Learn to Fish
This information covers fishing basics to get you well on your way to catching a Florida memory! You can learn about fishing equipment, where to fish, and fishing techniques, and you'll be off on a fun new fishing adventure in no time. Then share your catch with us at CatchaFloridaMemory.com or TrophyCatch to earn prizes for your fishing achievements!
What to Bring
Unless you are exempt, the first thing you’ll need is a fishing license. Licenses and permits are available at:
- Fish|Hunt Florida mobile app
- In person at a license agent
- At a tax collector’s office
- By calling toll free 888-FISH-FLORIDA (888-347-4356)
Learn more about who needs a fishing license and who does not.
Saltwater Fishing Licenses
A saltwater recreational fishing license is required when attempting to catch saltwater species such as fish, crabs, clams and other saltwater organisms regardless of whether in state or federal waters. Avid Florida resident anglers are recommended to purchase a lifetime license for convenience and to save on annual costs.
Special permits: Florida has a few special licenses or permits you need to have when targeting certain species, including snook, lobster, tarpon, reef fish or when shore-based shark fishing.
Freshwater Fishing Licenses
Fishing for freshwater species requires a freshwater recreational fishing license. This license can be purchased the same way as the saltwater license and has similar costs.
What if I’m fishing in brackish water?
Whether you need a freshwater or a saltwater fishing license depends on what species you are targeting, not how salty the water is. If you are targeting snook upriver in fresh water, you’ll need a saltwater fishing license. If you’re targeting largemouth bass in a saltmarsh, you’ll need a freshwater fishing license. Or you can purchase a combo license if you are a Florida resident and plan to fish for both saltwater and freshwater species.
License-free Fishing Days
License-free fishing days provide an opportunity for anyone to try out fishing or share their passion. On these days, the fishing license requirement is waived for all anglers, resident or not.
*Seasons, bag and size limits still apply.
License-free Freshwater Fishing Days
- First consecutive Saturday and Sunday in April
- Second consecutive Saturday and Sunday in June
License-free Saltwater Fishing Days
- First consecutive Saturday and Sunday in June
- First Saturday in September
- Saturday following Thanksgiving
There are six main types of reels; Spincast, Spinning, Conventional, Bait-Casting, Fly, and Cane. Watch a video on the types of rods and reels. Rod style should be stiff for offshore rods and provide a fair amount of give for inshore rods.
Choosing the right size rod and reel depends on both the style of fishing and species you are targeting. With a little research, practice and talking to your local tackle store, you’ll be on the water in no time!
The reel has a push-button control for releasing the line off the covered spool. These reels are good to use in freshwater and require regular maintenance if used in saltwater to prevent corrosion. The spin-cast is also known as closed face reel or the push button reel. Spin-casting reels eliminate backlash tangles because the spool doesn’t move. During a cast, line is pulled off the fixed spool through a hole in the top of the reel by the weight of the lure.
Designed for use in either freshwater or saltwater and available in a wide range of sizes, depending on where you want to use them. These rods and reels have a bail that winds the fishing line onto the reel. To cast, lift the bail, hold the fishing line between your finger and the rod and cast while letting go of the fishing line. The spinning reel is also known as the open face or flip-bail reel.
These rods and reels can be used in either freshwater or saltwater. They are designed so the spool that holds the line rotates when letting line out or retrieving line. These rods and reels are available in a wide variety of sizes and styles for use in many situations. Some have a device to wind the line neatly onto the spool. Bait-casters have a high potential for tangles and take practice to fish properly.
These rods and reels are generally used to catch large fish from offshore. Most conventional rods and used for trolling or bottom-fishing, but not casting. Like bait-casting reels, conventional reels are designed so the spool holding the line rotates when releasing and retrieving line. But, they have a high potential for tangles and take practice to fish properly.
Simple fishing rod you can use to catch freshwater or saltwater fish. A piece of fishing line (the same length as the cane pole) is attached, along with a float and a hook. Instead of casting, the line is simply swung out into the water by holding the end of the pole in one hand and the line just above the hook in the other. While facing the water near the bank, hold the pole at about a 45 degree angle and let go of the line so it swings out over the water. At the farthest end of the swing, drop the end of the pole, thus dropping the bait and bobber into the water.
