There probably aren’t too many activities which can imply independence, weathering the elements, or technical expertise in quite the same way that fishing does.
Due to the varieties of aquatic life, the conditions in which they’re found, and customary gathering techniques, there are more ways to catch a fish than you might imagine, each with its own intricacies and secrets.
From the earliest hominid successfully catching a freshwater fish with their bare hands to the most advanced commercial trawling techniques, humans have been learning how to harness this food source continuously over thousands of years.
The ease and popularity of angling (fishing with a rod) have mushroomed in recent years as a fun, relaxing way to get out into nature and maybe even to catch your own supper.
But how do you do that?
Whether you’re looking to learn a new hobby or to satisfy your curiosity about how that tuna ended up in your sandwich, keep reading to find out more about some of the methods, tools, and spots to look for with the most popular methods of fishing.
Fly fishing involves the use of lightweight lures called flies, along with unique forms of casting, that mimic the movement of aquatic and terrestrial insects, in order to entice riverine fish to bite.
Fly fishing is a very complex form of fishing, and the number of tactics are almost too numerous to count. Among them are fishing in clear, gently-moving water; seeking out short, twisting currents in pockets of streams; and keeping quiet around the water in order not to alarm the fish.
Standard equipment for fly fishing trips include waders, eye protection (both from the lines and the sun), and of course the rod, which is longer and thinner than the ordinary rod and reel.
Fly fishing rods tend to be much longer and thinner than normal rods to facilitate the swishing motion needed to land a catch. They usually range between 7 and 11 feet long, but special rods like spey rods can be as long as 15 feet.
You can also tie your own flies (it’s even recommended) with materials as diverse as feathers, fur, or synthetic fibers. As always, a good knife is always useful, as is spare line and pliers.
The basic technique in fly fishing involves casting the rod in a long, two-stroke motion, to broadly mimic the movement of the insect which your fly is supposed to imitate. Other techniques are skating, using flies which are used under tension rather than drifted, or dapping, quickly bouncing the fly over the surface of the water.
Catch-and-release fishing is a compromise originating in the UK, in which fish are caught for sport but released with as little harm done to the animal or to fish populations. While it might seem nearly the same as normal rod-and-reel fishing, there are a few key differences.
As with rod-and-reel angling, trying different types of bait, moving or still water, and fishing at varying times of day are all reliable ways to find an assortment of fish.
Some specific methods include drop shotting, which can be done in almost any type of water or depth, which involves gently bouncing your bait along the bottom; crankbaiting, in which smaller fish like minnows are used as bait to catch larger fish; or flipping, in which the line itself is grabbed hold of and pulled short by the angler while casting.
As with all fishing methods, a rod, line, net, knife, and pliers are all crucial. The primary difference with catch-and-release is ensuring that you’re using J-hooks (so-called for their resemblance to the letter), and avoiding barbs. Barbed hooks are more likely to injure the fish, and to make it more difficult to release it in the first place.
The most common technique involves casting and allowing your line to sink or drift before reeling it in and trying again.
Catch and release can be practiced in fresh and saltwater bodies, although it should be kept in mind when deep sea fishing that many fish accustomed to deeper water can’t be released, as they will have suffered from depressurization from being pulled out of the water.
Deep Sea Fishing
Deep sea fishing takes place in water of at least 30 feet in depth, where the water is deep enough and cold enough to find larger fish such as marlin, grunts, grouper, amberjack, mahi dolphin, or tuna.
Deep sea fishing is heavily dependent on being observant of natural conditions and animals around you. A deep sea fisherman should look out for smaller fish, especially. For example, observing gulls hovering over a particular patch of water is a strong indicator that they’re fishing for smaller fish themselves.
It also pays to look around reefs, where many small fish live. The primary reason to keep an eye out for smaller fish is that larger ones feed on them, making these spots a likelier prospect for finding something bigger.
Typical reef fish
Many of the tools you’ll need for deep water fishing are similar to what you would use in freshwater, albeit in slightly different configurations. Items such as a gaff hook, for snagging heavier fish, a strong net, pliers and scissors, sturdy saltwater knives, and hook removers will all help you to work quickly and efficiently on open water.
The rod you use will generally be heavier and a bit longer. Keep in mind that the longer a rod is, the farther it will cast, and with so much open ocean, it can’t hurt to get some extra distance!
And of course, ocean conditions demand ocean protective gear. This means life jackets, good sunglasses - sunlight reflecting off of seawater can literally temporarily blind you - strong sunscreen, and sturdy waterproof foul weather gear in case of sudden squalls.
Allowing bait to linger along the seafloor, weighted down with the boat at anchor. The least intensive form of deep sea fishing.
Pulling multiple lines through the water either by hand or by fixing rods to the hull of a moving boat. Because this line takes you through quite a large area of ocean, this is the method most likely to snag truly amazing fish like sailfish, mahi-mahi, or even barracuda.
Jigging uses a jig - a type of lure wrapped around a lead or tungsten core- which is jerked upward to imitate small marine creatures. This is one of the more intensive techniques, as it involves dropping metal weights into the water and then constantly yanking them upwards.
Most areas on the rims of major oceans are suitable for this type of fishing, but especially popular are Phuket, Thailand; Cape Town, South Africa; and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
It may seem obvious, but gathering shellfish is starkly different from angling or netting. Gathering shellfish requires extensive knowledge of terrain, behaviors and qualities of various littoral (meaning ‘close to the coast’) animals and plants, and especially a good understanding of tides and waves. It’s also beneficial to know what you’re gathering, be it clams, oysters, or mussels.
Because shellfish aren’t exactly mobile, your main tactical concern in gathering shellfish isn’t the fish themselves, but your surroundings. One thing to look out for is red tide, although the color in question can also be amber, purple, pink, brown, or red. These are blooms of plankton life which can occasionally cause paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP).
For example, in Washington state, the only known organism to cause PSP is A. catenella, but because shellfish filter large amounts of water, they are susceptible to absorbing this planktonic organism, which can cause severe illness with symptoms including dry mouth, nausea, shortness of breath, confused speech, and diminished coordination.
Gear for gathering shellfish includes rakes and shovels for sifting through or turning up mud and sand in coastal pools and beaches; clam tubes, sections of piping pushed into sand to pry clams onto the surface; and tongs, which are used to break clams off of rock outcroppings. Also handy are gloves, a good knife, and buckets.
The technique for most shellfish gathering is to keep a keen eye and carefully pull the shellfish loose from its perch. However, the most frequently encountered commercial technique is dredging, in which what is essentially a large metal rake is dragged along the sea floor, capturing shellfish in a large chain mesh bag.
Shellfish can be found in most coastal areas, such as the Gulf of Mexico, the coast of Northern England, and the coastal rim of Australia. Although most shellfish live in saltwater, a few can be found in freshwater, as well, especially freshwater mussels and snails.
Most Popular Gulf Shellfish
So now you know about some of the more popular types of fishing and how they’re done. You also know how you might even do them yourself. But a fisherman is only as good as their bait, and to succeed in landing your first fish, you’ll need to know about some of these, too. While there’s endless debate in countless bait and tackle shops on this subject, there are a few reliable ones that are essential equipment.
Keep reading to find out about the best type of lure for popular fish, how and where to find them, and even how to make your own.