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Saltwater Fishing for Beginners (Huge Guide)

Learn to fish with our beginners fishing guide to help you begin fishing today!

I was lucky to have two uncles who were fishing legends teach me how to fish in rivers, streams, and lakes in Pennsylvania beginning at age six. Then, in 1991 I found myself in Florida for school with a lot of time on my hands. This began a lifelong passion for saltwater fishing that hasn’t gone away since. I present to you below my best effort for helping you learn about this amazing past time, “Saltwater Fishing for Beginners!”

Why Begin Saltwater Fishing in the First Place?

FRESH FISH IS DELICIOUS!

If you love eating fresh fish, that’s one great reason to start fishing! Some of you may have never even had fresh fish from the ocean. That’s a shame, but I’m going to help you fix that with this guide! On some guide boats years ago you could catch fish and cook them up right there on the boat for lunch.

Now THAT’S some fresh fish! Today I can take my kayak out on Tampa Bay and catch a sheepshead, trout, or redfish and grill it right on the beach on some of the saltwater canals when I go kayak camping or in my backyard later that same morning. The best fish is fresh fish!

THE ADVENTURE, IT’S SO MUCH FUN!

Man pier fishing in the Florida surf.
Ahh, to be the only guy on the pier. Someday.

If you don’t even like the taste of fish then you might be asking yourself why you should start fishing at all. First, I would say “Try It.” You don’t really know what something is about until you’re doing it. Fishing from the ocean brings with it a host of things to prepare for, and it’s a joy for many people – millions of people, and not just in Florida obviously.

To fish you can do research (like reading this guide), preparation – buying the proper rod, reel, line, hooks, lures, and live bait. You may need to map out your journey. You’ll likely bring refreshments, snacks, or food for a couple of days in coolers.

You may have to arrange schedules to match friends’ busy lives. You’ll have to look at weather, maybe have a look at tide charts, and think about safety while you’re fishing. You might put together a first-aid bag and search for hospitals nearby.

All of this is involved in fishing, and to me and so many others, it’s great fun to plan for and go on the adventure of fishing whether it’s from the shore, a pier, a kayak, or some other boat.

The REALLY COOL thing about Fishing? The MYSTERY. You don’t know if you’ll catch a Redfish, Trout, Snook, Shark, or Seahorse. I actually caught a small seahorse from the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Pier one time!

What Is Saltwater Fishing?

With some basic gear, a reel to hold and retrieve line, a rod which helps to cast your bait or lure out some distance, and some line and a hook with bait or lure, you can begin fishing in the saltwater of the ocean. Fishing is the process of tempting a fish to bite your bait or fishing lure so it becomes ‘hooked’ and you can reel it in.

Once you have the fish in front of you, you’ll need to identify it and possibly measure it to determine if the fish is legal to keep in your state. Fines for keeping fish that are not legal are stiff, and a huge fine could quickly put an end to your fishing dreams!

Ideally, you’ll go with someone who fishes regularly in your area and who can quickly identify fish. A fishing mentor will help you a lot as a beginner, so you might put some effort into finding someone to help you get started. This guide will help, but it would be great to also have someone standing beside you to help show you the process.

15 Steps for Saltwater Fishing Beginners

1st Step – Check Saltwater Fishing Licensing Requirements

Fishing rules and regulations apply to where you are going to fish, not which state you’re a resident of. Though you will likely get a break on fees if you are a resident of the same state you’re fishing in. Remember, if you go to another state to fish, you’ll have to check their licensing requirements before fishing there.

Check here to see licensing requirements for Florida saltwater fishing. Or, look up the requirements for fishing in the state you’re in currently. Please note, saltwater and freshwater fishing for kids under 16 free in Florida!

Once you get your fishing license for yourself and anyone else that will accompany you, or ensure that you don’t need one, you’re ready for the next step.

2nd Step – Gear

Start out with a basic saltwater fishing outfit that will allow you to catch fish from less than a pound all the way up to 10 lbs. or more. Here’s more info on gear >

Your Fishing Rod

A medium strength response fishing rod will allow you to catch fish up to around ten pounds. It won’t be ideal for catching little fish because you won’t feel them as well as you would with a light-action rod, but if you’re just beginning to fish you should get a rod that will allow you to catch many species and sizes of fish.