A fly rod and reel uses the weight of the line to carry the lure to the fish. Lures for fly-fishing are very light and made from feathers, fur and fiber. Fly-fishing requires training and lots of practice to fish properly.
The type of fishing line to use depends on your situation and personal preference. Types of fishing line include:
- Monofilament: Single strand of nylon. It typically holds knots better, is easy to cast, has low visibility, shows some abrasion resistance and is less expensive than other fishing lines. But, it can stretch out over time and deteriorate from ultraviolet light exposure.
- Suggested uses: A good all-around fishing line to use in many different situations.
- Fluorocarbon: Single strand of polyvinylidene fluoride. It has very low visibility and stretch, resistance to abrasion and ultraviolet light, good knot strength and it sinks to the bottom. However, it can be very stiff to tie and is more expensive than monofilament.
- Suggested uses: As leader material or in clear water.
- Braid: Fused or braided strands of polyethylene. It has a smaller diameter, further casting distance, low stretch and exhibits resistance to ultraviolet light and abrasions. But, only certain knots (such as the uni knot) should be used with braid, it is highly visible in the water and it costs more than monofilament.
- Suggested uses: Fishing near structure or on the bottom and while using lures that spin.
- Leader: Material attached between the fishing line and the hook. Leaders can be made of low-visibility fluorocarbon, hard monofilament, steel, titanium or other materials depending on the target species. They provide increased protection from sharp edges and can be less visible than most fishing line.
- Suggested uses: When targeting large or toothy fish and when fishing near sharp structure
Fishing hooks can vary based on size and shape.
Fishing hook molded into a heavy sinker and can be covered with a soft artificial lure.
The most important parts of the hook are the eye and the barb. The eye is where you will tie the line. The barb is a small, extra point located on the inside of the hook that secures the hook in the fish's mouth. However, barbs make it harder to dehook fish and can also damage the fish’s mouth. File or crimp down the barb to support sustainable fisheries! The advantage of using barbless hooks is that they are easier to remove from a fish or yourself.
Type of Hooks
One major decision is whether you want to use a J-hook or circle hook. The circle hook is believed to help released fish survive by reducing the rate of gut hooking. Instead, they are made to specifically hook the fish in the mouth. Because they reduce mortality, circle hooks are required when targeting reef fish species with natural bait. The J-hook requires a strong hook-set while anglers using circles hooks should maintain tension on the line but not set the hook.
When choosing hook size, first remember that the size of the hook gets bigger as the number gets smaller (size 32 being the smallest and 1 being much larger). Even larger size hooks will end with a “/0” meaning aught. You should match the size of your hook to the size of your bait and the size of the fish you are targeting. For example, an 18/0 hook might be ideal for shark fishing while a 5/0 hook might be used for grouper.
Piece of metal that attaches the leader to a line and spins or rotates at the leader, which keeps kinks and twists out of the main line.
Piece of metal that can attach to a swivel; it helps an angler switch tackle quickly.
Snap and swivel connected to each other. The swivel keeps kinks and twists out of the main line, and the snap allows an angler to switch tackle quickly.
Weight that can be pinched onto monofilament; adds weight to a lure quickly.
Weight that is shaped like an egg with a hole in the center.
Weight with three or four sides that comes in different sizes and is used to keep bait on the bottom in waves and currents.
Float or Bobber
Float that bobs at the surface and indicates a fish is biting the hook when pulled underwater. They may have weights that make a popping sound to attract fish.
When the float is jerked, it makes a popping sound that attracts fish. The float can sometimes have weights and beads.
Several bait options are available when saltwater fishing, including artificial and natural baits. The type of bait to choose depends on your targeted species, bait availability and personal preference. Remember, fish find food by detecting scent, sound and movement. Artificial Lures imitate the colors, shapes, sounds or scents of baitfish.
