Getting out in to the sticks was the deciding factor for me! I remember being sat of the sofa, watching another repeat of Top Gear on Dave, pondering what I’m doing in life, feeling the overwhelming urge to try something different, learn a new skill and explore this green and pleasant land.
Golf, I thought? Haha, no, that’s not for me, but fishing… Mmmm? Yes, lazy days on the bank, peace and tranquility, connecting with nature, exhilaration of the hunt, all instantly appealed. The next question I asked myself and seeing your here, your having the exact same thought… How the hell do you fish?
What do I need to go fishing for the first time?
You require a fishing licence, rod, reel, line, hooks, floats, lures, net, pliers, sunglasses, first aid, tackle box, bait, sinkers, split shot, patience, common sense, basic fishing technique and skill level for first time fishing trips.
Like many people, the only experience I’d had of fishing up until that point, was a few unsuccessful trips to the local canal as a kid, with the old man. So, I had the daunting task of learning how to fish, almost from scratch. It was time to jump online, watch TV shows and read some books. Full on research mode!
As great as the information I found was, it was mostly aimed at people with some degree of fishing knowledge, not a complete beginner, as myself. All I needed was a simple, easy to follow, fishing guide for a first time angler. Step by step instructions on the very basic gear, skills and rules required.
This proved more difficult than expected, and made a mental note that when I had chance, I’d write up my own little fishing tutorial, in the hope of helping out other complete fishing novices. You can start fishing with half decent gear and legal requirements for under £200. So, let’s crack on…
First things first, you’ll need to grab yourself a UK fishing licence. This super simple and can be done in 5 minutes online. You can purchase your licence either on the official Government website, at your local Post Office, or by giving the Environment Agency a bell, on 0344 800 5386.
You’ll be given the option of several different licence types, and as your just learning how to fish, go with the standard Trout, coarse fish and eel licence. This covers you for most situations, and I advise buying over 12 months, as this saves you a few quid.
Salmon & sea trout fishing requires an additional licence, and you can also spend a little extra for additional rods. However, as your just starting out, the basic option allows you to fish 1 rod for rivers, streams, drains and canals, 2 rods for reservoirs, lakes and ponds and 2 rods for freshwater fish. Perfectly adequate for a beginner, and is the license I still fish with to this day.
Fishing without a licence can land you with a hefty £2,500 fine, so, please, please just buy one! The money generated goes back in to keeping our waters clean, safe and well stocked. You don’t want a tap on shoulder from the fish police, just as your landing the fish of a lifetime.
Now, I think this is an area that puts a lot of people off taking up fishing as a hobby. The impression often portrayed by established anglers, is you need massive amounts of expensive technical fishing tackle and at least 7 rods handcrafted by mermaids from unicorn horn!
Nothing could be further from the truth, and you can pick up reasonably priced “fishing starter kits” online, that have all the gubbings included to get you up and running. As you become more experienced and discover which style of fishing provides the most pleasure, then expand on your kit.
Yes, your going to need a fishing rod. I’m not going to groan on about the dizzying array of styles, each with their own specialization, what you need as a beginner is a bog standard “course fishing rod”, often refereed to as a “float rod” or floater fishing rod” or “match rod”.
You want to go for no less than a 10 foot rod, 12 foot would ideal, and would provide a little head space to grow, weight wise and provides better reach. This size rod will handle most common fish species, such as carp, roach and bream, and you can pick a decent coarse fishing rod for under £50.
Try not to get hung up on brand choice, that’s really not important at this stage! A 12 foot float rod is a great for starting out, and you’ll be surprised how versatile they are. With the same rod you can try your hand at floater fishing, method feeding, ledgering and even lure fishing.
Also buy a rest for your new rod. A fishing rest is a simple metal or plastic device you push in too the ground to “rest” your rod on, leaving your hands free to do other things, like baiting or prepping new hook baits.
Next up, fishing reels. Now this is one area I’m going to recommend you spend a little more money than you were expecting. Having a shoddy cheap reel will give you nothing but problems and is a sure fire way to ruin a fishing trip.
I’m not suggesting you go out and purchase a top of the range reel costing £1000’s, but a decent low to mid range reel will allow you to avoid the headaches of bearings breaking, inaccurate gearing, poor build quality and line constantly tangling in the spool. Trust me, I’ve been there!
