Freshwater Fishing Techniques

freshwater fishing techniques

reshwater Fishing Techniques

I grew up spending my summers on my grandfather’s hog farm in Southern Missouri. The best part about this was the fishing.  We would hit the hog ponds as the sun was coming up to go after largemouth bass.  Then we would hit the river in our boat and go after smallmouth bass and rainbow trout.  It was a great way to spend the summer.

As I got older and went out fishing without the help of my family, I realized I still had quite a bit to learn.  Fishing became frustrating.  There were lots of big fish that got off the hook, and lots of days coming home empty handed.  I started doing research and talking to my friends that seemed to be better at fishing.  Soon I made some simple changes to my technique that made all the difference.  In this article, we will cover the most basic techniques to use for success with freshwater fishing.

General Tips

Here is some advice that applies to every type of fishing:

Be selective about when you fish.  Low light scenarios such as dawn and dusk are ideal as the fish cannot clearly see you.  They are also generally out hunting.  Before storms are good times to fish as the barometric pressure is lower.  This makes the stomachs of the fish expand so they are hungry even if they just ate.  Just after a rain is a good time as there are lots of food sources being washed into the water. Try to avoid extreme heat, cold, or wind.

Fish where the fish are hiding.  Fish love rocks, logs, moss, and lily pads so they can hide and stalk other fish.  Also, in running water fish can stay stationary facing upstream if they are behind large rocks.

Fish scare easily.  Be sure you avoid bright clothing and loud noises.

When a fish strikes, give it a second.  When you jerk the rod at the first movement, you often pull the hook out of the fish’s mouth.  Just wait until you feel a firm tug or see the line moving to the side.  Then give it a firm pull upwards to set the hook.

Be careful about how you bring in your fish.  If you see a fish heading for debris that could tangle the line, try walking in the opposite direction to pull the fish away.  Keep your rod tip up and keep the line tight.  If the fish looks like it will jump out of the water, give it a little slack and it will not get as much movement to shake loose of the hook.

For lures and bait, the choice is largely personal.  The only lure I have found that will catch just about any kind of fish in any conditions is a dark colored plastic worm.  There are plenty of others that I use, but the worm is my standard.

There is a lot to learn when it comes to fishing, and this just scratches the surface.  However, every new strategy that you learn will make you that much more effective.  Just continue to read up on ways to be more effective and go fishing as often as possible.  Once these techniques are comfortable, you will notice a difference.


Since we are focusing on technique, I will just breeze over the gear you need. I prefer either a medium weight rod with a spincast reel or a lightweight rod with a spinning reel.  The exception would be when I am fly fishing which requires a fly rod and reel.  The heavier rod will bring in fish faster, and the spincast reel is easier to use.  For beginners, this is a good choice.  The lighter rod with the spinning reel will allow you to feel smaller movements in the line and allow you to finesse the fish in to the shore.  That being said, I have caught huge fish on pocket fishing setups and telescopic rods.  You can catch fish with just about any rod and reel. 

In addition, you will want a net to bring the fish out of the water.  Without it you will have more fish jump off of the hook.  You should have a stringer to keep the fish you plan to eat unless you have a live well in your boat.  You need a knife or nail clippers to cut fishing line.  I like to have needle nosed pliers to remove tough hooks.  Then you just need your lures, bait, weights, and floats.

Fly Fishing

I am going to briefly cover fly fishing so we can move on to more traditional techniques.  Fly fishing uses a long rod to whip your line back and forth drawing it out from the reel.  This back and forth motion is repeated until the angler can land the fly in the desired spot.  You can fly fish in any water, but it is most common on rivers.  Fly fishermen will place their fly upstream from the fish and float it across them to draw a strike.  Then the fish are reeled in like with any reel.  Fly fishing is an art and can be lots of fun.  If you are looking for a new fishing challenge, fly fishing might be a good fit for you.

Bobber Fishing

When I was about five years old, I started bobber fishing with my father and grandfather.  This technique is ideal for still water like ponds and lakes. The bobber floats in a desired location to put a weighted hook at a specific depth.  It also serves as a strike indicator, so you know when to set the hook. The great part is that often you don’t even need to set the hook.  If you leave a bobber line out long enough, you will have fish set the hook themselves. 

This technique requires live bait such as worms, crickets, minnows, or crayfish.  It can also work with bait like salmon eggs or Powerbait.  For casting purposes, I like to tie a weight about a foot above the hook and a bobber about two feet above that.  This leaves you three feet of line for casting.  I like to use treble hooks as they seem to hold the bait better.  The foot of slack on the end will let the baited hook float freely from the weight. If the bait is still alive, it will move enough to draw in fish.

Once your hook is baited, cast to your desired spot. This technique can work well in open water or near debris where fish might be hiding.  If you see the bobber bouncing a little, wait for a strong pull on the line.  The best part about bobber fishing is that you can cast and then set down your rod until the bobber moves. 

When you see the bobber moving to the side or you feel a strong pull, wait for just a second before you set the hook.  Then pull firmly upward and start reeling.  Do not jerk the rod. This will pull the hook out of the fish’s mouth.  If you don’t see your bobber move for 20-30 minutes, you might check to see if your bait was stolen.  You also might want to cast in a different spot. This can catch you bass, catfish, sunfish, and lots of others.

Retrieval Fishing

Probably the most popular technique for fishing is cast and retrieve.  You can do this off the shore of a lake, wading in a river, on a boat in the middle of a lake. With this type of fishing, you are typically casting just past where you think the fish might be.  Then you reel your lure or live bait through the target area as you bring it back to recast.  This creates movement which will instinctively draw in fish.

Because you are creating your own movement, you can use lures or live bait.  After you cast and the lure or bait hits the water, wait a few seconds before bringing it in.  Often fish will strike right after a disruption in the water’s surface. As you bring in your line, try giving it a little pull and then reeling a bit.  If you repeat this process over and over your lure will move more realistically.  This also holds true for topwaters that will make a popping sound when you jerk the line. Weedless hook sets are best for this type of fishing.

Bottom Fishing

Some of the fish I like to target the most such as catfish can be found at the bottom of ponds, lakes, and rivers.  While you can catch catfish at various different water depths, your odds are often best on the bottom.  For this type of fishing, you generally weight down a big hook with live bait like chicken livers or worms and some split shots.  Then cast to the depths and let it sink to the bottom.  From here you just need to keep the line tight enough that you can feel a strike.  If you feel action on the line but are not able to set the hook, you will need to reel in your hook to check your bait.

Written by Ryan Dotson.

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Interested in fly fishing this spring? Check out our recommendations for the best flies for springtime trout fishing. Also, check out our fishing webcams page to see what conditions look like in Michigan.

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