A key part of successful fishing is having the proper gear. Whether you are starting out or buying for someone else, there is so much gear you probably don’t know where to start. To put together the most effective fishing kit, you need to know what the best pieces of beginner fishing gear are.
The 10 essential beginner pieces of fishing gear you need are:
- Fishing license
- Clothes and boots
- Miscellaneous equipment
There are thousands of types of fishing equipment and each brands itself in one form or another as “essential.” The reality is a successful fishing kit is simple and does not have a lot of gadgets. The following is a rundown of what should be included in your fishing starter kit.
Table of Contents
What To Know About Gear When You First Start Fishing
The amount of fishing gear that is on the market is staggering. There are thousands of different products and all of them have slightly similar options made by other manufacturers. Narrowing it down to the “essentials” requires a review of what makes up those essentials. The following is a rundown of what you need to know about fishing gear to put together the most effective fishing kit.
Fishing Gear Is Expensive
It is possible to build a fishing kit “on the cheap,” but with many types of fishing equipment, inexpensive means making a trade-off. That trade-off might be in quality and effectiveness. Most likely, it is a trade-off in durability, which affects effectiveness after a fairly short period of usage.
Gimmicks Are Frequent
Every new fisher inevitably purchases fishing equipment or a lure or bait that makes a lot of sense on paper, but when put to the test, falls short. Actually, there is a lot of fishing equipment that does not make much sense on paper, but they look cool. They are also usually inexpensive, which ensures many buy them without thinking about it.
Most People Over-Equip
Too many anglers equate having a lot of stuff with being successful at fishing. The reality is there are certain products that can help you land fish, but what you really need is a core kit of basic equipment that you can depend on every time you fish. That basic kit includes, but is not limited to:
- Basic bait or lures
Dependability Is Critical
When putting together your fishing kit, always remember that dependability is almost as important as effectiveness. However, you pay more for dependability. Price is not an automatic guarantee of quality, but with your bigger names in fishing, the quality of their products makes those products more expensive.
Knowing you can rely on a rod or reel to always hold up gives you confidence when bringing in a larger fish. Knowing how the equipment will behave lets you create a fishing strategy that gives you the best chance of catching a fish, rather than worrying your equipment will fall apart or perform in a way you do not anticipate.
Nothing Guarantees Catching A Fish
While knowledge is key and quality fishing equipment is vital, nothing in fishing is guaranteed. There will be days when no matter what you do the fish just will not budge. Often, what worked as recently as an hour ago will yield no results. There are a million variables that affect how a fish behaves and sometimes, those work against you.
How does that affect purchase habits regarding fishing equipment? Do not just buy one type of lure or bait and expect it to always work. Your kit must have some variety in it to help you present to the fish something it wants to eat, based on the environment it is contending with. Learn how fish react to different conditions and pattern your equipment after that.
Education Is Your Best Purchase
You probably have figured out by now that while fishing equipment is very important, a lot of non-equipment-related factors do come into becoming a successful angler. It is fair to say that you can have subpar equipment but if you know how to go after fish, you can be just as successful as the person with every piece of equipment imaginable.
The more you learn about fish, water, weather, presentation, and how to use the equipment effectively, the better your chances of catching fish. Additionally, this knowledge will help you make better choices regarding fishing equipment, baits, lures, and tools.
Always Make It As Easy And Fun As Possible
Fishing is a hobby and sport that exists for the recreational angler to have fun. If the sport is overly complex for a beginner or if they do not catch fish, the chances of them becoming hooked on the sport are greatly reduced. Everything from equipment to where the new angler fishes should be oriented towards helping them land fish.
Steps you can take to make sure fishing stays fun are:
- Avoiding highly complex reels or lures
- Targeting relatively easy fish to catch to start (do not start with trout)
- Fishing in open areas with easy access to water
- Using simple baits and lures
- Focusing on the experience over catching
10 Things You Need As A Fishing Beginner
1. Fishing License
Every state has different fishing license requirements. Making sure you are in full compliance with the law regarding fishing licenses is key to avoiding fines and in some cases suspension of your fishing license. Before you purchase a single piece of equipment, make sure to buy your license.
This list is obviously not comprehensive, so you need to check with your state’s Fish and Game, Natural Resources, or Conservation Department. You can find them on the web either as a standalone entity or as part of your state government’s website.