Your looking for a medium 4000 to 5500 “fixed spool real”, also know as a “spinner reel” in the £50 – £100 range. Unlike with rod selection, this time the brand name does matter, and I’d suggest going with a Shimano fishing reel. They have been in the game for a long time and have built up a good reputation for precision and quality.
A spinner reel of this spec covers most fishing eventualities, and you’ll be able to fish on small ponds, canals, rivers and lakes. I wouldn’t go any larger, a 6000+ reel for example is only required for extremely long distance casting, on very large lakes, wide rivers or catching monsters when sea fishing.
Now, we need to pick the correct fishing line. The choice of line can be very confusing and matching hook, line, swim and fish species is something that is learnt with experience. As a beginner, keep it stupid simple. Heavy lines are better for snaggier swims, ones with obstacles or lots of weed and lighter lines are great for clear swims.
When starting out, I suggest going straight down the middle. This will allow you to gauge whether or not you need to go heavier or lighter, but a medium line should be fine for most waters and fish types. Another misconception is you require a 8lb line to catch 8lb fish, this isn’t the case. Modern lines are much stronger than you think, and the breaking weight is much higher than indicated. I’ve landed double figure fish on a 2lb line, it’s about how you play the fish, not how strong the line is.
Start out with a 6lb braided main line, which will offer abrasion resistance and covers a wide range of fish weights. Also get some 2lb monofilament line, which is neutrally buoyant and great for fishing high up in the water, and some 10lb fluorocarbon, which is more camouflaged and good for deeper crank baits.
Having these 3 line choices in your tackle box provides a wide spectrum of fishing styles and is the quickest way you’ll learn which line works best on different waters. I prefer brained line, as it’s less stretchy and allows greater feel and control when playing a fish, but chop and change to find one that suit’s your personal fishing style.
Ah, hooks! One of the most important pieces of equipment in any anglers armory. Hooks are made up of 5 main parts, the gauge, eye, shank, bend and point, all of which I’ll cover in another article, but my personal preference, and should work well for a novice fisherman, is a wide gape, crystal bend, long shank and barbless hook.
This style of hook are much easier to remove from a fishes mouth, often falling out on their own accord, do less damage to the fish and present most baits well. Yes, tightly curved, barbed hooks will hook a fish more securely, meaning less lost, but so do gas fired harpoons and wheres the skill in that?
Start by trying a medium gauge 18 to 12 size hook, again, middle of the road to help you figure out if the water your fishing, or fish in the swim require a larger or smaller hook. Make sure you also have some smaller 26 to 20 size hooks in your tackle box for catching tiddlers, and a few 10 to 2 hooks if you fancy trying to land a huge specimen fish.
5. Floats & Lures
The simplest form of fishing is with floats. This style of fishing is an art form within itself, but much easier to get your head around than more complex styles. Start out with a set of different size waggler floats, and experiment with which sensitivity works best on the water your fishing.
You can add extra shot to pull the float further down in the water, increasing the bite indication sensitivity and medium sized 5 BB floats should work for most waters and swims. Go with a bright florescent yellow or orange flash tip, which for me anyway, are easier to see at a distance.
Fancy a bit of predator fishing? It’s great to have a few lures available on quite fishing days. Rigging up a lure and slowly cranking it through your swim is the perfect way to catch one of my favorite fish, the perch. Lures come in a variety of styles including flies, spinners, plugs, jellies, spoons and jigs.
Lures are artificial imitations of insects and injured fish, and attract carnivorous ambush species like the pike and perch. I consider the most versatile lure to be the jig, which makes catching a variety of game fish a breeze, and a whole load of fun. Lure fishing is a more active, hands on style of angling, and if it’s perch your after, well worth trying.
Your going to need a net to land the catch! There are 2 main style of fishing nets, landing nets and keep nets, and the names are pretty self explanatory. As a newbie angler you only really require a landing net, and as long as it’s big enough for the species you intend to catch, your good.
There’s no need to spend a fortune, and you can pick up a decent sized landing net for £20 (ish). Keep nets are only required if you intend to weigh your total haul at the end of the session, usually for a competition, but as a beginner it’s better if you get in to the habit of quick catch and release.
This is by far less stressful for the fish, and let’s you avoid some unwritten keep net etiquette rules.
Yes, you heard right… pliers! A super useful tool to have in your tackle box and very handy for all kinds of situation. I’m not talking about any old pliers though, like standard DIY pliers or even long nose pliers, but specifically designed fishing pliers.
