Fishing For Dummies book cover

Fishing For Dummies

By: Greg Schwipps and Peter Kaminsky Published: 10-06-2020

The complete fisherman’s friend  

The fully updated Fishing For Dummies, 3rd Edition, experienced angler and fishing writer Greg Schwipps shows that while none of us is born to angling, we can all achieve it—and become great at it. Whether you love fishing for fun or sport, this hands-on friendly guide has everything you need to make sure that there need never be such a thing as “the one that got away!”    

From trout to carp, catfish to bonefish, freshwater to saltwater, the easy-to-follow pictures and tips help you recognize and deal with what you’ll meet in the murky deep. You’ll also find out about the best times and the right spots to cast your line, as well as the right gear—which in these hi-tech days includes GPS, apps, and sonar!  

  • Gear up with the right rod and tackle 
  • Cast and bait effectively 
  • Gut and clean your catch  
  • Get hooked on new trends—kayak fishing!  

Whatever your line—a quiet afternoon at the local creek, or a punishing morning’s whitewater kayaking followed by fishing the lonesome wild—Fishing For Dummies has you covered. 

 

Articles From Fishing For Dummies

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9 results
10 Fun Ways to Get Kids Fishing

Article / Updated 05-04-2022

Fishing trips should be fun for all involved. Here are some tips to help you make every trip a winner for kids. Kids need to be introduced to fishing the right way. Ever notice that almost every adult has a memory of going fishing as a child? Ever notice how many adults have a single, lone, solitary childhood fishing memory? Why is that? Why do some kids only go fishing one time? There are three big reasons why kids fail to get hooked on fishing: No one has fun! If a trip fails to generate excitement, no one involved will want to repeat the experience. Often, this means no fish were caught. Or maybe the weather ruined the trip, creating unpleasant memories. Kids don’t have access to a place where fishing can occur. Fishing isn’t something to be limited to one place, one time per year. But if kids don’t have a fishy habitat close to their homes, it’s hard to get too interested in it. Some kids don’t get to fish often, even if they are intrigued, simply because there is no one around to take them. Of all the reasons preventing kids from getting hooked on fishing, this is the saddest. Like so many things involving kids, getting them interested in things is often easier said than done. Some of you are no doubt thinking, "The kids I know are more interested in their phones and video games than they are in doing anything outside." But let’s not despair. Boys and girls have been getting excited about fishing since the first cane pole was cut. This hobby will still work for the kids you know today. Although there are some risks — there’s no kid-friendly hook — fishing can be one of the best ways to get youngsters outdoors. What better way to interest kids in biology than to take them somewhere where they can get their feet wet? Fishing can be a kid’s gateway into the natural world and all it has to offer. (The natural world is closer to you than you think, regardless of where you live!) And it’s a great way to create funny and exciting memories. After all, in 20 years, no one wants to tell (or hear) the story about a childhood spent playing video games. Plan (and pack) for success, not failure Let’s face it: Some kid fishing trips are bummers because the adults set the trip up for failure. Watch the weather forecast first! If Saturday’s forecast includes a chance of thunderstorms, and Sunday looks clear, why not fish on Sunday? When kids are just starting to fish, a little patience in planning goes a long way. Make every effort to go when the weather is working for you, not against you. Pack the right clothing. Pack a change of clothes. (Then you can relax if they get the first set dirty and wet.) Throw some snacks and drinks in a cooler. Throw in more than you think they’ll need. No one has fun if they are hungry, cold, or thirsty. Plan on assisting the kids in their fishing efforts, and don’t plan on fishing yourself. You can better help kids if your hands are free. Help form them into anglers now, so you can fish alongside them later. Tap into bluegill mania Bluegills are the universal “first fish.” They are widespread, found in almost every pond in America, and they happen to be willing to bite almost every day. Chances are, there’s a bluegill swimming within a 30-minute drive of where you are right now. Bluegills also school and seem to be attracted to fishing activity. Find a dock or a sunny cove and cast bits of earthworm or wax worms on small hooks. Bluegills love taking baits suspended under floats, which gives kids something to watch, and these small fish tussle quite hard when hooked. Catching one bluegill seldom spooks the others in the area, either. Just watch the sharp dorsal spines after you land them. (With practice, you can hold these spines down with the heel of your hand.) Make bait fun Livebait fishing works for kids because it works for the fish. If fish are around, they’ll take a livebait they are used to eating. Make