Knowledge Of Fishing Laws
As important as your fishing license is, so is understanding the various fishing laws that apply to your state. You need to learn the seasons for fishing (if your state has them), species-oriented laws, habitat fishing laws, and any specialized laws that pertain to fishing equipment or techniques.
Finally, there are specific types of fishing tags attached to your general fishing license that are species-oriented. Here is a sampling of the most common types of fishing laws and license requirements:
- Anyone 16 years or older must have a general fishing license and have it accessible whenever in the field engaged in fishing
- There are senior licenses and for some seniors, fees are waived
- You must hold a valid driver’s license or a non-driver photo ID
- You cannot claim residency in any other state to get a resident General Fishing license
- If you are a non-resident, you must have a non-resident General Fishing license
- You must have a saltwater fishing license if you plan on fishing in any body of water that has a salinity level exceeding 10 percent
- There are specialized seasons for various fish, including trout, wild trout, salmon, and bass
- You can fish on a river or stream all year long but ice-in/ice-out laws pertain to lakes and ponds
- There are specific registration laws and fees associated with water vessels
- There are specific requirements for different types of fishing (for example, only a single baited hook can be used when ice fishing)
- There are specific baitfish laws that pertain to what is legal and what is not permissible
Make sure you verify what rules apply to your specific state as fishing laws can vary a lot.
Your rod is one of the most important pieces of fishing equipment you will purchase. You will need to match the type of rod you buy with the type of fishing you plan on doing. The following is a summary of fishing rod features.
The rod action is how much a fishing rod flexes when it is bent. Rods usually bend either along their entire lengths or along their entire lengths with a super flexible region around the tip of the rod. The action of a rod determines how sensitive it is to fish bites. There are three types of action that pertain to fishing rods:
Fast: Bends only at the tip
Medium: Bends about halfway along the length of the rod
Slow: Bends along its entire length
Rods that you use to cast lures or bait will usually be fast action to medium action. The faster the action the greater the casting distance. Slow action rods are more suited for fighting bigger fish because they bend on a broader arc.
A rod’s power refers to how much force is needed to bend a rod. This differs from action in that a rod’s action only covers where it bends. There are three types of rod power:
Heavy: This requires a lot of weight to force the rod to bend
Medium: This requires intermediate force to cause the rod to bend
Light: This type of rod bends very easily (this is also the type of rod most beginners will use if they start out freshwater fishing)
As a rule, the larger the fish being targeted, the heavier the power should be. Rods used for drop fishing or trolling tend to be heavier so they can withstand the constant pressure needed. A lighter rod, much like a faster action, makes the fishing rod more sensitive.
Essential Recommendations for Reels
For most people just starting out fishing, a light rod with medium to fast action is the most appropriate. This will allow the beginner angler to get a sense of how the rod feels in water and how it feels when fish are striking bait or lures. It will also give them the experience of landing a fish and being able to feel just about every tug, turn, and jerk a hooked fish makes.
In addition to these types of freshwater rods, there are fly rods and saltwater rods. If the beginner is starting out with these, the best approach is to consult a guide regarding what type of rod is most appropriate for the type of fishing they plan on doing.
A fishing reel is as important as a rod. If either breaks or becomes incapacitated, bringing in a fish becomes much more difficult. Some will maintain that a rod is the most important piece of fishing equipment, but the fact remains: A rod is all but useless if you must bring in a fish by hand. The following is what the starter fisher needs to consider regarding fishing reels.
General Reel Terms
Spool: This is what the fishing line goes on. The line comes off and goes back on the line horizontally, across the spool, or directly straight off and on the spool (as with centerpin and baitcasting reels).
Spools are engineered to hold specific line sizes and within that, specific lengths of line. For example, you can get more 4-pound-test line on a spool than you can 10-pound-test line because the 10-pound-test line is thicker.
Bail: This is used with spinning rods to manage the line. It holds the line in place when the reel is not in casting mode and helps crank in the line. When the reel is being cast, the bail is opened, and the line is no longer held in place. It will fall free.
Crank: This is the handle on all fishing rods. It is used to bring in a bait or lure once cast. It is operated by “cranking” it in a clockwise motion to bring in the bait or lure. Some reels also have a reverse function that allows the crank to be operated in a counter-clockwise manner, letting line out.
