Fishing Guide
Fishing is a great way to catch your dinner, but the activity itself can also be extremely rewarding. From the Zen-like experience of fly fishing on a pristine river to the white-knuckle thrills of fighting a powerful marlin, there are many different ways to fish. Not sure what kind of fishing to try? Looking for basic information on how to get started? You’ve come to the right place.
  • Types of Fishing

    People who are new to recreational fishing are often surprised at just how many different types of fishing there are. Before you head out and start buying tackle, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the most common types of fishing so you have an idea of what to expect from each. In this section, we’ll cover several of the most popular types of recreational fishing.

    Hand Fishing

    Not all fishing requires specialized gear. In fact, some people can simply wade into the water and catch fish with their bare hands. “Catfish noodling,” for example, is a popular type if hand fishing practiced in some regions of the southern United States. Catching crawfish and frogs by hand is another example of hand fishing. Depending on local rules and regulations, hand fishing may or may not require a license. Be sure to check with the local parks and wildlife department or similar organization before heading out for some good old-fashioned hand fishing, noodling or trout tickling (as some people call it in the UK).


    Although spearfishing is one of the oldest variations of fishing, this sport is still popular today. In ancient times, most spearfishing was performed with a long, barbed harpoon made of wood or a three-pronged spear known as a trident. “Gigging” is a contemporary term for fishing with a pronged spear, which is typically used to catch freshwater game, such as flounder or frogs. Most modern saltwater spearfishing is performed in the ocean using a speargun. Once the firing mechanism is cocked, a special spear is loaded into the gun, which is typically powered by a large elastic band. The spear is tethered to the gun with a thin cord that feeds from a spindle. After firing, the spindle allows the fisherman to retract the spear, along with any captured game. Most saltwater spearfishing is performed underwater with snorkeling equipment.


    A hybrid of archery and fishing, the sport of bowfishing is similar to spearfishing. Instead of using a speargun, bow fishermen shoot prong-tipped arrows that are tethered to the bow with heavy-duty fishing line. Arrows typically don’t have any fletching, which allows the arrows to travel through the water with less drag. A spool or special reel is used to release and retract the line after an arrow is fired. Although compound bows are the most popular choice, bowfishing can also be performed with a traditional recurve bow or longbow. The sport of bowfishing is frequently practiced in shallow waters from a boat, which allows archers to spot and target fish more easily than from a bank.


    The term “angling” generally refers to any type of fishing that uses a line, hook and bait. Most types of angling also utilize a fishing rod, but a rod isn’t necessarily required. There are many different styles of angling. Below are some of the most popular variations:

    Handline fishing, also called “handlining,” is a simple method of fishing that uses a line and baited hook. A bobber or weight may also be used. Instead of attaching the line to a reel and pole, the line is simply held in the hands. A small, handheld wooden spool may also be used.

    Casting is a type of angling that uses a fishing rod, reel and line to cast bait or lures out onto the water. Casting is the most popular style of recreational fishing because it’s relatively easy to learn. Two of the most prevalent types of casting are spin casting and baitcasting.

    Fly fishing uses a fly rod, reel, line and leader to cast an artificial fly. The specialized equipment and casting techniques used in fly fishing differ from the gear and techniques used in casting. For this reason, fly fishing is considered to be more challenging to learn. However, with enough practice, fly fishing can be a very effective angling technique. For detailed information on fly fishing and fly fishing tackle, check out our Fly Fishing Guide.

    Ice fishing is performed on frozen lakes and ponds. To access the water, ice fishermen first bore a hole through the ice. Because there is no need to cast, rods designed for ice fishing are typically very short.

    Trolling is a type of fishing that can be performed with either a hand line or rod. After casting a baited line off the back of a boat, the line or rod is secured to the stern. The baited line is subsequently pulled through the water as the boat is propelled forward. Optimal trolling speed varies, but is usually relatively slow. Multiple rods are often used to cast several lines, allowing anglers to troll various types of baits at different distances behind the boat. A spreader can also be used to cast multiple lures from a single line. Trolling is a popular technique used to catch large pelagic fish (e.g. tuna, marlin and swordfish) on the open ocean. This type of angling is frequently called big game fishing.

