Freshwater fishing for n00bs
February 28, 2007 2:05 PM   Subscribe

I want to go fishing. You know, the kind where you stand around in a river with a floppy hat. I want this to be my hobby.

As you might have guessed, I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing.

What's the best way to get started? What should I be asking for, looking for, and purchasing? What should I expect to pay upfront for equipment? Is this something that's even a good idea - environmentally, ethically and otherwise? Has the toxic soup of 20th century industry killed whatever joy is left in the hobby?

I'm in Boston (but more than happy to day-trip north and west.)
posted by Saucy Intruder to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (31 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Has the toxic soup of 20th century industry killed whatever joy is left in the hobby?

Not entirely, but mercury poisoning could possibly be a very long term concern if you're eating your catch.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 2:12 PM on February 28, 2007

1.) Be sure to stand upriver of your hook.

Seriously, I know nothing about fishing. But I do know that my cousin took tremendous joy out of fly fishing and specifically tying his own flies. He's about two hours west of Boston now. Email me if you want me to connect you two.
posted by orangemiles at 2:15 PM on February 28, 2007

Response by poster: Nah, I'm going to catch and release.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 2:15 PM on February 28, 2007

I assume you're not talking about fly fishing, which makes getting into fishing a lot easier. You can go to any sporting goods store (Cabella's, Gander Mountain, etc.) and ask away, but the basics that'll get you started are:

1) Rod and reel (either spincast or closed reel)
2) Bobbers
3) Leaders
4) Hooks
5) Lures (depends on what you're fishing for; locals might tell you what fish are out there and what's the best lure for them)
6) Live bait. There's a huge variety available, but the old standby is hard to beat: Plain old worms.

As for eating what you catch and whether it's safe, it's best to ask your state's Department of Natural Resources (or equiv in Mass).

Ethics: I fish, but do catch-and-release. If you do it right and remove the hook carefully, the fish will swim away none the worse for wear.

Finally, I'm betting there's some Fishing for Dummies or Idiot's Guide to Fishing books out there. These books often get a bad rap, but they're often a great place to start for novices.

Hope this helps. Have fun.
posted by gb77 at 2:18 PM on February 28, 2007

Also, you can find a lot of gear at rummage/yard sales..... I have purchased nearly all of my gear this way, incredibly cheap.....

Also, start practicing your "one that got away" stories....

If you purchase new, Zebco makes some great starter kits.....
posted by peewinkle at 2:24 PM on February 28, 2007

Instead of the kind of fishing where you stand in a river wearing a floppy hat, you might want to start by trying the kind of fishing where you sit next to the river wearing a floppy hat. That way, you don't have to buy waders.

Bonus: once your lines are cast, you can stand them up somewhere until you get a bite, leaving your hands free to open up a beer, drink a beer, read a magazine, open up another beer, drink another beer, etc.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:25 PM on February 28, 2007

The equipment you need to get really depends on what you want to fish for. If you want to sit on a river bank, drink beer and smoke cigars while ostensibly fishing -- which is what my dad and I do a couple times a year -- then just grab a cheapo rod and real, a cooler, some stink bait (beef liver), beer and cheap cigars and go! Wear old blue jeans, shoes you don't have to worry about getting muddy, take a friend and have fun.

If you're going to go fly fishing, be prepared to shell out a bit more for gear. I don't know enough about fly fishing to recommend gear, though.
posted by cog_nate at 2:28 PM on February 28, 2007

Yes. Standing and fishing gets boring after your legs get tired.

I recommend making a friend with a boat or a canoe. It does not need to be fancy, it just needs to hold two people, a tackle box, oars (or you could have a wee little outboard) and a cooler full of beer and maybe some sandwiches to prolong your drinking time without passing out.

Catching anything is not even remotely the point, unless you are fishing with some kind of crazy people. These people are only good for visiting when they have a fish fry. Otherwise, screw it.

You'll need to get a fishing license, I think, at least you have to in Texas. Here is a link to the Mass. fishing and hunting laws (pdf).

Seriously, you can get started by going to a sporting goods store and saying "hey, I want to fish, and not the fly kind, the kind where you just cast and sit around."