Drag: The drag is the tension that is placed on the spool of a reel. It allows a line to be pulled off the spool. The purpose is to let a fish make a run once it is hooked without snapping the line or making it so taught that the line parts.
Foot: The foot of a reel is the mechanism beneath the spool and casing that allows the reel to be affixed to a rod. Usually, there are foot spacings in the handle of a rod and the foot is placed in there and the casing is tightened, securing the foot to the rod.
Spool Position: This is the positioning of the spool within the reel. Spools are either fixed (spinning, spincast) or mobile (centerpin, fly, baitcasting).
With a fixed reel the line comes off the spool while the spool sits in a fixed position. To retrieve, a bail or retrieving arm rotates snagging the line and respooling the spool. With a mobile spool, the spool rotates one direction or the other to let the line off the spool and then retrieve it.
Types Of Fishing Reels
There are 5 types of fishing reels:
These are the most basic types of fishing reels. The spool sits on a cylinder with ball bearings and unwinds straight out. It is also reeled in by cranking a handle that draws the line directly back onto the spool. The drag is managed manually, so when a fish makes a run, the operator (angler) lets the line out while maintaining physical tension on the spool.
Centerpin reels are designed for drift fishing where the bait is suspended under a float of some sort. When a fish strikes, the angler sets the hook and retrieves the bait or lure by cranking the spool. The purpose of the manual drag is to tire the fish and allow it to be brought in with minimal fight.
A flyfishing reel is similar to a centerpin reel and line is played out and brought in the same way. The key difference is that a flyfishing reel usually has a mechanical drag that automatically puts pressure on the spool and increases the tension on the spool and line. The drag on a flyfishing reel is usually very loose, meaning not much tension is put on the spool.
A spincast reel is the most basic in terms of simplicity of use. To cast, an angler presses a button that they release at the height of their cast. Spincast reels have a casing cover with a hole in the center where fishing line is let in and out. Most fishers start off with a spincast reel because their design reduces tangles and knotting.
The drag on a spincast reel is mechanical and usually controlled by a knob that is turned one way or another to tighten and loosen drag resistance. Spincast reels are the least expensive fishing reel on average and are usually the most prominent reels included in a rod and reel combo in a department store.
Spincast reels can be used for almost any type of fishing, which makes them the most versatile. Because of their simplicity, spincast reels are enjoying a resurgence in popularity, even with experienced anglers. They work particularly well in poor weather.
Spinning reels are the most popular reel outside of a spincast reel. Casting a spinning reel requires hand-eye coordination and is managed by opening the bail to let the line loose. The bail is activated with the crank and a series of springs inside the spinning reel casing. Drag is controlled by manually tightening and loosening the spool on the casing.
The spool on a spinning reel is stationary. Spinning reels range from micro sizes that are barely larger than an average person’s fist to extremely large saltwater spinning reels that are used to bring in saltwater game fish.
Downsides to spinning reels include:
- Twisting of the line as the crank winds the bail, which spins the line as it puts it on the reel.
- Line memory causing twisting and knots as the line comes off the reel.
- The bail can be damaged easily.
- Adjusting the drag when bringing in a large fish can be challenging
Despite the downsides, spinning reels are one of the most popular types of fishing reels in existence. Anglers from beginners to experts use them.
A baitcasting reel is the most complex type of reel. It is not recommended for beginners to start out with them because they require a lot of fine-tuning and manual tension on the line as the bait or lure is being cast.
The baitcasting reel sits horizontally in the reel seat and rotates forward and backward. Casting is controlled by tension from the angler’s casting hand thumb. A lever releases the line and the speed of the bait or lure coming off the line is controlled by manually tuned spool tension and spin velocity, which is controlled by internal mechanisms, including weights and magnets.
Drawbacks to baitcasting reels include:
- Casting overspin that leads to the line piling up on itself and creating knots
- Drag management issues that let a fish use slack to throw a hook
- Very complex casting processes
- Knotting caused by line memory when mono line is used
- Difficulty getting the spool to rotate quickly enough during casting, making it very difficult to use lighter lures with a baitcasting reel
A baitcasting reel is the reel most used by professional anglers. Its benefit is a very clean release when casting, which increases the distance a lure can be cast.