the act of gathering natural bait part of the adventure. Gathering worms, setting minnow traps, and catching grasshoppers or crayfish might be more enjoyable to kids than the act of fishing. Let it be. The trick is handling the life and death issues connected to livebait. Gage your child’s reaction and respond accordingly. You might need to release one bait (where legal) for every one you use. Usually, though, kids handle this part better than we think they will. If your child is not comfortable at all with using livebait, use store-bought baits instead. Many kinds of fish can be caught on corn, shrimp, or pieces of hot dog. Get gear that works Fishing poles with cartoon characters work great to get kids excited about fishing, but a super short rod makes it tough to set the hook. (If you don’t believe me, try fishing with one yourself.) You want kids to actually catch fish, not just see them bite. Experiment with circle hooks, which eliminate the need to set the hook (you just hold the rod steady until the fish hooks itself). And whether you use circle or J hooks, cast sharp, small hooks that penetrate quickly. And think about replacing that short cartoon rod with one about five feet long. It’s slightly harder to handle, but it makes it easier to hook and land fish. Burn up a spinner My kids quickly became good casters with their small spincast reels and five-foot rods. We practiced in the yard, and then went fishing with worms and bobbers. But the boys didn’t like waiting for the bobber to dip—they wanted to continue casting. They wanted to cast, and they wanted to reel … fast. The solution? I tied Worden’s Rooster Tails on their lines. Developed in the 1950s by Howard Worden, these classic in-line spinners can be cast and retrieved quickly, and the faster you reel, the more the small blade spins and flashes. Bass, crappie, and bluegill love these lures, and the fish usually hook themselves while attacking the spinner. Get a 1/16-or 1/8-ounce Rooster Tail and let your young fishing buddy start casting. (The Mepps Aglia is another fine choice.) Canoe or kayak into the local wilderness For kids old enough to be comfortable in a small boat, there’s no better way to spend a Saturday than to paddle a quiet stretch of the local stream. Even near major metropolitan areas, small rivers and streams tend to remain wild because building is often prohibited in the floodplain. You’ll be amazed at the wildlife you can spot, and you should catch some really nice fish, too. Boredom is seldom an issue because you’re always able to paddle on down the river. You can often rent canoes or kayaks from liveries near small rivers, so check online. Chum up carp Check your local laws, but most states allow you to chum for fish. This practice involves placing an attractant in an area to lure fish. For sharks, chum consists of blood and ground-up fish. For Common carp (not the invasive Asian carp, which are filter feeders), it involves a handful of canned sweet corn. Heat a can of corn in a saucepan over the stove, adding a bit of maple syrup and Kool-Aid (any flavor will do — but red flavors are my favorite). When you get to the lake or stream, toss a handful of corn out as far as you can. Then bait a hook with several kernels of corn and cast into the same area. Hold on! Carp come to the corn and then feed ravenously. Carp fight hard, so don’t let them pull the rod into the water! Carp can tolerate warmer water, even if it’s mildly polluted. While it’s sad that some waters are polluted, this does mean that carp are close to almost every angler in America. Try fish camping Fishing and camping go together like football and tailgating. Too often, fishing time is defined by the trip there and the departure. Setting up camp near a likely fishing spot removes the pressure. Like Nick Adams in Hemingway's “Big Two-Hearted River,” you can relax and enjoy the fishing. For kids, a campsite means a campfire, marshmallows, flashlights, tents, and snuggly sleeping bags. Camping while fishing makes the fishing part of the adventure — not the whole adventure itself. Crank up tourney time It’s quite possible that kids are too competitive these days. Still, catching fish naturally leads to some good-natured competition. Who caught the most fish? The biggest? I see nothing wrong with a little tournament action during an afternoon’s fishing session. After all, unlike sports such as soccer, fishing might favor the quiet, contemplative kids that care less about active sports. Fishing is a great equalizer in that way. Bass pros compete for million-dollar purses — I recommend prizes like a new tackle box or a fishing hat. Go night fishing Night fishing is more challenging, potentially risky, and more frustrating than daytime fishing. Seems like the exact opposite of what a kid needs. True, but night fishing is also absolutely enchanting. The world, quite literally, changes. Exposing experienced kids to night fishing is like opening the door to another world. You should not attempt to take a kid night fishing until you’re an expert yourself, but being outside at night is something a kid never forgets. This might be ideal for a young person who thinks he or she is too cool or jaded for daytime bluegill fishing.

