So, you want to learn how to fish? You have come to the right place! Welcome to the Ultimate Guide To Fishing For Beginners!
On this page, you will learn more than you ever thought possible about how to catch fish and all the gear that you need. Everyone is a beginner at some point, and your level of knowledge about how to fish the spots you're close to and can access easily will increase quickly.
You'll soon be one of those anglers others are looking to for advice and suggestions on what might work to catch more fish.
Below is our guide to fishing for beginners. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section!
Come on, let's see what fishing is all about!
Should I Fish in Freshwater or Saltwater?
People often ask whether it is better to fish in freshwater or saltwater when first beginning to learn about fishing.
The easy answer is that it's probably best to start fishing in water that is close to you. So, if you live close to a lake, stream, river, or even a small pond with fish it's probably best to just start right there.
There is a large variety of species of fish that you can catch in both saltwater and freshwater environments.
Some people who live near both will choose freshwater over saltwater.
Others will choose saltwater over freshwater fishing. Depends on what you're looking for!
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Reasons to Start Fishing in Freshwater
Why should you start fishing at freshwater locations instead of saltwater spots?
Proximity to parks or other areas you can fish. Chances are, if you live in the United States, you are living close to some freshwater where you could fish. That might be a lake, pond, or canal, but you probably do live close to a freshwater fishing body of water. At least closer than you do to the ocean!
Not as much to know. Don't get me wrong, but fishing in freshwater doesn't require quite the level of knowledge that saltwater fishing does. The species are fewer. The tides don't affect it as much. The gear isn't so extensive. There is still plenty to learn, and you may feel overwhelmed at times, but persevere and you'll discover a hobby that keeps on giving – even putting food on your table!
Cost. Saltwater fishing can be more expensive than freshwater fishing because of the cost and variety of gear necessary, including some specialized equipment.
Tradition and social activity. Like most of us, I began to fish by learning about freshwater fishing because I was living close to lakes, rivers, and streams close to my home in southwestern Pennsylvania. Trout fishing season was the highlight of the year because who doesn't love to eat a delicious fresh-caught trout that you caught yourself?
As a small boy, these were some of the highlights of my childhood. At first by spending time on the lakes and streams with family, but later joined by friends in high school to sleep overnight on Friday and Saturday at a friend's cabin on a mountain trout stream.
Fishing is a tradition that is shared throughout the USA. You probably have friends that fish regularly and the opportunity to join them can be a great way to get started in the hobby.
Reasons to Start Fishing in Saltwater
Is starting in saltwater better? Probably not, but if you happen to live right on the coast and you have friends and/or family who fish already and who can teach you, then it might be a better place to start. Here are some reasons to start fishing in saltwater.
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Proximity to ocean access. If you live on or near the coast, especially a warm coast like around Georgia and further southward, you may have a very easy opportunity to fish saltwater spots close to you.
Boat access. You may have access to a fishing boat you could either take yourself out onto the ocean or maybe you know a friend or family member who could take you with them.
Nearby fishing pier? One of the best places to get started fishing in saltwater is to head to the nearest fishing pier. Pier fishing can be a social event if it's crowded, or a self-isolating experience if the pier is large with few others fishing. Popular piers have a bait/gear shop right on the pier and you can buy everything you need to get started. It's a good place to look at other anglers and how they are fishing. Don't be afraid to ask questions, most people like to share to some degree what they're using to catch fish.
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Tradition! Just like freshwater fishing, if your family grew up near the ocean, they may have a family tradition of fishing that you take part in beginning when you are young.
Click Here for a comprehensive guide to surf fishing for beginners.
How To Fish in Freshwater
We're going to stick to freshwater in this Guide to Fishing for Beginners because it's going to be the best type of fishing for most of you to get started in for many reasons. Simplicity is the major one!
I hate to break it to you, but there will be times you don't catch fish! Really. It happens. It happened to me more when I was learning, but it occasionally happens now as well.
There are many factors in play when you're learning to fish, and though someone may be catching fish next to you, you might be getting skunked and not know why.
It will take some time to learn the basics about fish feeding behavior, gear, presentation, time of day, time of year, water temperatures, etc. There is a lot to learn, but there's no reason you can't be catching fish quite soon after deciding this is a hobby you want to pursue!
