Fishing is a sport that carries a fairly reasonable price tag when it comes to getting started. You don’t need to spend a lot to be ready to hit the water and start catching fish. This is made easier by understanding a few basic terms that will help you navigate the fishing equipment landscape.
We’ll start with the fishing line. Monofilament is a standard choice, and 4 to 12 lb. test should suffice for what you are bound to encounter. There are various types of line for specialized applications, but for starting out a good mono line should perform well.
Fishing knots are another broad subject, and for our purposes we’ve included diagrams for two of the top performers - the Palomar and the Improved Clinch knot.
The Palomar is basically done by doubling up the line and then tying a square knot. The key is to thread the hook through the end loop before moistening and drawing tight. This can be tricky to tie onto lures with small eyes, as threading the double line can prove difficult.
The Improved Clinch is a good strong knot that is easy to tie. Pass the line through the hook eye and, with the tag end, make 5 turns around the standing line. Insert the loose end of the line between the eye and the first loop formed. Bring the tag end through the large second loop formed. Moisten and tighten the knot slowly.
All this tying has brought us to the subject of hooks. Most feature barbs on the hook tip to hold bait in place. Longer shank hooks are good for starting out, or teaching kids to fish. Once again, there are a myriad of hook types, but these four will work for a wide range of fishing applications:
Bait Hooks - these are the most common and have the classic hook shape with a barb on the point, and possibly the back side of the shank. There is a wide range of types and sizes, but the 6-10 range is a good basic collection to start.
Circle Hooks - named for the circular shape of the design, circle hooks have become increasingly popular for better treatment for the fish, especially catch and release. Used primarily for live bait fishing, these hooks increase hooking percentages and help to prevent the fish from swallowing the hook. When a strike occurs, the hook slides out of the fish’s throat. The barb does not penetrate until the hook reaches the corner of the mouth.
Treble Hooks - these are most likely to be found on artificial baits, and offer three hooks in a single configuration. They are obviously designed for maximum probability of catching a curious fish mouth. Trebles provide greater coverage for crankbaits, jerkbaits and topwater baits. They are used on their own for cut baits for catfish and threading minnows for trolling.
Worm Hooks - A variety of these exist to fish soft-plastic baits. Worm hooks feature a slight bend just below the hook eye for Texas-rigging plastics to make them weedless. Most worm hooks feature wide gaps to ensure adequate clearance for the point to penetrate a fish's mouth when setting the hook. These hooks are quite strong and feature solid penetrating power to hook fish.
This brings us to sinkers, which bring your rig to the bottom. Attach 1 or 2 sinkers, 6 to 12 inches above the hook. This weight will keep your bait or lure down in the water, and will help swing it out into the water. They come in various shapes and sizes.
A bobber or float lets you know when fish are biting, because it moves up and down in the water as fish nibble at the bait. Most bobbers attach to fishing line with a spring clip and move up and down the line easily, depending on how deep you want to fish.
Slip bobbers have become extremely popular, as they allow the bait to drop to the bottom, where fish are more likely to investigate it no matter the depth you’re fishing. They are a bit more tricky to tie on, but should be one of your go-to floats.
RODS and REELS
There are two basic types of reels to consider - baitcasters or spinning reels. There are plenty of other types, but for our purposes we will focus on these two.
Baitcasters use a rod with a pistol-like grip and a reel that’s mounted on the top of the rod’s handle. Line is released using a push button on the reel. This is the easier rod and reel for beginners.
Spinning Reels ride down below the rod, and have a bail that you release to let the line out. Once you start reeling, the bail resets itself and you can retrieve your bait when ready. These work well for fishing constant retrieve baits like topwater and crankbaits.
It really comes down to your own preference when choosing your reel, so go ahead and ask for a demo at the store, or just see how they feel in your hand.
Rods will also come down to your preference, but a good medium action rod is a good place to start. It should have a good backbone for throwing lures and fighting fish.
It will likely be matched to your reel type, and the length will have more to do with your height and armspan, but 6 ½ to 7 ½ feet is typical.
Children’s rods and reels are pretty much exclusively pre-matched in kits with basic tackle, and very affordable. It doesn’t cost much to get a kid fishing, or an adult for that matter.
When it comes to live bait, there is again a vast array of choices. Worms or nightcrawlers are the essential bait for panfish, as well as being a universal bait for a wide variety of other fish. Virtually every freshwater fish will eat nightcrawlers.
Nightcrawlers are available in any bait store, and worms can be found pretty much anywhere that there is moist ground. They are easily threaded onto a hook, and small pieces of them will often suffice.
Minnows are the next most popular option. They will vary in size and type according to whatever fish you’re targeting, and any bait shop will help you assess what’s best for your day on the water. These are threaded onto a hook through the back mostly, but can also be hooked through the mouth.
Crappie minnows are for panfish, and are about the smallest of the minnows, followed by shiners, which are excellent for predatory fish like bass. Sucker minnows run bigger to attract bigger fish like northern pike. A minnow bucket is typically used to keep them fresh, and can generally be hung over the side of a boat to use the lake water to keep them fresh.
Leeches are another popular option. Walleyes and smallmouth bass love to bite on leeches. They are also quite easy to thread onto a hook, once you get used to how they wriggle and stick to any surface. They keep easily in styrofoam containers filled with water.
With all live bait, it’s important to remember to throw away or bury all unused ones as opposed to putting them in the lake. This is to avoid the spread of invasive species, which are often detrimental to our fisheries. Better yet - give them to another angler who may use them. It’s better use of the resource, and better camaraderie with your fellow anglers.
As you advance your skills as an angler, you will move on to artificial lures as well as live bait fishing. They will add a fun element to your days ahead on the water. They will typically come loaded with treble hooks, or will easily thread onto hooks or jigheads, which are basically hooks with weighted heads at the top.
Strike King jighead
Soft Plastics are among the most common. These are basically colored pliable replicas of all types of live bait. They are designed to be easily threaded on hooks and jigheads, and are usually pulled through the water to draw strikes.
Spinnerbaits are another essential tool for your arsenal. Use them when the water visibility is lower. The spinning blade causes underwater vibrations that help fish locate the bait. Colors and blade sizes will differ depending on the fish you’re targeting
Crankbaits are the third prominent category of lures. Any lure with a plastic lip that causes a bait to dive underwater can be classified as a crankbait.
ZWMING bass crankbaits
Topwater baits are best used in low light conditions. Besides the fact that topwater lures are just fun to fish, they are also known for catching lunker bass. There’s nothing like seeing fish ‘blowing up’ when they hit a topwater lure. It’s an adrenaline surge you won’t forget.
You will need to consider other accessories as you build up your fishing equipment. A stringer or fish basket is necessary for bringing home your catch. Stringers come in nylon or steel for bigger fish. A landing net is a good idea for ensuring you retrieve your biggest fish.
Nylon fish stringer
A tackle box or bag will be an early decision to make as well. Most bags use covered plastic trays that keep lures and tackle organized, and largely free of rust. The trays will generally stack to fill out the canvas tackle bags and stay organized.
Plano tackle tray
Once you have selected your fishing equipment, you can look forward to years of fun ahead on the water (or ice). You’ll find the gear to be generally quite durable and able to withstand the rigors of the outdoors, as well as human mishaps. As we say, “Fish on!” -WR