Fishing for Beginners

By Andrew Branson, photographs by Noppadol Paothong | May 15, 2014
From Missouri Conservationist: Jun 2014

Missouri has a rich heritage of fishing and wonderful opportunities all around the state. Whether you want to fish in a pond, lake, river, warm water, cold water, from a boat, the bank, or even standing in the water, Missouri has it all.

If you have never fished before and want to try, you might feel intimidated. You may not know where or how to begin. This article will answer some basic questions about fish, equipment, bait, locations, and regulations. We will also tell you where you can learn more as your skill and interest grow.

What Fish Are Out There?

Missouri has more than 230 species of fish, and your location will determine the types of fish you might catch. Some fish are more common in streams, while others are more common in lakes and ponds. The most common types of fish you will catch are:

  • Bluegill and other sunfish (hybrid bluegill, green sunfish, redear sunfish, etc.)
  • Largemouth bass
  • Channel catfish
  • Crappie
  • Trout

You never know what type of fish you might catch, and the Department of Conservation’s online Fish ID and Measuring page at is a wonderful source to learn what kinds of fish are out there and what they look like. You can also request a free Know Your Catch fish identification pocket guide by sending your name and address to or by mailing your request to: Know Your Catch, PO Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180.

What Equipment Do I Need?

Your equipment is generally determined by the type of fish you want to catch. While there is specialized equipment out there, basic equipment is all you really need for an enjoyable and successful outing.

At the most basic level is a cane pole (bamboo rod). This is literally a long bamboo pole with a length of fishing line attached, and a hook. The advantages of a cane pole are that it is inexpensive and easy to use. You can hold it in either hand, and no casting or reeling is required. You just flip your line into the water. A disadvantage is that you are limited to a relatively short length of line, so you can fish only areas close to you.

Most anglers find that a rod with a reel better fits their needs. This combination allows you to cast your line farther away and also to fish in deeper areas. Fishing rods come in a range of prices and lengths, but an inexpensive pole at a length between 5 and 61/2 feet is good for most people. Children often need slightly shorter fishing rods. Rods can be of one-piece construction or separated into two or more sections for easier transport and storing.

The two most basic types of reels are the closed-face spinning reel and the open-face spinning reel. The closed-face spinning reel has a thumb button for releasing the line, and is generally considered easier to use and best for beginners. Typically, the larger the reel, the more line it can hold, and also the heavier the line it can hold for catching bigger fish. Bluegill and crappie do not require heavy line to catch them. Matching line weight to your potential target fish can improve your success. People who switch to the open-face reels like their action and the extra control they have when casting.

Other basic equipment:

  • Tackle box
  • Lures, hooks, bobbers, and bait
  • Stringer for keeping fish
  • Needle-nose type pliers or other type of hook remover
  • A hand-held net to lift larger fish out of the water is also helpful.

What Kind of Bait Do I Use?

Once you have your fishing rod, you need to attach a baited hook or artificial lure to the end of your line. The sight, smell, and sound of your bait are all important in catching fish. Fish will eat just about anything that will fit into their mouths, but the best all-around bait is probably an earthworm or a part of a night crawler. Putting something on the end of your line that the fish actually eat, or attaching an artificial lure that looks like something the fish want to eat, is key to catching a fish.

Easy and effective bait:

  • Earthworms
  • Minnows
  • Crickets and grasshoppers
  • Dough bait, stink bait, hot dogs, cheese, etc.

Bait such as earthworms, minnows, crickets, and grasshoppers are good for catching most fish, while dough bait, stink bait, hot dogs, and cheese are especially good for catching catfish which mainly use sense of smell to find food. You can collect live bait on your own, or you can buy from fishing suppliers that sell live bait. A list of registered bait dealers around the state can be found online at

Bait items are attached to hooks that are specially designed to hold the bait on, and they are usually fished with a bobber and sinker. The position of the bobber holds the bait at a certain depth under the surface and helps you know when you have a bite. The sinker positioned above the hook helps the bait and line hang straight and under the bobber. Minimizing the size of your bobber to one that barely suspends your bait while being visible will increase your catch rate.Once you have rigged your fishing pole, cast your line into the water and wait for the fish to bite.

Another option is to use artificial lures. These lures are designed to look like an actual food item to a fish and, when cast out and retrieved by the angler, behave naturally as well. Artificial lures come in many varieties, and they are made to simulate food sources such as fish, worms, crayfish, and insects. Lures can be made from hard or soft plastic, metal, and wood. Some are designed to float at the surface, while others “swim” deeper in the water. There are many different designs of artificial lures you can use to give a natural-looking action that will hopefully encourage a fish to bite. For example, spinner and buzz baits use metal blades to create a vibration and disturbance in the water that will often attract fish.