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Fishing For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 02-23-2022

By Greg Schwipps with Peter Kaminsky To catch fish consistently, anglers need to know some things about the fish they pursue and the habitat where those fish reside. A prepared angler is often a successful angler, so you can use a chart to help you decide what to bring on your next fishing trip. For more preparation, you should know common catches and their usual haunts. And in case you ever catch a whopper, you can compare it to the world record holders according to the International Game Fish Association.

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3 Recipes for Frying Fish

Article / Updated 10-08-2020

If people hadn’t started eating fish a long time ago, I doubt that anyone would have had the bright idea of fishing for them just for the fun of it. Now, of course, you know that fighting a good fish thrills you, whether you keep the fish or throw it back. Still, cooking a fish over a fire next to the lake where you caught it will connect you to your ancestors in a way few things can. A well-prepared fish is one of the healthiest, tastiest meals you can eat. Crispy, crunchy, salty. The big trick with frying is hot oil. You want the oil to be between 320 and 360 degrees. Use a thermometer and get it right. If the oil isn’t hot enough, the coating will absorb a lot of grease, and you have yourself a potential stomach ache with some nice heartburn thrown in for good measure. If the oil gets too hot, you’ll notice excessive smoke. With hot oil, the crust is crisp, light, and non-greasy. If you don’t have a thermometer, drop a pinch of bread into the oil. With the oil temperature right, the bread should immediately sizzle and jump. I cook a lot with olive oil these days, which takes a fair amount of heat before it smokes. You can also use canola or peanut oil. Traditional Fried Fish: According to coauthor Peter, this is the best pan-fried fish recipe. He learned it from a Florida Keys captain many years ago. This captain also imparted that the best cure for seasickness was to wrap both arms around an oak tree. Reddened Blackfish: Blackening, unless it’s done right, is a perfect way to take good food and use it to fumigate your house with smoke. This alternative recipe results in a quick, clean, beautiful red-gold crust of powerful spices — without a smoky kitchen. You can use any fish for this recipe. Crispy Fish with Asian-Inspired Dipping Sauce: Many anglers relish in the flavor and texture of crispy, freshly fried fish. This recipe is quick and easy to prepare, and you can make the dipping sauce in advance for even more convenience. Any white-fleshed fish works well in this recipe, and the fresher the better. (This recipe is courtesy of Chef Lucia Watson’s In-Fisherman Presents Cooking Freshwater Fish.) If you’re new to the traditional fish fry and want to ease into it, look in your local grocery story for any of a variety of pre-packaged seasoning and breading products for fish. Traditional Fried Fish Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 20 minutes Yield: 4 servings Ingredients 1 cup flour 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon ground black pepper 1 cup buttermilk 1 cup cornmeal 8 fillets of white fish, trimmed to four inches in length 2 to 4 cups vegetable oil, depending on size of skillet Directions In a straight-sided cast-iron skillet, heat about an inch of oil to around 375 degrees F. If you use a 10-inch skillet, you can fry two or three fillets per batch. While the oil heats, combine flour with salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Put the buttermilk in another shallow dish, and the cornmeal in yet another. Dredge the first two or three fillets (depending on the size of the pan) in the flour mixture. Shake off excess flour, dip the fillets in buttermilk, and dredge in cornmeal. Carefully place the coated fillets in the heated oil and fry for