When you first go out fishing, just have the expectation that you're going to learn more about fishing. You can be optimistic and think you're going to catch fish, but keep that tempered with a realistic view of the situation.
Have you studied this spot and know exactly what other people are using to catch fish there? Do you have the right gear? Do you know the right knot? Do you know exactly how to present the bait or lure to the fish in a way that will entice them to strike?
Expect only to learn the first few times. Don't expect to catch fish every time. It just doesn't happen. At least not initially. In a couple of weeks, you probably will be close to catching fish all of the time, but still, there will be those days when you try absolutely everything and they just aren't in the eating mood.
It may mean they already pigged out on a plentiful food source just hours before. It may mean something is changing dramatically with the weather or something else entirely.
Stay optimistic and keep going out until you learn not just one way to catch fish, but many ways. Knowledge is your friend and will help you catch more fish than anything else. Study the spot and learn all you can about it. Write it down!
So few of us write down the things we learned, and we have to relearn it again later when we return to the spot. If there's one regret I have about fishing, it's that I didn't keep a database of information that I learned about each fishing spot!
Get a Fishing License If One Is Required
In most states in the U.S., you can fish in freshwater without a fishing license up until you reach a certain age. In most states, that age is 16. Once you turn 16, you're expected to purchase a fishing license that will last a year and allow you to fish in public or private (with permission) at freshwater lakes, streams, and rivers.
Fishing license requirements vary by state in the United States, and the age at which a license is required also varies. In some states, licenses are required for all anglers regardless of age, while in others, only certain age groups are required to have a license.
I know in the state of Alaska, a fishing license is required for all anglers age 16 and older, including non-residents. In Arizona, children under the age of 10 can fish without a fishing license but kids from 10-17 need to buy a fishing or combination hunting/fishing license to stay legal.
Some states like Florida offer reduced-cost fishing licenses for children under 16, disabled folks, military vets, and those over a certain age.
It's worth mentioning that even though you or your child may not require a fishing license to catch fish in your state, other regulations such as bag limits and size restrictions still apply. You'll have to be able to identify the fish species you catch and know whether you can keep it based on the size or the number of fish that you caught.
It's always a good idea to check with your state's fish and wildlife agency to find out specific fishing license requirements for anglers in your area.
Finding a Good Fishing Spot
Large lakes, rivers, and streams are the best places to find freshwater fish. Why? Because there is more habitat for them to live happily in. In a large place, they can find cover like fallen trees, rocks, bends, algae, or other underwater plants or objects they can hide behind or under.
Finding good fishing spots in lakes can require walking around them and looking for factors that may hint at the presence or absence of fish. Fish, like other predatory animals, prefer edges where habitat changes. They can use this to ambush smaller fish and other prey.
Fish are often at the surface of the water eating bugs and smaller fish. Bass, crappie and trout do this regularly. Watch for surface slurps to indicate feeding fish, and you can throw a small surface lure around the same area and potentially catch fish.
Look for fish in lakes near the edge of algae blooms, edges of the lake where the land slopes steeply into the water versus a gradual drop. Look for fallen trees and fish close to them. Look for areas where leaves collect in the water. That's where the wind is blowing them. Fish often will position themselves facing the wind and wait for insects to be blown into the water. With that knowledge, choose the placement of your bait or lure so they can see it and strike.
Look for fish at different depths of a lake. Water temperature can be the key to finding fish when the water is either very cold or hot. When cold, fish may come near the surface on a sunny day to soak up some rays and warm their blood. When the day is very hot, fish may submerge deeper to find cooler spots. Fish can collect in huge numbers where the water temperature is ideal. Find those spots and you find fish to catch!
Find cattails or other plants growing out of the water, or over the water, and you may find more fish. Fish can find shade from the hot sun in the shadows of these plants, bushes, and trees.
Just remember that thermoregulation, controlling their body temperature, is one of the most important factors for finding fish in freshwater and saltwater environments. They are cold-blooded and need to move toward areas of agreeable temperature to survive.
Rivers are bigger than streams, and streams sometimes feed rivers along the way and make them bigger.
Finding fish in rivers is similar to, and a little different than finding them in lakes, so let's look at how you can go about it.
Like lakes, you can fish in rivers by looking for underwater rocks, trees, logs, branches, debris, and places where the water gets deeper.
