Freshwater Fishing For Beginners

Freshwater Fishing For Beginners

There are 40 million freshwater fishing participants in the U.S., and it continues to grow in popularity. From largemouth bass to walleye, crappie, and muskies, freshwater fishing is full of opportunities for anglers. To help beginner anglers, we created a freshwater fishing guide with gear and location recommendations to set you up for success on the water.

Overview: Beginners Freshwater Fishing Gear

For beginner freshwater anglers, keep equipment simple. Like any new sport or skill, you must master the basics first before advancing to complex skills. Below is our essential gear list that will have you covered and ready to catch a variety of freshwater species.

  • Rods & Reels
    • 6’6” spincast rod with a 150-size spincast reel (combo rod)
    • 6’ 6” spinning rod with a 2000 spinning reel
    • 7’ baitcasting rod with a 150-size casting reel
  • Line
    • 10 lb. mono/nylon
  • Bait
    • Worms
    • Minnows
  • Lures
    • Topwater
    • Jerkbait
    • Crankbait
    • Bottom bait (Texas Rig or jig)
    • Vibrating jig

Beginner Fishing Rods and Reels

With rods and reels, we recommend starting with the 6’6” spincast rod with a 150-size spincast reel. This type of rod is called a combo, and combos are perfect for beginner anglers because they are versatile, allowing anglers to try different techniques with one rod and reel setup. Combos are also great for casting long distances and beginner anglers on a budget who still want several options.

Spinning rods are another excellent option. They have down-ward facing guides and straight handles that let the line flow freely off the reel, allowing anglers to feel quick nibbles on the line if they’re jigging, trolling, or casting. When you’re casting, use your dominant hand to grip the rod. We recommend using a two-handed grip when you’re learning to cast a spinning rod because it helps you cast further with accuracy. Learn how to cast a spinning rod and how to spool a spinning reel, and you’ll be ready to reel in a keeper. 

Baitcasting rods have a reel on top with a trigger grip that allows anglers to stay in control when there’s a fish on the line. These rods also have smaller guides and a smoother casting action because they drag less than spinning reels. Baitcasting rods work best for anglers who want to cast far distances and maintain accuracy. Remember, practice makes perfect. Stay consistent and master the basics on one of the recommended rods listed above, and you’ll be reeling in trophy catches in no time.

Freshwater Baits and Lures for Beginners

With your rods and reels in order, it's time to finish outfitting them with lines, lures, and bait. We recommend filling the rods with 10 lb. monofilament (mono) or nylon fishing line. Mono is inexpensive, casts smoothly, and holds knots better than most fishing lines. Nylon is another good fishing line option for beginners because it's an all-purpose fishing line that's easy to cast and works well with various tackle setups. For new anglers, we recommend sticking to mono or nylon before experimenting with other types of fishing line. If you're curious about different types of fishing line, check out this fishing line blog

Freshwater fish love to bite on live bait, especially worms and minnows. To use your bait, you'll want to have bobbers, hooks, and small split shots to present the bait. Bait often works best, so start there before trying out your lures. To tackle almost any body of water, have a topwater, jerkbait, crankbait, bottom bait, and vibrating jig in your lure arsenal. Having one lure in these categories will allow you to target multiple freshwater species and practice various fishing techniques. Before hitting the water, make sure you have small scissors, pliers, or forceps to easily remove stubborn hooks from your catch's mouth.

Other Freshwater Tackle Recommendations

With all your tackle, you'll need a way to transport it to and from your fishing spots. The Urban Angler Backpack is a small tackle backpack that lets you easily store all your gear in one place. It has a main and outer compartment perfect for holding tackle trays, five storage sleeves for baits/hooks, and a designated rod holder. The Urban Angler also has a 1.5-liter hydration pack so you can stay hydrated while scouting fishing spots. Once your fishing gear is all packed and ready to go, remember to pack a spare hat, bug spray, and sunscreen to stay comfortable and protected from the elements.

