A Complete Guide to Family-Friendly Fishing

Amelia ArvesenFebruary 29, 2024

A Complete Guide to Family-Friendly Fishing

If wading into icy water and waving a fishing rod around in the air isn’t your thing, it doesn’t have to be to start fishing. This family-friendly outdoor activity can be done from a shoreline or boat, and only requires a few essentials, patience, and a positive attitude. There’s a range of subgenres of fishing—like fly-fishing and ice fishing, deep-sea fishing, and noodling—but the most introductory kind of fishing simply requires a rod with a spinning reel and some basic skills. 

In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to get started with fishing—from obtaining a fishing license and the right gear to reading the water and dropping your line for the first time. You’ll be reeling one into your net in no time.

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The Importance of a Fishing License

Before dropping your line in the water, you will need a fishing license. All states in the U.S. require one for every person who plans to hold a pole. Without one, you risk getting a ticket from the Fish and Wildlife Department. Costing less than $20 for a day permit, you can get one online or in person at a fly shop, gear store, and even some convenience stores. Planning to fish more than a day? An annual license might be more cost-effective. 

It’s worth paying for because the funds go directly toward fish management, habitat restoration and protection, land acquisition, research and education, and public access for fishing and boating, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Man fishing on a river

Fishing Gear for Beginners

Everything on this list you can find easily online, at a fly or tackle shop, gear store, or even a big-box store like Walmart or Cabela’s. 

Rod and reel: To start off, you want to look for a combination of the two. The rod is the pole, the reel will loosen and wind your fishing line. Look for something that’s budget-friendly and has a spinning reel. Ask for advice at your tackle shop.

Fishing line: The transparent wire that hangs off your rod comes in different strengths depending on the weight of the fish you expect to catch. Usually, six-pound monofilament (the most durable and versatile) should do but talk to someone at your tackle shop to be sure.

Lures and bait (and hooks): There’s a whole range of things that will attract a fish. First is live bait, most commonly a hook with worms that you can find in a fridge at the tackle shop. The next is power bait, which looks like playdough in all different colors, often with glitter, shaped over a hook. Smells like playdough too. Then finally, lures are those fuzzy or metal charms that resemble little fish. Some even have a fluffy tail to hide the hook. 

Other do-dads: To attach the bait to your line, you’ll want some swivels. To keep an eye on your line, you’ll want a floating bobber. And to sink your powerbait, you’ll want a tiny weight called a sinker.

Needle-nose pliers and scissors: Once you catch that fish, you’re going to want these to remove the hook from the fish’s lip. Yes, that means you have to hold it around its slippery body. A pair of scissors will also come in handy for cutting the line.

Rubber net: Rubber as opposed to string or nylon is better for catching fish and easier to clean.

Tackle box: Keep all your gear organized in a portable box with little shelves and cubbies.

Fish on a line

Fishing Etiquette

To be a good member of the angling community—respectful of others fishing, the fish, and the environment—requires following a few etiquette principles. 

1. Know the rules and regulations specific to the area you are fishing in. Every area has its own set of rules to follow. Some places restrict fishing altogether or certain kinds of fishing, others have size and count limits. Know before you go so you don’t run into any trouble. You can find this information on recreational websites, state sites, or at a local tackle shop.

2. Avoid fishing around other anglers, boats, swimmers, and animals. In crowded areas, leave at least 50 feet. When the lake or shore isn’t as busy, leave a couple hundred feet. This ensures the safety of both you and those around you. Seriously, you don’t want your hook getting stuck in something or someone. Always look around you before throwing your line out.

3. Don’t keep more fish than you can eat. Fishing is more than a recreational activity—for many people and animals, fish also provides sustenance. If you’re not planning to eat any, practice catch and release. (More on that below.)

4. Catch and release responsibly. Sometimes required in certain areas to ensure viable fish populations and resources, it’s important to follow a few basics. Firstly, you don’t want to “play the fish” or wear it out to exhaustion. This reduces its chance of surviving. Secondly, when you reel it in, keep it under water with a loose grip and handle as little as possible. Third, carefully remove the hook from its lip or cut the leader as close to the hook as possible. Many hooks are designed to dissolve over time. And lastly, revive the fish by gently moving it in the water to get its gills moving.

5. Practice leaving no trace. Pack out what you pack in. Nobody wants a shoreline littered with line, let alone hooks. Not only is it dangerous, it’s also bad for the environment. Bring along a trash baggie to collect your clipped line, hooks, bait, snack trash, and even litter you find while you’re out there.

More Useful Skills and Resources for Fishing

Tying knots: You’ll need to know a few knots to manage your fishing line. Practice the clinch knot, blood knot, double surgeon’s loop, and a few more before hitting the water.

Casting, hooking, landing: Watch a few video tutorials (like this one) on how to properly cast, hook, and land a catch using a spinning reel. These motions might feel a little awkward to start off, but repetition will make them smoother. Casting is the act of tossing out your line, hooking means acting when you see a fish nibble, and landing is important for minimizing harm once you reel in your catch.

Reading the water: The skill of finding where the fish hang out develops over time and isn’t essential for your first few times. The more you go out though, the more you’ll know what to look for. Fish like to congregate around weeds and downed trees close to the shore, wherever a stream or creek dumps into a larger body of water, and logjams and other places that provide cover. Orvis put together a comprehensive guide for reading all kinds of water.

Hiring a guide: When in doubt, pay a professional to show you the ropes. Learning as a family can make for a fun bonding experience. And with help, you’re probably more likely to catch a fish right off the bat. They’ll show you tips and tricks that you can deploy when you’re ready to venture out on your own.

Why Camping and Fishing Trips Are Family-Friendly

By combining camping with fishing trips, you’re even more immersed in nature. It’s a meaningful way to make memories with the family and spend time in nature together. Learning a new skill, having an appreciation for the environment and natural resources, and practicing patience and endurance are all things we want to instill in kids, who are ultimately the next generation of outdoor stewards and advocates. Plus, the two activities go hand in hand. Campgrounds often neighbor lakes and other bodies of water, making it easy to walk from your campground to the shoreline for a day of fishing. Even if you don’t catch a thing (which happens even to the most skilled fishermen), you benefit from all of the above.

If you’ve made it this far in the article, odds are you’re already hooked on fishing and don’t need more convincing. Rent a rig for your trip, head to a body of water, and wait for the fish to bite.

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Amelia Arvesen, Outdoorsy Author

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