This Beginners Fishing Guide is for YOU If:
- You’ve never touched a fishing rod or reel.
- You don’t know what an artificial is.
- You never caught a fish, you’ve only seen one on a plate!
You can READ the whole article below. Or, you can DOWNLOAD the PDF of the whole article to print and read later – HERE.
What Is Fishing?
Fishing is the act of doing something that results in putting fish in your hands. There many methods you can use to put fish in your hands. We’re getting to that. Keeping a fish to eat or to put on your wall at home is called ‘harvesting’. There are rules about that. Lots of ’em!
This beginners fishing guide will teach you a lot about fishing in a very slow, easy way. Let’s Do This!
Florida Fish Species
This list is not comprehensive, but these are most of the gamefish and other fish you may catch while fishing in Florida. We’ve separated it into freshwater and saltwater species.
Go HERE to see our big GUIDES for Catching Many of these Fish!
Freshwater Fish Species in Florida
American Shad, Blue Tilapia, Chain Pickerel, Common Carp, Crappie, Bass, Bowfin, Florida Spotted Gar, Jaguar Guapote, Longnose Gar, Mayan Cichlid, Catfish, Oscar, Panfish, Peacock Bass, Shoal Bass, Spotted Bass, Striped Bass, Sunfish (a few kinds), Suwannee Bass, White Bass, Yellow Perch.
Go review the Official Florida Freshwater Guide that shows all fish HERE.
Saltwater Fish Species in Florida
Amberjack, Ballyhoo, Banded Rudderfish, Barracuda, Black Drum, Black Marlin, Blue Marlin, Bluefin Tuna, Bluefish, Bluerunner, Bonefish, Bonita, Catfish, Cobia, Flounder, Gray Triggerfish, Grouper (many kinds), Hogfish, King Mackerel, Ladyfish, Lionfish, Parrot Fish (many kinds), Permit, Pinfish, Pompano, Pufferfish, Redfish, Red Porgy, Sheepshead, Snapper (many kinds), Snook, Spanish Mackerel, Speckled Trout, Stonefish, Tarpon, Tunny, Wahoo, Weakfish, White Grunt, White Marlin, Yellowfin Tuna.
Download the Official Florida Saltwater Guide that shows all fish and limits HERE.
Beginners Fishing Vocabulary
You’ll need to know these few basic vocabulary words. We’ll add photos to make it easy. Just to get started fishing you might have to know about 50 words you’ll find in this guide. It will help you feel more confident about going fishing, so learn them. It will be fun – none of them are that difficult because people that fish shorten the names to make them easy to say!
Fish live in different types of water for the most part. Some fish can stand a mix, but generally saltwater fish stay in saltwater and freshwater fish cannot live in strong saltwater.
Freshwater – no salt. Includes rivers, streams, ponds, lakes, some canals.
Saltwater – has salt and the salinity (saltiness) varies. Includes ocean water, bays, and some canals.
Fishing line is very fine nylon or other material that is like thread. It comes in different pound tests. That means a 2 lb. test line should be able to handle 2 lbs. of pressure as you’re fighting a small fish.
You need to match the strength of the line with the fish you’re targeting, and also the range of fish you’re targeting. For instance, if you’re fishing in the ocean off a boat dock you could catch fish from 1 to 30 lbs.
A 30 lb. fish can pull even harder than 30 lbs. so you might use 50 or 60 lb. test. If you don’t care about being able to catch a heavy fish, then you could just use whatever line that matches your fish size.
Fishing line comes in 3 types. Monofilament. Fluorocarbon. Braided.
This is what people have been using for generations. It is clear, like see-through. No color. It soaks up water and it’s stretchy. It’s made of nylon. It is not good for abrasive conditions – scraping from a fish’s teeth, hard jaw, gill plate, or being rubbed on anything hard like a pier.
It’s quite stretchy. It degrades over time as the sun’s ultraviolet light destroys the nylon. “Mono” as it’s called, is good and fine to use for almost everything except heavy fish or fishing in very deep water but the other two line types have their strengths.
Fluorocarbon looks just like mono except its harder material allows thinner diameter line to be used. Thinner line is good because fish cannot see it as well. Fluoro is clear and basically see-through. It reflects less light than mono so fish see it even less.
Ultraviolet light has no effect on it so the line doesn’t degrade from the sun over time. Fluoro is abrasion resistant and much better for slipping over things than getting chewed up by them.
This line has a problem in that it is too inflexible. Repeated use and winding on a reel will cause it to eventually fail and start snapping. Exactly what anglers don’t want. Still, pros use it by preference. Fluoro is typically more expensive.