Whether you are using a hook that holds bait or using an artificial lure, you need to know the proper way to tie it on your fishing line. Using a knot that won’t slip in the water is important. The “improved clinch knot” is one of the best all-around fishing knots.

Where Can I Fish?

Missouri fishing areas are either public or privately owned. Publicly owned fishing accesses are typically operated by city, county, or state agencies. Some examples are Missouri’s state parks and conservation areas, as well as city- and county-owned lakes and river accesses. You can find a list of conservation fishing accesses by contacting your local conservation office or through our online Conservation Atlas at

In order to fish private waters or use privately owned fishing accesses, you must have permission from the owner.

What Regulations Do I Need to Know?

Individuals 16 to 64 years of age must purchase a fishing permit or qualify for an exemption in order to fish or collect certain animals for live bait. Anyone younger than 16 can fish with pole-and-line without a fishing permit; however, they do need a permit if fishing with other methods such as trotlining. Any Missouri resident 65 and older does not need a fishing permit. However, a trout permit or daily tag may still be required for youth and adults even if they qualify for fishing permit exemption. There are also military and disability conditions that will qualify some people for a fishing-permit exemption. Permits can be purchased from most vendors that sell fishing equipment or online at

There are regulations on the number of fish you can keep and their size. The fishes of Missouri are grouped into two categories called game fish and nongame fish, and the regulations vary depending on the species. Regulations can also vary depending on the location you are fishing. You can find signs posted with this information at all areas managed by the Department of Conservation, but it is best to research the regulations before you head out. The Summary of Missouri Fishing Regulations is a good source for answers to your fishing regulations questions, and it is available free at your local Department of Conservation office and most fishing suppliers. You can also find it online at

Where Can I Learn More?

There are many publications and online fishing sites that can help you learn how to fish, but practicing casting and tying the improved clinch knot are great ways to become familiar with the equipment. Tying on an inexpensive casting plug and practicing casting in your yard, driveway, or other open area is great way to learn. With a little practice, you will master the art of casting and be able to throw the lure right where you want it. If you would like to try some fishing equipment before you purchase your own, your Department of Conservation regional office (Find phone numbers on Page 3, or visit can assist you with loaner equipment.

One of the best ways to learn how to fish is to find a mentor or someone who can demonstrate techniques for you. The Department provides a variety of workshops and classes that can help you with basic fishing, as well as specialized classes for other types of fishing. Discover Nature — Fishing (DN — F) is a newly developed angler education program that the Department will be offering in 2014 for youth and families. DN — F is a four-part series of workshops that provide fishing education by Department staff and fishing volunteers that teaches participants equipment; casting; proper fish handling; how to tie a knot and bait a hook; five common Missouri fish — their anatomy, habitats, and life cycles; fishing with lures; and fishing regulations. Contact your local Conservation office about classes in your area.

Now that you know a little more about how to get started fishing, hopefully you will take the next steps and explore all the wonderful fishing opportunities Missouri has to offer. You can begin, or continue, a great angling tradition for yourself or your whole family.

Fishing: Where to Get Started

By Bob Mattucks

Missouri has many lakes and ponds available to people who enjoy fishing. There is also big-river fishing and access to many smaller streams. If you are looking for a monster blue catfish or a stringer of trout, you can find it here.

The Department of Conservation has many programs to provide close-to-home fishing for everyone in the state. The Department has purchased land and developed community lakes all across Missouri. In St. Louis and Kansas City, the August A. Busch Memorial CA and the James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area were developed to provide many different fishing opportunities close to these large urban areas.

The Department has reached out to cities, towns, and other government agencies with our CAP (Community Assistance Program) agreements. This program provides fish management, fish stocking, signage, additional regulation enforcement, and the possibility to cost share on improvements to a fishing area not owned by the Department. These improvements could include boat ramps, fishing docks, restrooms, and road improvements. In return for providing these services, the CAPs are open for all to fish.

The Department also has many special fish stocking programs that take place throughout the year. These stockings include channel catfish, trout, walleye, and hybrid stripers.

So how do you find a place to go fishing? If you have computer access, check out the Department’s “Places to Fish” page at This page features a search tool for Public Fishing Areas, as well as the Missouri Conservation Area Atlas (locations, rules, and the best bets for fishing Department-owned and managed areas), the Missouri Fishing Area Fishing Prospects Survey (a yearly fishing report written by local fisheries biologists), the Current Fishing Report (weekly reports, from spring to fall), and much more. You can also download the Department’s free Find MO Fish app at If you don’t have online access, just look up your Department regional office and give us a call. We will help you find that special fishing area close to you.

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This Issue's Staff

Editor In Chief - vacant
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Art Director - Cliff White
Staff Writer/Editor - Brett Dufur
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler