Basic Freshwater Fishing 101

 

 

 

 

 

 MANY YEARS AGO, as a young man (maybe I was 10 years old), I had the opportunity to have been taught by an uncle, bobber fishing in an abandoned millpond that WDFW stocked before each season.  Our family also lived very near a creek (through our back yard), that eventually I learned by myself how to fish it, as my dad never really fished, and when I was growing up he was busy working to put food on the table for a family of 5 kids (me being the oldest). 

 

But for those who may not have had the chance to at least be exposed to this addicting thing, the learning curve could be so great that they may abandon the whole idea especially if you are trying to teach a son or daughter, which really need to be able to catch at least a few. 

 

I had not even thought much about doing an article on HOW TO FISH, until my grandson now has a family (2 boys 11 and 13, and a daughter 2)  .  His fiancé mentioned they needed to get the boys some fishing gear and expose them to the sport this summer.  This grandson was not the fisherman in the family, being the hunter while his younger brother was the fisherman.  So, I finally realized just how many other families, or even single moms, may not have the benefit of a tutor like I did.  Hence this article was born.   Basically starting form GROUND ZERO and trying to relate in a manner somewhat easy to understand for the brginner.

 

Here we will initially be targeting bank fishing, as using a boat usually comes later when you get addicted, unless you find a friend that has a boat.  And in targeting the single mom here, this bank fishing would probably be her first step.  And when on to boat fishing, where tackle and gear could be somewhat different. 

 

Start them young.   Can you just see the determination on this little guy?
I snatched this photo off Facebook in 2016.  It was taken at Fort Borst Park in Centralia WA
I have not been able to find the photographer. If you know, or are them, please contact me so I can give credit & add a bit of info to this photo.

 

From The Beginning ;   On second thought, maybe I am biting off more than I can chew here as many of us become rather humbled even though we have MANY years of experience by coming back from a day on the water with no fishy smell in the cooler.

 

The most basic type would be a long willow or cane pole, with line tied to the tip and a hook which could be baited with about anything, worms or a grasshopper may have been some of the first.  If you need to reach out farther, then some sort of a line container would be required, (a fishing reel to store more line).  These can be had in numerous styles, which are then designed to match the style of the rod and method of fishing. 

 

Now we have a couple of slight differences, (1) Plunking, (2) Bobber fishing, where both could be called "Still fishing".  Both have many similarities, like casting the bait out and waiting for the fish to find and bite it.  The main differences are that with Plunking, the bait rests on (or near) the bottom with no strike indicator on the mainline.   Bobber fishing can do the same, but with a strike indictor floating on the surface of the water.  With bobber fishing, you also have the ability to suspend the bait if seems to be what is needed.    Another method (3) would be casting and retrieving, which may also require a different lure, like a spinner where you are trying to entice a bite.  In this article we will cover all three.

 

Now an improvement to the Plunking Method, after you have cast out, reeled in any slack, and put the rod in the rod-holder attach one of the clip on bobbers to your mainline about  a foot from the rod tip.  What this does is gives you a strike indicator very similar to when using a bobber, but right at your rod.

 

Other than that gear (Rod, Reel, Line Etc.) are pretty much the same for all three methods.  

 

And although this technique can be used from a boat, its popularity by those fishing from shore cannot be overstated

 

Reels ;    For the beginner, it is usually recommended that a spinning outfit be selected, because of ease of casting farther with minimal problems.  The usual problems with normal casting type reels would be the line becoming tangled, officially called a backlash (but usually called a "Bird's Nest") at the end of your cast.  There are 2 types of spinning reels, (1) Closed face  and (2) Open face.  The closed face would be more easily used by younger kids, as it is simpler to operate as it has one lever that acts as a combo brake/release.  However the open face is more popular, especially when the kids get up to about 10 years old up to 80ish.  Using these to cast, the line needs to be held against the rod's front handle with the index finger, flip the bail open, then cast, but time the finger release to gain casting accuracy and distance at about a 10 O'clock position.  Releasing it too soon will send the lure too high in the air, and too late splash in the water in front of you.

