Fishing Methods (A Detailed Guide To The Pros & Cons Of Each)

Humans have fished for as long as we have walked upright. The first archeological evidence of fishing dates to the Paleolithic period between 40,000 and 10,000 BCE. During that time, we have developed many ways to catch fish. Understanding where we started is key to understanding where we are now.

The main fishing methods in use today include trapping, netting, spear and bowfishing, ice fishing, and fishing using live and artificial bait. Understanding which type of fishing is best for which situation is the key to having a successful fishing trip.

Fishing has been an important food source throughout history. As we have progressed as a species, so has our fishing technology, skills and knowledge. Today, as you will see, we use much of the same technology that we did 125 years ago, and have even adopted methods that go farther back than that!

Table of Contents

General Thoughts On Fishing

The old saying is that if you give a man a fish, he will eat well for one night, but if you teach him to fish, he will eat well for a lifetime. While that is a bit optimistic, the fact is fishing has been a huge part of helping humans develop.

Fishing Has Been A Lifesaver

In some cases, being able to catch fish helped keep humans alive. For humans in the Pacific Northwest, salmon was a staple food, for example. In other cases, fish was a rare source of lean protein. In Medieval Europe, fishing, first for eels and then for whatever could be caught, was a supplemental source of protein to an otherwise protein deprived diet.

Fishing even helped settle the new world. The first settlements in Newfoundland and Labrador were made possible by the expansion of the English fishery. Fishers would catch cod, then gut, dry, and salt them on shore, before sending them back in a ship’s hull to England.

Once there, cooks in Europe only had to add water and they had an abundant, healthy source of lean protein that was also affordable. That sustained demand led to a need for permanent settlements in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Modern Fishing

Over the past 125 years, commercial fishing has seen ups and downs. But as humanity in general has progressed, the need for fishing and the need to eat fish for its protein has slowly given way to fishing as a hobby. That is the trend at least in Europe and North America.

Commercially, fishing has been a roller coaster. Increased restrictions have reduced the number of commercial fishermen in key fisheries. The reason for the restrictions is that in certain areas that used to teem with fish, shortages are now commonplace.

There are a few factors contributing to that:

  • Pressure put on saltwater fisheries by fishing operations that strip the sea of fish and anything else that gets in the way
  • Greater than ever demand for seafood
  • More pressure from foreign fishers in fisheries on the Pacific coast
  • Pollution and climate change affecting the habitats of the chain of life of sea life

Fishing As A Hobby

As a hobby, however, fishing is booming. Over time, the need for fishing as a food source was replaced by fishing for fun. Most people still ate what they caught, but rather than a necessity, it became a treat. The entire concept of a New England clam bake or southern catfish fry was born of migrating from needing seafood to wanting seafood.

Changing Technology Reinvented Fishing

As humans migrated away from needing to fish for sustenance (at least in the developed world), anglers invented new ways of catching fish. Prior methods of fishing tended to be utilitarian and seem draconian by our standards today (although some modern commercial applications still are drastic).

Native Americans, and later Europeans in North America, used to drive fish into traps. Multiple individuals would literally corral fish in shallow water or into traps. The purpose was to harvest as many fish as possible for food. This practice in various iterations still exists today in less developed areas of the world.

Today, though, in North America, those same rivers that once had fish traps still have people fishing them, but with rods and reels, using live and artificial bait, with the purpose of perhaps hooking a fish to land, admire, and then let go. The technology we use now would amaze people from 100 years ago!

Fishing Technology’s Changing Purpose

Fishing technology today is designed to:

  • Appeal to specific types of fish
  • Allow for easier catch-and-release
  • Maximize the enjoyment of landing a fish
  • Target baits to attract and catch trophy fish

Additionally, fishing technology has become more effective through:

  • Hooks that are designed for quicker puncture and maximum effectiveness
  • Rods that are ultra-sensitive to detect even the slightest bite
  • Lures that capitalize on basic fish instincts to become almost irresistible to fish
  • Reels that can manage just about any size of fish with ease if the angler knows how to play them in

The first list above would astound an angler from the mid 1800s because it is almost solely for the enjoyment of fishing and not for using fish as a vital food source. The second list would astound an angler from the mid 1800s because fishing equipment back then was primitive by today’s standards.

Why That Matters

Today, we fish primarily because we enjoy fishing. It is a hobby, although with many anglers it develops into more of an obsession. Regardless, the purpose of fishing has changed from something we do to ensure we have food to eat, to something we do to enjoy our downtime.

That has impacted how we fish as well. Consider the fish drive example. To pull that off, multiple people had to be committed to locating a fish source, building a trapping mechanism and figuring out a way to drive fish into the trap. If there was one overlooked path of escape or one person not on the ball, the entire effort could go to waste.