In rivers, it's important to fish different depths of water too because the water temperature is also very important here.
Look at the water and see where it's moving fast, and where it's moving slowly. Areas of fast movement followed by a slow area can be a good place to fish. Fishing near a windmill, hydro station, or any dam can also be a great place to fish.
I remember catching big fish in the Allegheny River just below the dams. Big musky, pike and walleye were lurking down there and eating confused fish who just came over the dam, or were swimming in the bubbly mess where they couldn't see so well.
You may see a sunken or partially-submerged boat in the river or lakes where you fish. This can be an ideal spot to find fish. You can also look for piers, walls, bridges, and other areas where structure enters the water. These are almost always good places to catch fish.
Look for signs of fish at the surface. Watch for fish jumping or breaking the surface of the water.
Consult local fish reports. There's no better source to find where exactly the fish are, and some anglers tell specifically what they are using to catch them.
Streams are like small rivers, so some of what was said above can apply. Finding fish in streams can be easier than in rivers or lakes because the water is shallow and easier to figure out.
Trout are lurking behind rocks. They use the rocks as a block of the current, and also as a hiding place to attack prey as it swims by. Floating lures and bait past rocks that break the current is a great method to find fish.
Just like rivers and lakes, when you find a submerged tree or some other structure, fish around it because it's just like coral in the sea. Smaller fish and animals use it for cover, as well as bigger fish who use it to ambush prey.
When To Go Fishing
When you go fishing can dictate whether or not you catch fish. It's another one of those criteria that is so important, that if you get it wrong, you may not catch fish at all. This is more important for the wrong times to go fishing, but we'll cover both the best and worst times to go fishing below.
Best Times To Go Fishing
The best time of day to fish in lakes, rivers, and streams in the USA can vary depending on things like the fish species, water temperature, and weather conditions. Most people agree that the best time to fish is early in the morning on warm days as the sun is rising and fish are hungry after a cooler night. Many fish are waiting for both insects and other smaller prey to become active.
The next best time to fish is thought to be the evening as the bugs are all over the surface of the water and fish realize this is their last opportunity to eat something. They launch into a feeding frenzy as the sun goes down.
During the summer months in North America, it's often recommended to fish early in the morning before the sun gets too high and the water temperature rises. In some places, the water can get very hot and fish will go deeper and sometimes not bite at all.
Bass are more active in the early morning and at sunset.
Trout tend to become more active as the insects come out, so more toward mid-day for them much of the time is better.
In the fall and winter months when it's cold, fish are more active during the warmer part of the day, when the water temperature is a bit higher. Cold fish will move into shallower regions that are quickly warmed by the sunshine. This can also increase feeding activity.
Worst Times To Go Fishing
It's easier to identify the worst times to go fishing.
Unproductive times for fishing can be influenced by weather, water temperature, and time of year.
When the weather is hot and dry and the water level has fallen off, it can be a really bad time to go fishing. What happens is the fish seek the deepest water and are reluctant to move at all because the water around them is too hot to move into to attack prey.
During cold winter months, fish can become less active and move into deeper water which may be warmer than surface water. Especially, when the sun is not shining and the sky is blanketed with thick clouds.
Another time you may not want to go fishing is during or after heavy rain. During heavy rainfall, dirt from surrounding areas gets into the water and makes it murky and impossible for fish to see clearly enough to feed. Turbidity is always a consideration you should pay attention to in any kind of water.
During the spawning season, fish may not be interested in feeding. Check local regulations to ensure you're not targeting spawning fish. You likely won't be able to catch them during that time.
Hot summer days! Fish in the cool of the morning for the best outcome. Fish don't like hot water or very cold water.
Use the resources available to you to find out whether it is a good idea to fish or not that day. Fishing reports, bait shop staff, friends, internet groups, and your notebook from the past can all help you decide whether it's worth it to fish that day. It's good to have as many things in your favor as possible because nothing is worse than catching nothing at all! OK, you could be at work or a family gathering. So, almost nothing.
Fishing Gear for the Beginner
You're going to need some fishing gear before you get out there to your favorite fishing hole to try to catch fish. Stick with the basics in this area until you know you love fishing and will do it fairly often. Or, often enough to justify spending the amount of money you choose to spend.
