How to Fish: Tips for Beginner Anglers

A mother and daughter fish off of a dock

The great outdoors is calling, and one of the most enjoyable, relaxing and exciting sports is fishing. To a beginner it may seem daunting, but it’s not. We’ve put together some tips to get you started.

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Licencing and Outdoors Card

The first step in figuring out how to fish is to make sure you’re obeying local requirements. To fish in Canada, the first step is to get a fishing licence and an Outdoors Card. If you are over 18 years old and a Canadian citizen, an Ontario resident or a non-resident, you can follow these easy steps to get your Outdoor Card and licence.

  • The Outdoor Card is an identification card issued by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) that allows you to hunt or fish. You must always have your Outdoors Card with you when you are hunting or fishing. It is valid for three years. Purchase your Outdoors Card.
  • Purchasing your fishing licence comes with a few decisions. You can purchase a Sport fishing licence, which includes full catch-and-possession fishing privileges, or a Conservation fishing licence, which includes reduced catch-and-possession limits. This is ideal for anglers who want to release most fish they catch. You can purchase your licence in different lengths of time (1-day, 8-day, one year and three years). Purchase your fishing licence. Please make sure to have your Outdoors Card number handy, as you need it to make the licence purchase.

Residents under the age of 18 do not need an Outdoors Card or a fishing licence, but be sure to have government ID with you — this acts as your licence.

Non-residents under the age of 18 do not need a licence or an Outdoors Card when accompanied by a person with a valid Outdoors Card and fishing licence. The catch limit, however, is shared with the properly licensed adult they are fishing with.

In addition, Canadians over the age of 65 do not require a licence or Outdoors Card. But ensure you have government issued proof of age with you when fishing.

Now you are all set to fish legally. Of note, please carry your Outdoors Card, Licence and picture ID when fishing.

Fishing Equipment

Your next step is to pick a fishing rod, hooks, and bait.

Fishing rods are made from fiberglass, graphite or composite (a mixture of the two) and can be anywhere from 6 to 12 feet long. So how do you choose? Fiberglass has been around forever because it’s very durable and affordable. This makes them a great choice for a new angler. According to the Pros at Dicks Sporting Goods, the best length for a beginner is 7 feet. This length allows beginners to have good casting distance and accuracy as you learn your fishing skills.

Next is the rod handle, choosing from the two basic materials: cork or EVA foam. Cork is lighter, more comfortable and carries the vibration of a fish nibble easier, but is harder to keep clean and damages much easier. Both handles have good features, but for durability the EVA foam wins hands down.

Cost of a decent rod and reel can be as low as $40 if you buy them together, or you can go for purchasing them separately, which is generally recommended. When picking out your reel, remember you will have two key choices: bait casters and spinning reels. Spinning reels are more comfortable and simpler to operate for beginners and novices. You can purchase a good rod and a spinning reel separately for around $65. By buying the two items separately, you can get exactly what you want.

Lures, line and baits are not as simple as rods, reels and handles.

Choosing your lures and baits means picking what species you are fishing for. To do this you have to research either the lake you are going to fish in, if you know where you are going, or choosing a type of fish and then researching what waters they are in. If you don’t know what species you want to fish for, here is a list of what a beginner angler should target:

  • Sunfish — bluegills are easy to catch and can be found almost anywhere
  • Catfish — channel catfish are the most common kind of catfish
  • Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass — smallmouth bass put up a good fight and are fun to catch 
  • Trout
  • Walleye
  • Crappie

The very best advice we can share is to ask a local. For example, if you are renting a cottage, ask the owner for some hints and tricks. There is nothing better than home grown knowledge of a body of water. Ask about species available and best places to catch them. Anglers like to share their knowledge... just maybe not their secret fishing spot.

Fishing Hints


  • Remember: the size of the hook depends on the size of the fish you are fishing for. Same goes for the line, it is based on the weight of the fish you are after.
  • When fishing with bait, you can attach a float to your line that will keep the hook close to the surface. This makes it easier to see if the fish bites.
  • Baits and lures are used to try to encourage a fish to bite. But remember, you need to have what a fish wants. Some of the best baits are also the grossest — worms, leeches etc. —or can be as simple as pieces of cheese or even a kernel of corn. You can also purchase artificial bait.  
  • Try fishing early in the morning or in the evening, when fish tend to be hungrier.
  • Fish love to hang out around weeds, logs, sudden drop offs or where water enters or leaves a lake.

Pack up your gear, travel to your fishing spot, drop your line in the water and wait. But be sure you packed patience. Always remember that it’s called fishing not catching, so if you don’t succeed right away, just keep trying.

Enjoy one of the greatest sports ever. Fishing truly is a lifelong skill that you can enjoy at any age.

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