A dished-out or elongated spoon shape causes them to have a wobbling or darting motion in the water. The metallic finish provides a flashing effect to attract fish.
Constructed from hollow plastic or wood to resemble baitfish or other prey. They have one to three treble hooks. One or two sets of treble hooks may be removed to make it easier to unhook fish. These lures can be fished at almost any depth and some are made to float, dive or both. Includes: crankbaits, jerkbaits, surface plugs, floating or diving plugs, rattling plugs and poppers.
Soft Body Lure
Molded from soft plastic and made to imitate natural bait. They come in countless shapes, colors and lengths and may be fitted onto a jig head. Some soft body lures come pre-rigged with a jig head.
Usually preferred by fish, but can be difficult to catch and maintain. Natural bait can also be purchased. REMINDER: Circle hooks are recommended when fishing with natural baits.
Insert a circle hook through the head and avoid dark spots in order to keep the shrimp alive; effective near the bottom or midwater using a float rig.
Insert a circle hook up through back corner of shell, near swimmerets, or cut the body into halves or quarters; work well for bottom fishing.
Insert a circle hook across the “nose” of the fish, upward through the top of the mouth, or through the back of the fish, just in front of the dorsal fin. Common baitfish include ballyhoo, bonito, pinfish, pigfish, mullet and killifish.
Live Sand Fleas
Used to catch pompano and other fish in the surf zone. Insert a circle hook up through the sand flea (also known as mole crabs or sand crabs).
Sold frozen and can be cut into pieces; works well for bottom fishing.
Cut fish into strips or chunks and attach to hook, using the smallest pieces possible to avoid losing the bait.
Before considering tackle, bait or your lucky rod, watch this safety checklist video and learn what additional gear you may need.
Make sure to include these necessary items in your tackle box:
- Bug Spray
- First aid kit
- Saltwater Regulations and/or Freshwater Regulations
- Fish identification guide
- Extra hooks and lures
- Line clippers/Pliers
- Extra line
- Several different sized weights and floats
- Measuring device
- Knotless, Rubber-Coated Landing Net
Learn about proper fish handling tools and tactics.
Fish Rules App
The popular Fish Rules App has been updated to include freshwater regulations! Look for it in the App Store and Google Play for iOS and Android. Enable Location Services to see site-specific regulations for your location.
Where to Go
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. If using a lure, retrieve the lure in the desired manner.
Things to Remember: Match the knot to a function, tie the knot correctly, wet the knot prior to fully tightening it and trim the tag end to 1/8 inch after the knot is completely tightened. The tag end is the active end of the line used to tie a knot. The standing line is the longer end of the line that is not used to tie a knot.
A Loop Knot can be tied very easily under various circumstances, and attached to swivel and hook. It is a simple starting point for fishing knots.
Improved Clinch Knot
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.
Used to tie line to hook, light line to heavy line and in many other applications.
- Run line through the eye of the hook and double-back parallel to the standing line. Make a loop by laying the tag end over the doubled line.
- Make six turns with the tag end around the doubled line and through the loop.
- Moisten the lines and pull the tag end to snug up the turns.
- Slide the knot down to the eye or leave a small loop, if desired.
Used to tie leader to lures that require freedom of movement, like jigs and plugs, by leaving a loop near the lure eye.
- Tie a simple overhand knot in the line several inches from the tag end; do not tighten the knot at this point.
- Insert the tag end through the lure eye, then insert the tag end through the wide portion of the overhand knot while keeping the knot loose.
- Loop size is determined by moving the overhand knot a desired distance from the lure eye. Make a simple half-hitch with the tag end around the standing part of the line ABOVE the overhand knot.
- Moisten the knot and pull tight on the line and lure to cinch the knot.
Used to tie light line to heavier line, such as a leader.
- Make a loop with the heavier line. Run about 10 inches of the lighter line through the loop.
- Hold the three lines between your thumb and index finger. Wrap the light line back over itself and both strands of the loop.
- Make 10-15 tightly wrapped turns with the light line.
