Fishing 101: A Beginner's Guide to Freshwater Fishing

By David Thomas on September 13, 2023
5 min read

Are you ready to start freshwater fishing? We have all the information you need to get started.

In this article, you’ll learn rules around how to fish legally and sustainably; things to consider when choosing a fishing spot; and, of course, how to catch and clean a delicious fish.

Humans have been fishing for thousands of years, and in that time, it’s evolved from a means of survival to a beloved hobby. For people just getting started with fishing, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by lingo, ritual, and rules. However, fishing really isn’t as complicated as all that. In this article, you’ll learn the basics you need to know to embark on your first adventure in the wild world of fishing. 

Fishing Rules and Regulations

Before you head out, purchase a fishing license for the state where you’re planning to fish; otherwise, you risk a fine from the local Fish and Wildlife Service. Fishing licenses aren’t just a bureaucratic inconvenience; the funds from licenses usually go directly into the state’s efforts to preserve and protect marine wildlife and aquatic environments.

After obtaining your license, look up local regulations on catch and release, using bait, removal limits, invasive species control, and other elements of fishing. These rules may seem annoying or inconvenient, but responsible fishing practices are crucial for maintaining the environment for future fishermen.

Now onto the fun stuff.

How to Choose Your Fishing Spot

Choosing where you’re going to fish and where you’re going to cast once you reach your location are some of the most important factors in determining whether or not you’ll catch a fish that day.

There are lots of tips and tricks for choosing the most successful spots for fishing, and everyone swears by their own set of secret criteria. In terms of which lake or river you want to try, your choice largely depends on what kind of fish you’re trying to catch; online fishing forums or the spot’s website, if they have one, should tell you what kinds of fish are most frequently caught there. As you gain more experience, you’ll be able to gauge what fish favor a location just by looking at its characteristics. Accessibility and popularity are the other two things you should take into account when choosing where to fish. Can you get there easily, and how many other people will be there?

A man in outdoor clothing finds a good fishing spot

As for choosing where to cast, this also depends on what kind of fish you’re after, but the guiding principle is to think like a fish. Consider where the best food, hiding spots, and swimming will be. Try to cast in a shady spot with a lot of plant life, which is good for both hiding from prey and/or predators, and munching on plants or the insects and small animals that eat them. In a moving body of water, consider where the current will push the fish, and try to cast there, or in the eddies where they will be relaxing.   

How to Catch a Fish 

Especially in freshwater fishing, the fisherman's watchword is patience. If you’re seeking fast-paced action and adrenaline-fueled thrills, fishing is not the sport for you. It may be a long time between bites on the line, if you get any bites at all. 

David Thomas from Everything Fishkeeping says that “the stillness and peacefulness are, in fact, the whole point, and the waiting only makes the actual catch more exciting.”

However you feel about it, the fact is that waiting is a fundamental part of fishing, and impatience with a lack of bites and action will usually only make it more difficult to catch a fish. Once you cast your line, recasting a lot or moving your line frequently to new spots will alert the fish to the falseness of your bait. Holding your line still will lull fish into a false sense of security and make them more likely to notice, investigate, and eventually bite the hook.  

Once you get a bite, act quickly and decisively, but don’t panic. Simply begin reeling your fish into shore. Reel at a smooth, firm pace - not so slow that the line goes slack and the fish can get loose, but not so fast that you put too much tension on the line and it snaps. Every fisherman loses a catch sometimes, so don’t get discouraged when it happens to you. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it will help you get better, and every lost fish is a bit more practice.

How to Clean and Cook Fish

Once you’ve caught your fish, you might release it back into the water (depending on where you’re fishing, you might be required by law to release it). If not, you might want to bring your prize home for an enjoyable dinner that’s as fresh as can be. Putting food on the table is one of the great joys of fishing. However, you need to make sure your catch is killed, cleaned, and cooked properly, so your dinner is both savory and safe.

There are many ways to kill a fish, and there is some debate as to which way is the most humane. One of the most common, and probably the easiest to achieve in the field is to sever the fish’s spinal cord by inserting a small knife directly behind its head. Another, slightly messier option is to crush the fish’s skull with a blunt object, like a hammer.

Once you’ve killed your fish, it’s time to gut and clean it in preparation for cooking. This can be done a few different ways, depending on how you want to cook it, but the basic steps remain the same:

  1. Cut off the fish’s fins with scissors or a knife.
  2. Scale the fish by running a sharp knife from the tail towards the head, always cutting away from yourself.
  3. Insert a knife near the base of the fish tail, and make a shallow incision up the length of its body.
  4. Pull out the gills and organs with your fingers; with enough practice, this can be done in a single mass with one firm pull.
  5. Make sure to locate the kidney, which will look like a dark red line near the spine. Squeeze all the blood out of it with your fingernail; otherwise, it will ruin the flavor of the meat.
  6. Depending on the fish, you may want to remove the head, which can be done with a knife or by breaking the spine.
  7. Rinse the fish with cold water to remove any remaining blood or potentially nasty bacteria.
  8. Cook your catch, and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Fishing is an ancient method of survival, an easy way to supplement your diet, a competitive sport, a meditative chance to commune with nature, a companionable way to spend an afternoon, and much more. But most of all, a good day of fishing is a good time. Enjoy it!


David Thomas
David Thomas

I first got into fishing with my grandad when I was around 11. We would take fishing trips for long weekends, and I remember my first time catching a trout! Since then I was hooked and have been fishing ever since.


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