A light action rod won’t let you catch a 10 lb. snook. You’d be lucky to land it. There are light action, light-medium, medium, medium-heavy, and heavy action rods. They come in different lengths. The longer the rod, the further you can cast with it. Rods over 7.5 to 8 feet long are for surf-casting so you can cast very far into the surf. Short thick stubby rods are for trolling behind a boat for very heavy fish that are strong fighters.

Your Fishing Reel

There are two basic types of fishing reel – baitcasting and spinning. Spinning reels are the easiest to learn and that’s what we recommend at first, but if you’re going to fish a lot over the next few years you’ll probably want a baitcasting reel for the accuracy and distance you can get with it. No matter, just get a cheap spinning reel now and think about upgrading gear later as you decide you really love fishing.

A baitcasting reel is better for anglers who need accuracy and cast distance.
Baitcasting reel. The spool spins.
A spinning reel for fishing is good for beginners.
Spinning reels have spools that don’t move and are facing a different way.

There are arbitrary reel capacities and strengths that go by a rating of 1000 to 8000. A 1000 rated reel means it is fine for light fish around 3 lbs or less. A 2500 rated reel is good for just about everything and won’t be too heavy to hold for a long time. An 8000 rated reel is heavy and solid and for big fish.

Rod and Reel Combination

I’ll recommend a combination rod and reel set below that you can buy to make it easy and so you don’t have to go searching for a rod/reel that will match up well. There are different sizes of both. Keep in mind that sometimes these combinations are sold out, so you can search for the individual reel and rod and buy them separately.

Fishing Line

Monofilament line is fine for catching snapper and some other small fish around the docks/piers.

Other Essential Fishing Gear

Hooks

Here is an assortment of hooks that will prepare you for a few kinds of smaller fish. Keep in mind that there are sometimes hook requirements you’ll have to follow. The FISH RULES app will help you figure out how to fish legally for specific fish.

Lures

You’ll definitely catch more fish with live bait or dead/frozen bait than you would with lures, but here are a couple of common lures you can try that will catch a variety of fish.

Sinkers (lead weight), Swivels, other Accessories

Below you can find kits that have varied accessories that will help you as you fish.

Fishing accessory kit for tackle-box.
Many fishing accessories with link below.

3rd Step – Where To Fish?

Start with a fishing pier because it has everything, including restrooms. There is a fishing pier in every large city on the coast of Florida, just use search online to find one closest to you.

We wrote a Pier Fishing Guide here that will help you learn more!

4th Step – Best Time to Fish?

Fish feeding is not constant, and it relies on a number of factors. Temperature of the water is one factor that you’re not going to be able to use to help you fish for a while, unless you research which fish prefer which temperatures and you buy a submersible thermometer to check the temperature of water you’re fishing in.

Most of us just plan a fishing trip with a couple of spots in mind and we fish varying depths of water to reach fish where they are.

The other major factor involved in fish feeding behavior is the moon tides. The moon affects the water on earth and pulls it one way or another. Incoming tides and outgoing tides are when fish like to feed because the water is in motion. The food – living and dead shrimp, crabs, fish, and all kinds of organisms are moving with the tides so it’s a great time to feed. Some fish seem to prefer the incoming tide. Others prefer the outgoing tide.

There are strong tides and weak ones. Tides are specific to the area you’re in. The tide in upper Tampa Bay is not at the exact same time as the tide at the beach at Fort DeSoto park. If you have a choice, target the time just before the higher (stronger) tides and lower tides.

The times listed are when the peak ebb or flow has occurred and the water is probably not moving. This is slack tide and fishing is typically not good during this time.

5th Step – Which Fish to Target?

Red snapper on ice for the dinner table.
Snapper is one fish that is great for cooking!

There are over 100 species’ of fish you might go after (target), but let’s go with something easy like Pinfish and Snapper so you’re likely to have a better experience.