They both will have a drag system to control pressure on the line. The closed face will have a star shaped wheel under the crank handle, where the tighter (RH) rotation increases this drag. The open faced reels could have a adjustment on the front of the spool or on the very rear of the reel body to do the same. The normal method of setting these would be to set them at about 1/2 of the line's braking strength.
 

All reels will be rated in size by the capacity of line they can hold, which will vary depending on the line weight, and are usually labeled as such on the reels.

 Closed Face  -- Shakespeare 1766  model EE  Open Face  -- Shimano FX 2000  (rear drag adjustment)

 

For the open face reels, they are usually held in the strong hand if you are right handed, cast, then switched to the weak hand with the reel pointing UP, and cranking with the dominate hand.   With the open face reels, the rods are held in the dominate hand, with the reel hanging below the rod, and cranked with the weak hand.  Most of the newer open faced reels now manufactured, you can change the crank from RH to LH by removing the reel handle, and inserting it from the opposite side.

Rods ;   Closed Face and Open Face rods are different.   Both will have some sort of a handle, (many times made of cork or EVA foam).  But the closed face, being constructed so the line comes off the reel out of a small central hole, the rod line guides will be smaller at the rear and are essentially just a casting rod.

 

The open faced reel rods are made in two grades, where the better grade will have a reel seat made into and between the rear handle section and the fore grip, that has metal retainers that attach the reel to the rod.   Cheaper rods may simply have  two metal rings that slide over the continuous handle, that can be pushed on over the reel feet to retain the reel.     The open faced rods, will have larger guides, (especially the rearmost one).  This is so that when the line is spooling off the reel spool when casting, it will come off in a larger diameter loop, therefore the rear guide needs to be larger so as to not restrict the line coming off the reel, relating to longer and smoother casts.

 

In use, the closed face reel will be held so the guides are pointing UP, while since the open faced reel, (being on the underside during all fishing) the guides will be pointing downward.

 

Rods will usually be made of fiberglass and in lengths of from 5' to 12', depending on the intended purpose, (bank fishing or boat fishing and also depending on the specie/size of fish targeted).  Rods are also rated as to Light weight, Medium,  Heavy, Slow or Fast action, AND also for which line weight they are designed to handle and weight of lure that could be used.  Obviously a 6' rod/reel designed to catch trout or perch would be a lot lighter than a 10' or even 12' rod designed to catch Stripped Bass or Salmon.

 

Rods, especially longer that 6' or 7' will be made in sections so the rod can be taken down and transported more easily.  For this type of fishing most rods being used by newbies will be with lengths in the 6' to 7' length.   You may see some 8' or 9' rods used, but, the cost is higher and would probably be used by a fisherperson who may be using their favorite steelhead rod here also.

 

Line ;   Most lines now that are used on these spinning reels would be Monofilament (mono).  These are made and sold on spools ranging from containers of 1/4# up to 5# size spool and in weights from light leader weights of 6# or even down to 2#.  But for mainline basic trout fishing 6#, 8# up to 12# should be sufficient.  My standard mainline is usually 10 or 12# with a leader of possibly 6#.

 

Leaders ;     Many times fisherpersons will tie the lower 2' or 3' with a lighter mono leader section.  The purpose of this is twofold, (1) if you happen to get hung up on the bottom or snagged on a tree root or branch, you can break off this weaker hook end, while retaining the more expensive attractant gear.  (2)  In clear water some fish can become leader shy, so a lighter leader, (being smaller diameter) can help hide the line to the hook/lure.  However a 2# leader is LIGHT and any hard jerk even if a fish, can break the line.

 

Fishing Knots ;   Ordinary Granny knots do not work well when using mono line.   The knot is the weakest part of the line system, as you will probably never find a knot that will tie at 100% of the line weight, usually 80%.  And unless you understand fishing knot tying, you may go on for years thinking you have tied a strong knot, but that is not necessarily the case.   One thing you will see many fisherpersons do is to wet the line by spitting on it or putting it in their mouth at the knot before pulling it tight.  This is when using mono, that just the friction created in pulling the knot tight (many loops over the line and hook) is that you create friction, abating the line, creating a spot for it to break when under tension.  Therefore the wetting with saliva is a simple solution.

 

The Fisherman's knot shown below is an easy solid knot, however if you go to this article on Fishing Knot Tying, there are numerous others

 

Gear ;    

HOOKS --  Fishing hook sizes range from VERY small at #16 up to large at #1 and then Larger beginning  at 1/0 to a 19/0 being a shark hook.  The best size for trout or pan-fish would probably be from #4 or #6.  Hooks are made in many different styles for different purposes.  Most hooks will have a barb near the sharp point, better to retain the catch.  However some locations where the wild (unmarked fish) are required to be released have NO barb, OR the fisherperson is required to pinch it down, making it barbless.  Some hook eyes are straight with the shank, while others tip up or down.  Some are called "baitholders" which will have small barbs along the shank, others could be just the size of a single salmon egg and designated "egg hooks", many being gold plated and designed to be buried in the egg whereby the fish can not see the hook.

 

The number one rule to remember, that the hook is your connection to the fish and not all hooks are "sticky sharp" right out of the box.  Check each hook and the most popular method is to drag the point across your thumbnail.  If it slides at all, sharpen it with a hook stone or file.  When sharp, the point should dig in without moving at all.

 

 

CBait-holder hooks  Egg hook

 

 

SINKERS --  Most weights (or sinkers) are made of some sort of lead and comes in many different configurations.  They all will have some means of attachment to your line or tackle, either being a split shot that is crimped onto the line, or with an eye of either metal or cast into the weight.  Some are designed to be a slider even have a hole thru the center allowing it to be slid over the line.

 

One of the uses of sinkers would to also add weight to your casting lure so you can achieve a longer cast.

 

Placement of sinkers on the mainline would usually be above the lure enough so as to not hinder it's presentation to the fish (usually a couple of feet above the lure).

 

BOBBERS --  Otherwise known as floats, are simply some form of a small floating device that is attached to the line to (1) hold the lure at a specific depth (usually out of the weeds), and (2) as a strike or bite indicator.   Bobbers could be as simple as a wine cork, or made of wood, Styrofoam, hollow plastic or anything that would float.  They are usually painted a bright color so that you can see them.  Some are attached to the mainline by a simple spring activated hook, that can be readily removed, while others may need to be threaded onto the line and attached by a peg.  Positioning the bobber on the line will usually be trial and error, trying to keep the lure from tangling in bottom growing weeds or in a known fish traveling path. 

 

Sometimes if the bottom is not weedy, you may want the bait on the bottom, so in this situation, position it higher and use it only as a strike indicator.

 

Some bobbers are designed to be filled partly with water to add weight, which then allows you to cast farther with a lighter/small lure.

 

Shown below are various floats used for various methods
of float fishing
 

 

 

In use, if there is minimal slack from the float to the lure, when a fish bites, you can see this bobber bounce a few times if the fish is just nibbling, but when the bobber goes under the water and starts moving off, the fish has it and may already be hooked.  Usually at this point you need to wake up, grab your rod, lifting the tip enough to put tension on the fish, setting the hook.  If you allow too much slack in the line from the rod tip to the bait, you may not detect that the fish is stealing your bait.

 

BAIT --  Here bait can be a multitude of things, natural ones being worms, cured salmon eggs, grasshoppers, even miniature marshmallows or cornel corn, to artificial stuff, by many manufacturers like Berkley PowerBait or Gulp.    This stuff comes in different colors, some in a jar simply like peanut butter, while others are individual bait sizes, some even simulate grubs, maggots or worms.   Many of these artificial baits are made so they semi-float, this being if you are fishing on the bottom, the bait will raise up enough to clear the weeds, or at least put it up off the bottom enough that the fish have an easier time seeing it along with having a enticing scent.

 

One thing when using natural live worms, do not use the whole worm as like the bass fisherpersons do, but break it into smaller bite sized sections, otherwise you are just feeding them and they will seldom become hooked.

 

One important thing to remember is that once you open these jars of bait, just screwing the lid back on may not be good enough to keep them from spoiling, or loosing the sealed in scent.  The old way of resealing a jar of salmon eggs (or any other bait) , was to use one of the old wooden matches, poke it down into the remaining eggs, but just below the jar lips (you may have to break off part of the stick to gain this distance).   Using another match, light the poked in match on fire , AND RAPIDLY screw the lid back on.  This method simply burns out any captivated Oxygen, thereby re-preserving the contents.    Lately the newer method is basically the same, but instead of using the first match, use a small amount of wax paper.

 

SCENT --  You will find natural scent and artificial scent, the natural would be ike shrimp or crayfish, where the artificial would be like garlic or anis.  Both have their followers, and could change day to day.   Most of the time a little goes a long ways, just like perfume on a beautiful lady.  Scent smells can be so numerous that it can get confusing, but pick your poison and experiment.   Some of these scents are more of a thick liquid, while others are a thick smear on type of jelly.  The liquid type is more suited for applying to a feather or foam lure, while the jelly type can be applied to metal / plastic lures or attractors.

 

One thing that these do, is that some people who sweat a lot excrete an enzyme that repels fish, so when using scent under those conditions, you may have masked your bad smell, which could improve your catching.

 

SPINNERS / SPOONS / PLUGS  --  The above bobber and bait section would usually be associated with "Still Fishing".  But if using spinners, spoons or plugs, you normally would NOT use bobbers, but simply cast out and reel back, using the action/attraction of the lure to entice a bite.  You notice that I said "NORMALLY",

 

One thing when using these types of lures, do not cast out and simply reel back in.   But try to reel in in a erratic manner, like twitching the rod tip, or reeling in, then stop, allowing the lure to drop, anything to create a unusual action to your lure on your retrieve.

 

FLYS --  Here, I am not talking about live or even dead bugs, but hand tied imitations.  Many fisherpersons may be misled into thinking flies are only used by those elite who use expensive fly rods and reels, wear those funny special hats and chest waders that cost upwards to $400, act like they own the water and talk in a different language.  NO, here flies can be also used under a bobber, but being cast out and slowly reeled in using a small jerking motion as to imitate the bug swimming or trying to move around.

 

METHOD --  Once you have your gear all ready to fish, casting it out onto the water is a prime prerequisite to catching fish.  For casting when spinning usage, the best is to reel your lure/weight so it hangs about 1 foot below the end of the rod tip.  This gives you a better advantage than having it right at the end, or 5 feet away.  You do not have to give it the baseball bat swing, usually a flip of the wrist can be all that is needed, however some people add a bit of a swing (either side or overhead) to the flip of the wrist.  To cast  these reels, the line coming off the reel's spool needs to be held against the rod's front handle with the index finger, flip the bail open until it catches, (if it doesn't want to hold it open, rotate the spool slightly) then cast, but you have to time the finger release to gain casting accuracy and distance.  Therefore it is best to practice in your yard or a park lawn.  it does not take a lot of practice to get the hang of it and still be able to place your lure somewhat close to your intended location.  All the more reason to do your first experience at a pond/lake, where if the lure makes it anywhere to the water you have accomplished part of the learning curve.

 

Later you can become more accomplished and can be able to cast to a specific location as if fishing a river as to specific locations where fish are more likely to be resting (like behind rocks or logs, or seams between fast and slower water).

 

One thing the beginner needs to be aware of, is "What is Behind YOU ?".   By this, I mean when you are casting, be sure that your friend is not behind you to get hooked, or there is no brush or overhanging limbs that your lure/line can get hung on as you are making your backswing.   Been there - Done That, as I broke the tip section of a new rod on the second cast, Steelhead fishing.

 

The section below was snatched off the Berkley information page and explains Plunking quite well.

 

"Catching trout requires a little know how with quick limits likely for those having an understanding of their chosen fishing method – in this case the still-fishing when using PowerBait.

It’s so Easy:  Cast out, allow your outfit to sink to the bottom, wait for a bite, and set-the-hook when your rod tip dips toward the water.  It’s important to leave some slack in your line, so trout can swim off with your bait and swallow it without feeling line resistance before you yank back on your rod tip to set the hook.