That could mean no meat for dinner that night. It could mean less meat to store for winter. It could also mean more work to make up for the lost fish.

Now consider fishing for enjoyment. One or two fishers venture out to try and catch fish, but if they make a mistake or if the fish outsmarts them, bragging rights are all that is on the line. Most of that is the result of societal progress, but some of it is due to more effective fishing technology.

When It All Began To Change

125 years ago would be about the turn of the century from the 1800s to the 1900s. That was when the way we used to live started to migrate to resemble how we live now. In few examples is that more evident than in fishing technology.

In 1904, James Heddon took lures he made from wood and figured out how to mass produce them. The first lures mass produced were called plugs. They were designed to catch fish that you pursued as a hobby, rather than a necessity.

While that first run of fishing lures for leisure was not as momentous as the first telegraph message or the first automobile, it was an indicator that the world was changing. It meant that, at least for some, fishing had become a leisure activity and with that, a rapid process of changing fishing methods kicked off.

How We Chose The Methods Below

Writing a comprehensive summary of every fishing method ever employed would take volumes. It is fair to say that in the last 125 years alone, there have been more gimmicks, “sure-thing” techniques and flavor of the month methodologies than one could document, much less cover in detail.

With that in mind, this is an attempt to discuss the most popular fishing methodologies with broad strokes. The goal is to explain the different methods to help anglers hone their craft. Another goal is to educate anglers on the rich history that is behind every cast, fishing equipment, and strategy.

Why Some Methods Were Rejected

There are just too many fishing methods out there to adequately cover them all. Some methods were so outrageous they never took off. Others that did were mere flashes in the pan. So, we’re just going to focus on the most important ones in the modern era.

But what is the modern era? For the purpose of this article, that would be the last 125 years when three things happened that changed the face of fishing for good:

  • The creation of assembly line artificial lures
  • Economic prosperity created recreational time for common folk
  • Fishing became a recreational choice for many

Another influencer is the affordability and innovation of fishing equipment, but that has only been a strong influence for the last two decades. Up until then, there really were two categories of fishing equipment:

  • The equipment the wealthy could afford
  • The equipment the rest of us could afford

At some point, those two groups started to diverge. Part of this was down to innovation. Another factor was more people discovering fishing in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s and that created a demand for affordable equipment, innovation and accessibility.

Using kayaks to fish is a great example of this. Prior to the mid 1990s, virtually no fishers used kayaks. At some point, however, someone decided fishing from a kayak was a great idea. They realized that it could serve as an intermediate step between shore fishing and buying a full-blown boat.

However, to provide perspective, we do cover a few methods that were popular before the modern era of recreational fishing. So, let’s now get into our detailed guide to different fishing methods.

Fishing Methods – Trapping Fish

Trapping fish still happens today all over the world, but it’s not usually employed by recreational fishers. There are many ways to build a fish trap or to trap fish in a place they can be easily harvested.

Dug Out Trap

This entails digging a channel in the bank where the water level is slightly below the lip of the trap, allowing fish to come over the trap but not go back. The trap is a dug out section behind the wall of the trap that lets fish pool. It must be deep enough to prevent a fish from using the bank to wriggle over the lip again.

If the mud on the bank is not sturdy enough, an artificial wall of rocks or other materials is constructed. Bait is placed in the trap, and it is allowed to set overnight. Fish smell the bait and work to get over the lip of the trap. Once they are over the lip, they cannot work their way back into the main channel.

Rock Corral

With this type of trap, a rock wall is constructed, much like horse corrals were constructed in the Old West of the United States. A single opening faces the water channel, and the corral is filled with water with the rock wall sticking up about 6” above the water.

The opening is wide enough to entice fish to swim into the corral, but small enough that one or two people can “close” the corral once fish are inside it. Bait is placed in the corral and when fish swim in to investigate the bait, the corral opening is blocked, and the fish are methodically harvested.

It is important to remember to make the walls impenetrable by fish. If possible, encasing the rock wall with mud or sand is a good idea as it prevents the fish from hiding in the rocks or slithering through the rocks to freedom.

Human Corral

This works on the same principle. Fish are corralled into a shallow pool or stream from a main body of water by a “wall” of people that methodically move to squeeze the fish to a point where it can be easily harvested. Bait is usually placed in the pool or channel to entice the fish to swim in that direction.

For this to work, the human wall must hold the fish in place. It works best with many people as opposed to just one or two. Corralling a fish determined to get away requires that all access and exit points be shut off. One or two people usually cannot do that.

Trap Enclosures

These are not traps you construct, but rather enclosures, usually made of mesh wire or wooden slats. Common names are fishing weirs, lobster traps or crayfish traps. The principle is that bait is used to lure the fish into the trap, but once in, the fish cannot figure out how to get out or cannot physically get out.