I highly recommend floating around on the water. It is much nicer than sitting where there could be bugs and stuff.
posted by mckenney at 2:37 PM on February 28, 2007

I love fishing, and I agree with the general theme of these comments, which is that catching fish is rarely the point of fishing (after all, the sport is called fishing, not catching). However, if you do want to catch some fish, I would suggest fishing for bass, in lakes, in the spring and early summer when they are most active. Bass are a lot of fun to fish for -- they are the thugs of freshwater lakes and reservoirs, and will often bite out of aggression. By contrast, a smart fish like a brown trout will only take bait that looks 100% natural, and is presented in a way that is 100% natural. In other words, it has to be fooled. Bass, on the other hand, merely need to be provoked (although obviously you'll catch more of them if you fool 'em as well...)

For the beginning angler, a store like K-Mart (or, if your morals don't prevent you, SprawlMart) is a great place to buy gear (and beer). They have everything you'll need, including licenses (and beer).

Finally, i would suggest looking for some local internet fishing forums. I have several i would recommend, but they are in California, which won't do you any good in Boston. But I guarantee you that the Boston area has some local groups filled with guys that love to fish (and drink beer). Just find one of these, introduce yourself as a noobie, say you'd be glad to fill the back seat of someone's boat the next time you go out, and you are happy to bring a six-pack along if someone will take the time to help you with the basics. Most fishermen (and women) are friendly, and will be glad to help, especially if you bring beer along. :-)

Good luck and have fun!
posted by mosk at 2:53 PM on February 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

No, catch and release is not good environmentally or ethically. It tires out the fish, which puts them at greater risk to predation. If you want a hobby, the first step is to really learn something about it, I suggest. Googling is good: catch and release predation harm.
posted by Listener at 2:53 PM on February 28, 2007

Best answer: Not sure what so many people here have against fly fishing. It doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. Fly fishing is a beautiful hobby. Drinking beer and chucking stinkbait...not so much. And the other type of fishing (spin fishing) uses murderous treble hooks and other lethal weaponry.

But if you're visualizing the floppy hat, the waders, the standing in a cool stream, fooling a trout with a tiny hook and feather, and then releasing it...then you're a fly fisher to be.
I been casting a fly line for 30 years (and boy is my arm tired ba da boom). Send an email and we'll get you hooked. Or read this.
posted by artdrectr at 3:02 PM on February 28, 2007

I agree that there are bad ways to catch & release. There are also bad ways to drive a car. It's simply learning how to do it correctly.
And PETA members would like to do away with all sport fishing. Let's not go there.
posted by artdrectr at 3:09 PM on February 28, 2007

Best answer: LL Bean offers fishing lessons and weekend clinics for beginners at their Freeport, ME headquarters. I'm sure they're not the only ones.
posted by lampoil at 3:34 PM on February 28, 2007

Response by poster: Maybe I am talking about fly fishing... What if I am? Does it matter that I don't start with a six pack and a walmart fishing rod?
posted by Saucy Intruder at 3:39 PM on February 28, 2007

Catch and release is good if you just want to make the fish late for something. Don't know PETA's stance on that, though.
posted by wemayfreeze at 3:43 PM on February 28, 2007

i strongly second starting out with a spincast combo. mosk has it right. get an open faced reel, line and a few lures. read up a bit on spin casting, learn how to use the reel, and then try some fishing. it won't cost a lot, and you can easily upgrade your equipment later. i'd reccomend going to an ultralight setup, and use 6lb test at first. once you get the hang of it, go down to 4lb test. don't buy any of the heavier braided lines--you need something light and hard to see.

i wouldn't reccomend fly fishing just yet. it's kinda like advanced fishing.

spin casting, which is probably one of the more popular forms, requires you to be constantly casting and reeling ... so it's not something for the cigar and beer cooler set. i do some spin casting here in the chicago area, with a lot of success. in order to get to some of by better spots, i need to wade through swamps and nasty underbrush. it really adds a 'hunting' element to fishing, and gives me the nature exposure i crave.

bass and lake fishing are a great place to start. stay away from known trout streams until you learn more about them--they are, for example, very sensitive to catch and release, and even touching them with your hands can give them a fatal disease. they are also exceptionally tasty, especially fresh.

once you get familliar with fishing as a sport, then look into fly fishing. you will then be able to much more accurately judge if that's for you or not.

and yeah, barring local conditions, most freshwater fish are safe to eat. the smaller the river, the better chance of it being ok. fish is one food that really really really needs to be eaten fresh. the less time between the lake and your mouth will make all the difference.

one last note: new england, in general, is an awesome place to fish. i've made some great catches up in maine.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 3:59 PM on February 28, 2007

I'm not against sport fishing, but catch and release isn't as nice as it sounds. Mortality rates for fish after being released can be quite high (This study finds a mean of 18%).