Braided lines are comprised of 3 separate strings that are braided in simple fashion the same as you braid hair. These are very strong and don’t stretch. However, they’re very flexible. Braided line can be used on your spool for 2 seasons if you reverse the line and bring the older line on the bottom to the top because it’s still good.
It is more expensive than mono but lasts longer. It is very hard to break when you snag on something.
Here’s the KastKing line we use (50 lb. test)
A rod is the long pole that holds the reel. Rods are very long – over 8-9 feet long when fishing at the beach and you need to cast long distances. Rods are short like 3-4 feet when you are trolling with massive reels with very strong line (100 lb. test or more).
A simple rod for catching Gator Trout or Redfish can be 7 feet long. I have heard of 14 feet rods that give great long distance casts off a pier or at the shore.
Rods also have a stiffness rating that can also be called “Action.” Light. Light-Medium. Medium. Medium-Heavy. Heavy. This tells you how much the rod will bend. Trolling rods don’t really bend much at all. A few inches.
A light rod for catching 1 lb. speckled trout will bend a lot – maybe 1-2 feet. You’ll need to match the rod to the size of fish you want to catch also.
Generally if you’re ocean fishing you can use a Medium rod and catch everything from 1 lb. fish to 20 lb. fish. It’s not that cut and dry a rating. However, you’d have a heck of a time reeling in a 20 lb. fish on a Light action rod!
The lighter the action of the rod and lighter the line strength and gear, sometimes the more fun it is to catch even small fish. It’s definitely less fun to catch small fish on Heavy rods!
The rods I always buy are UglyStiks. You can try Here to see if they’re in stock, but they’re almost never in stock since COVID. I like the 7 foot 2 piece medium or medium-heavy action rods.
The reel holds the fishing line wrapped around a spool. The spool can be sideways like with a “spinning reel” or it can be at a 90° angle with where the line is going as it does with a “baitcasting reel.” The line goes from the spool up through the circles on the rod (these circles are called guides).
The reel has a handle so you can turn it, or crank it. That handle is often reversible so if you feel like the handle is on the wrong side of the reel, have a look to see if you can unscrew a nut on the other side and flip it around. It’s cool like that!
This Penn Fierce III is a great beginners spinning reel that will go from the pier to the lake to a river or stream. The top part attaches to your rod. The handle on the right you crank with your left hand. The thick black wire looking thing is the bail that flips up and down to manage your line.
Sounds harder than it is. You’ll learn this reel in about 5 minutes.
Spinning reels are easiest to learn on and you can start with this, or if you’re already excited about fishing, just get the Baitcasting Reel below. The difference is the accuracy of the baitcasting reels is so much better.
Spinning reels have a bail that flips up when you cast your bait out and you flip it down after your bait is where you want it.
You’ll want to watch a video about how to cast them and set them up with the line. It’s hard to describe in words.
Baitcasting reels have some advantages and one negative. They take some getting used to. You’ll have to learn how to cast it. There are lots of videos online to show you how to cast them. It may take you a day to get it and a week to really learn it. Then you’ll be SO HAPPY you got a baitcasting reel. Trust me.
Advantages of Baitcasting Reels over Spinning Reels
- stronger cranking
- stronger drag
- straight on line collection, not 90° angle
- less to break
- far more accurate for casting
- holds more line
If you want to learn on a spinning reel, that’s fine. You can keep it as a second rod/reel when you get your baitcasting reel later.
Or, just get one now because they’re magical in their accuracy.
Rod and Reel
You need to match the rod and reel to work well together. That means the baitcasting reel needs a baitcasting rod because the guides are smaller. The spinning reel needs a spinning rod because the guides are bigger and allow better casting for that reel type.
Please Note – you may see some fishing reels named Zebco. These are beginners reels that are only designed to last for a very short time. Please do not buy these reels for your children or for yourself, they are pure junk.
I’ll show you one knot that you should use for everything when you’re starting out. It’s super simple and you’ll probably never forget it once you tie it a couple of times. This knot is very strong, one of the best, and you can learn more knots later. This one will do for now.
Palomar Knot Tying
Hooks are metal with an eyelet to thread fishing line through for a knot to hold it tight.
Hooks come in different sizes and you have to match the size of the hook with the size of the fish that you expect to catch. That said, I usually use a size 1 hook for Trout, Snook, Redfish, Sheepshead, Flounder and other fish.
