Everything You Need to Get Started Freshwater Fishing
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Everything You Need to Get Started Freshwater Fishing

Learn the basics for pursuing this rewarding lifelong hobby.

Everything You Need to Get Started Freshwater Fishing

First things first, if you’re interested in getting started fishing, welcome to the club. Most estimates put the number of anglers in the United States at more than 50 million. That’s a lot of lines in the water, and a lot of friends to be made on the lake. If you’re just getting started, teaming up with an experienced angler or club for some mentorship is a great first move. Then you need a few essentials.

Here’s everything you need to get going as a freshwater angler.

Fishing Essentials

1. Fishing license – In most states, anyone over a certain age is required to have a fishing license to fish, even on private waters. Consult your local state game and fish agency to make sure you have the appropriate license.

2. Tackle storage – You need some sort of tackle bag or case to carry your gear. Most anglers store their tackle in clear plastic tackle trays, then either stash the trays in a boat compartment or haul them in soft-sided packs or backpacks for shore fishing. The trays make it easy to file tackle by type and can be swapped out based on where and how you plan to fish that day.

3. Boating safety gear – If you’re fishing in a boat, you need to carry all the required boating safety gear, including life jackets. Learn more here.

4. Rods and reels – The number of rods and reels on the market is vast. For most freshwater fishing, medium-light to medium-heavy spinning or baitcasting rods cover most anglers’ needs. If you want to target the biggest species, such as muskies, you’ll need specialty heavy-power rods. If you primarily target panfish, opt for light to ultra-light rods.

When getting started, most anglers target bass and bluegills. If that’s you, consider buying a medium-light spinning rod with a 2000- or 2500-size spinning reel. That will cover most of your needs. As you grow as an angler, you’ll quickly learn what rods and reels are needed to expand your game.

5. Outdoor essentials – Your gear kit should include the usual essentials for any outdoor activity, plus a few fishing-specific items:

  • Bug repellent
  • Sunscreen
  • First-aid kit
  • Cellphone
  • Headlamp
  • Polarized sunglasses
  • Scissors
  • Landing net
  • Pliers
  • Measuring board
  • Hook-sharpening file

Know the Rules

Before you get started fishing, you need to check the rules. Your state game and fish agency might have closed seasons or special regulations for some bodies of water. Check their website or download their app and give the entire regulation book a quick read. If you have questions, contact the agency’s customer service line or call a wildlife officer. Most are happy to answer basic questions and could point you toward a great local fishery.

What Species to Fish For

It’s best to target fish that are eager to bite when you’re getting started. Bass and bluegills top the list. They’re found in just about any body of water and can be caught year round on live bait or artificials. If you plan to keep any fish to eat, research how to identify your target species, and make sure to check the minimum length and creel limit (the number of fish you can keep) for each species.

As you spend more time on the water, you’ll learn about more fishing opportunities. Some anglers specialize in a certain species, while others enjoy multi-species fishing throughout the year. Bass and bluegills are a great springboard into other opportunities.

Where to Fish

Bass and bluegills are widespread in rivers, lakes and reservoirs. They’ve also been stocked in millions of farm ponds, as well as in small city lakes and community parks. So, whether you live in an urban or rural area, you probably have access to a fishery nearby.

A pond is a great place to get started if you don’t own a boat. Be sure to get permission if it’s private, or to check the rules if it’s public. If you have a boat, check the game and fish website for a list of local boat ramps.

What Tackle Do I Need to Get Started?

Bass and bluegills can be caught on many types of live bait. A simple worm on a hook, dangled beneath a bobber, will get you started. Or, you can target them strictly with artificials. Here are some links to helpful articles on lure and bait selection and how to fish them:

Go Fishing

Now you’re armed with all the basics to get started freshwater fishing. Remember, it’s a journey, and it can be a rewarding one even if you’re not catching a lot at first. Every day on the water is a puzzle to figure out, and every success teaches you something new. Most importantly, the more time you dedicate to fishing, the more success – and the more fun – you’re going to have.

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