    Other Types of Fishing

    Three widely used types of fishing not mentioned above are net fishing, trawling and trapping. Because these techniques are most commonly used by commercial fishermen, we’ve chosen not to cover them in this guide. Although some recreational fishermen do use nets or traps to catch fish and crustaceans, these techniques require specialized gear and may also require a special type of fishing license.

  • Fishing Rods and Reels

    Thinking about picking up a new fishing pole? There are a few things you’ll want to consider before getting started. First, you’ll need to narrow your search to a specific type of fishing rod. Doing this will help determine what type of reel to get. There is no single rod that will “do it all.” Instead, rods are designed for specific types of fishing. The majority of fishing rods can be divided into the following categories: 1) freshwater casting and spinning rods, 2) saltwater rods, 3) fly rods and 4) specialty rods. Fishing reels typically fall into five main categories: 1) spinning reels, 2) spincast reels, 3) baitcast reels, 4) conventional reels and 5) fly reels.

    Once you’ve narrowed down your selection to a specific type of fishing rod, you can either buy a reel separately or you can buy a rod and reel package, commonly called a “fishing outfit.” Buying a fishing outfit is often the easiest way for beginners to get started. However, buying a rod and reel separately gives anglers the ability to customize their own outfit.

    Want to learn more about the different types of fishing rods and the primary advantages of each? Not sure what kind of reel to buy? We cover all this and more in our Fishing Rod and Reel Guide .

  • Fishing Line and Leader

    Selecting an appropriate fishing line is just as important as having a good fishing rod and reel. Before you start shopping for line, consider narrowing your selection down to a specific material. There are three primary types of fishing lines: monofilament line, fluorocarbon line and braided line, which is sometimes called “superline.” Each type has some advantages and some disadvantages. For example, monofilament fishing line has a slow sink rate and good shock absorption. Fluorocarbon fishing line is usually stronger than comparable monofilament. It’s also less visible to fish and offers better sensitivity. However, fluorocarbon line also has a fast sink rate, which isn’t ideal in some situations. Braided fishing line is extremely strong and has a smaller diameter than comparable mono and fluoro lines. However, braided line is more visible to fish compared to other lines.

    There are other factors to consider when choosing fishing line, such as pound test rating and reel size. You’ll also want to decide whether or not to fish with a leader, which adds yet another layer of rigging options. For detailed information on fishing line, fishing leader, pound test and more, take a look at our Fishing Line Guide.

  • The simple barbed hook has been used to catch fish for thousands of years. In fact, according to Nature, the oldest known fish hook ever discovered dates back more than 15,000 years and was carved from shell. Although the basic design of the hook hasn’t changed dramatically in the last century, there have been a number of improvements and variations made over the years. Today’s fish hooks are light, very strong and extremely sharp. There are also a variety of specialized hooks available.

    Types of Fish Hooks

    Fish Hook Diagram 1

    The diagram above shows a few of the most commonly used fishing hooks. The biggest difference between the classic J hook and the circle hook is the point. On a J hook, the point is directed upward with just a slight inward curve. On a circle hook, the point has a much more pronounced inward-facing curve. This design makes the circle hook less likely to become lodged in the back of a fish’s mouth, throat or gills. This lowers the chance of fish mortality, which is ideal for catch-and-release fishing. According to Online Fisherman, classic J-shaped fishing hooks must be “set” by quickly tugging on the line immediately after a bite. Circle hooks, on the other hand, are designed to set themselves in the corner of a fish’s mouth, so it’s usually best not to yank on the line when using a circle hook. After a fish bites, simply start reeling in the line and the circle hook should find its way into place.

