Get Reel! The Ultimate Fishing Basics Guide for Novice Anglers
Updated: Mar 31
Fishing is one of those hobbies you can begin as a small child and continue throughout your life.
There are no age restrictions or age limits; depending on where you live, it could be something you do for just an hour after work or all day on the weekend.
In this article, I want to cover fishing basics as a guide for beginners interested in this relaxing outdoor hobby who need help figuring out how to start.
Where and how to begin
In writing this article, I talked to Hayden Engquist, a longtime fisherman with multiple sponsorships. He had a successful run on his high school’s fishing team and has a substantial social media following for his fishing videos.
I wanted his perspective on the questions a beginner should ask themselves before starting their fishing journey. Here’s what he had to say:
“If I were a complete beginner, the first thing I would figure out is where the closest body of water is to where I live.”
This is because it can make all the difference in the type of fishing you’ll be doing and the gear you will need.
Freshwater fishing is different from saltwater fishing, and rivers are different from lakes and ponds from bays and inlets. They are all different from the open ocean. He went on to say,
“You then want to determine what type of fish you will or want to be targeting. Also, most importantly, you need to learn what those fish eat.”
Again, these factors will be important in what kind of gear and bait you choose to fish with.
Hayden recommends starting with live bait, depending on your target species. For instance, fishing for catfish in a local pond or marina with worms or minnows is one of the easiest ways to start fishing without putting too much thought or money into it.
Smaller game fish like Blue Gill and Catfish are plentiful and ubiquitous throughout the United States, making them easy to find and fish for.
Once you have figured out where you’ll be fishing and what you’ll be fishing for, you need to get your fishing license.
In the United States, nearly everyone must purchase a fishing license in their respective state to fish in public waters.
This license is only valid in your state; you usually need to renew it yearly.
Fortunately, they aren’t expensive and can most often be purchased online.
Gear you'll need
There are so many options for fishing rods out there, so your options can sometimes be overwhelming.
Hayden suggests starting with a spinning combo rod with a spinning reel that can be spooled with fishing line.
Sporting goods stores and department stores often have less expensive combo options, so you don’t need to worry about purchasing a rod and reel separately. You also don’t need to spend more than $50 for a beginner’s rig.
Let’s talk reels, as they don’t always come pre-attached to the rod, so you might need to purchase yours separately.
As mentioned, Hayden recommends a spinning reel for most beginners, as they are not easy to screw up. However, if you teach a child how to fish, starting with a simpler push-button reel might be best.
The fishing line you choose to go with is first and foremost determined by the weight of the fish you are targeting and also water clarity. Hayden states,
“If you’re fishing around a lot of cover, such that in mangroves or marshes, then braided line with a monofilament leader is a great option. However, fluorocarbon or monofilament lines are better for all other applications.”
A braided line is essentially string, and monofilament is more conventional. Braid is better for vegetation, and monofilament is better for more open water.
You also want to consider the test weight of your fishing line. You generally want one and a half times the weight of the fish you plan to catch.
For a beginner fishing for a small game in their local freshwater, a 10-15 lb test should be fine.
Hooks are usually chosen by size and style.
Hayden recommends size 12 to size 4 circle hooks and says these are the best options for beginners targeting smaller game fish.
Circle hooks are the most common hook style; you can find them almost anywhere.
He recommends these to beginners because you don’t have to “set the hook.” If you get a bite from a fish, you just start reeling. You also might want to pick up a pack of sinkers to attach to your fishing line so your hook and bait will sink deeper into the water.
Let’s get into a little more detail on baits.
Again, worms and minnows are most commonly used for beginners fishing in freshwater ponds for Catfish or Bluegill.
Once you progress in your fishing experience, you can consider moving into artificial baits.
“For those who want a more exhilarating experience in freshwater, targeting Bass or Pike with plastic worms, spinner baits, and weedless topwater baits are great options,” says Hayden.
You can use live bait such as shrimp, squid, and small mullet for saltwater.
Artificial baits for saltwater fishing include spoons and soft plastics.
Gear you might want
I decided to throw in some honorable mentions regarding gear for this section.
Hayden recommended some additional pieces of gear that aren’t necessarily required but are highly sought after by regular fishermen.
These are used to grab fish that you have hooked that might have sharp teeth or if you don’t want to grab the fish by hand.
Good pliers are great for removing the hook from a fish, cutting the line, and attaching sinkers to your fishing line.
If you’re going to be out all day, you will certainly want to invest in some good polarized sunglasses.
Fishing can be an easy and inexpensive hobby to start.
It’s a sport you can enjoy for a lifetime and doesn’t require a large investment of time or money when just starting out.
There is a baseline of the required gear, such as a rod, reel, fishing line, hook, and bait. As you gain more experience, you can invest in other gear to make your experience more enjoyable.
I want to thank Hayden Engquist for sharing his knowledge and insight on how to start fishing as a beginner. He can be followed on TikTok at @haydenengquist04.