Where to Fish

A good place for beginner freshwater anglers to start scouting fishing spots is by checking out your state's Department of Natural Resources. Your local DNR will have fishing reports for lakes and rivers in your area, helping you narrow down promising fishing spots. Local tackle stores are another great resource because they can give personalized recommendations based on the type of fishing you want to do and the species you want to catch. There are also several free fishing message boards and fishing apps with reports available for little to no cost. Before hitting the water, check your state's fishing regulations and purchase your fishing license online

Pond Fishing

If you’re planning to pond fish, you’ll have the opportunity to catch bluegill, crappie, sunfish, catfish, or largemouth bass, depending on the pond. Before heading out, ensure you have permission beforehand to fish in a private pond. Live baits typically work best for pond fishing, especially night crawlers, waxworms, and minnows. Pond-dwelling fish are much more aware of your movements, so try to walk slowly and quietly along the shoreline when you’re getting set up. We recommend casting close to different structures like trees, submerged logs, or docks to start fishing. Fish love to hang out in these locations because they provide shelter and are prime spots to strike prey. Another good place to start is where there’s moving water from a fountain or a nearby stream. Click here for more pond fishing tips. 

Lake Fishing

Fishing on a lake may require a boat, depending on the areas you want to fish in and the type of fish you’re chasing. Some freshwater species prefer shallow waters, while lake trout and walleye stay in deep, open water. Regardless of the species you’re after, use live bait like worms and minnows before experimenting with artificial lures. With live bait on your line, start looking for different structures. Stumps, logs, and weed beds are promising places to start, and you can adjust your strategy depending on how the fish are biting. If you’re in a boat, look for depth changes using your boat’s depth finder because fish love to hang out here, too.

Impact of Season and Weather on Freshwater Fishing

Seasons and weather have a strong impact on fish behavior. For example, during the winter months, the metabolism of freshwater fish slows down because they are less active due to the drop in water temperature. Whereas, during the fall spawning, most freshwater fish are on the hunt to stock up before the winter hits. In the winter and early spring, fish usually bite best in the warmest part of the day. We recommend planning an afternoon fishing trip to maximize action on the water in late winter and early spring. Also, knowing how to layer is critical to staying comfortable on the water. Our layering guide for cold weather fishing gear breaks down the different types of layers to use when the weather changes throughout the day. 

During the summer, early mornings and evenings are the optimal times for fishing. Fish don’t like the heat, so they move to deeper, cooler waters during the day, making it harder to entice them for bites in the middle of the day. With summer fishing, sunscreen and sun protection clothing are essential to stay protected from the sun’s harmful rays. Some AFTCO sun protection staples are the Samurai and Air-O Mesh performance fishing shirts, which have UPF 50 sun protection, moisture wicking to keep you cool, and stain resistance, perfect for washing out sweat and fish slime. Check out our performance shirts with UV protection collection to find the right fishing shirt. 

For weather conditions, fish bite better on rainy and overcast days. Fish are more active under these conditions because they prefer the dark. Also, during the hot summer months, rain has a cooling effect on the water that activates the fish. Even though a rainy day on the water isn’t ideal, with the proper rain gear, you’ll stay warm and dry and focused on fishing. The AFTCO Transformer is an excellent rain suit for beginner anglers because it’s packable and perfect for light rains and winds. Check out our rain suit comparison guide to find outerwear to meet your needs.

Another great way to learn about freshwater fishing is to join a local fishing club or team. It’s an excellent way to meet other anglers, discover local fishing spots, and learn about popular freshwater techniques. Many of these groups encourage new members and have longstanding members who are always willing to help beginner anglers. Start by searching for nearby fishing clubs, and you’ll be on your way to becoming a skilled angler. As a beginner angler, always clean up your trash, follow state fishing guidelines, and pack plenty of snacks. Check out our freshwater how-to blogs to stay updated on the latest in freshwater fishing. Good luck on the water!

Share your love of fishing with the next generation, and check out this video for more tips for taking a kid fishing.