Bait is placed in a bait “well” or bag that lets it give off an odor and usually bits of bait, but not let the bait float away entirely. Fish enter from a smaller opening to get at the bait. Once in, larger fish or animals like eels or lobsters are trapped. These types of traps are left to soak overnight once they are baited. Harvesting of any caught animals is done by hand.

Enclosure traps come in two main forms: permanent or semi-permanent. They are usually held in place by their own weight (as in lobster traps) or by being attached to a weight. If a fisher runs more than one trap at a time, they will mark their traps clearly to let other trappers in the area know whose equipment is soaking in the water.

These types of traps are used worldwide, although usually not for recreational purposes. In places like Asia and Africa, they are a main method of catching fish that is then sold at market or eaten. Fish traps can also be used to trap bait fish, which are then used to catch larger game fish.

Pros And Cons Of Trapping Fish

Trapping fish is a very low cost approach. The only real cost is you and your partners’ time and effort. Another advantage is that it is fairly easy, and even if you use an enclosure, the overall investment to get started is minimal.

Cons to building your own trap include the possibility that you don’t build it correctly and waste a lot of time. You also need to constantly ensure that other humans or animals do not steal your catch.

All told, building your own fish trap is a good idea if you or someone you work with has experience do so, but it has a lot of potential downside, including not catching anything!

Trap enclosures are fairly easy to get together, and you can let them sit relatively untended with little worry of them being broken into or something stealing your catch. They are also very low effort.

The downsides are that they don’t always work, and getting them in place can be tricky. There is also a risk that, if you encounter a storm, your tether to the trap can part and you can lose the entire trap. Overall, trapping fish is a fairly rare method in terms of modern recreational fishing, but it was and still is an important one for catching fish for food for many across the globe.

Fishing Methods – Netting

Fishing nets have been used for about as long as humans have pursued fish. The earliest evidence of humans using nets to catch fish date back to about 8300 BCE. Netting fish is also mentioned in several historical texts, including the Bible.

Nets were used by the Norse people in northern Europe. The ancient Egyptians also used them. Of course, today they are used in various cultures around the world and in commercial fishing ventures.

Nets are woven fibers that create patterns that ensnare sea life that swim into them. Often, fishing nets are a form of mesh with knotting that secures the grid-like pattern.

Early nets were woven out of grasses and occasionally vines. Most nets used for fishing today, even in less developed nations, are made of artificial fibers like nylon, but they can also be made from silk or wool. The following are some popular nets used in fishing, broken down by commercial use and then those nets used for recreation or non-commercial uses.

Bottom Trawl

These are used to catch groundfish, cod, squid, halibut and rockfish. A trawling net is conical in shape and dragged along the sea bottom. Trawling nets capture anything that is on the bottom, which can lead to a lot of secondary, unwanted catches. Bottom trawling has become more and more unpopular as its destructive characteristics have become better known.

Drift Net

A drift net is not anchored to anything and drifts along with the current. They are also called tangle nets. They are prohibited in the high seas but are still used along coast lines. The kill rate of unwanted catches with drift nets is extremely high and these nets are therefore immensely unpopular.

Gill Net

These are used to catch sardines, salmon and cod. They are also notorious for catching other sea creatures, like turtles. Sea life cannot see the nets because they are made of almost translucent nylon. The animals swim into the net, get their gills caught in the nylon, and eventually die.

Gill nets are managed by a system of floats and weights. They are anchored to the sea floor. Gill nets are banned in many countries.

Midwater Trawling Net

This works on the same principle as the trawling net, but it is towed behind a boat and controlled by trawl doors. They are used for catching anchovies, shrimp, tuna and mackerel. They are much less destructive than bottom trawling nets.

Purse Seine

These are sophisticated versions of a surround net (see below). The net surrounds fish, usually schooling fish, and the bottom of the net is closed as the net is raised. A drawstring is used to close the top of the net, trapping all the fish inside. There is a risk that unwanted sea life can be caught inside a purse seine.

Surrounding Net

This works on the same principle as the purse seine but has a larger footprint. It surrounds fish on all sides. Usually, two different vessels are needed to effectively surround the targeted fish.

Trammel Net

This net is comprised of three layers of netting. It is used to catch crustaceans. Floats and weights help keep the net in place. The risk with trammels is that they separate from the ground rope and become what is known as “ghost nets.”

These can trap sea life indiscriminately and lead to the unwanted death of many marine animals, although they are generally smaller than what is caught in a gill net or trawling net.


This is a very big fishing net that hangs vertically across a portion of the water. It is often operated from the shore, and either two people set and haul the net or one person does with the other end of the net fixed to an anchor point. A seine is very effective at catching anything that flows into it by the current.