- Feed the tag end back through the loop, exiting the loop from the same side as it entered.
- Hold the light line and pull on both ends of the heavy line to slide the wraps to the end of the loop. Moisten and pull knot tight.
Considered one of the most reliable knots and one of the strongest knots to tie for braided line. Used to attach a line to a hook, leader, etc. and is also best when tying braided fishing line to a hook.
- Double about 10 inches of line and pass through the eye of the hook (step 1).
- Tie a loose overhand knot in the doubled line, letting the hook hang loose at the bottom (steps 2-4). Avoid twisting the lines.
- Pull the end of loop down, passing it completely over the hook (step 5).
- Slide the loop above eye of hook. Moisten and pull both ends of the line to tighten the knot (step 6).
Surgeon's Knots may be used with two unequal diameter lines. It may be necessary to have one line on a spool to help pass it through the loop.
- Lay the two lines against each other, and overlap about 8-10 inches.
- Working the two lines as one, tie an Overhand Knot. It will be necessary to pull one line (say the leader) completely through this loop.
- Pull the leader through this loop again.
- Pass the other end through the loop.
- The formed knot can now be worked into shape.
A double line can create an easier handle for a long fishing line and may be tied by means of a Spider Hitch
- Form a loop of the desired length, say 3-4 feet.
- Twist a section into a small loop.
- This is the only tricky part - hold this loop with thumb and forefinger, the thumb extending above the finger, and with the loop standing up beyond the tip of the thumb.
- Wind the doubled line around the thumb and the loop 5 times.
- Send the rest of the long loop through the small loop, and pull gently to unwind the turns off the thumb.
- The knot is now formed and worked into tight coils.
This knot is used for attaching a swivel to a double line.
- Put the end of the double line through the eye of the swivel.
- Rotate the end half a turn, putting a single twist between the end of the loop and the swivel eye.
- Pass the loop with the twist over the swivel. Hold the end of the loop, together with the double, with one hand, and allow the swivel to slide to the end of the double loops that have formed.
- Continue holding the loop and the lines with the right hand. Use the left hand to rotate the swivel through both loops 6 times or more.
- Keep pressure on both parts of the double line. Release the loop. Pull on the swivel and loops of line will start to form.
- Holding the swivel with pliers, or (better still) attaching it with a short length of line to the rigging, push the loop down towards the eye while keeping pressure on the double line.
Surgeons End Loop
Loops are made for the purpose of attaching leaders, traces or other terminal tackle. They have the advantage that they can be tied quickly even in the dark.
The Surgeon's End Loop is an easy way to go.
- Take the end of the line and double it to form a loop of the required size.
- Tie an Overhand Knot at the desired point, leaving the loop open.
- Bring the doubled line through the loop again.
- Hold the line and the end part together, and pull the loop to form a knot.
Blood Bight Knot
Another end loop can be tied quickly and easily using the Blood Bight Knot.
- Double the line back to make a loop of the size desired.
- Bring the end of the loop twice over the doubled part.
- Now pass the end of the loop through the first loop formed in the doubled part.
- Draw the knot up into shape, keeping pressure on both lines.
The Blood Bight Knot is often used for attaching a dropper when fishing deep water with several hooks.
Some anglers attached the hook directly to the end of the loop, which should be at least one-foot from the end of the line.
However, this is not a productive practice, when the fish are apprehensive. Far better to attach a single strand of nylon to a short Blood Bight Knot, using another Blood Bight Knot, or a Surgeon's Knot.
Another method of forming a loop, or loops, in the line above the sinker is to use a Dropper Loop, which that stands out at a right angle to the line.
The loops can be made long enough to have a hook set on them, but that isn't necessarily the best presentation for many fish.
- Form a loop in the line.
- Take hold of one side of the loop, and make 6 or more turns around the line itself.
- This is the tricky part - keep open the point where the turns, or twists, are being made.
- Take hold of the other side of the loop, and pull it through the centre opening. use a finger in this loop so that it is not lost.