    Bait-holder hooks are designed with one or more additional barbs on the shank to keep worms and other bait held securely in place. These hooks are available in both classic J-shape and circle shape. Treble hooks actually combine three barbed hooks into one. Although this design is very effective for hooking fish, it’s not recommended for catch-and-release fishing because treble hooks are more likely to become lodged internally. Some areas don’t allow treble hooks to be used with natural bait. However, many artificial lures already come with treble hooks pre-attached and these lures are accepted in many areas.

    The Parts of a Fish Hook

    Fish Hook Diagram 2

    The diagram above shows the primary parts of a fish hook. The point and barb ensure that a hook will not fall out of a fish’s mouth once the hook has been properly set. Good-quality fish hooks are extremely sharp, so be sure to handle them with caution. Fishing line or leader is secured through a hook’s eye using a terminal connection knot. The snell knot, baja knot and palomar knot are three examples of good terminal knots, but there are many others. Check out NetKnots for a comprehensive list of fishing knots and instructions on how to tie them.

    Fish Hook Size

    Most hooks are manufactured in a range of sizes and hook sizes are typically numbered in two ways. Hook sizes followed by a slash and the number zero increase in size as the number increases. For example, a 3/0 hook is larger than a 2/0 hook. Conversely, hook sizes that are not followed by a slash and the number zero decrease in size as the number increases. For instance, a size 1 hook is larger than a size 2 hook. The diagram below illustrates the relative size differences. (Note: Diagram is not to scale).

    Fish Hook Diagram 3
  • Fishing Bait and Lures

    It should go without saying that the bait you choose will have a big effect on whether or not you land a fish. Of course, the sheer variety of options can be a little overwhelming if you’re not familiar with fishing bait and lures. Walk into any modern bait shop, and you’ll likely see dozens if not hundreds of choices, from night crawlers and minnows to spinners and jigs. If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to choosing bait and lures, you can always talk to a fisherman that has experience catching the type of fish you’re after. Most experienced anglers are more than willing to share tips and advice with beginners. Another good option is to visit a tackle shop or bait shop near the area you’ll be fishing. These shops are usually a great place to buy bait and get recommendations on what works best for targeting specific fish in the area. Another option is to check out our Fishing Bait and Lures Guide.

    If you’re thinking about angling for panfish and trout, check out the video below for a quick introduction to several popular trout fishing lures.

  • Terminal Tackle and Fishing Rigs

    The term “fishing tackle” generally refers to any piece of equipment used for fishing, including poles, line and lures. “Terminal tackle,” on the other hand, typically refers to any piece of gear that is designed to be used at or near the end of your fishing line. This includes bobbers, floats, weights, sinkers, snaps, swivels, hooks and lures. Since we already covered hooks and lures earlier in this guide, we’ll cover the other types of terminal tackle here.

    Floats and Bobbers

    Fishing floats, commonly called bobbers in North America, are a common piece of tackle used by anglers to help position lures or bait after a cast. Typically, a bobber is tied onto a fishing line several inches above the baited hook or lure. After casting, the bobber floats on the water, allowing the bait to dangle below the surface. When a fish strikes, the float will bob in the water, alerting the angler to a strike. In this way, bobbers are often used as a type of bite indicator. We cover two popular ways to rig bobbers further along in this section.

    Weights and Sinkers


    Fishing sinkers and weights are designed to help a baited hook or lure sink quickly below the surface of the water. Fishing weights are also used to help cast lightweight baits and lures farther. Most weights are made of lead or steel. Some designs have a loop that can be tied onto the fishing line. Others can be threaded onto the line like a bead. Split shot weights are crimped directly onto the fishing line. Most anglers keep a selection of different fishing weights and sinkers in their tackle box for a variety of rigging applications. Check out the rigging section below to see how some of these can be used.

    Swivels and Snaps

    Snaps and Swivels Diagram

    Snaps, swivel snaps, barrel swivels and three-way swivels are four pieces of rigging gear that every angler should have in the tackle box. When tied directly to the end of fishing line (or leader), a snap or swivel snap can be used to quickly swap out lures without having to retie the line, which saves time. In cases when an angler doesn’t want the swivel to be attached directly to the lure, a barrel swivel can be placed between the end of the fishing line and the leader. This is called using an in-line swivel. For setting up three-way rigs, the handy three-way swivel is another great option to keep on hand.

