First Time Angler
Interested in going fishing? Here’s what you need to know to catch a fish on your first trip, whether freshwater or saltwater! Learn about the fishing essentials to get you out on the water and reeling in your first catch!
- Fishing license
- Rod and reel
- Natural bait
Step by Step Guide to Your First Catch
Are you going fishing and are between 16 and 64 years old, you probably need a fishing license. Buy a freshwater or saltwater fishing license depending on where you plan to fish, or a freshwater/saltwater combo license to cover both.
Getting a license or permit to engage in outdoor activities in Florida is quick and easy. Licenses and permits are available:
License-Free Fishing Days
License-free fishing days provide an excellent opportunity for those who don't yet have a fishing license to experience fishing, take youth fishing, or for avid anglers to introduce a friend to fishing without having to purchase a license. On these days, the fishing license requirement is waived for all recreational anglers, including both residents and non-residents.
All other rules such as seasons, bag and size limits apply.
License-free freshwater days
- First consecutive Saturday and Sunday in April
- Second consecutive Saturday and Sunday in June
License-free saltwater days
- First consecutive Saturday and Sunday in June
- First Saturday in September
- Saturday following Thanksgiving
The saltwater waiver applies to any recreational harvest requiring a saltwater fishing license (e.g., crabbing, lobstering, scalloping, etc.) as well as fishing from shore or a boat. A snook or spiny lobster permit are also not required on these days.
Spinning Rod and Reel
A Medium action spinning rod and reel like shown below is a great all-around outfit for most fresh or saltwater fishing. If you are not sure whether you will be spending more time freshwater or saltwater fishing, this is your best choice. Most outfits will include line, but if not check the recommended line (line strength usually listed in pounds) printed on the rod or the reel.
Spin-Cast Rod and Reel
If you will only be freshwater fishing, a spin-cast rod and reel is also very popular and especially easy to use, but not recommended for saltwater fishing.
This setup will catch most Florida freshwater fish. Use a #6 or #8 circle or long-shanked Aberdeen hook, fished about 2 feet under a small 1” bobber. Put a small split shot (weight) a few inches above the hook to get your bait down to the fish. A general tip is that if you aren’t getting any bites, slide the bobber up the line so that you are fishing a bit deeper. The bait will do the work; cast out and be patient.
This setup will catch a wide variety of Florida’s many saltwater fish. Use a #1 circle hook, fished about 2 feet below a slip sinker and swivel. A general tip is to use the lightest weight you need to keep the bait in place on the bottom due to current or waves. The bait will do the work; cast out and be patient.
TIP: For both of these rigs, use a pair of needle-nosed pliers to de-barb the hook. This will make it a lot easier to unhook and release the fish. The needle-nosed pliers are also excellent for removing the hook from the fish’s mouth.
Improved Clinch Knot
This is probably the second-hardest part about starting fishing! Your knot is your only connection between you and your fish, so this is important. Practice tying at home with a nylon cord, then try tying your line to a hook. The good news is that one knot will work for most of your fishing. This improved clinch knot is a strong, basic tie to hook or lure.
Used to tie line to hook, swivel or some artificial lures.
- Thread line through the eye of the hook and double-back parallel to the standing line.
- Using the tag end, make five or more twists around standing line.
- Take the tag end back toward the hook and push it through the first loop nearest the eye. Then, bring the tag end through the big loop that was just created.
- Holding the hook and line, moisten the knot and pull it tight against the hook eye.
This is one of the hardest parts of starting to fish! But be patient with yourself and practice, and you will be well on your way to being a successful angler. The directions below are for a spin-cast rod, but will work with a spinning rod too. Be extra patient if you are teaching someone else how to cast. A grassy yard or field without too many obstacles like bushes or trees nearby make a great practice location. Don’t get frustrated, and don’t give up!
Step 1: Point the rod at the target. For spin-cast reels, push and HOLD the button. The rod should be held firmly and your body in a squared position.
Step 2: Look behind you and make sure the area is clear. Bring the rod over your shoulder in a straight line until the rod is parallel to the ground and the reel is beside your ear. Keep an eye on your loose line so it does not get tangled on the fishing rod.
Step 3: Swing the rod forward until the rod is at a 90-degree angle with the ground; the rod tip should be pointing over your head. At this point, release the button. This movement should be a very smooth motion. If the lure hits the ground in front of you, the button was released too late. If it lands behind you, the button was released too early. Adjust your cast to release the button when the rod tip is above your head.
Step 4: Follow through the casting motion until your rod is parallel to the ground and your rod tip is pointed at your target. If you are using live or natural bait to fish, always keep the line taught.
Freshwater Bait Basics
Live worms are one of the best all-around freshwater baits and will catch most fish in Florida’s lakes. Bait and tackle shops usually sell two kinds; buy the red wigglers which are smaller, easier to put on the hook, and will catch most size fish including the smaller and very popular sunfish. If you keep getting your bait stolen, cut the worm into smaller pieces.
Saltwater Bait Basics
Live or frozen shrimp are an excellent all-around saltwater bait and will usually catch fish during any tide or time of day. They are available at bait and tackle shops, fishing piers, and marinas. Start off cutting the shrimp into smaller pieces and bait your hook with one. If you are having good luck catching a lot of smaller fish, next try baiting your hook with a whole shrimp for something bigger! Frozen squid is also an excellent all-around bait and stays on the hook better. If you keep getting your bait stolen, cut the shrimp or squid into smaller pieces.
Congratulations, you’ve caught a fish! If you de-barbed your hook (above), you should have an easier time unhooking your fish and getting it back into the water.
- First, wet your hands before touching the fish. This will protect the slime coat on the fish (which is a defense against infection), and will keep your hands from getting slimy.
- BE CAREFUL OF SPINES AND BARBS!
- Hold the fish horizontally.
- DON’T drag it on the ground!—and handle it carefully when you remove the hook.
- A pair of needle-nosed pliers or dehooking device are a big help in safely removing the hook.
- Do not keep the fish out of water longer than absolutely necessary for hook removal, a great photo, and gentle release back into the water.
- Don’t drop or throw the fish back; place it gently back in the water.