about 2 minutes. Use tongs to turn the fish, and fry another 2 minutes. While the second side fries, set a cooling rack on top of paper towels. When done, the fish will float to the top of the hot oil. Remove the fillets to the cooling rack to drain. Repeat Steps 3 through 6 with the remaining fillets. Per serving: Calories 492 (From Fat 104); Fat 12g (Saturated 2g); Cholesterol 174mg; Sodium 591mg; Carbohydrate 27g (Dietary Fiber 2g); Protein 66g. Reddened Blackfish Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 10 minutes Yield: 4 servings Ingredients 1 teaspoon onion powder 3⁄4 teaspoon oregano 3⁄4 teaspoon thyme 1 teaspoon black pepper 1 teaspoon white pepper 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper 2 teaspoons salt 4 teaspoons paprika 1 teaspoon granulated garlic powder 2 tablespoons corn, peanut, or olive oil 4 fillets of white-fleshed fish (redfish, blackfish, weakfish, snapper, dolphin, and so on) Lemon wedges Directions Rinse the fillets in cool water, pat dry, and set aside. Combine the first nine ingredients (the seasonings) in a bowl and mix well. In a pan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. While the oil is heating, dredge two fillets in seasoning. Fry the fillets for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Repeat Steps 3 through 5 with the remaining fillets. Remove the fillets from the heat, and serve with fresh lemon wedges. Per serving: Calories 290 (From Fat 91); Fat 10g (Saturated 1g); Cholesterol 80mg; Sodium 1,261mg; Carbohydrate 2g (Dietary Fiber 1g); Protein 45g. Crispy Fish with Asian-Inspired Dipping Sauce Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 8 minutes Yield: 2 servings Ingredients 4 to 6 cups corn, peanut, or olive oil About 12 ounces of your fish of choice, small fillets cut into finger-sized strips 1 cup cornmeal 1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour Pinch of salt Pinch of pepper Pinch of cayenne pepper 1 egg 1 tablespoon of water Asian Dipping Sauce (see the following recipe) Directions Before starting the fish, prepare the following Dipping Sauce so it’s cooled and flavorful when the fish is done. On the stovetop, heat 2 inches of oil in a deep, heavy pot to 375 degrees. While the oil is heating, combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, and cayenne in a small dish. In small bowl, lightly beat an egg with a tablespoon of water. Dip the fish in the egg and water mixture; then dredge the fish in the cornmeal mixture. In batches, carefully transfer the fillets to the hot oil and fry until just done and crispy, about 2 to 3 minutes until golden brown. The fish will float to the top of the oil when done. Use a slotted spoon to remove to a plate lined with paper towels to drain before serving with dipping sauce. Asian-Inspired Dipping Sauce Prep time: 7 minutes Cook time: 5 minutes Cool: 15 minutes Yield: 2 servings 6 tablespoons rice wine vinegar 3 tablespoons sugar 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce 1 jalapeño pepper, seeds removed and finely minced 2 tablespoons lime zest (grated lime peel) Juice of 1⁄2 lime 1 small knob ginger, peeled and finely grated 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped In a small saucepan, boil the vinegar and sugar together over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. When cooled, transfer vinegar mixture to a small bowl. Stir together with the other ingredients. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Per serving: Calories 475 (From Fat 148); Fat 17g (Saturated 2g); Cholesterol 80mg; Sodium 498mg; Carbohydrate 49g (Dietary Fiber 4g); Protein 32g. An oil thermometer helps keep your eye on the oil in the pan so it stays in the range you want. Don’t let the oil temp dip below 355 degrees F or above 375 degrees F. Keeping it in the range of 360 to 370 degrees F while cooking is ideal for frying fish. Serve with steamed white rice or Japanese soba (buckwheat) noodles, and toss with soy sauce and fresh cilantro if you like.

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10 Fishing Lessons You Don’t Have to Learn the Hard Way

Article / Updated 10-08-2020

All things in fishing — from casting to netting a big fish — get easier the more you do them. Although true, this advice assumes you’re learning on your own. Fish with an experienced angler, though, and you can learn a lot about what to do, and even what not to do. This shortens the learning curve. Here are ten things I learned the hard way. Avoid making bad vibes The fish’s lateral line enables it to sense vibrations. When a fish picks up vibrations, it pays attention: Is a predator nearby? A scared fish flees; it doesn’t bite. Whether you’re wading or walking the bank, walk quietly. Rubber boots are good for this. In a boat, avoid dropping anything against the hull — that’s like hitting a bass drum underwater. Put rubber mats over the floor of your boat to dampen vibrations. People often warn against talking while fishing, but your feet are what really get you into trouble. Know gimmick lures when you see them Giving someone a lure shaped like a can of beer might be a funny gag gift, but most lures that require a battery to power their flashing red eyes or special fish call are a waste of money. Stick with proven lures and learn to fish them well. Cast no shadow Like vibrations, shadows falling on the water’s surface often trigger a fleeing instinct in fish. On bright sunny days, and even moonlit nights, avoid letting your shadow hit the water. Stay low and keep the sun in front of you and the element of surprise is yours. Choose clothing that blends in That Motley Crue concert t-shirt may be your lucky shirt, but if it’s too garish, it might not be your luckiest fishing shirt. Wear comfortable clothes while fishing, and try to blend into the background. When wading, dark earth tones will blend into the bank better than day-glo orange. While boating, dark clothes stand out against the sky more than light colors. So, think like a hunter while fishing — try to disappear against whatever background the fish sees. Reuse home items I and coauthor Peter are admitted gear hounds. We love acquiring new stuff to make our fishing lives easier. But we’ve learned that a lot of the best items for fishing weren’t made for fishing. Kitchen containers and pill bottles make great waterproof units for medicine, sunglasses, cellphones, you name it. Leather carpenter bags make great sinker carriers. Golf towels work for fish slime. Those funny foam pool noodles can be made into large live bait bobbers. A piece of foam pipe insulation makes a great tool for holding pre-rigged leaders. (Just pop the loop or swivel in the split, wrap the line around the insulation, and sink the hook into the soft foam.) We look for fishing gear wherever we go. Pick a bait cooler If you fish with bait, you need a way to carry it and keep it cool. Coolers come in every shape and size. Buy one that fits the kind of bait you use and label it as your bait cooler. Use it for bait and only bait. Trust me, it makes life easier. After a day’s fishing, rinse out your bait cooler and set it — with the lid open — in the sun to remove most of the odors. Seek out advice There’s a lot to cover — the fishing world is vast — and your particular kind of fishing will lead you to more questions not answered here. Don’t be the stubborn guy who refuses to stop and ask for directions. Most anglers will gladly help a fellow angler. If you see others fishing with success on your home waters, respectfully ask them for advice. Just don’t interrupt their fishing! When at home, use the internet to connect with other anglers. Keep a fishing journal I am in the business of assigning homework, so I know it’s no fun. But this isn’t homework, even though it involves taking notes. Record data about every fishing trip you take: the weather, water conditions, fish caught, and lures used. Over time, this fishing journal becomes an invaluable source of information. If you had great luck fishing Bischoff Reservoir in March 2020 jigging soft plastic crawfish, odds are good that March 2021 could offer the same results. Be open to multispecies angling Don’t be a fish snob. We all have our favorites, but there are so many kinds of fish out there! Branch out and fish for everything. That way, regardless of the season, you’ll have something to pursue. And you’ll find that the more you understand about different species of fish, the more you understand all fish. Take someone along for the trip I like to fish alone a lot of the time. It gives me time to think, ponder, blah blah blah. I’m also a terrible singer, but the kingfishers on the riverbank never complain. Preserve your private time because it’s one of the greatest gifts of angling. Still, bring a non-angler along once in a while. Kids, sure. But what about your neighbor? Introducing more people to the sport you love benefits us all in the long run. The more anglers there are, the more of us there are who are concerned about the resources and habitat fishing requires. When it comes to tasks like spotting polluters or poachers, the more watchdogs on the water, the better. Plus, why keep such a great thing to yourself?

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Freshwater Fishing: Trout

Article / Updated 10-08-2020

Known widely as the quarry of fly fishermen everywhere, trout are usually found in moving, cool water or colder lakes. Popular as both sportfish and table fare, members of this family are held in high esteem by anglers. Similar to the temperate bass family, the trout family has some odd twists in its family tree, as species can cross-breed and might be anadromous — that is, live part of their lives in both salt- and freshwater. The salmonid family is divided into five groups: trouts, including the Atlantic salmon; Pacific salmon; char; grayling; and whitefish. Fish from the first three groups are represented here, as they’re the most pursued by anglers. Don’t worry — you don’t need to understand that to catch a trout. Many states, including those far from the original range of certain species of trout, often raise trout in hatcheries and release them in select locations. There may be an additional license or charge to fish for these trout, but they provide anglers a shot at wonderful-tasting fish. Check with your local DNR to see if trout are either native or stocked within your area. Rainbow trout: High jumpers The colorful rainbow trout is one of the most sought-after gamefish in the world. Rainbows coexist nicely with brown trout in many streams (see the following section for details on the brown trout). Whereas the brown prefers slower water and calmer pools, you can depend on finding the rainbow in the more oxygen-rich and swift-running riffles. This scenario is what you would expect from a fish that predominates in the mountain streams of the Rocky Mountains. As seen in the color section, the rainbow may have spots over the whole body (although in many rivers and lakes, the larger rainbows are more often an overall silver). A much more reliable sign of “rainbowness” is the pink band or line that runs along the flank of the fish from shoulder to tail. But even this indicator is not always 100 percent foolproof because some stream-borne rainbows have a faded, almost invisible band and many spots, as do the brown and brook trout. Brown trout: The champ of the stream The brown trout is a fish designed for the angler. It often feeds on the surface. It rises to a properly presented fly. It fights like the dickens. The brown trout is a cold-water fish that lives in lakes and streams and is most active when the water temperature is in the 60s. A temperature much higher than 80 degrees is liable to kill brown trout. As shown, the brown trout is covered with spots everywhere but its tail. The majority of the spots are deep brown, like coffee beans, with a light yellow halo. Sprinkled around its skin, you also find a few red and yellow spots. Brown trout are long-lived animals and can reach weights up to 40 pounds, but most stream-bred fish average less than a pound each. They say that a few wise browns in every stream usually reach weights of 10 pounds or more. Brook trout: Sentimental favorites The brook trout, or brookie, fills the trout niche in the cooler streams of the northeastern United States, east of the Allegheny Mountains. (They have been introduced elsewhere.) The brook trout is actually a char, which makes it a relative of the lake trout, the Dolly Varden, and the Arctic char. This fish is a sign of pure water and a healthy ecology. Brook trout like cooler water and cannot stand the higher temperatures that the brown and the rainbow can tolerate. Before Europeans cleared the great hardwood forests of the northeastern United States, most streams had the shade and pure water that brook trout need. The brook trout has many red spots that are surrounded by a blue halo. The fins have a telltale black and white tip. The belly and fins have an orange cast that can be quite brilliant and almost crimson in spawning season. The tail of the brook trout is more squared off than that of the brown and rainbow, hence the nickname squaretail. The cutthroat: Yellowstone beauty You may think of the cutthroat — which is really a cousin to the rainbow — as the Rocky Mountain version