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Introduction to Fishing 101

Gary Heffley author photo,
By Gary Heffley
04/18/16 -- With the North State general stream/ trout opener less than a couple of weeks away, and with greater water levels seen in the lakes than in recent years, there has been a large influx of new anglers seeking advice on taking up the sport of fishing. Many of the questions range from basic tackle set-ups to basic techniques for catching either bass or trout. Let me lay out some basic recommendations that will help the novice get started.

Fishing is a great sport for the entire family and one that many generations can participate in together. The biggest and best advice I can give is- visit a sporting goods or outdoor store and ask questions. Knowledgeable staff can assist you in making the right choices and are more than happy to help as you wade into the wonderful world of sportfishing.

Let's begin with the basic components: rod, reel, and line. For those over the age of 10 or 11, I recommend a simple “spinning” outfit; matching a six and a half foot medium-action spinning rod with a spinning reel, spooled with 6 to 8 lb. monofilament line. This will allow the novice angler to fish for trout or bass in most streams, lakes, and ponds. For those new anglers under 10 years of age, a sized-appropriate spin cast outfit is perfect. As with both the spin cast and spinning outfits, many retailers offer combo sets that are already balanced and ready to use with appropriate line on the reels.

Terminal tackle is a term used to describe the next part of the equation- the selection of weights, swivels and hooks used to tie onto the end of the line so that when bait is added you are ready to fish. For the novice, let's talk about three terminal setups that will work most anywhere.

Setup number one that will catch bass, trout, and sunfish in any lake, pond or still stream is a bobber float, with the bait suspended below. The terminal tackle needed are size 6-10 hooks, split shot, snap swivels and the bobber. The basic rule of thumb: The size of the hook and bobber used will be determined by the bait being suspended on the hook. A live minnow bait will need a bigger hook and bobber than a worm or salmon egg.

To use the set up, tie the snap swivel to the end of your line and attach a pre-tied hook with leader to the safety snap of the swivel. Squeeze a split shot onto the line about six inches above the snap swivel and place the bobber onto the line at the depth you fish to fish below the surface. Start with 3 feet above the bait, going higher or lower as conditions or the bite dictates. When the bobber starts dancing and goes below the surface, slowly reel in any slack line, and when you feel resistance, set the hook.

Setup number two is for the use of Powerbait or other floating baits like marshmallows. Yes you can use small marshmallows right out of the pantry for trout bait. Powerbait and other dough type baits float and many new anglers make the mistake and try to fish these baits under a bobber. Many times the baits end up floating on the surface right next to the bobber out of the strike zone. The strike zone is a term used to describe the area of the water column where the bait is expected to get bit by fish. Powerbait is designed to float just off the bottom where many trout often cruise, so certain terminal tackle must be used to keep it there.

For the Powerbait set up, a pre-tied small treble hook with a long leader 24 to 36 inches, egg sinker weight and barrel, or snap swivel, is needed. First slip the egg sinker onto the line before tying either style of swivel to the end. Then tie the leader and hook to the end. Mold the bait onto the small treble hook and cast out allowing the weight and bait to settle on the bottom. The egg sinker design allows the line to slide freely, with the swivel acting as a stop. With the bait floating off the bottom, the trout are allowed to pick up the bait without feeling any resistance in the line. When you notice the line moving or the rod tip starting to bounce up and down, set the hook, and reel in the fish.

The third set up is great for catfish and fishing off docks. The terminal tackle involves a pre-tied “pier leader,” a snap swivel, hooks, and dipsey sinkers. The pre-tied pier leaders are not really needed, but makes it easier for the novice to use. This set up is designed to suspend bait off the bottom by placing the weight below the baits on the bottom. To use, tie the swivel to the end of the line attaching the leader below with the weight tied to the bottom. Attach the hooks to the pre-tied loops on the leader and bait with night crawlers, or if catfishing, baits like clams or chicken livers work well. Cast off and let the weight settle to the bottom. Keep a relatively taut line and watch for the tell-tell bouncing of rod tip indicating a bite. When this happens, set the hook and reel in the fish.

