If you ask 10 fishermen to tell you the 10 most important things every fisherman should know, you will get 10 different lists. Every angler has different priorities for what to focus on, and there are a lot of different reasons for the disagreement.
Anglers in different parts of the country will have different needs. Saltwater fishermen will have different requirements from freshwater. The rules for fly fishing trout are totally different from deep water fishing bass.
Understanding that this variety of needs exists, and that no list will be exhaustive without also including some things that don’t apply to everyone. This list will be things every bass fisherman should know, but it won’t be everything a fisherman should know. One of the most fun elements of fishing bass is that they are pretty opportunistic.
They can be in still warm water, unlike trout. Unlike catfish, they are just as likely to hunt at the top of the water as the bottom. It all depends on the conditions in your area, and what time of year it is.
#1: What Gear You Need
At its most basic, fishing requires just a few things: rod and reel, line, hook, and bait. Survivalists are able to catch a fish with six feet of line, a hook, and some scavenged bait, but that isn’t much fun—you will spend a long time not catching anything, to maybe bring in a fish that is to small and dumb to know what you are doing.
For the rest of us, there are certain supplies that you will want pretty much any time you go out. There will always be specifics based on what you are fishing for, but the basic list consists of some constants.
- Rod—You will need a rod suited for the type of fishing in your area. Any competent outdoor store will be able to help with this, but it is self explanatory on some level. Fly fishing requires shorter and more flexible rods than other types of fishing. For most purposes, a standard rod, approximately seven feet long, will be your day to day workhorse in the majority of environments.
- Reel—There are many different types of reels, but for the layperson, they fall into three basic divisions. Reels will typically either be open faced spinning reels, spin casters, or baitcasters.
- Spincasters make up the most commonly seen reels among beginners. They can be a little temperamental when loading line, but their closed body makes them fairly snag proof, and you can hand one to your five year old with very little training.Baitcasters are better for casting heavier lures and can cast much farther than a spincaster. They are still easy to use, but do require that your hand be big enough to place your thumb comfortably on the line.
- Open reels are popular with more experienced anglers. They allow for quick changes of line, and are very easy to reload if a line breaks. The biggest drawback for beginners is that they can come unspooled or tangle if you aren’t comfortable working with one.
- Line—The line’s test is the maximum load that line could bear. This includes the weight of your lure, any sinker weights, and the weight of the fish. A hidden weight you may not think about is the additional strain from the fish pulling. You also have to account for a loss of strength from the line being wet (Fishing line is tested dry, for some odd reason). All of that to say, line test should be about double the weight of the biggest fish you are likely to catch where you are with the bait and hooks you have.
- Hooks—There is an endless variety of hooks on the market, and the more you fish, the more you will learn. The more you learn, the more preference you will have. At the beginning, load your tackle box with a couple of sizes appropriate to your area, based on what types of fish are common. When you get to your fishing spot, you may have to adjust based on what is biting that day, so have some options. Again, talking to your outdoor store employee will be very helpful.
- Bait—This is the broadest category. Bait is whatever makes the fish go after the hook. Bait can be anything from small creatures scavenged on site (worms, crickets, frogs, lizards, minnows), to artificial creatures, to complicated man made lures and flies. Many lures also include the hooks attached already, making it easy to just attach one and go. Even if you prefer live bait, having some lures and artificial bait in your arsenal is helpful.
- Weights—While there is a time and place for topwater fishing, and many bass lures are weighted to put themselves near the bottom, You will often need to weight your line. Weights, especially when paired with floats, will allow you to choose exactly how deep your hook will be in the water.
- Pliers—A cheap pair of needle nose pliers will be a life saver in many scenarios. Pulling a really well set hook from the mouth of a thrashing channel catfish is a lot easier with pliers than it is with slimy wet hands. Pliers are also helpful for attaching weights, fixing bend lures, or cutting a stuck hook in half to push it through the tip of your thumb instead of pulling the barbs backwards.
- Filet knife—If you plan on eating your catch, a filet knife is indispensable. You want to get those filets gutted and on ice as quickly as possible after the fish dies, so field cleaning is vital. Even if you aren’t going to eat your catch, a sharp filet knife will let you break down small fish into bait if you are using live bait.
- License—If you are 16 or older, you will need a fishing license to fish public water in every state. Licenses are state by state, and often have specific endorsements for different species or types of fishing, so review your local rules.
#2: How to Attach a Hook
Loading line in your reel will depend on the reel type, so follow the instructions that come with it. Thread your line through the loops on your rod, and carry on to your hook or lure. Use an appropriate knot to attach your line.
There are several knots that you can use, depending on the type of hook/lure you are using, but having just a couple of basic knots in your pool of skills will get you through most obstacles.
A good basic knot for attaching hooks or lures is the Fisherman’s knot. Run your line through the eye of the fish hook. Double the line back on itself. Twist the hook five to seven times. Take the leading end of your line back through the loop created next to the eye of the hook. Finish the knot by passing the end through the larger loop you created, moisten the knot, and tighten it.
#3: How to Cast
This is pretty much the most basic of skills in fishing. A good fisherman should be able to put the hook right where they want it in the water every time. Casting is a little different with an open face versus a closed reel. Open faced reels require a little more finesse, but the basics are the same for spincasting and baitcasting reels.
- Hold the rod in your dominant hand at waist high, tip down.
- Press the release button on your reel. For spincaster reels, hold the button down to keep your line from unraveling. For baitcaster reels, place your thumb on the line to hold it in place after pressing the release.
- Bring the tip of the rod up over your dominant shoulder
- Rapidly flick the tip of the rod out once toward the water, simultaneously releasing the button or removing your thumb from the line (depending on your reel type).
- Wind your reel once to set the anti reverse.
Practice casting on dry land with no obstructions until you feel confident in your ability to put the hook where you want it.
#4: Bringing in Your Catch
There are several specific skills needed depending on where you are fishing and what you are fishing for, but there are a couple of pretty consistent rules. When you first feel a tug on your line, you will need to set your hook.
This is largely instinctual, meaning you will lose a lot more than you hook when starting out. You will need to wait until the fish takes enough of the bait in its mouth that the hook is completely inside the mouth. Give the tip of the rod a small tug, followed by a slightly harder tug.
If you can really feel resistance, the hook is likely set. Start reeling it in. Depending on the size of your fish, the test of your line, the strength of your reel, and several other factors, you probably won't be able to just reel as hard as you can and bring it in. Reel quickly.
If you feel a lot of resistance, let the fish pull without reeling for a minute or two. When the resistance drops, start reeling. Keep this back and forth until you get the fish in to shore or alongside your boat.
For larger fish, use a net skimmed into the water. For smaller fish, just raise the end of the rod to bring the fish out of the water.
#5: Know Your Local Environment
This rule means several different things. First, you should know what kind of fish are native to your area. While all varieties of bass are similar, there are techniques that will be more successful with some varieties than others. Since technique and bait varies depending on species, not knowing what your local species are will keep you from being a successful fisherman.
Knowing your species will also allow you to know when events like spawns happen in your area. Because fish behaviors are different before, during, and after a spawn, you will want to know this cycle to avoid wasting your time by the water. Seasonal changes in general lead to changes in bait and fishing technique.
To summarize, this is the minimum information that every fisherman should know to be successful. One of the beautiful things about fishing is that there is always something else to learn.
Keep these tips in mind and keep your ears open for new information, and you will no doubt be successful!