lure attractive enough to take a bite. That’s where hooking your first catch begins. Here’s how you do it.
- Set the hook. This is all about timing and technique. You’ll want to be in a powerful stance: Legs shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent. Keep your elbows close to your side. Once you see your bobber go under or you feel a powerful tug, reel in any slack on your line. Then, point your rod tip up and pull your rod over your shoulder. This is the most basic setting technique—it establishes the hook within the fish’s mouth (if you did it right, the fish’s lip). When you set the hook properly, fighting and landing the fish becomes much easier.
- Fight the fish. The name of the game is wearing the fish out. You’ll want to keep your rod tip up (to keep the hook set). Let the fish swim around, lifting your rod skyward, then reeling as you lower your rod to a 45-degree angle. You never just want to reel a fish in immediately— you need to play with it in order to tire it out before reeling, or your line may break
As you catch more fish and gain more experience, you’ll learn what presentations and movements the fish you’re trying to catch are attracted to. You’ll also hone your hooking and fighting technique and adjust it for when you’re catching bigger fish or smaller fish.
Once the fish is tuckered out, you can start reeling it in—from there, it will be no problem at all to land the fish!
5. Landing your fish
Make sure your line is taut, then reel the fish in. Get it to about an arm’s length from you. You want to keep the fish in the water for as long as possible—this helps keep the fish calm and makes it easier to guide it into the net.
Submerge the front of the net into the water. Don’t try to force the fish into the net—instead, guide the fish into the net with your line, keeping the rod tip up to maintain tension. Ideally, in still waters, you want the fish to move head-first into the net. In a river, hold the net behind the fish and slowly drop it back into the net.
Once the fish is in the net, lift the line and the net simultaneously—this helps you avoid getting the line and net tangled and keeps enough tension that the fish won’t get away.
Cover the fish with the net to prevent thrashing, then remove the hook using your needle-nose pliers.
Congratulations! You just caught your first fish! You’ll catch fish more and more often from here on out—the first is often the hardest.
Other Information To Know
Most fish will respond well to the techniques we just taught you, and you should catch plenty of fish with even the basic equipment that we’ve discussed. There are a few other things you need to know if you want to catch more fish—let’s go over them now:
You’ll want to learn how to tie a variety of different knots. A couple of the most important are:
- The improved clinch knot: This is used to tie the fishing line to the hook.
- The uni knot: As the name suggests, this is a pretty universal knot—easy to learn and can be used to tie line to hook, line to line, line to lure, and more.
We recommend starting with the uni knot. This YouTube video will teach you how.
Proper fishing etiquette
Learning fishing etiquette is an important (and underreported) part of learning how to fish. You’ll learn a lot as you go, but here are a few important pointers:
- Be mindful of your surroundings. Give other boats plenty of space out on the water. Avoid getting tangled with the lines of any other anglers on your boats. And please, please be aware of where anglers are positioned around you in a boat—no one wants to get a hook to the face.
- Know your local laws. Some jurisdictions don’t allow you to have barbed hooks. Many have catch-and-release laws that you need to abide by or regulations on how many fish you can catch. Breaking these laws does more than just bring potential legal penalties—it makes all anglers look bad.
- Treat fish well. Learn how to safely catch fish and remove hooks to create as little harm as possible to the fish. When there are more fish in the water, they breed—and that leads to even more fish for everyone to catch.
How to find fish
There are several different ways to find fish. You can learn about your target quarry’s favorite place to hang out, then find those places—drop-offs, reeds, and other spots favored by both big fish and small.
You can rely on a friend to help you find the best place. Most of us anglers have our favorite fishing spots. You can even ask your local tackle shop if they know any good spots or hire a fishing guide to help you land your first big one.
Our favorite way to find fish, though? Use a fish finder!
Improving Your Fishing Experience With a Fish Finder
We review a ton of different fish finders on our website. We’ve got affordable models for beginners— this is sophisticated technology that will help you find and catch more fish. You’ll be able to scout for fish, and once you find them, know exactly what depth they’re at.
There are even fish finders that give you beautiful images of exactly what’s happening underwater, so you can see fish, plants, rocks, and more—and know precisely where to fish.
Take a look at the reviews on our site—we’ve got many beginner-friendly fish finders and equipment. Best of luck out there—and congratulations. You now know how to fish. You’re joining one of the most exciting, fulfilling sports out there.