Important!  When using PowerBait you can greatly increase your success by using the right amount of dough trout bait in combination with a Lil’ Corky single-egg-imitation such that your bait will float above bottom so cruising trout can quickly see / find it.  This is fundamental to success and often results in quick limits!  The buoyancy of your Lil Corky single-egg-imitation will take the guess work out of how much dough bait is the right amount to float your bait.

When rigging a Lil’ Corky/PowerBait combination, use a ball of PowerBait slightly larger than your Lil’ Corky. We can tell you, based on extensive testing and observation of underwater video footage, that you will catch far more fish if your Lil’ Corky and PowerBait combination floats side-by-side in the water column.

Selecting the Right Leader Length:   Leader length is important because, after all, you want your bait floating at the depth the fish are cruising, which might be close to the bottom during times when the water is clear and sun bright, higher in the water column during the spring - when water temperatures begin to warm - early and/or late in the day, or on overcast days.  And while the average leader length should be 18-to-24 inches, a leader long enough to extend above bottom-growing vegetation might be the ticket to success when trout are swimming just above the weed tops.

Rigging is Easy:  Simply thread your main line (extending from your rod tip) through the hole in your oval egg sinker, add a small plastic bead, and tie your line end to a size ten (10) barrel swivel. Then attach your leader (18-to-24 inches), complete with Lil’ Corky threaded on leader above hook, to the free end of your swivel end, then mold a ball of PowerBait around your hook.

 

Note: A size 12 treble hook should be used in combination with a size 12 Lil Corky, and size 14 treble with size 14 Lil Corky bait floater.

Terminal Tackle You Will Need:

1) Selection of size 12 and 14 Lil’ Corky floating egg imitation/bait-floaters; the most popular colors being pink pearl, red, orange, pink, sherbet, clown, and (for night fishing - where legal) luminous flame.  

2) Selection of size 12 and 14 treble hooks.

3) Selection of ¼, 3/8 and 1/2 ounce “Oval Egg” free-sliding sinkers.

4) Size 10 barrel swivels.

5) Size 4 and/or 6mm plastic beads

6) Spool of four (4) or six (6) pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon leader material.  Fluorocarbon leader material is less visible to fish."

 

PowerBait and Lil Corky are products made by Berkley.  PowerBait comes in many colors and flavors in a small jar.  The Lil Corky can be had in different colors and sizes and was designed as a steelhead lure that floats.  In the case described above it is used simply to lift the lure up off the bottom and to also act as an attractant.   However Rednecks have been known to use small marshmallows to do this task.

Plunk Fishing may be simpler, but for the youngster, being able to see the line where it enters the water, and tell when a fish is biting may be a issue, where if you add a bobber, this then gives them something to stay focused on.    So you can have the best of both methods

 

SUNGLASSES --  Polaroid Sunglasses are beneficial for 2 reasons, (1) to protect you from the sun's reflection off the water.  (2) To enable you to be see better into the water, removing the reflection off the surface.   Many times you can see fish in the water, and these help you know where to cast to.

 

ROD HOLDER --  Many times, you will have a laid-back lazy time here waiting for the fish to come to your lure, so standing or even sitting holding onto a rod, can become tiresome.  And with the bobber as a strike indicator, it is not really necessary to hold onto it every minute.  Therefore some form of a rod holder is needed.  The most rudimentary would be a forked stick pushed into the ground to hold the rod's forward section upward.  Simple home made ones could be made of PVC pipe, or purchased ones using a metal spike attached to a cheap boat type rod-holder.  One thing that you should do however is to reel in slightly so that the line to the bobber is fairly direct, so that WHEN that bobber goes down, you do not have to reel in a lot of slack line before you actually connect to the fish.  If the fish was not hooked well, and you gave it a lot of time, it might come unbuttoned from the hook.

 

On the left is an old commercial rod holder &
on the right, a home-made one

 

LANDING NET --  Depending on the shoreline, a landing net may be a good investment.  It does not have to be an expensive one, but a long, 36" handle may be helpful.  If the shore is a sloping gravel beach, you can simply pull the fish up onto dry land.  However if there is grass. weeds or even trees OR a steeper bank, a landing net is helpful.