Why not look into fishing for species that a) you would like to eat and b) your local environmental authorities have determined there is a sufficient population of to sustain fishing? Then, go out, with your hip waders and floppy hat, catch enough to eat and go home and eat them.
posted by ssg at 4:09 PM on February 28, 2007

Why not look into fishing for species that a) you would like to eat and b) your local environmental authorities have determined there is a sufficient population of to sustain fishing?

I don't know what it's like on the East Coast, but out here, our local environmental authorities are pretty much putting the fish in the water to be caught in the first place. Waaaaay out in the backcountry there are probably lakes and streams that have naturally occuring fish, but most bodies of water that are used for fishing (that I know of) are stocked.
posted by LionIndex at 4:26 PM on February 28, 2007

I often hire a fishing guide, especially when I am unfamiliar with the waters or I'm travelling and don't want to schlep gear. A good guide loves to fish and wants the client to catch fish. They generally provide all of the tackle, know the most productive tactics, and clean-up.

Fly fishing can be expensive and discouraging to a beginner. In my opinion light tackle spin-fishing in warm water is a better introduction to the sport. Using barbless hooks will limit the destruction.

I don't recommend spending a ton of money on gear. It's kind of like skiing. Rent and take lessons until you get a feel for what you enjoy.
posted by laptop_lizard at 4:49 PM on February 28, 2007

Best answer: Go fishing for largemouth bass in lakes, streams and rivers in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. Go to the sporting goods store, tell the guy you want a bass rig, tell him how much you want to spend. I like my Shakespeare rod and Shimano reel but they are rather fancier than they need to be, strictly.

For a lure, get yourself some jointed Rapalas of various sizes. If you want to give the fish a sporting chance occasionally, get some other lures too.

Get waders or a canoe. Get a fishing license at a sporting good store in the state where you intend to fish. (1-day or 3-day licenses cost a few bucks; please don't skip this step, because fishing without a license or out of season means that you are a loser!)

Decide where you are going to go fishing. Most lakes in your neck of the wood are stocked; so are many streams and brooks and rivers. Asking people will result in your being directed to mediocre-to-poor fishing places; eventually you will do better looking on a map for things that are blue and skinny and look like the kind of places a fish might hang out.

Now go put your rod and reel together and tie the Rapala on the end. Put your canoe or your waders in the water, or cast from the bank. Cast the Rapala as far from you as you can, into the water. Reel it in. Note the life-like, minnow-like motion. Bass will note it too and they will be all over it.

When you catch a bass, don't touch it - you don't want to disturb its slime coat. Hold it up and make your fishing buddy take a picture of you.

Then, take your long-nosed pliers and grab the hook. Work the hook out of the fish's jaw, letting him drop back into the water. He will swim away.

For bonus points, now eat the mushy cheese steak you got this morning at some roadside dive. Ideally this place will be a place that sells cheese steaks, bait and tackle. Relax on the bank. You are surrounded by nature, flora and fauna in all the glorious abundance of creation. Bask in it, note the variety of creatures, be relaxed.

Best way to spend a weekend they have going now, I do believe.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:25 PM on February 28, 2007

If you want to try fly fishing, you'll want a lesson. Try a short trip with a guide or look for a class. It's great fun, but I could definitely see how it would be frustrating to try to just pick it up.
posted by advicepig at 5:31 PM on February 28, 2007

You are in Boston. The Battenkill is 2-3 hours away in Vermont.... one of the best rivers in the land for fly fishing.

From your description, you are talking about fly fishing... the perfect combination of hunting, rock climbing, and fishing. Fly fishermen look down on most other types, as they do not require the same level of knowledge or quarry prowess.

The best practitioners wind up with an abundance of arcane knowledge of streams, fish, water chemistry, insect life.

Also, the places where you do it are reason enough to take it up. I always considered EVERY trip a success, just because I was up to my ass in water in the most wonderful places... places that are secluded, shady wombs of water... lonely, quiet, cool, dangerous and welcoming.

Find a friend, hopefully much older, who will tutor you and give him/her the gift of an eager student and a reason to go again.