Seines in one iteration or another are used across the globe. Often, they are used by individuals working smaller tributaries and by people using the nets to catch food for themselves. When used properly, there is virtually no secondary catch, because at least one individual is present at all times to help remove unwanted catches.

Push Net

A push net is a triangular net with a rigid frame. It is run along the bottom of shallow flats and can catch shrimp as well as bottom dwelling fish. It is almost always used by one person.

Hand Net

These look like gigantic butterfly nets. They are also called scoop or dip nets. Hand nets have been used for almost as long as humans have been fishing. They are great for scooping fish that venture near the surface. Hand nets can also be used to help land a hooked fish. In England, hand nets are used to catch eels.

Fyke Net

These are large, cylindrical nets that grow progressively smaller the deeper into the net you go. The nets are held open by circular hoops. Fyke nets can be used singly or can be attached to several other fyke nets and used to net in areas where other types of netting would not be practical.


Dragnets are any net that is dragged across an area that captures anything that gets in its way. These are often used to fish off the bank of productive waters. When used between two boats, dragnets can be very effective, but they can catch unwanted sea life fairly easily too.

Cast Net

These are usually circular with weights on the edges. They are thrown into the water almost like a frisbee, fanning out as it moves. When the net has been fully extended, it is pulled back in by hand.

Pros And Cons Of Using Nets

The largest benefit of using nets is that you can haul in more than one fish at a time. This is particularly handy if you are looking to feed a group of people or are taking fish to market.

Another advantage is that with most types of netting, the work involved in maintaining a set net is minimal. You simply set it and then retrieve it, as opposed to having to fish it until you are ready to haul it back.

However, there are several downsides to fishing with nets.

Unwanted Catches

These are unnecessarily deadly to many marine animals.

Ghost Netting

Ghost netting happens when nets separate from their anchor. They become roving death traps that can trap animals and kill them for miles or become stuck on underwater structure and pose a risk to marine animals and divers.

Maintenance Intensive

Nets tear, fray, wear thin, separate, split, and crack, and that is with the artificial nylon netting. With natural substances that can rot, maintenance is a constant requirement. So, while still effective, modern net fishing is usually only seen on a commercial scale.

Fishing Methods – Spear And Bowfishing

Spear and bowfishing have their roots back in ancient times. Each has experienced a resurgence in the last 30 years though. They are fun ways to hunt and catch fish, although catch and release are not an option.

Spear fishing involves, as the name implies, using a spear to lance a fish. The fish is usually either hunted or attracted to the strike zone by bait. Catch and release isn’t an option.

Bowfishing uses a bow and arrow to shoot fish. This is also done by direct hunting of the fish or by luring them in with bait. Catch and release is also not an option with this type of fishing.

If these are methods you are interested in pursuing, make sure you check with your state fishing laws and regulations. States will usually have their own rules regarding the legalities of spear or bowfishing, doing it in public places, and other restrictions.

Pros And Cons Of Spearfishing And Bowfishing

As a practical matter, both are challenging, but a lot of fun. A major downside is that they are dangerous if not handled correctly. Another downside is that speared or shot fish cannot be returned to the sea.

Fishing Methods – Ice Fishing

As the name implies, ice fishing entails drilling a hole through the ice on a pond, lake or river and fishing through it. There are two main types of people who engage in ice fishing: those who are enthusiastic about it and those who do it because open water fishing is impossible at that time.

Regardless, there are some basics every ice fisher needs, regardless of how much they enjoy the sport or their experience level.

Necessary Ice Fishing Equipment

When it comes to ice fishing equipment, there is no such thing as a casual participant. Because of the nature of ice fishing – you can freeze and even die if you mess up badly enough – special emphasis is placed on the support equipment. Support equipment for ice fishing includes:

  • Ice auger for cutting holes in the ice (buy a hand drill at first and then if you like ice fishing, you can “trade up” to a gas powered auger)
  • Ice saw
  • Ice chisel
  • Skimmer spoon
  • Equipment to keep you warm (proper gear, heater etc.)

Clothes are also important. In addition to regular clothes, every ice fisher should have:

  • Gloves that allow for dexterity
  • Mittens to cover the gloves when you’re not using your hands
  • Snow pants or ski suit
  • Boots
  • Parka
  • Face covering
  • Hooded sweatshirt
  • Thermal underwear
  • Backup clothes in case the clothes you wear get wet

Finally, there is the equipment you will need to fish. This includes:

  • An ice fishing rod and reel
  • Tip downs/tip ups
  • Fishing line
  • Bait – live and artificial (jigs, spoons, spinners, minnows, worms, etc.)
  • Hooks
  • Weights
  • Spear or fork if you are spear fishing

There are other incidental pieces of fishing equipment you can bring, but these are the basics. Some people, for instance, like to bring a handheld, portable fish finder and use that to help in ice hole selection. However, the list above covers the absolute essentials.