Fishing pliers have dynamic jaws, offering adjustable grip and crimping sizes and come with both deep and shallow teeth, ideal for handling a wide range of hooks, wires and rigs. Get yourself a pair of stainless steel or tungsten pliers, as these are rust resistant and will last longer.
I mainly use mine instead of a disgorger, for removing hooks from the mouths of fish, but you can also cut tangled or snagged lines, crimp the barbs on hooks, bend and replace hooks, reel and rod maintenance, plus a whole bunch more. An essential piece of kit.
Have you ever wondered why anglers wear sunglasses? No, it’s not a fashion statement and you don’t have to look cool to fish! They’re used to reduce or eliminate water surface glare, allowing you see deeper in to the water and actually view what the fish are up to. Not wearing sunglasses can strain your eyes and the light reflection distorts size, color and shape of underwater objects.
However, not any old pair of shades will do! You need specialized polarised lenses, these have a special anti glare film sandwiched between two layers, which manipulates light waves from the sun to prevent glare. There are 4 different types of lens available for fishing sunglasses, grey, brown, amber and yellow.
I recommend going with a pair of amber lens sunglasses, as these are ideal for overcast days, and let’s face it, living in Britain the majority of our weather is dominated by cloud cover.
9. First Aid
Injuries happen! There are some horrific fishing injury stories out there, but these usually happen to people void of any practical common sense. I can however guarantee you will suffer a minor injury at some stage, whether hooking yourself, stabbing your hand with a baiting needle, or slipping down the bank, spraining an ankle or putting your back out. It happens to the best of us!
That’s why it’s highly recommended to have a first aid kit in your tackle box. You can pick up a compact, all in one, first aid kit for a few quid, and when the inevitable happens, you’ll at least be able to administer basic treatment. Having a bottle of clean water close to hand is also a good idea, to clean the dirt out of cuts and scrapes and hopefully avoid infection.
10. Tackle box
I’m super OCD over mine! A well organized tackle box will save you hours of stress, they make having to find certain kit quickly, so much easier. Your tackle box will become your best fishing friend, and costing under £10 for a decent one, are fantastic value for money. Purchase a good sized tackle box, one that you can grow in to and will last a few years.
I have a fairly big one, with a comfortable padded lid, that doubles up as something to site on, when carrying awkward folding chairs isn’t practical. I’m able to go stalking with only minimal, easy to carry gear, allowing me to test new swims on the fly. Packing everything up, just to test a new peg gets old very quickly.
By far the easiest to set up for coarse fishing beginners is a floater rig. So, I’ll quickly cover that set up now, and go in to a full explanation of this, and other techniques, with dedicated write ups. I’m not a huge fan of the platform, but if you do get stuck, Youtube has some excellent tutorials on the subject, so, check them out.
1. Connect Reel to Rod
Slot the reels foot (bracket) in to the rods lower reel seat, which usually has a shaped groove to indicate the correct position, then pull down and tighten the other end of the reel seat making sure it’s secure and doesn’t wobble.
2. Spool the Reel
99% of the time with basic fishing gear your line will come pre-spooled on an easy to fit, self contained unit. Remove any packaging, free a little line, open the bail (the arm that swings back and forth over the front of your reel), unscrew the drag knob (underneath the bail), slot on your line facing outwards and screw the drag knob back on, making sure not to over tighten.
3. String the Rod
With the bail still open, take the end of your line and starting at the guide (eyelet) closest to your reel, thread the line through each rod guide in succession. Once complete continue pulling line until it reaches back down to your rod handle and close the bail to prevent more line falling off the spool. Having the end of the line, close to your handle makes it much easier to work on in the next steps.
4. Attach the Float
Now, with the small hole provided at the end, thread your float on to the line, how far down depends on the depth you want to fish. I like to start out at about 3ft, if I haven’t plumb the depth. Just like everything thing else in this guide, try and start smack bang in the middle and this includes how deep your fishing.
Grab 2 medium size split shot sinkers, and use them to fix your float on the line at selected fishing depth. Don’t use your fishing pliers or teeth to do this, just squeeze with your thumb and forefinger, because these can be a bugger to get back off when experimenting with how deep your fishing.
5. Attach the Hook
Time to attach the hook to line! Throughout this article I’ve tried to keep things as simple as possible, and tying the hook to your line is no exception. You can learn about the 100’s of different fishing knots, as you grow in to your new hobby, but for now just stick to the very basics.
