Bait Fishing Basics. The common first steps for the new fisherman

Colorful Fishing Lures on black glass background

Article by Ultimate Fishing (

Starting out with fishing can seem simple enough, for those of us who fished as a kid the basics will often still be set into our minds as adults, even with very little experience fishing as a child, it is very similar to learning the skills to ride a bike, once you know, it stays with you.

Most people know how to rig a basic bait fishing set-up, the process normally goes, fishing rod, reel and line, followed by swivels, sinkers, floats and some hooks.

For the fishing rod and reel, most people go with the traditional spinning reel, this is a reel that has a handle on the side and a main central forward facing spool, around the spool is a spinning bail (the thin metal piece that will bring the fishing line back in when you turn the handle). These are simple to operate, the only thing you need to know to get started with this is, should your line break or unwind back to the spool, you will need to feed the line to the outside of this spinning bail then up through the rod itself in order to make it functional. Placing the line straight up without first running it outside the bail won’t allow the line to be reeled back in, nor will it tighten and secure the line.

For rod weight, if you are going to be regularly bait fishing and do not plan on using fishing lures, or if you plan on using only very heavy lures over 20g in size, then go for a very solid rod. 7 foot solid rods are perfect to get started with and will suit both freshwater and salt water fishing. If you plan on using light weight lures, and focusing mainly on lure fishing after awhile, then you may prefer what is known as a spin rod, this has nothing to do with the term spin reel I previously mentioned. A spin rod means it is suited for light weight lure fishing, these are extremely flexible and light weight, which helps the light weight lures to be cast a further distance, often the reels used on these are a much smaller spin reel than that used on heavier general purpose rods, and the type of fishing line used on these spin rod / reel combos is usually only rated at around 4 to 7lbs. Most often these are not suitable for large fish over about 30cm. The main use of a spin rod / reel combination is for catching smaller predatory fish, such as trout fishing and small perch such as redfin (Europe / Australia) or yellow perch (America).

Cut a piece of line off the main line about 40cm to 1 meter depending on the water level, place a sinker through the main line and tie a swivel to hold it in place, then attach the remaining line to the other end of the swivel and tie a hook to the end. After that thread a worm on, cast it out and hope for the best. In the case of a float, most people often start out by using ‘inline’ floats, these are floats that have a central hole all the way through, so after tieing the swivel (without a sinker this time), you thread the remaining line you cut off earlier (known as a leader) through the float, then tie it to the swivel and place the hook at the end. This keeps the float secure and the leader the same length while fishing.

After this point is where things get a bit difficult, how big should the hook actually be for the target fish? Is using larger hooks better for catching large fish? Will small hooks actually hook onto a big fish? Or how on earth do you use a float which only has a bottom attachment? These things often come second.

For the fishing hook size, it does vary between species, however you are most often safe using a size 5 to begin with, note this is not a 6/0 size, just a plain size 5, about 17mm x 10mm in size. The most commonly used is just the regular style hook, but some prefer the ‘suicide’ style hooks which do not have as much top length above the hooks barb (sharp) point. Provided you are fishing for a species under 40cm in size, the trusty size 5 will often do the job. Of course, all fish are a little different, some you can get away with using larger hooks, others may even require smaller ones, but this today is only a general guide to get you started.

If you are salt water fishing in an ocean or bay via a boat, often there is much larger fish available in these situations, so you may prefer to go for a size 1/0 hook, which is just over double the size of a regular size 5. This will help with fish over 40cm which are commonly found in saltwater environments.

Over time you may prefer to lower the size to get the right balance between your target fish within the 30 to 50cm range.

Now on to the non inline version of fishing floats. Using fishing floats with only a base attachment is actually fairly simple, most single point attachments at the bottom will have a button you press on top to release the attachment point (hoop / clip), this is often the case for the very common rounded white and red plastic ball shaped floats, do not attach a swivel to the top and bottom of these, they are meant only for attachment at the bottom. So, how do they work then? Very simple, you tie you leader and main line together using a swivel, press the button at the top and then place the floats attachment clip / hoop through one side of your swivel, now release the button and check the float is secure (wiggle it around a little to make sure it’s not going to come off) and you are ready to go. Often these clips will have a slight hole in the plastic above them to properly secure the clip in place, take a look when it is extended to see if this is the case with yours.

Now, what about those with bottom attachment yet are not button operated, such as pencil floats? The attachment method is similar, you can either put it in place like a regular inline float, at the leader end after the swivel, and leave it be, however this often doesn’t work the best as the leader is free to contract, meaning less leader could be presented in the water than you prefer. What I tend to do is either use a 3 way swivel, or if these aren’t available, a regular swivel but keep about 10 to 12cm of fishing line free. Attach one end of this small piece of line through the bottom of the float, then tie it together firmly, now with the free end of the fishing line, attach this to the swivel. You will now have a float which sits on the surface, along with a slight drop of around 8cm down to the main line after you cast into the water. Pretty easy stuff.

What about fishing knots? What’s the best knot to start with? The most common knot taught to new fisherman is the clinch knot. To make this, place the line through the hoop / loop of the swivel or hook, now pull about 1 inch of line through and put it together going back along the main line, secure both the end and the main line between your fingers, now grab the swivel or hook with your other hand and twist it so the two parts curl together, do this around 10 times then get the free end of the line, and feed it in between the remaining gap at the hook / swivel. Once it feeds through this as much as possible, hold the free end and main line together again tightly, and pull the hook / swivel away from you with some force, the 10 turns will now tighten and secure, leaving you with a moderately strong fishing knot, secure enough for most fish. For fish over 50cm, you may prefer to leave more free line available, so if the knot slips, it has some room to move.

The benefits of starting with this type of knot are that it will secure most fish in place in order to land them, while providing enough slip so that should your hook become snagged, you will normally be able to slip the knot free with a little prolonged force, basically if there is any chance of getting the hook free, you will have the ability to do this, however if there isn’t this will leave the hook behind on it’s own most of the time, without leaving a large excess of fishing line in the water which could harm fish and other animals.

Once you are beyond the point of regular snags, or are looking to target fish over over 3kg, you will need to learn some more advanced knots to secure your line.

As it is difficult to explain things completely using only words and some basic diagrams, it can help to get a few first pointers off friends who are already used to fishing, humble yourself a little when asking for advice, and take close visual note of what your friend / family member is showing you, while he will likely tell you the basics, nothing beats visually seeing what is being done, as this will present a perfect mental image for you to use next time, after being shown correctly once, you will often have the basics of bait fishing ready to go whenever you head out next.

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