First Steps

Apart from assembling the appropriate equipment and clothes, you need to drill the fishing hole in the ice. Deciding where to drill you hole should be based on:

  • How deep the water is where you are located
  • Where you think fish will travel through or are suspending
  • Ice stability

As mentioned, some people use portable fish finders to help in hole selection. Another strategy is to determine the most likely place fish will be based on a contour map. A third option is the “buckshot” approach, which is to randomly drill a hole and test it and move on if it is not productive.

Once you have a location chosen, you need to drill your hole. The smartest approach to this is to follow the instructions that come with your auger to the letter. After you do that, you can modify your operation of the equipment to suit your personal style, etc. Some people, for example, like to drill at a slight angle, but experience will show you what works for you.

Basic Strategies

One you drill your hole, there are three main ice fishing strategies you can follow:

  • Fish the hole manually
  • Use tip-ups or bite detectors
  • Use the spear fishing method

The first is to manually fish by hand. To do this, you use your ice fishing rod and reel and either live bait or artificial lures.

Live bait is pretty easy to use. For purposes of clarity, live bait in this circumstance means bait that is actually alive and dead bait that used to be alive (chunks of meat) or bait that is natural (dough, cheese, etc.).

Your choices are usually minnows (make sure they are legal to use where you are fishing) or worms (dillies, meal or waxworms). Some people will also ice fish with leeches, which are amazingly effective, but difficult to hook when your fingers are frozen stiff.

The nonliving live bait options are chunks of meat, scented dough, cheese, and similar foodstuffs.

The Right Lure

The most popular lure used in ice fishing is the jig. This can be outfitted with live bait or with enticements like plastic minnows, skirts, or plastic worms. Another bait option is to use a hovering lure or floating lure and weigh them down.

Your second choice is to use tip-ups or bite detectors. Both are good if you are running several holes across a wide space. They also work if you want to keep working a hole but need to take a break. If you have a shelter, you can set either and only address the fishing part of your trip when you get a bite.

The third option is to spear fish. This entails cutting your hole, loading the entrance with scented bait and waiting for a fish to appear and try and take the bait. At that point, you use your ice fishing gear to catch the fish.

How Ice Affects Fish

A lot of people think that once the water gets cold, much less is covered in ice, that fish change their eating habits. They do in terms of frequency and what they will pursue, but not in what they eat. The only restriction on that is sometimes they will not go after bait that is not what they are used to seeing.

So, if you caught fish with minnows or a particular lure, you should use it when ice fishing (if you can get it to perform correctly). You should not introduce the fish to a bait that is entirely foreign to what they are used to seeing or one that they have not seen in weeks. Examples of that last point are frogs and salamanders.

People think fish preferences change because fish eating patterns do alter in colder water. Their metabolism slows down a lot and they eat less frequently, as well as being pickier on what they will spend a lot of energy chasing and catching.

The main problem people have when fishing on open water that is cold or when ice fishing is the speed at which they are fishing. They are usually moving their bait too fast. An effective way to gauge how fast you should be fishing your bait, even when jigging, is to set your pace how you would normally, and then slow it down by about 50%.

Fishing An Ice Hole

Setting The Hook

When you have a strike while ice fishing, you will still need to set the hook. Since your rod is smaller and more sensitive, you may need to wait a second or two before setting a bait, so you don’t jerk the bait out of the fish’s mouth. Set the bait the same way you would a regular open water strike.

Playing The Fish

In all likelihood, you will use your drag more when ice fishing than regular open water fishing, unless you regularly fish for giant fish in open water. This is because you have a lot more working against you when trying to land a fish while ice fishing.

Obstacles And Structure

The ice hole edges can slice into fishing line, and you have no idea how big a fish you have landed. Because of that, you want to set your hook and then immediately slightly adjust your drag to keep the line taut, but to let the fish run if it wants to do so.

You also should be aware that some fish, once hooked, do not put up a fight. When that happens, you may think you hooked a log. The fish will come to life if you lessen up the slack, but you might lose it. If a fish goes deadweight on you, reel it in steadily as if it is a fighting fish, including slightly adjusting the drag.

Landing The Fish

The only difference between open water fishing and ice fishing and landing a fish is that you must be careful not to bring the fish up through the hole too quickly. You cannot jerk it out of the water like you might when landing open water fish. You need to nurse it through the hole.

That means letting it run at the last second. Most fish will take off when they get near the hole. Let it run, play it back in, and take your time. Eventually, it will not fight around the hole, and you can bring it out.

Pros And Cons Of Ice Fishing

Ice fishing is great fun, and ideal when you can’t fish your usual spots due to the cold weather. It can make for a very interesting – and successful – fishing trip if you know what you’re doing.