    Fishing Rigs

    This section covers four popular freshwater fishing rigs, but there are many more. Although these rigs can serve as a good starting point for beginners, it’s always helpful to talk with other anglers about their favorite rigs to learn new tricks and techniques. Another good idea is to pick up a fishing guidebook that provides detailed information on fishing rigs, baits and lures that work well in the region you plan to fish the most.

    Basic Bobber Rig Diagram

    There are many different ways to use bobbers, sinkers, weights and other gear when rigging bait. The rig you choose will determine how your bait is presented to fish. For example, a bobber rig allows a baited hook to dangle beneath the surface, targeting fish that are suspended in the water. How deep the fish are located will determine the ideal distance between the bobber and your baited hook. Fish tend to dwell at different depths depending on the time of year and the species of fish. There is some trial and error involved when fishing with any type of rig, so you may have to adjust your leader length a few times in order to get your bait into the strike zone. By slowly reeling in your line after a cast, your bait should float along under the water until a fish comes within striking distance. If you’ve been casting for a while without getting a bite (and you’re confident there are fish out there), consider adjusting the distance between your bait and bobber. You may simply be presenting your bait too shallow or too deep.

    Slip Bobber Rig Diagram

    A basic bobber rig with a traditional round float is a good starting point for many beginners. However, to make adjusting the distance between the bobber and bait even easier, a slip bobber rig is a nice upgrade. This design allows you to adjust for various depths by sliding the bobber stop up or down on the fishing line.

    Carolina Rig Diagram

    Unlike the previous bobber rigs, a Carolina rig works a little differently by targeting fish on or near the bottom. Slowly dragging this rig along the bottom, over logs and through cover is a good way to access fish that a bobber rig may not. The Carolina rig essentially allows you to “feel” along the bottom, so it’s important to use a rod with good sensitivity. Whenever you feel the rig come into contact with cover, give the line a very slight tug to alert any fish to your bait. Using this technique effectively takes practice and finesse. Just be sure to bury the hook tip on your bait to help avoid hangups.

    Drop-Shot Rig Diagram

    Another option worth experimenting with is the classic drop-shot rig, which is also dragged along the bottom. The primary difference between the drop-shot and the Carolina is the placement of the weight, which is always anchored below the bait on the line (or leader). This rigging allows the baited hook to move freely through the water several inches or more above the bottom. Changing the distance between the weight and hook allows an angler to target a variety of potential strike zones. If you’re not having much success with a Carolina rig, consider switching to a drop shot for a few casts, occasionally adjusting the distance between the weight and hook.

  • Fishing Tools and Accessories

    Aside from your line, leader, hooks, bait and other terminal tackle, there are several fishing tools that every angler should consider keeping in their tackle box. One of the most versatile tools in the fisherman’s arsenal is a reliable pocket knife or multi-tool. A fishing net is another very helpful tool. When used properly, a fishing net makes it easier to get fish out of the water and also reduces the potential for a fish to accidentally come off the hook. A good net is particularly helpful when fishing off a boat. Below are a few other essential fishing tools and accessories:

    1. Scissors and nippers are two important tools used to trim line when rigging fishing tackle. Nippers are ideal for cutting leaders, tippet and thinner lines. Scissors are ideal for cutting heavier lines.
    2. Needle-nose pliers are ideal for rigging, such as installing split-shot weights. Fishing pliers and clamps are helpful for crimping down barbs. Pliers can also be used to help extract a stubborn hook or lure if you don’t have a hook remover on hand.
    3. Hook removers, sometimes called dehookers, are specifically designed to make removing stubborn hooks and lures easier. Although you may not need one every time, it’s not a bad idea to have one in your tackle box, just in case you’re struggling to get a hook out quickly.
    4. Retractors that clip right to your fishing vest or jacket are ideal for keeping scissors, nippers and other small tools close at hand.
    5. Hook files are designed to sharpen any fishing hooks or lure hooks that have become dull. Having a sharp hook is essential for getting proper hook sets.
    6. Stingers are used to keep caught fish submerged in the water until you’re ready to clean them and toss them in the cooler.
    7. Tackle boxes, tackle bags, fly boxes and other storage gear are essentials for keeping tackle, tools and other items well organized. A good tackle box should contain everything you might need for a day of fishing.
  • Waders and Wading Boots