- Hold this loop between the teeth. Pull gently on both ends of the line, making the turns gather and pack down on either side of the loop.
- Draw up the knot by pulling the lines as tightly as possible. The turns will make the loop stand at right angles to the line.
Tucked Sheet Bend
Usually employed by the fly fisherman, the Tucked Sheet Bend is commonly used for joining the backing line to the tapered line. It is not an especially compact knot, but has a very strong attachment, which cannot be said for the more aesthetically pleasing Perfection Loop.
- Make a Blood Bight (see above) at the end of the backing line.
- Take the end of the tapered line. Pass it through the Blood Bight and make a simple Sheet Bend.
- Now pass the end of the tapered line back through the closed loop of the Sheet Bend.
- Hold both ends of the tapered line to tighten and draw into shape.
The float fishermen who use a running float for casting use the Float stop to prevent the float from running up the line. This knot will move readily over the rod guides, but grip a monofilament nylon so tightly that it will not slide over the line.
It should be made with about 6 inches of nylon, usually the same diameter as the line itself.
- Take 2 turns (3 if necessary) around the main line at the chosen point.
- Bring both ends around to form a Surgeon's Knot (see above).
- Tighten into shape bringing the coils close together.
The Turle Knot is very simple to tie but is very weak.
It should not be used for light lines, and there are better knots for use with heavy ones. At least consider using the double turle trick listed below to enhance it, if you choose this simple knot.
- Pass the line through the eye of the hook.
- Make a simple loop.
- Carry the end of the line on to make a Simple Overhand Knot upon the loop.
- Pass the loop over the hook.
- Draw up into shape.
Double Turle Knot
Tied in monofilament nylon, the Turle Knot may slip unless another Simple Overhand Knot is made at the end of the line.
It is improved substantially by using the Double Turle Knot.
- Pass the line through the eye of the hook or swivel.
- Make two simple loops, and carry the line on to make a Simple Overhand Knot around both loops.
- Pass both of these loops over the hook or swivel.
- Pull on both parts of the line to draw the knot up into shape against the eye of the hook or swivel.
Total Length Measurement
Total Length is measured from the most forward point of the head, with the mouth closed, to the farthest tip of the tail with the tail compressed or squeezed, while the fish is lying on its side.
Girth is best measured with a fabric ruler, such as tailors use. It can also be determined by drawing a string around the fish at its widest point marking where the string overlaps and then measuring the distance between the overlapping points on a conventional ruler. The measurement should be taken perpendicular to the length of the fish. This measurement is analogous to measuring the circumference of someone's waist.
Learn more about how to measure your freshwater catch!
Fork Length Measurement
Fish regulated by fork length are measured from the tip of the jaw or tip of the snout with closed mouth to the center of the fork in the tail. This type of measurement is primarily used for saltwater fish species.
Lower Jaw Fork Length Measurement
Fish regulated by lower jaw fork length are measured in a straight line from the anterior most part of the lower jaw (tip of the lower jaw) to the fork in the tail. This type of measurement is primarily used for large saltwater fish species.
Learn more about how to measure your saltwater catch!
Gone Fishin' Interactive Games
Play five interactive games to learn about marine fisheries conservation and saltwater fishing. Take a virtual fishing trip, learn about fish habitats, clean up a reef, learn proper fish handling and complete a virtual fish dissection.
Ethical Angling and Fishing Regulations
As the number of anglers continues to grow, it becomes more important than ever to be a marine resource steward as well as show others respect when on or near the water. By respecting the marine environment and the people in it, we can help ensure good fishing for generations to come and safe fishing experiences. After all, respect for nature and for other anglers is what fishing is all about.
Some ways you can help be a marine resource steward and make the right kinds of waves include:
- Be an ethical angler: Ethical angling means knowing when to keep and when to release your catch while always handling fish with care. This includes knowing and abiding by regulations and being able to identify the fish you target.
- Be ready at the ramp: Prepare your boat and equipment before launch. At a fuel dock, get fuel, pay and move out of the way.
- Wear your life jacket: Set a good example for others and stay safe.
