A Crash Course on All Things Fishing
Since the beginning of our existence, humans have lived near the water. Humans have found food in the water, be it the ancient ocean, rivers, or lakes. A universal thread that connects people worldwide is the desire to fish. There would be no way to explain everything about fishing with the enormity of the world's waterways and the number of fish. However, we will do our best and cover the basics of fishing, with a focus on North America. Many of these species and techniques can be adapted worldwide, but this article is for the species and fishing styles to be catered to the author's home continent.
To break this article into digestible pieces, we will start with a basic synopsis of how to fish, followed by places to fish, some of the species to catch in each environment, and finally, gear and techniques to catch them.
What is fishing
We all understand that fishing is the act of trying to catch fish. I wish I could say it's the act of catching fish, but my success rate would beg to differ. Fishermen or anglers try to tempt a fish to bite their hook using bait that triggers their desire to feed or a lure that usually doesn't taste or smell like food, but its movement triggers the fish to bite. Depending on the species of fish or even location, bait can be a better option; at times, especially when traveling, a lure is the best option. The ability to change out lures for different species and fishing styles is one reason why many anglers opt to fish with lures.
There are many types of fishing, but we will focus on fishing with a rod and reel for our discussion. When retrieving your lure, the fishing line is stored on a reel that rewinds the line. The reel is attached to a rod, sometimes called a pole. The rod is a tapered length of flexible fiberglass or, in older times, bamboo that provides more leverage when fighting a fish. The length of your rod also determines how far you will be able to cast your lure. We will get into more of the gear discussion later on.
Where to fish
If there is water, odds are there are fish. Depending on the size of the body of water and its makeup, you can find certain species of fish. Fish can be grouped very generally into two categories: freshwater or saltwater fishes.
Fresh Water Freshwater is water that doesn't contain salt; examples are rivers, ponds, and lakes. Depending on the location of your freshwater, you may find different species that are only able to survive specific temperature ranges. For example, northern pike or walleye are colder water fishes that require plenty of food to grow to their larger sizes. These predatory fish are found in the rich waters of the Canadian lakes and down to Kentucky. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the largemouth bass is found everywhere, from cold Canadian lakes to the swamps of Florida. Capable of handling nearly any condition, largemouth bass has become the world's most well-known freshwater fish. Other fish that anglers can commonly encounter across the spectrum of freshwater include small panfish grouped under the name of "sunfish" these smaller fish can grow to a few pounds. Still, most remain under a pound and make fine eating and an excellent catch for beginning anglers.
Sunfish make a great first catch for any age
The ocean is an incredibly varied set of ecosystems that allow fishermen to experience everything from flounder caught from the shore to offshore giants like marlin and tuna weighing as much as half a ton. Like freshwater fishing, the temperature of the water has a deciding factor on the species available. Rather than delving into the species found at certain latitudes, we will instead break this section up by locations to fish.
Anglers do not need to own or rent a boat to enjoy fishing in saltwater. Anglers can catch many species from shore with some patience and planning. Fishing from shore is called surfcasting. The fisherman is casting their lure or baits into and beyond the surf. The most popular method of surfcasting is using bait and letting whatever fish is nearby come to the scent of your rigged offering. Depending on your location and bait, you can target and catch everything from flounder to sharks.
Anglers can also surf cast lures; fishing with lures, especially from shore, is a great way to learn how to look at a beach in pieces. Targeting areas like jetties, drop-offs, docks, and sandbars will increase your chances of catching a fish since these are areas where fish will congregate either to ambush prey or to get out of sight of larger predators.
A big drum decided a rigged shrimp was too good to pass up
Tidal areas like marshes and lagoons are exciting areas to fish. With the change in tide and constantly moving water, fish of surprisingly large size will move into the shallows in search of food or to spawn. By understanding the tides, you can avoid getting stuck in a marsh and also be able to find the times of the day when fish are most active. The outgoing or incoming tides are both better for fishing than the slack tides when the water isn't moving baitfish passed the fish. These areas are best accessed by a boat or kayak. With how winding some marshes can be, it's important to bring a map and GPS. Better yet, hire a guide on your first excursion, especially if you are new to boating.
