Friday, August 12, 2011

Getting Started in Fishing

     Hello interweb. Fishing is a great past time that can be shared with almost anyone. It’s a great thing for friends to do together, for parents and grandparents to do with their kids and grandkids, and also great if you want some simple time alone. Getting started in fishing can be intimidating when you go into a sporting goods store with a fishing section that takes up half of the store. I assure you that much of this is unnecessary for the average fisherman and that choosing good equipment is neither overly expensive nor difficult. I will walk you through the things you need, how to choose them, and some of my personal preferences.

1) Buy a Fishing License!
     It is very important that you purchase a fishing license. The fines for fishing without one are quite expensive and I have my license checked by law enforcement while fishing on a regular basis. The money goes to conservation and stocking of the waterways that you fish so you do benefit from the money spent on one. Check your state laws about age restrictions as most states do not require minors to have any type of fishing license.

2) Choosing a Rod and Reel.
     When getting started in fishing, it is definitely not necessary to spend more than $50 on a rod and reel combo. My first tip is to not automatically go for the biggest rod in the store, or the most expensive. This is not the time to compensate for any errr "shortcomings." Take into consideration what you are fishing for and search the internet for what types of fish are in your area. While you will see pictures of people catching monster fish, remember that there are many more small fish than there are fish that have lived long enough to grow to massive size. This means that if you go with smaller tackle you will be able to catch more fish but not necessarily the biggest.

I prefer carbon/graphite rods when available because they have a sensitive feel and still maintain some backbone to be able to set hooks when you get a bite. For normal freshwater rivers and streams I would suggest a light action rod and reel combo. If you have access to a boat and a larger body of water, you will want to consider a medium-light or medium action rod because it will be more versatile and better for larger fish especially considering that you will have more room to cast a larger rod and will be able to cover a greater area and find different topographical features. This will most likely be the first of many rods and reels so don't worry, you will eventually have one for every occasion. One final thing to consider is whether to choose a one or two piece rod. If you are concerned about how to transport your rod (you have a small car or your seats don't fold down), go for a two piece. Otherwise a one piece is superior in every way.

     When it comes to choosing a reel it is primarily up to personal preference and the size of lure and fish you want to pursue. I prefer an open face spinning reel for almost every occasion. They are easier to cast, easier to undo tangles, and generally of better quality than the traditional spincast (closed reels) used by beginners. Go for the highest number of bearings and smoothest feel that you can find in your price range. In my opinion no beginner should start with a casting reel like you see the professionals use on TV. They are difficult to master and you will end up hating fishing on your first trip. But once you get more into fishing they are a great addition to any fisherman's collection because they offer superb casting for larger baits, fantastic reeling rates, and are faster and more instinctive to use once you master them.
     A good quality carbon/graphite rod that comes with a reel in a light, medium-light, or medium action should not cost you more than $50 if you do your shopping.

3) Stringing up That New Rod.
        For the beginning fisherman using a spinning reel, I would not even consider using expensive braided line. It is high tech and looks cool in many cases, but it is not worth the price for the average fisherman and it can cause some problems like gouging your line guides, embedding itself in the spool if you fight a snag (or big fish), etc. For general fishing and especially for the beginner I always go with a box of Stren. The original fluorescent is fantastic as are all of their newer lines that have superior strength and knot retention. For your light action rod, 4-6 lb test is all that you need and will be plenty for everything up to a 10 lb fish (remember that your reel has a drag setting should you hook a big fish). For your medium or medium-light action rod, I would recommend 6-10 lb test. Remember that the lighter the line that you go with the easier it will be to cast and you will be able to cast more variety of lure sizes.
     A final thought on fishing line is that learning how to tie a proper fishing knot is the most important thing. It doesn't matter if you buy the best line that money can buy if you cannot tie a fishing knot. **Snap swivels on the end of your line will also prevent you from having to tie a new knot every time you want to change lures.

3) Lures and bait.     
     This is where things can get a little confusing and finding what works will really just take some trial and error. If it is one of your first times out, always go with some kind of live bait to fall back on. Night crawlers are a great way to go because you can fish them almost any way that you want if you cut them into smaller pieces. If you're getting frustrated, don't be afraid to throw a float and a worm on your line and toss it in some still shady water. Catching fish is always more fun than not catching fish. When it comes to lures for beginners, spinner baits are very versatile and require little technique to catch some fish. Mainly just try different speeds of retrieval as you throw them out and reel them in. Inline spinners are fantastic and by far the best for rivers and streams. Traditional spinners are great for larger rivers and bodies of water. Hard baits are best left for lakes and reservoirs and are generally not as versatile as spinners.

     This said however; when fish want hard baits they can really go for them. For a beginner, I would stay away from top water lures as it is difficult to find the right topography and time of day for fish to hit them but have a buzz-bait just in case you see a lot of fish feeding on the surface. The trick is to have a variety and keep trying until you find what works. Lures definitely don't have to look like bait or food because fish have a brain the size of a pea. They like shiny things.

4) Finding the Right Place.
       If you don't already have a place in mind or don't have a boat on a lake, don't fear. Google Maps is here. Look at some satellite photos of the area surrounding you and just look for water and a place to park. Rivers and streams I have found are much better and easier to access if you do not have a boat because you can wade and walk along the shore many times without having to worry about private property. If you decide to fish in a river or stream, the key things to remember are that fish are lazy and that they like to stay in cover. This means that fish generally like slower moving water on the edge of faster moving water so that they can wait for food to float by.
     Key places are behind rocks and logs and in eddies (still or swirling water out of the main current). The same general thing holds for boat and lake fishing. Fish like outstanding features that provide cover, whether they are visible from the surface or not. Look for channels, coves, downed trees, piers etc. An infamous fishing quote is "If you aint snagging, you're not where the fish are."

5) Time and Weather.
      This is yet another thing that you will just have to experiment with. Luckily, however, there are some general guidelines that you can use. Fish generally feed heavily in the morning and in the evening. They generally do not stay active in extremely hot or extremely cold weather, just like humans. If there is a heat warning out it's too hot and if your anatomy is shriveling it's too cold. Fish also tend to feed heavily in the 12 hours after rain and then feed very little for the next couple of days. In many temperate regions, late spring and early fall are some of the best times to fish. The best way to find out what times of day and weather conditions are best at your favorite fishing hole is to keep an inexpensive rod in your car with some lures that work reliably (rooster tails are my reliable fallback) and stop by when you have an extra hour and just see if you catch anything. When it happens that you catch a few more fish than normal, take a mental note of what general conditions are present like temperature, time of day, and rain trends.

      Finally the most important thing to remember is that you will always catch more fish on the water than you will on the couch at home so just get out there, experiment, and focus on enjoying the time outdoors. Enjoy your personal time or your time with friends and throw your thoughts of other things out. This is the true key to being a successful fisherman. It really isn't about how many fish you catch, but having a good time doing it. The more time you spend enjoying being on the water, the more you will learn and you will slowly start to notice that you are catching more fish!


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