Hook sizes are a real joy to learn about. Size 1 is about right for a speckled trout. Size 2 is smaller, down through sizes 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 with 12 being very small. Then you have the 1/zero sizes like 1/0. This is a size bigger than the size 1. Size 2/0 is a little bigger. Sizes 3/0 to 8/0 are getting bigger.
Who in the world came up with this system should have their fishing license taken away!
CIrcle hooks reduce the stress on the fish because it hooks in the cheek and rarely gut hooks or throat hooks fish. You don’t set the hook (pull hard on the line), the hook sets naturally in the fish’s mouth.
I use Gamakatsu hooks almost exclusively but if I can’t find them, I use Owner hooks.
Swivels are metal pieces that join two things, sometimes more than two. You can join a line of one diameter and a line of another diameter with a 2-hole eyelet swivel. You can join a line with an artificial lure if the swivel has one clip and one eyelet. The clip can clip to the artificial lure’s eyelet.
A 3-way swivel can join to the main line that goes to your reel, a sinker on a line, and a hook with bait on it. There are many ways to configure swivels. They can introduce a weak point in your fishing line if knots are not tied properly or the swivel malfunctions.
These #2 swivels hold 65 lbs. and are good for most Florida fish.
Also called bobbers because they bob up and down in the water. A bobber is a plastic or foam (or other material) that floats in salt or freshwater. You attach it up the line from your hook. You can control how much your bait sinks below the surface by varying distance from the hook. This is helpful for top-feeding fish.
It is also very easy to see the bobber (often in fluorescent or high-contrast colors) moving around and submerging when a fish grabs your bait.
Sinkers are weights made of lead that you can attach to your line to cause it to sink down into the water column. Some fish eat what they find at the bottom of the ocean, so you may need to get down to their level. Sinkers have holes like hooks you can feed line through. Some sinkers pinch on to the line (split-shot). These are super helpful but weaken the line somewhat if clamped to monofilament or fluorocarbon.
Some sinkers move up and down the line and some stay stationary.
Types of Fishing
The platform you fish from can be important for the different types of fish you’ll have the opportunity to catch. Below we cover some.
Fishing in a boat in the shallow areas just off the shore in waters under 100 feet deep (about 30 meters) is usually considered inshore fishing.
Typical Inshore Species – snapper, pompano, redfish, snook, cobia, sharks, sheepshead, speckled trout, flounder, catfish, ladyfish, crevalle jack, Spanish mackerel, pinfish.
Offshore or Deep Sea Fishing
Fishing in water depths over 100 feet deep is usually called offshore or Deep Sea Fishing. In Florida we have a very gradual slope on the west coast so it takes a long time to travel by boat out to deeper areas.
The Gulf of Mexico is an average of 5200 feet deep, but quite shallow near most of Florida except the Florida Keys.
Typical Offshore Species – kingfish, sailfish, billfish, wahoo, tuna, grouper, mahi-mahi, amberjack, false albacore.
Kayak, canoe, or other small boat fishing is usually done inshore and can be a great way to reach fishing spots you cannot from a pier, bridge, dock, or shore. Here’s our huge Kayak Fishing Guide.
Florida has a large number of fishing piers that offer an inexpensive way to start fishing and catch fish right away. We review Florida’s Best Piers here.
Standing in the water and fishing is called wade-fishing. This is a way to reach fishing spots you might not be able to from the shore. We have a complete Wade Fishing Guide too!
How Many Ways Can You “Fish” or “Go Fishing”?
More than a couple! Let’s review them here. For the sake of this article, we’re going to talk about #1 below. Many of these ways of harvesting fish are illegal whether you keep the fish or not. Stay up to date with Florida’s Fishing Laws at their website (FWC.com). Florida Saltwater Fishing License Info here.
- Rod and Reel. Fishing with a rod and reel means you have fishing line and a hook with live or dead bait on it, or at the end of your line you have something with a hook like an artificial lure. The fish bites the lure and hooks catch the fish in the mouth usually.
- Cane Pole. Just a rod with some line either attached somewhere on the rod, or hand-held. No reel. Same idea as #1 above but you pull the line in or just raise the long cane pole (any pole) up to lift the fish out of the water. Works with smaller fish and maybe up to 5 lbs. or so.
- Hand Line. No pole. No reel. You have a hook and bait or artificial lure on the end of the line. Hand-liners just use their hands to hold a spool (usually) of line they wind and unwind manually.
- Snatching. Grabbing a fish out of the water with your hands from either above the water or in the water is called snatching.
- Snagging. Dragging bare fishing hooks through the water to snag the body of a fish is snagging.