One of the easiest and secure knots, is a called a “clinch knot”. Start by threading about 5 inches of the line through the eye of your hook, hold the tag line (part threaded), and running line (part between hook and rod) with your thumb and forefinger, then with your other hand loop tag line around running line 5 or 6 times, think hangman’s noose.
Now, push the end of the tag line back through the hole created directly adjacent to the hook eye. Give the tag line a pull, whilst sliding down the loops to create a tight spiral at the base. It should look like spring above your hook, then simply cut and tidy up the end with your fishing pliers or nail clippers (another handy tool to have in your box).
Add a few small sinkers (split shot) at 30 and 45 centimeter intervals to the bottom of your line, more or less can be added depending on the water your fishing, essentially you need enough weight to sink the bait, hook and line, without pulling your float tip underwater or letting it sit too high up in the water. There we have it… The fishing rod is all rigged up and your almost ready to get the line wet.
Time to raid the kitchen cupboard! As you begin your fishing adventure it’s easy to get side tracked with the overwhelming choices in bait. Carp anglers have gone mental over bait selection and the way it presents in the water, spending stupid money and effort trying to come up with that magical formula.
It really doesn’t need to be that complicated, especially for laid back coarse fishing. You can find some great stater baits at your local corner shop. Sweetcorn has been a cheap and cheerful favorite for years, and switching things up by adding some food coloring can be very effective. Part boiled roughly chopped vegetables, strong cheeses, bread, spam, other firm meats and dog biscuits all make excellent baits.
You can also go with live baits. Dig up some worms up from the garden, collect a few slugs, or visit your local bait shop and get a pint or two of maggots. The movement of these baits in the water are usually irresistible to nearby fish. I really enjoy fishing with natural baits such as tiger nuts, soaked hemp and grains for ground bait, plus beans and pulses also catch plenty of fish.
Fish are opportunistic feeders, hovering up anything that falls in the water from the bank, hedgerow and trees. Just try and imitate this natural food source and you’ll be on to a winner. Consider buying a catapult to launch bait if your fishing at a distance, they really help when baiting up difficult to reach spots.
Keep calm and cast! Many people new to fishing get over anxious about casting, and this inherent panic is usually the cause of things going wrong. Hey, whats the worse that could happen? Yes, you could get snagged on a tree branch or in bushes, or swan dive your rig in to the water 2 foot from the bank, but, hey! Just reel back in, compose yourself and try again. No biggie!
Learning to cast a spinning reel set up can be broken down in to a few easy to follow steps:
1. Spatial Awareness
First, make sure you get a feel of the space available around you and where your target fishing spot is. Short casting can often be achieved with a cheeky wrist flick and casting to long distance marks requires a much more forceful overhead cast. Both requiring different amounts of space. The most important thing is checking you have enough casting space immediately behind you.
2. Line Preparation
You want to wind in, or let out line to have 1 – 2 foot of play from the end of your rod tip. Whilst holding the rod in your dominant throwing hand, release the reel bail and hold the line with your index finger against your rod handle. This finger acts as your line break whilst casting, and at any time you have the bail open. Make sure rod guides, line and reel are in alignment to help prevent tangle’s when casting.
3. The Cast
Were going to cast within a 45 – 45 degrees arc. Bring the rod up over your shoulder, again keeping everything lined up, to 45 degrees behind you. Judge the power you need to hit your mark and whip the rod tip and rig forward to the 45 degrees position in front of you. At the exact same time, release your finger holding the line against the handle, to allow the whipping motion momentum to pull line from the spool, launching your rig and bait “hopefully” to your selected fishing spot.
This will take some practice and every rod, rig and reel require slightly different force and technique, but the fundamentals are the same. Once you hit the fishing mark your going after, or as close as you can get it, pull off an extra bit of slack line, close the bail and put your rod on a rest. You can then wind in any slack, as too much will slow down how fast your able to wind back in to hook a fish. Under a rods length is ideal, so striking, by pulling up your rod tip engages the hook, rather than pulling on fresh air.
Kick back and relax! Fishing requires patience, and it’s very rare that you’ll get a bite within minutes on every cast. In fact it’s more probable you’ll have a blank day and not catch any fish. This gives you plenty of time to come up with your fishing excuses. Too hot, cold, overcast, windy, bright and spawning are all classics.
This is the element of fishing I enjoy the most! Zoning out and forgetting the hustle and bustle of modern life, a zen like mindfulness of nothing. Yes, there are little thing to be getting on with, like preparing your next rig, reading the water, firing out freebie bait with your catapult to draw fish in, keeping an eye on your float, but mostly nothing. Absolute peace and quite… Lovely!
