Fishing For First-Timers

By | May 1, 2016
From Xplor: May/June 2016

When you cast a lure into the deep, you never know what you might catch. Fishing is full of surprises, which is one reason many people like it. If you’ve always wanted to fish, but don’t know how, let Xplor be your guide. We’ll cover the basics of fishing at a pond or lake, so the only surprise you’ll encounter is the size of the lunker on the end of your line.

Know the Rules

Fishing doesn’t have many rules, but it does have a few, and it’s your responsibility to follow them. Get the lowdown on permits, length limits, and other rules by picking up A Summary of Missouri Fishing Regulations. This free booklet is available at Conservation Department offices, bait shops, and online at

Gear Up

It’s possible to catch fish with a stick, some string, and a safety pin. But fishing is easier and more fun with the right gear. Here’s what you need.

  • Size 6 Aberdeen hooks are small enough to fit into the mouths of pond fish but big enough to hold a variety of baits.
  • Bobbers float on the surface and help hold bait underwater at a certain depth.
  • Needle-nosed pliers are great for crimping split shot onto your line and removing hooks from a fish’s mouth.
  • Clear, 8-pound-test monofilament line is strong enough to land most fish but light enough to be invisible underwater.
  • Fingernail clippers are handy for cutting monofilament line when you change lures.
  • Split shot adds weight to your line so your bait sinks quickly underwater.
  • Take a stringer along if you plan to take fish home for dinner.
  • A 5-foot rod will haul in all but the biggest of fish.
  • A reel stores fishing line that’s not in use and helps bring in line quickly when you hook a fish. If you’re new to fishing, a closed-face spinning reel is the way to go.
  • A tackle box keeps your fishing gear together and organized.

Rig Up

Learn to Cast

With practice, casting will become second nature. Until then, follow these steps.

  • Imagine your elbow is the center of a clock and your forearm is the hour hand. Start your cast with your forearm and rod pointed at 10 o’clock.
  • Slowly move your forearm backward to about 2 o’clock.
  • Push and hold the button on the reel. Look at the place where you want to cast and smoothly move your forearm forward. At 11 o’clock, lift your thumb off the reel’s button, and your lure will zing out toward the target.

Tie on a Hook

The improved clinch knot is strong and easy to tie, even with wet fingers.

  1. Pull 6 inches of line through the eye of the hook and fold the line back onto itself. Hold both pieces of line in your fingers and twist the hook five full turns.
  2. Insert the end of the line through the space between the first twist and the eye of the hook.
  3. Bring the end of the line back through the loop you just made.
  4. Hold the hook in one hand and both ends of the line in the other. Wet the line with a little spit and pull firmly to tighten the knot and snug it up against the eye of the hook. Use fingernail clippers to trim off extra line.

If the lure flies up in the air and doesn’t go far, you took your thumb off the button too early. If the lure smacks the ground at your feet, you released the button too late.

Get Some Bait

When it comes to bait, a wiggly earthworm is tough to beat. But if threading a slimy worm onto a hook grosses you out, give these other baits and lures a try.

Catfish hunt mostly by smell, so lures usually don’t work.

Rig Your Line

How you tie bait, bobbers, and weights on your line depends on what kind of fish you want to catch. Catfish hunt near the bottom, so add weight to keep your bait deep. Bluegill and bass often swim a few feet beneath the surface, so use a bobber to suspend your bait where fish can find it. Most artificial lures don’t require bobbers or weights. Simply tie on a lure and reel it in to get a strike.

Go Fish

You’ve practiced casting, rigged your line, and found a fishing hole.

Now what?

Find the Fish

Fish use cover such as weeds, docks, rocks, and stumps to escape predators or as hiding places to ambush prey. Fish can also be found at the edges between different kinds of habitat. Cast your lure along a weed line, for example, and you’ll often get a bite.

Keep or Release?

  • If you like catching fish but don’t want to eat them, make sure you release your catch quickly and carefully so it has the best chance to survive.
  • If possible, don’t take fish out of the water.
  • If you must take a fish out of the water, wet your hand before handling the fish.
  • Don’t squeeze fish too hard, and never put your fingers in a fish’s eyes or gills.
  • If a fish has swallowed the hook, don’t remove it. Cut the line, and the hook will eventually rust away.

Be Patient

Sometimes it takes a while for a fish to find your bait. Be patient and don’t take your eyes off your bobber! If you see the bobber jiggle, a fish is nibbling on the bait. If you see the bobber sink suddenly, set the hook.

Set the Hook

When you suspect a bite, quickly sweep the tip of the rod upward to set the hook. Always keep loose line reeled up. Trying to hook a fish with slack in the line usually leads to a missed fish.

Reel It In

Keep the tip of the rod high, so the fish stays hooked. Reel in the line to pull the fish closer, but don’t jerk the rod or pull too hard. That could snap the line or injure the fish. When the fish is close enough, slip a net under it or reach down and grab it.

Remove the Hook

Bass, bluegill, and catfish don’t have sharp teeth, but they do have pokey fins. Hold a bass or a small catfish by putting your thumb into the fish’s mouth and pinching its lower lip. Hold a bluegill by sliding your hand from the head over the fish’s back to push and hold down the fins. The fish will likely squirm, so hold it firmly but don’t squeeze too hard. Use needle-nosed pliers to back the hook out of the same hole it went in.

Learn More

Cast your browser at these websites to broaden your fishing know-how.

  • Find a place to fish at
  • Get the latest fishing report at
  • Sharpen your fishing skills at a free Discover Nature - Fishing class. Learn when the next class is offered and how to sign up at

And More...

This Issue's Staff

Bonnie Chasteen
Les Fortenberry
Karen Hudson
Angie Daly Morfeld
Noppadol Paothong
Marci Porter
Mark Raithel
Laura Scheuler
Matt Seek
David Stonner
Nichole LeClair Terrill
Stephanie Thurber
Cliff White