Essential Recommendations for Reels
Beginners should start off with a spincast reel. Its cost, simplicity of use, dependability, and ease of use make it perfect for someone just starting out. The most significant benefit to a spincast reel is that just about anyone can cast it. If a person can throw, they can operate the casting mechanism of a spincast reel.
If the new angler does not want to start out with a spincast reel, a spinning rod should be the next choice. It is simple to use and once the person has mastered using the bail, it is easy to manage the fishing line.
A new angler should avoid starting out with a baitcasting reel. Many younger anglers want to start out with one because that is what they see the pros use on television or YouTube videos. What they do not see is the bird nest knots that even pros get with a baitcasting reel, or the knotting someone less experienced gets on a routine basis.
Starting out with a baitcasting reel is asking for frustration. It also is ensuring that a lot of time is spent untangling the line versus fishing.
Speaking of line, there are three types of fishing line a beginner might use:
Mono is the most common type of line. It is made by pressurizing a heated polymer and forcing it through a tiny borehole. Mono is preferred because it is easy to knot, flexible, and has some play that lets a fish fight without hurting itself or snapping the line. The downside to mono is line memory which can lead to twisting and knotting.
Braided line is multiple strands of fibers that are woven together. Braid is an exceptionally thin and strong line. It also comes off a reel much more fluidly than any other type of line. The downside to braided line is that it has zero play, so setting a hook can actually yank the hook out of the fish’s mouth.
Fluorocarbon is a nylon-polymer mix. It is almost invisible when in the water and it sinks which makes it ideal for deep running crankbaits. The downside is that it is very stiff, which can make casting it a challenge.
Essential Line Recommendations
The beginner should start out with mono. They should follow the line capacity recommendations of their rod and reel. After mono has been mastered, braid can be used, but the beginner should remember that braid is difficult to fish with.
Hooks range in size from extremely tiny to giant. Hooks also come in dozens of varieties. A baitholder is the most common type of hook used by most beginners. Use the hook that most matches the type of fishing a person will be doing and the type of fish being targeted. It is key to learn the right sizes of fishing hooks for different situations.
Weights come in many varieties as well. The best weight will hold bait or lure in place but not limit its natural movement. The weight a beginner uses should be oriented towards the type of fishing they do.
Bobbers are floats that are attached to a line above the hook. When a fish bites a bait, the bobber is pulled underwater. When it stays underwater, the angler knows to set the hook. Bobbers come in all sizes and help a beginner get a sense of what it feels like when a fish mouths, bites, or runs with a bait.
The following are some basic recommendations for lures:
Underwater lures include spinners, spoons, jigs, spinner baits, etc. These do most of their work under the water and only occasionally breach the surface (usually if reeled in very quickly.) The beginner should have 3 to 6 spinners of varying sizes, a couple of spoons, and one or two diving crankbaits.
Topwater lures include floating plugs and jointed floaters to name just two. Basically, any lure that floats is a topwater lure. These are great when the water warms up. They should be played according to the manufacturer’s suggestions. It is recommended that a beginning angler have at least three topwater lures:
- One popper
- One jointed minnow
- One specialty lure like a frog
One Important Note On Lures
There is no right or wrong when it comes to fishing lures. The beginner should buy a lure, try it out and modify it as much as possible. Try out every lure they can afford or that catches their eye. Once they have mastered the basics, they can focus on preferred lure styles.
9. Clothes And Boots
Clothes and boots should be oriented towards the type of environment the angler will be fishing. Boots should always be waterproof.
10. Miscellaneous Equipment
This category covers everything not covered above. While none are vital to a beginner angler, all can help them learn to enjoy the craft of fishing.
Nets: These are only needed when big fish are caught. They do make it easier to land a fish, though, even if a larger fish was not the target.
Needle nose or fishing pliers: These can help extricate hooks without harming the fish.
Headlamp: A headlamp is invaluable if fishing at dawn, dusk, or after dark.
Gloves: These are only really needed when the weather is cold or wet. They can help keep hands warm and nimble. They also can help secure fish and bait.
Fishing for a beginner should be fun, easy, and intuitive. It should not be overly complicated or require a lot of thought. That will all come with time, but in the beginning, the only goal should be to help the angler set up the most effective fishing kit to land a fish. These recommendations will go a long way towards doing that.