Feel that adrenaline rush! Time for the most exciting moment if fishing, the take. As soon as you spot the float go under water and stay there, it’s time to strike. Lift your rod tip briskly in to the air, removing all slack in the line and with a side ways motion give the line a little tug to set the hook.
This is the make or break moment. Having just enough line out when casting, should allow you to perform the above motion in one fluid movement. However, you may need to crank the reel a few time to be in full contact with the fish.
Setting the hook and keeping tension in the line, gives you full control over the fish, and now you can let your reels gearing and rod bend do all the work. You’ve hooked a fish, time to land that beauty!
Time to play the fish! Firstly, your releat and drag should be adjusted to allow line to be taken off the spool slowly when the fish is fighting hard and making runs. The combination of line drag produced by your reels gearing, and the bend in the rod, are going to gradually wear the fish out.
When the fish is resting, it’s time to reel in. Slow and precise, long draws back on the rod will pull the fish closer and then wind in line to remove slack created when lowering your rod. Staying in contact with the fish and keeping in out of snags and weeds is paramount. Eventually, the fish will get tired, allowing you to use the reel a little more. Slow and steady, wins the race, when playing a fish.
A fish isn’t caught, until landed! This the moment when a large percentage of fish are lost, many inexperienced anglers get too excited, forgetting to keep tension on the line and use their landing net to chase the fish, rather than letting the rod and reel to continue to do the work and gently bring the fish to net, not the other way around.
Submerge the net head, this helps not to spook the fish, and make sure you have full control and a firm grip on the handle. Use your rod to move the fish over the nets mouth, and slowly raise, trapping the fish inside. You shouldn’t need to overstretch when netting a fish, nor frantically swoosh around trying to catch it. Once netted, let the fish settle down for a few seconds before removing from the water. Calmer fish are easier to handle for the next step…
Visualize the hooks shape! Whether using your hands, fishing pliers (my personal choice) or a disgorger, removing the hook from a fishes mouth is relatively straight forward. The key is pushing the hook away from the direction in which it was set. Barbed hooks can be more difficult, so try fishing with barb-less first.
You can judge this direction by the eye and shank of the hook. Hold the shank and in a straight line away from the eye, push down slightly further than the hooks length. This will release the hook, now, move it to the middle of the fishes mouth, to avoid re-hooking and pull out gently.
Show respect to these wonderful creatures! Firstly don’t touch the gills or squeeze a fishes stomach when handling, these are their most sensitive areas, so avoid completely. Get the fish back in the water as quickly as possible, a good way to time this, is the length of time you can hold your breath. Anytime fish are out of the water they’re suffocating, so please bare this in mind.
When you need to handle fish on the ground use a damp landing mat or soft grass, not concrete or dry mud. It’s also good to have a jug or bottle containing water from the area your fishing, to pour over the fish, especially on hot days, when fish can dry out quickly. Are you planning on weighing your catch? Keep the fish submerged in the water with your landing net or keep net until your ready to weigh.
Go and tell your bigger friends! It’s time to return your catch to the water, and you may think you can just throw them back any old how, but if you care about treating the fish correctly, there are right and wrong ways to release your catch when fishing.
Make sure your hands are wet, as they should be anytime handling a fish, or use damp rubberized fishing gloves to protect them from human bacteria and viruses. The aim is to conserve their protective layer of slim.
Lower the fish in to the water and support them with one hand underneath, in a natural swimming position… horizontally. Point their head in to the current (if any), as this will help force oxygenated water through it’s gills and hold there until the fish regains it’s strength.
Now gently hold the tail, until you can feel the fish fighting to be released. This is a good sign that they’re ready to swim off and have fully recovered from the stress of being caught. In essence, your just giving them enough time to catch their breath.
There we have it! A complete step by step all in one guide on how to go fishing for the first time. We’ve covered rules and regulations, basic fishing gear required, easy set up rigging, what bait to use and how to actually catch a fish and release them back in to the wild.
I really hope you enjoyed this beginners guide to fishing article, and please check out some of my other, more detailed fishing tutorial posts. Right, I’m off the prepare some bait for my planned weekend fishing session. I’ll catch you later!
My life is defined by a variety of outdoor activities, first and foremost fishing and camping. I also enjoy photography, writing, food and music.
Angling is by far my favorite past time, and even though I don’t claim to be an expert, I do enjoy sharing what wisdom I’ve gathered with others.
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