- Watch the wake: Stay at least 200 feet from shoreline and other boaters and follow no wake zones. Always yield to wade fishermen.
- Boat safely: Know who has the right of way and when. All operators of recreational boats less than 26-feet that have an engine cut-off device must wear an engine cut-off switch. This device helps prevent accidents by cutting off the engine when the vessel operator is not at the helm.
- Be courteous on shore:Don’t shoreline fish in areas or during times of day when there are a lot of swimmers. Don’t crowd anglers who are fishing from shore.
- Stash your trash: Recycle fishing line and dispose of trash in a proper receptacle ashore
- Coming in for a landing: When anchoring up, watch how other boats tie off and do the same. If you think you are too close to other boaters or anglers, you are probably too close. Mind the current and be patient and wait for others to move before docking.
- Keep the noise down: Sound is amplified over the water, which can disturb other boaters and those who live near the water.
- Give anglers space: The sounds or wake from your boat can cause an angler to lose their catch or drive fish away.
Knowing the limits and executing the appropriate way to catch and release a targeted fish is called ethical angling. Ethical angling means knowing when to keep and when to release your catch while always handling fish with care. This enables sustainable fisheries for generations to come.
In addition to the recreational fishing regulations, you should familiarize yourself with the marine life regulations.
- The best general rule is to handle the fish quickly and as little as possible.
- Leaving fish in the water during release is the safest option. Large fish and species prohibited from harvest should be kept in the water at all times to better support their body weight and give them a higher chance of survival when released
- If you must remove the fish from the water, wet your hands first to minimize damage to their protective slime.
- When photographing your catch, keep the fish held horizontally and support its full weight.
- A landing tool like a lip grip helps control the head of the fish and avoids damage to the gills and eyes common to careless handling.
- If the fish appears lethargic upon release, resuscitation may be needed. The goal is to force water gently through the mouth and over the gills. This can be done by using the current, taking the boat in and out of gear while holding the fish in the water, or moving the fish forward in a figure-8 motion.
- Bag limit - How many fish a person can harvest during a given time. This is often measured per person, per day and occasionally also includes a daily vessel limit.
- Minimum size limit - Rules that state a fish must be larger than a certain size for them to be harvested. These rules allow fish to reach a size that enables spawning before being harvested.
- Slot limit - Similar to the minimum size limit, slot limits have both an upper and lower size limit, and only fish that are within that slot may be harvested. This tool allows young fish to mature, while also protecting larger spawning fish.
- Season - Times of year that are open or closed to fishing for a certain species. This tool is used to protect fish from harvest during sensitive times of the year such as spawning periods or times of heavy fishing.
Regulations can vary based on your location within the state of Florida, make sure to check for any local rules and regulations.
Reel in and Recycle
The Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program (MRRP) is an innovative statewide project dedicated to reducing the environmental damage caused by discarded fishing line. MRRP aims to educate the public on the problems caused by monofilament line left in the environment, encourage recycling through a network of line recycling bins and drop-off locations, and help citizens host volunteer monofilament line cleanup events.
You can make a difference by disposing of your used monofilament fishing line in a designated bin. You can also cut all your fishing line into small 6-12 inch sections and dispose of in a lidded trash receptacle to keep it from entangling wildlife.
Watch FWC's Video on How to Build a Monofilament Recycling Bin.
Hooked a Bird?
Don't Cut the Line! Reel. Remove. Release. Watch how to safely handle and unhook a bird.
If a bird has swallowed a fishing hook or is severely injured, use our app to find the nearest seabird rehabilitator to care for the bird and/or transporter to take the bird to a rehabilitator. Please stay with the bird until help arrives. You can also report an injured bird to the FWC using our FWC Reporter app for Apple or Android smartphones or tablets. You can download the free app from the App Store or Google Play.
Sport Fish Restoration
Do you buy fishing gear? Fuel up your boat? Purchase a fishing license? Every time you do, you help improve your fishing experience by supporting the Sport Fish Restoration Program (SFR).