Snapper and pinfish can be found in the shallow water just a couple of feet deep, and also in deeper water. Pinfish are fantastic bait for catching bigger fish, but you can worry about that later. We’ll show you how to easily catch them and you can throw them back, or use them as bait on a bigger hook. Up to you!

Another fish we don’t mention below is the sheepshead. These are the best eating fish I’ve personally ever had outside of Grouper and Mahi-mahi. These are a bit more difficult to catch but they can be found near structure, piers, rocks, bridges, etc. You might want to target them after snapper!

Let’s focus on two easy fish to catch. Literally anyone who can drop a fishing line over the railing of the pier can catch at least one species (pinfish). Here’s how to catch two species, and one delicious fish which you can eat (snapper!)

Make sure to read this page about Fish Handling and maybe take a look at some of the videos. Fish are delicate and the way you see anglers holding fish up for photos is often times damaging the fish and some may not survive when let go. Conservation is a big part of fishing responsibly and we all need to know these suggestions and rules you’ll find on that page.

How to Catch Pinfish

Just get some of these pinfish rigs here. You just attach the rig to your line and drop it over the edge of the pier, and in seconds, you’ll probably have pinfish or even small snapper hooked up. It is not uncommon to catch 2 or even 3 or more pinfish at a time using these rigs.

This is the easiest way to catch fish. You don’t need bait, the fish bite anything white. However, you will increase the number of pinfish caught by adding very small chunks of shrimp to each hook.

This is almost cheating, it’s so easy to catch these fish! Here is a full page guide on Pinfish you might find helpful >

Here’s a full page guide on Taking Kids Fishing that you’ll love if you’ve got some of your own >

How to Catch Snapper

Another fish that is pretty easy to catch is the snapper. There are many different kinds as you can see here at our Full Snapper Guide page. If you’re going to keep any of the snapper you catch to eat, you’re going to have to know how to identify them.

This is where having someone along who can do so is nice, but you can do it from a guidebook like this one if you are fishing alone or with other beginner anglers. This book helps you identify 227 saltwater fish.

Here’s our huge guide on Snapper where you can get some more information about gear and how to catch them.

Beginner’s Steps to Catching Snapper Fish

  1. Wind your fishing line onto your spinning reel. Thread it through the guides on the pole first to make it go on easier. Once you have 100 yards or so on your reel, you can cut the line.
  2. Add a size #1 hook LIKE THESE (and links for good ones below) on your line by tying an easy fishing knot like THIS ONE.
  3. Put the hook through the top of a shrimp’s tail and out the top at the end of the tail.
  4. Drop the shrimp into the water and let it sink down next to the dock or pier concrete or wooden beams. You will almost definitely feel bites right away if fish are present because fish love shrimp, even the small pinfish. The smaller fish may pick apart the shrimp and steal your bait. This is one of the hazards of fishing with shrimp, especially frozen shrimp because it falls off the hook easily.
  5. When you feel a good tug on the line, you can give the rod a little pull up to set the hook and reel in the fish. Sometimes it will stay hooked, and other times it will get away. That’s fishing!

6th Step – Identifying Fish

We mentioned the guidebook you can get above, but there is also a fishing app for your mobile phone that will help A LOT because it is supposed to have the up-to-date information about legal limits and other laws, but it also has color images of fish that can help you identify them.

The Fish Rules app has fish identification help and rules and laws for southern United States.
The Fish Rules app is very helpful, you should probably add it to your mobile device.

The app is called the FISH RULES Fishing application.

If you have an iPhone, you can find it HERE. If you have an Android phone, you can find the app HERE. If you don’t want to install the app on your phone, you can use the online version of the app HERE. Be aware that that page will load 252 images of fish for ID and will decimate your data if you’re paying by the megabyte! Better to use the app!

Learning More About Fishing

This entire website is focused on helping you learn to fish and fish better, catching more fish. We have guides for pier fishing, kayak fishing, and all kinds of places. We have guides to fishing for 22 species of fish (+ sharks and lobsters).

If you’re interested in catching other kinds of fish, we have a list of our Fishing Guides here >