of the brook trout because in many undisturbed waters, just like the brookie, the cutthroat is the native fish. After ranching, logging, and the introduction of other gamefish takes place, the cutthroat often retreats to unpressured headwaters. The cutthroat is the native trout in the drainage of the Yellowstone River, where it is protected by a complete no-kill policy in all of the flowing water in Yellowstone Park. To fish them at the outlet of Yellowstone Lake is one of the great angling experiences in North America. Lake trout: Big macks The lake trout (or laker) is the largest char. Unlike all the other trout, the laker spawns in lakes, not streams. As shown, the laker, similar to the brook trout, is heavily spotted. It has a forked tail (in contrast to the square tail of the brook trout). The lake trout requires colder water than any other freshwater gamefish, optimally about 50 degrees F, and it will die at 65 degrees F. Right after ice-out in the spring and right before spawning in the autumn, you may be able to take lakers in shallow water. But during the rest of the season, you have to fish deeper, often trolling using downriggers. Pacific salmon: Not just in the Pacific anymore Pacific salmon come upstream to spawn just as Atlantic salmon do. The Pacific salmon’s flesh is pink, just like the flesh of an Atlantic. They even taste the same. But the six species of Pacific salmon are completely different animals than the Atlantic salmon, which is the only true salmon. (The Pacifics are the much larger, mostly ocean-going cousins of the rainbow trout.) The home range of Pacific salmon runs from Northern California up to Alaska and over to Siberia. Some years ago, Pacific salmon were introduced into the Great Lakes to help control the spread of the alewife herring. The alewives were so plentiful and the salmon fed so well on them that the Great Lakes now hold the greatest fishery for both the coho and chinook sportfisherman. In the Great Lakes, Pacific salmon are a favorite among trollers. This method of taking fish, of course, requires a hefty boat and expensive gear. Shallow-water and stream anglers have the most luck when the fish gather at stream mouths and within the streams themselves during their spawning migrations. Fishing when the salmon are still bright, or fresh from the ocean or lake, can be great sport with these brawny, athletic fish. As with many saltwater fish or as with fish that spend a good amount of time in saltwater, the chinook and coho like flashy, bright-colored lures that imitate the smelt and alewives they feed on. The figure shows the coho and chinook salmon. The usually smaller coho has black spots only on the upper part of its tail, although the chinook’s tail is spotted on both top and bottom. The chinook’s dorsal fin is spotted; the coho’s isn’t. The gum in the lower jaw of the coho is grayish, but the same gum in the chinook is black. Atlantic salmon: The leaper The Atlantic salmon, through no fault of its own, is regarded by many as the aristocrat of fishes. Perhaps it has this reputation because you usually have to be an aristocrat to be able to afford a few days on one of the choice salmon rivers. You are generally required to fish for Atlantic salmon with a fly rod; and on many rivers, one also has to hire a guide. Known for its acrobatic jumps, the Atlantic salmon is a cousin to the brown trout but spends most of its time at sea (although a salmon’s infancy is passed in a river, and it is to that river that it returns to spawn). The Atlantic salmon (shown) does not die after spawning once, so you may return a salmon to the stream after catching it and be confident that it may well return to spawn and fight again. Like the Pacific salmon, Atlantic salmon exist in inland bodies of water, too. Known as landlocked salmon, these fish are just like their more-traveled siblings but are a bit smaller. Although many landlocked salmon spend their lives in rivers, some stay in lakes year-round, usually staying in the deepest, coolest water. Wherever they’re found, anglers love to pursue Atlantic salmon for a chance to see their great leaps.