 

STRINGER --  When you catch a fish or two, just letting them lay on the bank may not be wise, as sometimes, they flop around enough and since banks usually slope into the water, your prize may just find it's way back into the water.  Having something to attach to the fish can be beneficial.  This could be as simple as a short section of small rope or twine.  Or manufactured ones are available using a light chain with large snaps attached along the length so you can snap it onto the fish's mouth or gills.

 

To keep the meat better, it is good to cut the fish's gills, allowing it to bleed out, making for better tasting eating.

 

ICE COOLER --  Now, depending on the weather if you are planning on eating your catch, taking care of it properly can improve the palatability.   Here a small ice cooler comes in handy.  It may be best to have some form of cooling, like a re-freezable ice pack, or even freeze a couple of water bottles.  It is good to, once the fish is dead to wash it off before putting it in the cooler.   You can of course also use this to keep your favorite beverage cool.

 

FOLDING LAWN CHAIR --  This could provide added comfort.

 

You will find so many accessories available to the fisherpersons, that sometimes it seems ridicules.   And at times it seems that the one being hooked may not always be the fish, as lures may come in many different sizes and colors that may be to attract sales and not really bites.

 

LOCATION --  First off, the one thing needed here is WATER.  This could be a small farm pond, freeway barrow gravel pit, lake or reservoir behind a dam.    Many state Department of Fish & Wildlife agencies can be very helpful in supplying locations of these potential fishing sites.  Some locations may also be where these departments may stock catchable fish.

 

Depending on the geographical area, the specie will vary.   Fish like to stay comfortable and top waters will be warmer than water nearer the bottom.  And some waters may be warmer than others, (shallower and warmer, or deeper and cooler or with a creek/river running into it, making it cooler).  All this in turn dictates the specie of fish that may be caught.   Some cooler waters may only have trout in them.  Other warmer waters may have Crappie, Perch, Bass and Catfish.  Each specie dictates the method and or lure to be used.  However a worm seems to be pretty universal.

 

Arriving at a new lake or impoundment may be intimidating to the newbie.  If there are others fishing there, explain to them and ask for advice.  Most fisherpersons will be more than willing to help out a newbie.  But first ask if they mind if you share the bank with them (but not REALLY close). 

 

If the area has a dock, try fishing off it as many times fish may use it for cover or to get a way from the bright sunshine.  If it is a reservoir, try fishing near the dam as here would be a flow where food would be coming to the fish, or a small inlet creek mouth, instead of wearing your arm out trying to cover barren water.  If the water depth goes from shallow to a deeper area, fish this edge.   If your efforts go unrewarded in one area, move to another.  Try fishing your lure at different depths.  And add some motion to your lure by twitching the rod tip.

 

Some areas may be barren of fish, for reasons not readily understood.  Some could be too shallow in that area, or too weedy for the fish to find your bait or even if a good area the weeds may be so thick, you would have a problem even landing a fish if you hooked one.

 

Many fish like trout and yellow perch may tend to school up, (and usually each school will be of the same general size a fish) and they will usually travel around until they find food.   That being so, they will move around, usually circling a pond or lake.  Then as they tend to grow larger, this schooling seems to somewhat dissipate. 

 

If your state allows chumming, you might try to throw a bit of food out into the water near where you are fishing, to attract them.  However not enough to let them gorge and therefore not be interested in biting your lure.

 

Fish have no eyelids so, seem to disappear into deeper water as the sun comes out.

 

Some fish will only bite a lure that represents a natural food for them, be it a fish egg, worm, bug or small fish.  Others may bite a larger bright lure where they may be aggressively trying to chase it off from their "Home Ground Area".  Others bite things that seemingly represent nothing apparently known on this planet.  Sometimes lures are made in sizes and colors to attract fisherpersons.

 

AND THE RESULTS --  All your preparations need a happy ending, to keep you or your kids interested.  Here the young man in the photo on the right though he was hung on the bottom.

 

 

 

14" Rainbow trout  A nice Bluegill

 

 

SINKERS --  Most weights (or sinkers) are made of some sort of lead and comes

 

 

 

 

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Copyright © 2017 LeeRoy Wisner  All Rights Reserved

 

Originated 05-18-2017, Last updated 06-24-2017
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