Freshwater Fishing Guide for Beginners

A fish laying on a length scale

Whether fishing to eat or fishing for sport with some catch-and-release, both are activities that anyone can learn to do, especially when it comes to freshwater fishing.

In the beginning, there can be an overwhelming amount of information, even just on the fish you want to catch. And while a day by the water is always a good time, it can be frustrating to be casting lines all day and never get a nibble. If you don’t have someone to guide you, it can be hard to figure out exactly how to improve and know what you are doing wrong in the first place.

Luckily, fishing isn’t too complicated if you know how to conceptualize it. Other types of fishing, such as saltwater fishing and fly fishing, are different and more complex than freshwater fishing. So before you try other more advanced types of fishing, it’s probably best to start with freshwater fishing. That way, you can learn the basic principles crucial to all fishing practices.

With a few pointers and tips, you can go from catching minnows to bass fishing faster than you could ever imagine.

Here's a beginner's guide to everything they need to know about freshwater fishing before their first freshwater fishing trip.

Learn To Spot Your Target

The first thing you should do to become a better angler is to have some specific targets or fish species in mind when you are going fishing. Then, you can learn how to spot your targets and find where they are active in the water.

Some species of fish will come into the shallows to feed on crawdads and small minnows. Others will gravitate towards the deeper pockets to feast on shrimp and other larger baitfish.

If you wear polarized sunglasses, you can inspect the shallows at dusk and dawn to see which fish are most active during these times. The fish you don’t see there should best be sought in the deep or at the mouths of feeder ponds and streams.

Fish will seek deeper water the higher in the sky the sun gets to stay away from the heat. Also, almost all fish are scared by shadows; be careful of moving in the shallows. You might just scare off your catch.

Here’s a list of freshwater fish species for you to target:

  • Walleye
  • Catfish
  • Crappie
  • Largemouth bass
  • Striper

Pick the Right Bait

Another crucial step for beginners to get right is selecting the proper bait or lure. Your bait or lure is what will either entice or bore the fish in the water. If you choose badly, you simply aren’t going to catch anything. If you select a very desirable option, you could be drawing in a fish every few minutes.

The difference between bait and a lure is that bait is a real animal. Lures are soft plastic fakes meant to resemble food sources. Each has advantages and disadvantages, such as price and effectiveness on different fish species.

When choosing bait or lures, your goal is to pick one that looks like the typical prey of the fish you're searching for. In shallows, you can perform a sieve test, skimming the top of the water with a sieve to identify the types of bugs and small fish in the water. For deeper swimming fish, simply consider the likely food sources in the lake you are fishing in.

Bringing a wide variety of lures and bait with your freshwater fishing gear will allow you to experiment with different options to see what works best for you on any given day.

Pack Appropriately for a Day of Fishing

All experienced freshwater anglers know that the process of packing appropriately for a day of fishing is crucial. While fishing isn’t necessarily the most exhausting physical activity in the world, it is a long day out on the water. You should be prepared with the gear you need to stay safe and comfortable.

Perhaps the most essential part of your gear is your cooler, which will keep your food and drinks cold all day long (much needed during a day in the hot sun). They are also useful for storing your bait, which should be kept alive and fresh. You want to choose a cooler that is built tough and will insulate well to give you long-term cooling.

At Patriot Coolers, we make a wide variety of coolers that can fit just about any need you might have for them. If you like to go on week-long fishing trips where you need storage space and ultimate insulation, our Rotomolded Hard Coolers are the perfect solution. Three-inch thick rotomolded plastic walls and high-quality insulation provide enough chill to keep ice frozen for up to five days. Meanwhile, the hard exterior is built to withstand anything you or nature might throw at it.

If you prefer shorter, single day, or solo fishing trips, then you don’t need so much space, just something portable, effective, and still just as durable. In that case, our Softpack Coolers, including our backpack style cooler and can coolers, are what you are after.

With lightweight closed-cell insulation keeping the walls thin and insulation high, our soft-sided coolers are perfect for keeping ice frozen for up to 24 hours. Don’t head out fishing without a cooler that is built for the task.

Learn How To Read the Water

The best fishermen, or rather the most successful fishermen who can catch fish any day no matter what, do one thing better than the rest — read the water. Reading the water means using cues and hints from the water and your surroundings to determine where the fish you seek will be and what they will be doing.