You'll need to spend somewhere around $50-70 in today's dollars to outfit yourself with a basic rod, reel, and other gear. The thing is, this is good enough to catch fish with and gear doesn't matter all that much in freshwater. So, let's see what you need!
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There are two easy fishing reels you might use for fishing in freshwater. Spincast reels, and spinning reels. They are quite similar, but their appearance is a bit different because, with spincast reels, they are hiding the internals from you so you don't make it harder than it has to be. Let's learn about both.
Spincast reels are super easy to operate, until you get a tangled mess under the cover (birdnest), and have to unscrew the top and detangle it.
They consist of one button you push and hold as you cast the line out. You let the button go about mid-swing of your cast to let the line out. When you start to reel in, the clutch engages and you can reel in the fish. There is a simple drag dial to apply a couple of pounds of drag.
Spincast reels are good to use for children and people who really don't want to think about what they're doing as they cast. They can be easy to use. They are typically not built to any high standard. You probably don't want to catch a fish over 3 lb. or so on one.
Don't buy an expensive spincast reel (over $30), it won't pay off. Buy a spinning reel instead if you reach the point where you want to pay more money and get a reel that you'll use for years.
The most used reels across the globe are spinning reels. These have removable spools and right or left-hand reeling you can change easily by yourself. They are great for freshwater fishing and different sizes allow you to handle either very small fish (around size 1000 reels), or very big ones (size 15000+ for huge saltwater fish).
Spinning reels in the $100 range by Shimano, Penn, and Daiwa (the 3 big ones), can last for many years if you take care of them.
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In my opinion, you are far better off buying a spinning reel to start learning freshwater fishing because the materials and construction will be superior to most spincast reels.
You cast spinning reels by holding the line with your fingers against the rod, flipping open the bail, and casting out. You let the line go after the midpoint of your swing. You either flip the bail back manually or wind the handle to flip the bail back automatically and prepare you to retrieve the line.
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A beginner's fishing rod needs to be able to hold your spincast or spinning reel. Let's say spinning reel because we really don't want you to buy a spincast rod!
A freshwater spinning rod for beginners is typically made out of fiberglass or can be a composite of fiberglass and graphite, Ugly Stik makes some good rods for beginners.. Both are super strong, flexible, and somewhat lightweight materials that can help you land any freshwater fish you catch (assuming the right power).
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Rods have a power rating. For lightweight fish like trout, crappie, small pike, and other fish a rod with a Light rating is going to be fine. Get one of these or a Light-Medium rated rod.
For heavier fish like bass, big trout, bigger walleye, pike, or musky, a Light-Medium rating may work fine. We'll stop there, but just so you know, there is a Medium-Heavy and Heavy rod rating for catching huge freshwater fish too.
There is an Action rating for rods as well, but for smaller freshwater fish, all the rods are basically Fast action.
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Fishing Rod and Reel Combos
When considering purchasing a fishing reel and rod as a beginner, you should buy a rod/reel combo that is made by the same company and made to go well together. The major manufacturers sell these combos to help you choose something that works well without knowing too much.
Buy a PENN, Daiwa, or Shimano combo for around $50-$70 to get started.
How To Put Line on the Fishing Reel
Buy some 8 lb. test monofilament line and wind that onto your fishing spool. The best way to do it is to put your line on a pencil someone holds with two hands in front of you so the new line comes off the line spool perpendicular to it.
Pull some line off and make a sliding knot or improved clinch knot.
Open the bail of your spinning reel. Tie the line around the spool tightly. Flip the bail down. Hold the line up near the first guide on your rod with your one hand and reel the handle with the other. Keep some tension as you wind the line onto your fishing reel spool.
Wind on as much line as you can without adding too much.
Watch a video on the process to make it much easier!
Basic Fishing Knots for Beginners
There are many knots you could learn, but since you're just starting out, learn just one knot. The Palomar knot is the only fishing knot I used throughout my youth and well into my teens.
For tying one, watch a video. It is a very easy knot to tie, and it is super strong as well. It is definitely strong enough for your freshwater fishing needs as a noob angler.
Basic Fishing Tackle for Beginners
We're not going to go crazy here as we could! Let's tell you about three crucial fishing tackle pieces you need to learn about and a way to keep them organized.
Hooks are meant to catch a fish in the mouth so you can reel it in and land it. There are all kinds of hook styles and sizes you can try out later on your fishing excursions, but let's stick with a simple inline #8 to #12 hook to catch trout.
Because your fishing reel already has an 8 lb. test monofilament (mono) line, you can tie the hook directly to the line using a Palomar knot.
Weights (sinkers, lead), are used to add weight to your fishing line to get your bait or lure down deeper in the water. It can also be a great help in casting because a spinning reel needs weight to pull the line off when casting.
Simple split-shot sinkers can be used in many cases. You squeeze the weight right onto the line about 1 to 2 ft. upline from the hook. When fishing for trout, use as little weight as you can in order to cast out where you want to reach. Trout are skittish and huge weights plopping in the water will put the fish on edge and not ready to feed for a while.
Bobbers are floating plastic or foam accessories you can add to your line to control the depth that your hook and bait can sink to. Bobbers are used primarily in lakes and rivers, but you could use them in a stream too.
Bobbers clip onto your line usually in two places. You can add a bobber anywhere from a few inches away from your hook to 2 ft. or more upline.
A bobber provides an easy-to-see indication of bites on your bait as it bobs in the water frantically, or submerges entirely as a fish is hooked and swimming with the bait.
Tackle boxes are plastic or metal tool boxes for your fishing gear like hooks, bobbers, weights, swivels, and other tackle you need to take with you while fishing. You could just buy a small one initially, or wait until you figure out if you want to fish often enough to justify buying one.
There's really no need to spend a lot of money at this point, so hold off until you see if you're going to get serious about fishing or not. We're guessing you're going to get serious!
Bait Is Best for Beginners
The best way to get started fishing for beginners is to use live or dead bait. Live bait is preferable because you can catch more species with it. With dead bait, you'll catch more catfish which you may or may not want to catch.
The best live baits for freshwater fishing in lakes, rivers, and streams, are worms and minnows or shiners.
Worms come in all sizes from small red worms up to big nightcrawlers. If you want to catch trout, some small red worms can be the perfect size of bait. If you want to catch bass, big nightcrawlers can be excellent bait. You can mostly bury the hook in the worm after piercing it a few times but leave part of the hook exposed so you can set the hook easier. The hook size for trout is much smaller (#8-#12) than for bass (#1-#2 or 1/0-2/0).
Minnows are small bait fish that encompass a broad range of small fish. They vary in size, shape, and color depending on the species. Minnows are streamlined and have a small forked tail. Some of the most common species of minnows used as bait include fathead minnows, golden shiners, and creek chubs.
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Shiners are minnows on the larger side that tend to be quite active as live bait and attract strikes from bass, walleye, trout, and many other freshwater sport fish. They have shiny scales and are silvery in color. They range from 2 to 6 in. which is perfect for catching small to medium-sized freshwater fish.
Minnows and shiners are typically hooked from under the chin and up through the top lip area so they can freely swim and continue to be active. Some hook it sideways through the nostrils. The key is to keep the bait alive and swimming.
Where To Get Bait
Bait is getting a little more expensive every year, like everything else. Because you're just starting out, buy your bait once or twice at a bait shop near you and later you can buy a shiner/minnow trap for bait fish. Or, go out with a flashlight and bucket of freshly shoveled dirt and look for worms in the grass and dirt. They come up at night, especially after rain.
How To Bait Your Hook
With worms, put the hook into the worm a couple of times and make it into an 's' shape. Leave part of the worm's length unhooked so it can move it around and attract fish.
With minnows and shiners place the hook through the nostril region or up through the bottom of the mouth and out the top. You need a firm place in the fish that will hold the hook until a strong bite.
Casting Your Bait Out
Fishing with worms and nightcrawlers, you can cast out pretty far with a spinning reel to different areas to see where the fish are biting. Add some weight about 18 inches up the line from the hook to help you cast further if needed.
With a minnow or shiner, there's a good chance you'll lose your bait as it is cast if you use too hard a motion. Give them a little toss and drop into the water and let them swim freely, or use them under a bobber so they go a couple of feet deep. Avoid hard casting with minnows and shiners.
How To Tell When You Get a Bite
After you cast your bait out, you're going to need to watch the tip of your rod or the bobber in the water to know if you are getting a bite or not. Bites can be very gentle and even impossible to notice in some cases. The first hint you may get is that your line is moving out slowly, even if your rod tip isn't moving.