Heading offshore in search of big fish
Fishing from a boat in the ocean is an experience that will live in your heart forever—ranging from fishing closer to shore for some of the same species you can catch surfcasting to trolling miles offshore, fishing the underwater canyons and the gulf stream. One of the most thrilling aspects of deep-sea fishing is the chance to catch anything. Fishing for rockfish in the kelp forests of California may yield a yellowtail or calico bass and your targeted rockfish. Trolling blue water can have a sailfish one minute and a tuna the next. Because the chances of larger fish and the currents under that water, deep sea fishing equipment tends to be much heavier than surfcasting gear.
Fly fishing is a style of fishing where anglers use highly realistic ultra light lures known as flies to imitate the forage items fish are eating. Fly fishing is most often seen in lakes and rivers where fishermen will match their flies to the insects that are flying or swimming about. This technique is often called “matching the hatch” as the population explosion of nymphs, mayflies, or dragonflies will be the main menu item for the local fish. Fly fishing is also popular in tidal fishing for species like bonefish, tarpon, striped bass, and sea-trout. Saltwater flies are bigger and resemble baitfish or crustaceans like shrimp and crabs. Fly fishing is a dedicated technique that requires different types of gear than more “traditional” fishing techniques. Flies are cast by letting more line out and whipping it forward, very similar to trying to straighten out a length of rope or a hose at home. Rather than reeling the line back it is retrieved or “stripped” by hand. This allows for faster recasting when needed. This style of casting and retrieving allows fly fishermen to place their flies in front of fish with tremendous precision, making the skill of fly fishing as much about finding fish as it is about casting to them.
Ice Fishing One last section of where you can fish, this is more a when you can fish. When the temperature drops low enough for lakes and ponds to freeze, it is possible to icefish. Ice fishing is cutting a hole in the ice and either placing a bait at a specific depth or bouncing a small lure up and down in the water column to attract fish. Because fish are sluggish in cold water, the gear required is much more scaled-down—There's no casting either, so rods are very short. Ice fishing may not be the same type of relaxation as sitting on the shore during the summer, but pulling a lake trout from the ice is a feat that will keep you dreaming of colder weather through the dog days of summer.
For fishing gear, we could spend the next week talking about all of the combinations of rods, reels, and lures to try out. Look at your nearest sporting goods store and see what we mean. Since this is an overview, we will highlight a few basic styles of gear and where to use them, along with a few types of lures and baits.
There are multiple styles of reels designed for specific types of fishing. Instead of getting bogged down in the niche gear styles, we recommend selecting a spinning reel paired with a 6 1/2' rod. Like the Ugly Stick, GX2 gives the angler the ability to cast well and fish everything from a rigged worm and bobber for sunfish to crank-bait for bass.
Depending on the species you are targeting, a selection of hooks and weights is a good start. You can pick up whatever local bait you want to use and go fishing that way. For a few lures in your tackle box, go for rubber worms in various dark and light colors. A spinnerbait is a great lure to use, either fast or slow, for many freshwater species.
little ponds hide big fish
That same combo selected for freshwater can do wonders for shore fishing and tidal water fishing. If targeting larger fish in the surf, a 10-foot combo is better. This longer rod will let the angler cast much further and help leverage big fish back towards the beach. Anglers can purchase Pre-made bait rigs from any tackle shop to ensure your baits are presented properly in the surf. For lures, it's best to ask the locals for what works; a good couple of lures for any saltwater environment are spoons like the Kastmaster and a swimming plug. Your sizes and colors may change depending on the location.
Ice fishing gear
As we mentioned earlier, ice fishing gear is diminutive compared to traditional fishing gear. Since anglers are dropping bait and lure directly below them through the ice, there is no need to cast with a longer rod, and with many ice fishermen opting to set up a cabin or tent to stay warm, the extra rod length becomes a greater hindrance. For nearshore ice fishing, a small combo like the Berkley lightning paired with wax worms or a small jig will put you well to a pile of perch or rainbow trout.
Fly fishing gear is rated by weight. The larger the weight rating the larger the rod and reel will be to accommodate the heavier line used. A 4-6 weight fly rod will work wonderfully for the average freshwater species like trout and smaller bass. If you are expecting to fish more open water and maybe fish for saltwater species a 6-8 weight will give you more power while fighting fish and more line capacity for the long casts need. Cabela’s Bighorn flyoutfit is a good starter combo that comes in a number of sizes to accommodate any type of fishing you plan on doing.