- Cast Netting. Throwing a circular net with weights on the outside perimeter from over the water and letting it sink to trap fish is called cast-netting or throw-netting.
- Drift Netting. Setting a stationary submerged net across part of the water is drift netting. Gill nets are often used which often kill unintended fish.
- Bowfishing. Using a bow and arrow or a cross-bow from above the water and shooting down into the water is bowfishing.
- Gigging. Using a hand spear to jab at a fish and spear it while you are over the water is gigging.
- Spearfishing (underwater). Swimming underwater and spearing a fish with a hand spear, sling spear, or spear gun is spearfishing.
- Noodling – This is when you submerge your hand and use your fingers to lure a fish in to bite them. When it does you lift your arm up and have caught the fish from inside the mouth.
Types of Organic (living or once living) Bait
Red worms, mealworms, and nightcrawlers can all be used to catch fish in freshwater. Worms don’t deal with saltwater well. Ever seen a shriveled up slug after salt was poured on it? Yeah, that. Worms are one of the best baits you can use to catch freshwater fish. Try different sizes to catch different fish.
Trout, bluegill, and panfish of all kinds like small worms.
Bass like huge worms and even small eels.
Freshwater minnows can be caught easily with a small basket trap with some bread pieces inside. Leave it overnight for best result. These are excellent for Bass and Crappie.
Pinfish are small ocean fish that are excellent bait for many species. You can catch them using a throw net over a shallow area of sea grass in many places.
There are many more types of bait fish for saltwater fishing but most of the bait shops just don’t make them available very often.
You can keep fish you catch in a net in the freezer in a frozen block and cut pieces to use as bait as needed. Or, catch rough fish (trash fish) and cut those up to use as bait as you fish. Fresh cut bait is always better than dead and frozen.
Types of Artificial Lures
There are so many varieties of artificial lures out there that we can only cover a fraction of them here. We’ll cover the ones you’re most likely to use and use often. This isn’t to say that lures not covered here are not fantastic lures!
Culprit 7.5″ Plastic Worms – these are incredible lures for bass fishing in lakes and rivers. Bass probably see some worms during their lifetime and when they start seeing these 7.5″ and bigger (10″) worms start bouncing around their nest they get real excited and bite often.
Use these with a bullet sinker on the front like the graphic.
Grubs with Jig Heads – a fantastic lure, these can be used in freshwater and saltwater, though I’ve only use them when fishing in salt water. They can catch a variety of fish. My favorite fish to catch with these lures is the Crevalle Jack. Note, your hooks must be strong for saltwater fishing with this lure. Shop Here.
Berkley’s PowerBait is a well-known brand and they have a variety of soft plastic lures as well as fish attractant. If I’m looking for a product and Berkley has one, I’ll usually go with theirs.
Rapala is probably one of my favorite brands because their lures will last a very long time, even if they get beaten up as you are fishing. They have the full range of lures some of which float on top and are small or large, and some which dive deeper also small or large, and they have the large trolling lures that are great for Deep Sea fishing and pelagic species.
Some of My Favorite Rapala Artificial Saltwater Lures
DOA Soft Lures. DOA is a company that makes soft plastic artificial lures for Redfish, Trout, Snook and other inshore species. They have crabs and shrimp in many colors and variations.
3″ DOA Shrimp (Shop Here). I love DOA products, especially these shrimp about 1 foot under a popping cork. Learning to fish is easier when you use great tools. A popping cork when pulled quickly makes a snapping noise that attracts fish because it’s like shrimp at the surface snapping the tail.
How To Go Fishing at a Freshwater Lake in Florida?
Make sure you have the proper fishing license to fish in freshwater before you go fishing. This is crucial. There are rangers looking for people without a license and the fees can be steep. One tip is that you can fish freshwater on your own property without a license. So, if you have a lake in the backyard, feel free!
Don’t worry much about your rod. Ideally it is a light action or light-medium action rod that has some bend to it and flexibility. If it’s medium or even medium-heavy action you can still use it but it’s not exactly ideal.
Still, just go get started and try to catch fish! That’s the point of this guide – to teach you and motivate you to just go do it and have a good time.
Using lightweight monofilament line of 6 or 8 lb. test, put a small hook on (3/0, 4/0, or 5/0 size) using the Palomar knot above. Don’t forget to lick the line or spit on it or dip it in water, or whatever you want to do before you cinch the knot.
Thread a worm of any size on the hook leaving part of the hook exposed, and give it a little toss out into the water. Remember, with a spinning rod setup you have to flip that bale thing up before you cast out the worm to hit the water. Let the worm sink naturally.