Have fun!
posted by FauxScot at 6:26 PM on February 28, 2007

lester's sock puppet, I hope to God you are not fishing anywhere near the Chicago river and eating your catch.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:08 PM on February 28, 2007

Fly fishing is the most relaxing and wonderful of all hobbies, if you like being outside, and you don't care if you actually catch fish. To learn, go with a friend, and if you don't have a friend, hire a guide for a few times. There is great fly fishing in your area. Enjoy. To really get hooked on fishing, take a trip to Montana or Wyoming where fly fishing is akin to shooting fish in a barrel. I have been to places where every second or third cast brought in fish. East Coast fishing is more difficult as these fish have seen a ton of other fisherman before. They aren't rookies like the Rocky Mountain fish (and even there the times are a changing). Even in well fished water, a rookie with some coaching can have a great time. I really am serious about getting a friend or guide though, this is much easier with a human teacher than from a book. Much, much easier.

If you want one bit of advice, when you approach a hole in the river which you are going to cast to, walk up, get in position, put on your iPod, pull out a cig, do whatever, but wait at least five minutes, without moving your feet much if at all. Then fish the hole. Fish get spooked by your wading, but calm down quickly. In the heavily fished eastern streams I would wait ten minutes, except that you usually have some bozo 20 yards upstream and another one 20 yards downstream creating such havoc that all your waiting is for nought.
posted by caddis at 7:39 PM on February 28, 2007

ikkyu2 is right on ... except also get a daredevile red spoon and a roostertail.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 8:58 PM on February 28, 2007

Can I recommend literature?

I've wanted to take up fly-fishing ever since I read A River Runs Through It.

Sadly, I've never since had the combination of both having the money to buy equipment and learn and not being living in the city and being very busy!

The movie is not as good.
posted by Jahaza at 11:18 PM on February 28, 2007

Hold it up and make your fishing buddy take a picture of you.

Use a short focal length lens, have your buddy stand close, and hold the fish well out in front, and it will look huge in that photo, even if it is really just suitable for bait. :)
posted by caddis at 11:37 PM on February 28, 2007

Many of the rivers in MA are much cleaner than they used to be and most of the trout are stocked, so they haven't had a long time to bioconcentrate toxins. The MA department of fish and game has lists of bodies of water that are good for catch-to-eat and not.

Go for fly fishing. I did some when I was a teen and looking back, found that it was like working a slot machine. You keep doing the same actions again and again and the payoff is enough incentive to keep doing it. You're just in a quiet, bucolic environment, not a loud, garish casino.

That said, as an adult, I took up spin casting because of a couple major reasons:
1. I wanted to relax
2. I wanted to choose my level of activity
3. Slot machines? Not so much appeal.

Basically, you can choose to plunk in some bait off a bobber and sit back and snooze or you can choose to use a lure and actively cast. You neededn't use treble hooks (although most of the lures are treble), but everytime I've used them, it was because I was intending to take home dinner from a stocked body of water. I've read (but not tried) that with an ultralight rig you can use flies. I don't know that I buy it. And if you're really frustrated, you can go to a pond and put some pieces of corn on a simple hook and catch the same sunfish all day. That doesn't bother me - they're basically weeds anyway.
posted by plinth at 4:40 AM on March 1, 2007

Be sure you check with your local or state department of natural resources to see if you need a fishing license before you fish. Check out related forums and ask your questions there. Check out some articles. Or watch tv. Or see if there is a fishing club in your area. Those are mostly bass-fishing related links. Yes, I am a fishing widow. :)
posted by cass at 7:40 AM on March 1, 2007

I know it says you want to start up with freshwater fishing, but mass has some great saltwater fishing as well. Saltwater fish are generally bigger and fight better. When the striped bass run off cape cod they can be caught with a fly from the beach.
posted by afu at 10:43 PM on March 1, 2007

The floppy hat you mentioned. No one has addressed it, but it's important.

The hat helps you walk through brush without getting your face torn up, keeps the sun out of your eyes and off your head, and you can soak the hat and put it back on to cool you. It's all kinds of useful, and the brand is important.

I fish, and I love my Tilley. They're online and in sporting goods stores. You can expect to pay between $60-$75 for one, and it's money well spent.

Tilley guarantees their hats for life, so whatever happens, you're covered. Even if it just blows off your head and you can't get it back, they'll give you a heavy discount on a replacement. I've never had to use this, though.

My Tilley is this one, and here's Tilley's main site.
posted by SlyBevel at 11:20 AM on March 3, 2007

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