By Dan Kidder
For relaxation, enjoyment and general outdoor recreation, nothing beats fishing. For me, fishing is a spiritual undertaking, providing a chance to commune with God and nature, breathe fresh air and appreciate the beauty of creation. It takes me back to fond memories of my childhood, slowly cranking a SuperDuper spinning lure in the riffles of Lee Vining Creek in the Sierra Nevada mountains, for elusive rainbow trout. These kind of memories stay with you your entire life. It is no wonder that Jimmy Carter once said, ““Many of the most highly publicized events of my presidency are not nearly as memorable or significant in my life as fishing with my daddy.”
For many who were not raised with this tradition or who have somehow lost it in their adult years, the idea of snagging a silvery jumping rainbow from a clear mountain stream is alluring, but the actual information for making it happen is daunting. Don’t let it scare you. There is probably no outdoor sport that is easier to learn, cheaper to begin or more immediately rewarding. There are just a few things you need to know that will have you on the water in no time at all.
Licenses and the Law
In most states, you need a fishing license as an adult to fish. The cost is usually minimal for residents and significantly more for non-residents. In Utah, where I live, a one week fishing license for a non-resident costs more than a one year license for a resident.
The cost of the license can vary, but typically you can get a license for your state for the year for around $40 or less. If you live near the ocean, you may need to get either a freshwater or saltwater or a combo license to cover both lakes and streams, as well as ocean fishing.
Every state publishes a booklet with all their state laws, limits, descriptions of fish and overall regulations. These books are usually available online as well as in printed form and can usually be picked up where you would purchase your license. A fishing license can be obtained at most fishing tackle retailers, as well as some big box stores. Some states also sell them right at their local division of wildlife office.
States vary, but most don’t require a license for children under a certain age. Some may require that a child be accompanied by a licensed adult and others just let kids fish without supervision. As children get older and into their teens, states often offer a reduced fee license until they reach adulthood. Many states also have senior citizen pricing as well as free or reduced fees for veterans and active duty service members.
Make sure you read up on any specific regulations for the body of water you will be fishing. Some areas have slot limits that allow you to keep fish below a certain length and above a certain length, but require you to release anything in between certain lengths. They may also have a special limit that is lower than normal for a particular body of water.
Here is where many people who don’t fish get stuck. They don’t know what types of gear they need and this keeps them from getting going. Don’t get hung up on the gear. Most fishing tackle suppliers have knowledgeable staff who can help get you outfitted. Really all you need to go fishing is a pole, a reel, some line, a hook and some bait. Everything else is secondary. As for your first fishing pole, start out simple. There are many setups on the market where everything, including hooks and sinkers and basic artificial baits, are all included already. They will have a reel that is pre-wound with a standard weight fishing line and may even be geared toward a specific species of fish. In many cases, these entire setups can be purchased for under $30. Remember, millions of fish have been caught on a simple stick with a string, a hook and a worm. More fish are caught each year on a basic starter kit for under $30 than all the $300+ setups ever sold.
Every Sportsman’s Warehouse store has a large whiteboard with recently updated fishing reports for local bodies of water. They will tell you what the water conditions are like, what baits the fish are currently biting on and many other details that will help you get on the fish. Seek out advice from the staff there, get a few items and be on your way. As you get more proficient in using the gear you have, you will start to identify shortcomings or limitations and you can then supplement what you have later on.
If you are just getting started, a spincast reel may be the best option. You simply push and hold the button, cast the line and release the button and then reel a little in to lock the spool. These are the most foolproof of all fishing reels for the beginner. They typically won’t give you the same distance as an open face spinning reel, but they will get you comfortable with casting and they catch fish just as well as any other kind of reel. Think of them as a fishing reel with training wheels. If you are outfitting the kids, a spincast reel is a must to get them started. The upside is that you can kick up the fun quotient by getting a setup with Spiderman or Elsa from Frozen on them. Heck, even I would fish with a Superman pole.
There are as many fishing rigs and jigs as there are fishermen. For those just getting started, your best bet is going to be a fixed bobber rig. Simply place a bobber on your line about 3-feet from the end. Tie a hook on the end of the line and place a split shot of sufficient weight in the middle. Put your worm on the hook and cast it out. If the fish aren’t biting, you may need to slide your bobber up higher so the worm sinks deeper. Another variation of this is to use a treble hook with salmon eggs. A treble hook has three hooks welded into a single unit. A salmon egg on each of these hooks is an attractive snack for trout, bass, pike, walleye, sunfish and just about any species of freshwater game fish, including salmon. Keep in mind the mouth size of your desired species. While I have caught huge fish on a tiny hook and itty bitty little guys on a large hook, it is best to try to match the size of the hook with the size of fish you expect to catch.
If the fish are sitting on the bottom, remove your bobber and instead of split shot, slide on a sliding egg shaped sinker. It is better to put a swivel on the end and then attach your hook the other eye of the swivel with a short leader line. This will prevent your sinker from sliding all the way down the line to the hook and it will then let your worm float slightly above the bottom.
If you put “Fishing Rigs” into Google images, you will be rewarded with thousands of images of various rigs for different fishing situations. The two listed above take advantage of the truly lazy fisherman’s cast and relax approach, letting your line sit there until something takes it. For those who want something a bit more active, a spinner bait or lure may be the way to go. Tie it on, cast it, retrieve, repeat. My first lure was a SuperDuper and I still swear by them today for trout. But I have caught the most different types of fish with a Mepps Black Fury and this lure is my safety lure, often working when nothing else has. I have also had great luck with a Kastmaster or a Daredevle spoon.
There are two basic knots you will want to learn for tying on your hooks and swivels. They are simple and we have a video showing both of them on our new YouTube page for outdoors beginners. Search for the Amateur Outdoorsman on YouTube. There are just a few videos on there right now, but we will be adding a lot more in the next few months, so subscribe to be notified when we post a new one. We will even be doing some cool giveaways for subscribers.
Advanced Fishing Techniques
Fly fishing, trolling, bait casting and other more advanced techniques have a steeper learning curve. My suggestion is to definitely try these techniques at some point, but if you are just getting started, stick to shore and basic spincasting or open-faced spinning techniques. There are frequent workshops and classes on the more advanced methods at various outdoor expos and events in your community so you can try your hand. Many of the major outdoor expos have fishing experts doing demos in large glass sided tanks, so you can see what the bait is doing underwater. These experts love the sport and are happy to answer your questions. Our own Chad LaChance, the Fishful Thinker, does many of these expos, as well as writing a column for us every month with different tips, tricks and techniques. He also has a great television show.
Learning to fish isn’t difficult. You are battling an animal that has a brain the size of a BB. The sad fact is, that dumb animal often defeats even the most experienced angler. Even Peter in the Bible, a professional fisherman, got skunked. In John 21:3 it says, “Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.”
At this point, some writers would toss in a Shakespeare quote, but all I really know about Shakespeare is that he makes a darn fine fishing pole.
But keep in mind the wise words of the old Swedish fisherman I met in Northern Wisconsin, “it isn’t about da fitch, it’s about da fitchin’.” Taking your kids fishing, spending time with them in the outdoors engaged in a fun and entertaining activity, is worth the minimal time, money, and effort you will expend. The memories you create will last their entire lifetime. And the worse you are at it in the beginning, the more they will remember your struggles and poke fun of you for decades to come. I still fish every chance I get and my best fishing buddy is still my momma; the lady who first taught me how to fish. And friends, life doesn’t get any better than that.