So, we have you set up to catch the fish, and told how to tell if you are getting a bite, but do you really know how to set the hook?

There are two very common mistakes when first learning to fish and believe me this plagues even long time anglers, so a couple of quick pointers: The first is setting the hook with slack in the line. The best example of the term and effects of slack line is to tie a rope to a chair and than lay the rope in a snake pattern on the floor between you and the chair. Now try to pick up the rope and move the chair; you have to straighten the rope out before the chair will move. Same concept on setting a hook, keeping a minimum of slack line between the rod tip and bait allows you to react better to, and get a better direct hook set. The other issue is in the act of raising the rod to set the hook. Do not gently sweep the rod tip up or to the side, for that often just pulls the bait away from the fish. When you feel the pressure of the fish at the end of the line, snap the rod tip up quickly. This will drive the hook into the jaw giving a solid hook set. Just know that hook sets are missed no matter how diligently you follow the rules. And remember, as with most things learned, experience will be the best teacher, so don't be disappointed if you miss the first few bites as it happens to the best of us.

Fighting the fish...okay you have 'em hooked but can you reel them in? First thing you should always check before your first cast is the setting on the drag. The drag is the built-in braking system on the reel. Too tight a drag and on the first surge of a hooked fish the light will snap and break. Too loose a drag and even the smallest fish will peel line off the reel like a thousand pound blue marlin not to be stopped. As a general rule of thumb, set your drag so you can easily pull line off the reel, while retaining some resistance. If you are fighting a large fish, let the drag work for you and help wear the fish down. Don't try to tighten the drag when fighting most fish just because it is taking drag, because more often than not, the fish will just break off. And don't reel against a fish taking drag as that will cause your line to twist up in the spool and end up as loops in the line.

Never reel the fish all the way to the rod tip, and if you are using a net to land the fish always keep the fish's head in the water, never lift the head out, and lead the fish, head first, into the net. Many fish are lost trying to land the fish from behind, or when the netter stabs at the fish hitting the line first and knocking the fish off the hook. And no, it is not okay to throw that person into the water when it happens no matter how big the fish was.

Besides using bait to catch fish, using artificial lures is a great option. This is where a lot of novice anglers get lost or confused, as there are hundreds and thousands of artificial options. For the sake of getting started, lets pick out just a couple lures that will catch both bass, and trout, effectively. Roostertail and Panther Martin Spinners are effective and can be used to cast and retrieve in both lake and stream settings. White or silver Roostertails look like small bait fish and are personal favorites, along with Panther Martin's with yellow body with red dots, or black body with yellow dots: These will usually work well in most settings. Silver/Blue Kastmasters which resemble small bait fish, as well as red and white (crawdad colors) and crackle frog pattern Daredevils, are also personal favorites which attract both bass and trout. Small curly tail grubs on a dart head jig are also very basic but effective bass lures to learn and use.

Get a small tackle box, put in these essentials, and you can fish most any freshwater in the North State, but you are not quite done yet. There are a few more items to consider as basic core recommended items needed for the box: A pair of needle nose pliers which are great for putting on split shot and also doubling as a hook remover, a stringer to hold the fish if you elect to keep any for the frying pan, along with a knife to clean the fish, a net to help land the fish, and an ice box to keep them cool in. Sunglasses and a hat are personal essentials along with sunscreen and a few band-aids in case you get a hook stuck in the finger. Also, if fishing from a boat, a PFD (lifejacket) is a must.

The best thing about learning how to fish is that if you have questions, not only will you be able to ask them and get answers at most any fishing tackle store, most fisherman, by nature, will share basic knowledge to anyone who asks nicely. Just don't try to get any secrets out of them. Enjoy, and tight lines!

Gary Heffley has been a valued contributor to MyOutdoorBuddy for over seven years serving as manager, sales representative and reporter for much of Northern California. He is an avid outdoorsman and loves to fish and write about his adventures. He has long history in the Sporting Goods field and is presently managing the Gift Bar and Camping Department at Sportsman’s Warehouse in Redding.

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