When Using a Bobber
Bobbers can be very useful to show you bites on your bait when your bait is hanging suspended from your line and it isn't touching the bottom. However, if your bait is on the bottom, the bobber won't be quite as effective.
Watch for the bouncing up and down of the bobber with urgency and watch for it going under completely to indicate a fish has the bait in its mouth and is pulling on it.
When Not Using a Bobber
If fishing without a bobber and you're holding your fishing rod, it's a good idea to keep a finger or two under your line between the reel and first guide so you can feel any bites. If not, you can watch the rod tip, but that isn't as effective as holding the line in your fingers. Even a bobber is more responsive than watching the rod tip.
Setting the Hook
Once you have a solid bite, you can set the hook. Make sure your bail is closed and your drag is tight enough. Pull up on the rod tip to set the hook. For lightweight fish like trout and bass, your rod needs to be Light power and Fast action so you can set the hook without ripping the hook straight through the fish's mouth.
The heavier the power and action, the less movement you need to set the hook. This will take some experience. We've all ripped hooks out with an overly enthusiastic hook set attempt!
Reeling In a Fish
Your drag should be at a setting where the fish could pull a little line out if it pulled hard for its size. This is all subjective and you'll need to experience setting the drag at different levels and seeing what happens. Nobody can tell you exactly how to set it, and even experts are wrong sometimes.
The bail must be flipped back down when you reel in your fish. Try to keep the tension on it even and reel slowly. Keep the rod tip up so the fish can't get caught on something under the water and it can't duck into a hole. Trout don't fight much but bass give a nice little effort. If you hook into a pike, walleye, or musky, you'll understand what a good fight is for freshwater fish.
Handling a Fish
With any fish, I strongly recommend (plead) that you wet your hands first before picking it up out of the water. If you know you're going to let the fish go, don't bother picking it up out of the water, just release it there in the water. The less stress you subject the fish to, the better.
I've seen some of the worst fish handling ever just by watching some 'pros' and YouTubers catch fish they have no intention of keeping, lifting them with dry hands, and holding them without supporting their soft abdomen. All for a photo and a caveman roar. Come on man, respect the fish and get it back in the water. How many photos do you really have to take of the same kind of fish? One and done, and keep the fish alive, I say.
Releasing a Fish
If you leave the fish in the water, you're already ahead of 98% of anglers out there and it's obvious you are conservation-minded and care about our fisheries.
Fish can get exhausted during a good fight and need to recover with oxygen through the gills for a bit until they get their energy back. Fish that you land in a couple of minutes from the time they are hooked won't have this problem, but with extended fighting times, the fish can lose their energy and need revival.
After removing the hook GENTLY with fishing pliers or your hands if it's easy enough, sway the fish back and forth in the water and move water over its gills. When ready, the fish may flip its tail and swim quickly away, or if you think it has the energy you can let it go to see if it recovers and swims off. If not, grab it and move it back and forth some more.
Fishing is an amazing hobby that millions of people across the world enjoy. I was lucky enough to have many family members who enjoyed it and who gave me their time to teach me and take me to fishing spots all over Pennsylvania, Virginia, and New York to fish.
As I got older and moved to Florida, I was able to spend hundreds of hours a year in the kayak on Tampa Bay and the canals and mangrove areas around it. Fishing has become a large part of my life and I wouldn't have it any other way.
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Fishing is a peaceful and relaxing way to escape from the stress and concerns of everyday life. Watching the water and waves and hearing birds and the sounds of nature helps to connect us to the environment around us that we're unaware of during much of the day.
Fishing is a challenge that we have to try hard to figure out. It's a tease sometimes because the fish outsmart us. We don't always know what's going to happen, so there's the element of surprise on every fishing trip. Fishing requires skill, patience, and some strategy.
The satisfaction of catching fish and bringing them home for the family to eat can be very rewarding. It's the caveman in us. Hunting and gathering are what we're supposed to be doing, not playing video games and chatting with AI. Right?
Overall, fishing can be a very satisfying hobby and a major part of your life if you let it. Fishing has many benefits that I hope you experience soon! We'll answer questions in the comments, so don't be shy!
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