However, ice fishing is tough for beginners. There’s quite a lot of equipment required, and you need to make sure you have all of the relevant safety gear with you. It goes without saying that ice fishing is also very dangerous. So, if you’re planning on giving ice fishing a go, check your local regulations, and make sure to follow best practices to stay safe on the ice.

Fishing Methods – Live Bait Fishing

Live bait fishing in open water is a lot like live bait fishing when ice fishing, except your options are broader. Live bait in open water, for the purposes of this section, includes bait that is alive (e.g. minnows), natural but dead (e.g. chunks of meat), and natural but was never alive (such as dough).

The equipment you need to fish with live bait includes:

  • Bait
  • Hooks
  • Weights
  • Leaders (if you are fishing in a body of water with a stiff current)
  • Swivels (also if you are fishing in a body of water with a stiff current)
  • Bobbers or floats

Fishing With Alive Bait

The goal is to get the bait to a place fish are swimming and let their natural behavior and actions entice a fish to bite. This type of fishing involves thinking about where fish are suspending or moving through, dropping your bait in those places, and then waiting. Some live bait options are described below.


You can use nightcrawlers, dillies (small worms,) meal and wax worms, as well as leeches. Check the bait occasionally to make sure it is still alive. This is important as you will generally let worms suspend freely and, if you miss a strike, you can end up fishing with an empty hook.


First and foremost, check the laws in your local area regarding what type of baitfish you can use. To hook minnows, find their dorsal fin (the one on their back) and drive the hook into the flesh immediately below the fin. It is important that you miss the spine when hooking them as that can kill them or limit their ability to move.

Use this method when fishing in sedentary water as it allows the minnow to move more freely. Instead, you can also hook them through their lip. Either enter the hook into them at the bottom lip and bring it up through the middle of their forehead area, or if you can get their mouth open, hook them up through the roof of their mouth.

Use this method in water where there is a slight current. Hooking them through the mouth restricts the water that can flow through, which affects their breathing. Check this type of hook setup frequently as the bait will die fairly quickly because of the water restriction.

Finally, you can instead target the back third of their body and make sure you miss the spine. Use this method without using any weights in shallow water as weight restricts the bait’s motion. You will have to pull the minnow into position as it will try and hide if it can. That means you will have to live fish this type of rigging.

Ice Fishing

Ice fishers will also occasionally use other alive bait like crayfish or insects. The important thing to remember when doing this is that fish will not usually strike something that they have not seen for a while. What that means is that using a grasshopper in the dead of winter likely will not yield many bites.

For all other fishing with alive bait, try and “match the hatch” as best you can. If the fish are feasting on grasshoppers, try and use them. If they are munching on minnows, get some minnows. The more familiar you make the meal, the better your chances of landing a lunker.

Fishing With Once Alive Live Bait

This can be chunks of meat or fish flesh. Make sure you use a meat that can be affixed to a hook in a manner that will let it stay hooked. Using a scent when fishing with flesh is also not a bad idea. Drop setting your bait is the best approach to this type of fishing. That entails a lot of waiting, however, so if you are impatient, it might not be for you.

Fishing With Never Alive Live Bait

This class of bait includes dough, bread, fish eggs, etc. These are usually still fished using a weight to hold them in place.


The best strategy for hook selection is to match it to the bait and then the average size of fish you want to catch. For example, if you want larger pike, a tiny hook is not enough. If you are fishing for panfish, a giant hook is too much. You should also follow the instructions and advice on hook packages. The instructions will tell you how to best fish with that particular hook.

Weights, Swivels And Leaders

The weight you use must match the freedom you want your bait to have. If you want it held in place, a larger amount of weight is necessary. If you want it to move freely, little or no weight is preferable.

You should use a leader if you are fishing in an area with a lot of structure or if you are targeting fish with teeth, like pike or pickerel. Use three-way swivels to set up your weight and hook. Attach the hook with about 18” of leader to one ring, your weight with about 18” of lead line to another ring, and the final ring should be attached to your main line.

This setup lets bait move freely, but not too much, while anchoring it in the general vicinity you set the rig down in. The key with any weight is to get enough to hold your bait where you want it, but not so much that it prevents it from moving in a natural manner.

Bobbers And Floats

A lot of anglers associate bobbers and floats with little kids fishing on a dock. That is a mistake. Like every other piece of fishing equipment, bobbers and floats have a purpose. They are especially useful if you are having a difficult time detecting bites. This can happen when the water you are fishing is choppy. A float sends a clear message when a fish is targeting your bait.

They’re also useful if you are having a difficult time tracking where your bait is. The line from bobbers will fall directly below it, so you have some indicator of the vicinity of your bait. This works well with bodies of water that have a current.

Finally, bobbers are useful if you are still fishing and do not want to monitor the line constantly. Bobbers give you the freedom to focus on other aspects of fishing than sensing bites through the line.

Pros And Cons Of Fishing With Live Bait

The most significant advantage of fishing with live bait is that live bait does not mimic what a fish will eat – it is what the fish eat. That is important because, if you fish it correctly, it will give you an advantage over all other fishing methods.

Another benefit is that it is easy. There is very little that an angler has to learn about fishing with live bait, in any form, other than how to put it on the hook, cast with accuracy, and reel in hooked fish.

A downside is that live bait can be somewhat subjective to a fishing location. Bass in the south, for example, may love food that is native to the south. But bass in the north might look at the exact same bait and pass on it because it is unfamiliar. Another downside is that, except for ice fishing, fishing with live bait entails the most waiting.

This is fine when the fish are biting. But, if they are not, a day on the lake might be spent replacing bait and not much else. That can get boring really quickly!

Fishing Methods – Artificial Bait Fishing

Artificial baits include many different types of lures:

  • Floaters and poppers
  • Stickbaits
  • Crankbaits
  • Spinners
  • Spoons
  • Jigs
  • Plastic baits
  • Artificial flies
  • Swim baits
  • Buzzbaits
  • Spinnerbaits

Floaters And Poppers

These are baits that float on top of the water and the angler works them in a way that indicates a specific live bait.

For example, when using a floating Jointed Rapala lure, the angler can:

  • Bring it in fast to mimic a swimming baitfish
  • Twitch it while letting it float to mimic an injured baitfish
  • Bring it in very slowly and let the natural action of the lure attract fish
  • Use a staggered retrieval to mimic a baitfish
  • Jerk it intermittently to resemble a struggling or injured baitfish

With poppers, the goal is to create just enough action to entice fish but not so much that they are scared off. Other poppers are good for mimicking fish swimming on the surface.

Other floating baits include:

  • Plastics resembling marine animals (frogs, insects, etc.)
  • Lures with propellers (Whopper Plopper, etc.)
  • Some stickbaits (that are played to resemble fleeing baitfish)
  • Dry flies (that resemble mice, ducklings, insects, etc.)


Stickbaits are longer and solid with two or three treble hooks, depending on their size. They are brought in with a steady retrieve and resemble:

  • Swimming baitfish
  • Baitfish schools
  • Injured baitfish (if brought in haphazardly)

Stickbaits can float or sink. A popular stickbait is a slowly sinking suspender, which lets you retrieve and pause, mimicking the natural actions of a baitfish. Stickbaits work all year long but are one of the few lures that work well in cold water if you fish them very slowly.

Some people also refer to specific types of plastic baits as stickbaits, but for this article, we’ll cover them under plastic baits.


Crankbaits resemble smaller fish and swim with a wobble. They can be lipless, which usually means their wobble is very tight. They can also have a lip, which makes the wobble more pronounced.

Note that:

  • Squared lips don’t dive as deep as rounded lips
  • Elongated rounded lips are good for deep dives
  • Medium rounded lips dive twice the depth of the average depth you are fishing
  • All lips can help avoid snags as they hit the snag first and bound off it

You should match the lip to the depth you want the lure to dive. Hold the rod tip up to shorten the dive and down to deepen it.

Retrieving and pausing is an effective method if fish are pursuing the crank but not striking it. Some anglers, however, will contest that and maintain that a steady retrieve prevents the fish from being spooked.

Crankbaits also work when dropped along underwater vegetation lines or in front of growth that extends out of the water. In summer, when fish are in feeding mode, jerk the crank in open water to mimic an injured fish.


Spinners have a blade that spins as you retrieve it. The blade creates movement and a flash that attracts fish. Spinners are unique in that they work on virtually any fish.

When using spinners:

  • Keep the spinning mechanism free from debris like vegetation
  • Give the spinner a short yank as you start to retrieve it to get it spinning
  • In some circumstances, letting the spinner drop, then yanking it up before letting it flutter down mimics dying baitfish late in the season


Spoons flash and have an erratic retrieval pace. Late in the season, let a spoon sink and set and then bring it up to let it flutter down to mimic dying baitfish.


Jigs have weighted heads and are accompanied by one or a combination of the following:

  • Plastic skirt
  • Plastic swimbaits
  • Small plastic worm
  • Larger plastic worm
  • Curly Tailed Grubs

Jigs can be dangled vertically, “hopped” over the bottom of a body of water, dragged over the bottom, fished in cover, steadily retrieved, and used in just about any other way you can think of.

Patience is key when fishing with jigs. Letting them set for a few seconds between actions ensures that any fish eying them up will not get spooked. Additionally, a smoother retrieval is always better than a jerky, haphazard retrieval, but you want to avoid your retrieval looking mechanical.

Plastic Baits

There are literally as many types of plastic baits as there are animals you might find that look like plastic baits. They include things like:

  • Insects
  • Turtles
  • Various sizes of worms
  • Squid
  • Minnows
  • Grubs
  • Frogs
  • Spiders
  • Salamanders
  • Ducklings

The smartest way to learn to fish each one is to follow any instructions on the package and then do your own research. After that, experiment with what you found out and see what works best for where you fish.

Plastic Bait Example

For example, a Pearl Fluke might work by mimicking a baitfish with short jerks and long glides in between. That is one way it is supposed to be fished. It also works, however, with a Shaky Head jig that is hopped along the bottom. Another tactic is to let it flutter to the bottom and give it short jerks to mimic a dying fish.

A fourth approach is to use repeated, short jerks that create a lot of motion and action. Each approach works in specific scenarios, depending on the season, fish you are after, and water clarity.

Water Clarity And Colors

Clear – Stick with natural greens, browns, and blacks

Slightly silty – Natural colors still work, but if the bait has flecks that catch sunlight, they work better

Silty – Darker colors like dark brown, olive and black work best

Muddy – For water that only has a few inches of visibility, use bright colors like pink, fluorescent colors and white

Artificial Flies

Flies are wet (ones that sink) or dry (ones that float). Generally, they work best with a fly rod and reel because they are so light. It takes a lot of practice to get casting down with a fly kit. Flies are generally allowed to float or suspend and be retrieved very slowly. A good way to learn how to fly fish is to start out in an easy setting with no brush or trees around and go for panfish.

Swim Baits

The purpose of a swim bait is to mimic a live animal swimming. Swim baits often have tail action that attracts fish. These can be fished off the bottom or with a steady retrieve.


Buzzbaits mimic schools of bait fish that surface and create a disturbance on the water. A staggered retrieval underwater and breaking through to the surface gives fish something to focus on.

Pros And Cons Of Fishing With Artificial Bait

The upside to this type of fishing is, first and foremost, that you get to spend more time on the water fishing in a more effective manner. This is mostly because you have more of a selection than with live bait. Being able to change your bait out quickly to capitalize on fish behavior is invaluable.

Another advantage is that when you fish with artificial bait, someone has done most of your research for you. You of course must learn how to use the bait in the best manner, but its design, presentation and price are all oriented to providing you with a great product, custom made to entice your target species of fish.

The most significant drawback is the price. Getting fully kitted out, even with just one of every type of lure, hook, weight, reel and rod mentioned, will probably cost you a few hundred dollars at a minimum. There is also the cost of replacing the ones you inevitably lose or that get damaged over time.

Fishing Methods – Different Reels And Rods

Reels are always an important part of fishing. There are three main styles of reels most anglers use.

Closed Faced

These work by depressing a button, holding it as you throw, and, at your release point, letting the button up. It takes practice but it requires the least amount of coordination compared to the other two types of reels.

This type of reel is perfect for beginners as it will not tangle or jam. It’s also very easy to use.

Spinning Reel

These have bails that you flip back to release the line. You hold the line with your index finger while holding the rod when casting. You then release your cast at the height of your throw.

Spinning reels can be the first reel an angler gets, but they can also be very frustrating until you get the feel of casting. Spinning reels also twist the line when retrieving, which creates snags.


These work by releasing the spool with your thumb and using your thumb to manage the line from the point you release the spool until your bait splashes down. Learning a baitcaster takes a lot of patience. It also takes skills in working through “birds’ nests,” which are snags that happen on the spool.

While every angler should learn how to use a baitcaster reel, it is not recommended that be the reel you start fishing with.


Your fishing rod also plays a major role in formulating your overall fishing method and strategy. If you take a rod that is too sensitive, you end up having to check out every little twitch of the bait because it can seem like a bite. At the same time, if the rod is insensitive or inflexible, you can miss bites and lose potentially trophy fish.

The best way to choose a rod is to assess three things:

  • The fish you are after, and more specifically, their size
  • The lures you plan to use
  • The importance of sensitivity of the rod to detect fish bites

Each of these help provide the general picture of the rod you want for a specific fishing trip. For example, if you are targeting monster bass, you know you want a rod that can handle heavier fish without bending so much it gets damaged.

If you are planning on using heavier, deeper diving lures while trolling, you know you want a rod that has less flexibility, so it doesn’t take a beating when the bait is in the water. If you are fishing a weightless plastic worm, you know you want a rod that will help you feel every little movement of the bait and any fish that might strike at it.

Putting this all together allows you to match the type of bait, rod and reel that you should use to the fishing method you plan to employ.

Final Thoughts

The main modern fishing methods are trapping, netting, ice fishing, spear and bow fishing, and fishing with live and artificial baits. Once you know the kind of fishing method you wish to employ, you can then choose the appropriate rods, reels and baits to use.