    Sometimes finding fish requires a little ingenuity. This is when waders and wading boots often come in handy. Wading into the water makes casting easier when you’re fishing in an area that has a lot of cover along the bank or shoreline. Wading is particularly helpful for fly fishing, which requires a much longer back-cast. On lakes and ponds, a pair of waders can also be used in combination with a float tube and fins to access hard-to-reach areas. When the fish are rising farther out, a float tube is an excellent way to target those ripples that may be just out of reach when casting from the shoreline.

    There are three primary styles of waders: hip waders, waist-high waders and chest waders. Waist-high and chest waders also come in two variations: bootfoot and stockingfoot. Many fishing waders are available in insulated and non-insulated variations. Insulated waders are ideal for fishing in very cold water. For hot weather, make sure to choose a pair of waterproof breathable waders. For more information on how to buy fishing waders and wading boots, check out our Wader Guide.

  • Fishing Clothing

    As you can imagine, the weather isn’t always ideal when you head out for a day of fishing. Sometimes it can be hot and humid. Other days it may be cold and raining. When it comes to what you wear in and around the water, there is a wide variety of fishing clothing and outerwear designed to help you stay more comfortable in a range of weather conditions.

    Fishing Shirts

    Typical fishing shirts are made of lightweight, breathable and quick-drying materials like nylon. Consider choosing a fishing shirt with built-in UPF sun protection to block UV rays and avoid sunburn. Some models even have built-in mesh ventilation panels to help keep you cooler on hot days. When the sun is really blazing, a good fishing shirt is definitely a nice upgrade from your basic, run-of-the-mill T-shirt.

    Fishing Pants and Shorts

    Just like shirts designed for anglers, fishing pants and shorts are typically made of light, breathable fabrics that dry quickly. Many have built-in UPF sun protection. Some also have a water-repellent and/or stain-repellent coating. For the best of both worlds, convertible pants are always a great choice for adapting to changing weather conditions on the fly.

    Fishing Vests and Jackets

    When it comes to keeping essential supplies and fishing tools close at hand, a good fishing vest is a must-have piece of gear for almost every angler. When fishing hard to reach locations, a fishing vest essentially becomes a wearable tackle box. Storing commonly used items, lures, fly boxes, line, leader and other essentials in (and on) your fishing vest is especially useful for angling in a float tube. When the weather gets ugly and you’re already out on the water, a waterproof fishing jacket is another important piece of gear that could make the difference between ending your day prematurely or getting in a few more casts and staying dry.

    Fishing Hats and Accessories

    To protect your head from the sun and shield your eyes, a good fishing hat is perhaps the most important piece of fishing clothing you’ll own besides your shirt and pants. For added protection, some fishing hats even come with a removable sun guard that covers the back of the neck. (Of course, you can always use a bandana or neck gaiter). Other features worth looking for include mesh panels to boost ventilation on hot days and an adjustable chin strap to keep your hat secure when the wind picks up. Lightweight, fingerless fishing gloves are another helpful accessory worth considering.

    Fishing Sunglasses

    When the sun is beating down, reflected glare coming off the water’s surface can quickly cause eye fatigue, making it harder to spot rising fish. To give your eyes the best possible defense against harmful UV rays and harsh reflected glare, consider choosing a pair of polarized sunglasses. If you often find yourself fishing in changing light conditions, a pair of polarchromic fishing sunglasses is another solid choice. The photochromic properties allow these sunglasses to adjust the lens tint according to the light level. For more information on polarized sunglasses, types of lenses and other features, be sure to visit our Sunglasses Guide.