Worms will die in 5-10 minutes without air, so you can bring him up for a breather if you want to keep him going longer.
That’s it. You’re fishing.
Most of us don’t read a guide to fishing before we go, but most of us have had some experience with relatives or friends before we go out on our own. Every time you go out you will learn something new if you pay attention.
You might learn something about the time of day to go out or the water temperature or the weather or the rising or falling barometer, or something like this. It’s a good idea to try to learn something every time you go out fishing.
Once you run out of worms, you can try different small lures and see if you catch anything. Lures are great because you can reuse them over and over and you won’t spend as much money as you will buying live bait every time you go fishing.
This is also why you should probably learn how to catch your own live bait whether freshwater fishing or saltwater fishing. Live bait prices have gone up a lot recently and it isn’t all that difficult to catch your own bait in most cases.
How To Go Fishing at a Fishing Pier?
I think the best way for you to start fishing and catching fish is to head straight for the biggest fishing pier in your area. Start learning to fish with HANDS-ON as soon as possible.
I told you I have written a guide about the best peers in Florida so you should take a look at that now.
Most fishing piers will charge a fee and this will include your day pass to fish at that pier only for as long as the pass is good. Usually 24 hours. This means you don’t have to worry about a full fishing license yet.
Fishing piers are an incredible resource because they have everything you need right there on the pier. You can buy any gear you need.
You can buy frozen bait, live bait, hooks, lines, sinkers, floats, and even fishing rods and reels. Almost all of the fishing piers also have a snack shop and drinks to cool you off in the hot sun.
Your rod should be a medium or medium-heavy action rod that is about 7-8 feet in length. The line you use should be 50-60 lb. braid or monofilament. I strongly advise you to use braid, but you’re going to have to add a swivel to join two lines of different types and that complicates it slightly.
The problem is, I taught you one knot and you’re going to need to follow this step-by-step to be able to tie that knot on both sides of the swivel without putting your entire rod and reel THROUGH the circle in the line! Ha!
If you do the following out of order, no matter, just put your entire rod and reel through the loop in the line. Make the loop really big! You’ll learn other knots later!
So, do this.
Use 50-60 lb. braided line on your reel.
First, connect a size #1 chemically sharpened hook by Gamakatsu, or Owner to 4-5 feet of 30 lb. test fluorocarbon fishing line. Then connect a strong swivel like the ones I mention above to the other end of that line.
Then, you need to connect the open swivel eyelet to your braided line on your rod/reel. As you do, take the hook and fluoro line and put it through the loop you made with the braided line knot for the swivel.
Then you’ll be set.
Buy some live shrimp at the bait house. Put them in a bait bucket with a lid that attaches to the bucket. The lid must have holes. You will need a rope to drop that bucket of live shrimp over the side of the pier to float in the water down there. It will keep the shrimp alive longer.
Before you drop the bucket over the side, grab a shrimp to use!
Hook the shrimp through the tail from underneath to out the top fo the tail. Or, just through the top of the tail. The tail should still move somewhat. The shrimp should still be alive. Don’t put the hook through the shell around the abdomen.
Add a couple of heavier split-shot sinkers to your line on the braided portion. The braid can handle the stress of the sinkers but the mono line is less able to.
Toss your line over, remembering to flip the bail back on your reel before doing so. Let the shrimp drop down into the water and to the bottom or wherever it’s going. If the tide is strong, you may just keep letting out line until you see it being taken at a greater speed. If something hits your bait, you should see line go out faster.
Or, you can lock your bail and set the drag to something light so your entire pole doesn’t leap in the water when a big fish hits it.
If there is no tidal movement of water, just let the sinkers hit bottom and click the bail shut and keep the drag set light.
It’s better to set the drag on a light setting until you see what sort of fish you have on. A strong fish needs a heavier drag but a light fish needs a much lighter one. Match drag to the strength of the pulling fish.
Last step. CATCH FISH!
Author’s Note on Florida Fishing
The reason I’ve written over 270,000 words about Florida fishing for this website is to help more people get out and go fishing in the lakes, streams, rivers, and ocean around Florida.
The cost of fish at the store and restaurants has risen dramatically with COVID and the state of our world. When you can catch your own fish and have fun and create a better bond with your kids and spouse, what could be a better use of your time?
Please consider learning to fish now with this guide. And remember, it’s not just catching fish. You can collect scallops. You can collect Lobster. You can trap crabs. There are so many things to do on the water, and don’t forget kayak fishing!