Not all fish live in the same water environments. The more adept and skillful you are at identifying different water environments in your fishing spots, the better off you'll be. Knowing the water environments will help you understand what fish species can be found and narrow down the fishing areas you visit to find your target.

Start by just trying to identify different water environments that you see. Try to identify areas that provide hiding, shade, cover, or protection for small fish. These are places where there are downed trees, obvious rock formations, dips, sand bars, and other locations where the bottom of the riverbed changes shapes.

Try to master reading the current. Knowing the direction the water is naturally flowing will tell you the general direction the fish will be moving. Casting into an area where the current will draw your hook down the current towards a spot where your desired fish species is feeding is a great way to get some biters on the line.

Pay Attention to the Water Temperature and Weather

Fish are incredibly sensitive to the temperature of the water where they live. In much the same way that we humans are sensitive to the air temperature where we live and adjust our plans and our clothing choices to stay comfortable. Almost all fish have a “comfortable water temperature range” that gets that species the most active in the water.

Research beforehand the fish species you hope to catch on your trip and what their preferred water temperatures and weather is. While you can’t control the water temperature, you can choose when you go fishing to give yourself the best chance at catching fish.

You should also monitor the weather before any fishing trips to try and understand how that may affect your catch. Fish tend to love stable weather conditions, so if the forecast has been pretty stable day-to-day leading up to your trip, you are in for a lot of luck.

A bit of overcast weather will work in your favor, as shadows can spook fish. Be careful of storms for your personal safety.

Bring Water, Stay Hydrated

You know how exhausting spending all day out on the water can be on your body. Spending a day outside in the sun poses a risk to your safety if you aren’t staying hydrated.

Heatstroke is a serious medical issue. Suppose you aren’t replenishing the water that your body naturally loses as sweat during the day. In that case, you could develop symptoms like exhaustion, fatigue, dizziness, excessive sweating, dry mouth, confusion, and even loss of consciousness.

To stay properly hydrated, you should drink cool beverages. And for that, you'll need a high-quality piece of drinkware built to withstand the intense sun and outdoor weather while also keeping your drinks ice cold for hours. Patriot Coolers Drinkware is the perfect solution for every fisherman looking for a water bottle or tumbler that can meet their needs.

All of our drinkware is built with our non-sweat exterior for a dry and firm grip every time. Plus, our bottles and tumblers are built with state-of-the-art copper insulation technology, which keeps your beverages ice cold for 24 hours.

All of our Patriot Cooler offerings are inspired by the toughness and fortitude of the United States military. So you know that your drinkware is built battlefield-tough and ready for anything.

You can’t go wrong with a Patriot Cooler water bottle or tumbler. Whatever water bottle or tumbler you bring, please stay hydrated on your fishing trip.

Wash Your Hands Often

Another tip that may sound strange at first but will come in handy is washing your hands often. For one thing, fish, lakes, rivers, and live bait can be quite dirty, and you want to stay healthy. You should also be aware that fish have an incredible sense of smell.

If fish smell any foreign scent on your bait, hook, or fishing line, they may not be interested in your line. Keeping your hands clean can prevent unwanted odors from making their way onto your gear and bothering the fish you are trying to catch.

You can also try soaking your hands in the river water to eliminate some unwanted smell. Just wash your hands again before touching your eyes, mouth, or nose to prevent catching a disease or an illness.

Freshwater Fishing: Takeaways

Freshwater fishing is a great way to get involved in the sport and appreciate time in the great outdoors. But going fishing without getting a single bit on your hook all day might make you feel frustrated. We all love a day on the shores, but taking home a fish? That makes the whole experience even better.

Learn to identify the fish you hope to catch and do some research. Where in the water do they like to feed? What do they like to feed on? And what do their activity patterns look like during the day? You should then select a bait or lure option that will most accurately simulate prey for your fish.

Try and spend time learning to read the water, identifying different types of water environments and how fish may behave differently around them. Reading the water is what separates great fishermen from the average. It can take a lifetime to learn, but you must start somewhere.

Finally, don't forget that you need to drink water to stay hydrated. And wash your hands often to stay healthy and keep unwanted scents off of your bait, hook, and line.

Follow these fishing tips, and you are on your way to having great freshwater fishing experiences. So, go grab your fishing rod and your freshwater fishing license and get started.


The importance of hydration | News | Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health

Fishes in a California coastal lagoon: effects of major storms on distribution and abundance | Marine Ecology

How to Choose Your Bait when Fishing | HowStuffWorks

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