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Freshwater Fishing: Catfish

Article / Updated 10-08-2020

Many species of fish look like other fish at first glance, but a catfish looks only like a catfish. Covered in skin, not scales, catfish are smooth, muscled bruisers. Members of the catfish family have barbels around their mouths — whiskers they use to taste their environment. In fact, they taste with some of the skin covering their bodies and, for that reason, they’ve been called “swimming tongues.” They have grown in popularity as sportfish due to their large size, good taste, and tackle-busting fight. In this article, you discover the four most popular species of catfish. When you handle a catfish, especially a small one, be wary of its pectoral and dorsal fins. The projecting spines are very sharp, especially on younger specimens. Though not fatal, a wound from these spines can be nasty and painful. If you are pricked while handling a catfish, treat the wound immediately with a disinfectant because swift action often nullifies the bacteria. Blue catfish: King of the big water Blue catfish (see the following figure) are the kings of big rivers. Although they also appear in some large reservoirs, blue cats thrive in the rolling, rollicking waters of wide rivers such as the Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri, and also in tidal rivers such as the James. They feed primarily on fish like skipjack herring and gizzard shad. A ferocious fighter when hooked, blues attain sizes in the triple digits. Because blues are big fish found in big waters, anglers often fish from boats using heavy rods and reels to cast or drift big chunks of cutbait (cut fish). Despite the myth that catfish feed only at night, blues are active day and night and can be caught during the winter months, as well. They can be found near the bottom, but they also suspend throughout the water column. Flathead catfish: Denizens of the deep lair Similar to the blue catfish, flathead cats can weigh more than 100 pounds, and they also thrive in America’s big rivers, reservoirs, and lakes. However, flatheads tolerate muddier, slower water better than blues, and can be found in some surprising small streams. Flathead catfish feed on crustaceans and small minnows while young, but adults subsist on a diet of primarily fish (some of them quite large!). Although anglers occasionally catch flatheads on nightcrawlers or cutbait, most foraging flatheads prefer a struggling, live-hooked baitfish. Flatheads are most likely to be caught at night, when they leave the logjams and rock piles they take shelter around during the day. Flatheads live in nasty environs and have an attitude to match. Anglers targeting them use heavy tackle (think 80-pound braided line) and expect to horse them out of gnarly cover. Channel catfish: Prince of the pond Channel catfish taste great, which is why they’re raised on fish farms throughout the South. When you order “farm-raised catfish,” you’re getting channel catfish on your plate. But channel cats make great quarry for all anglers. They hit hard and fight long, and will outpull almost all fish of similar size. An extremely adaptive fish, channel cats can be found in everything from the largest rivers to the smallest ponds. They feed on everything from fish to insects, and grow quickly as a result. They can be caught on prepared stinkbaits, grocery store baits such as cheese and hot dogs, and natural baits like nightcrawlers and minnows. (Sometimes, anglers catch them on lures meant for bass or walleye.) They will hit night or day, and when in rivers or streams, can be found feeding in surprisingly swift current. Channel catfish are not as big as their blue and flathead cousins, but a channel of more than 20 pounds is possible, and it will fight like nothing else. Bullhead catfish: Tough as they come Rounding out the catfish lineup are the bullheads — small catfish commonly found in small ponds, streams, and lakes. Although there are different species of bullheads — including brown, black, and yellow bullheads — all bullheads feed on crustaceans, fish, and insects, and so are easily caught by anglers fishing with bait such as worms. Highly tolerant of low oxygen levels and pollution, bullheads live in waters that would fail to support other fish life. In the event of a nuclear holocaust, providing you survive, go fishing for bullheads. They should still be there.

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Freshwater Fishing: Sunfish

Article / Updated 10-08-2020

Odds are, more people's “first fish” are caught from the sunfish family than from any other group of freshwater fish. Consisting of 30 species, the sunfish family includes the widespread and feisty bluegill, the sporty crappie, and the highly prized largemouth and smallmouth bass. These are the most popular species from this family, and they appear throughout North America. They likely wait near your house to offer you great sport and table fare. Bluegills: America’s spunky little sweetheart Sometimes known as bream in southern locales, bluegills range in color from dark green to yellow to almost white. (The habitat they reside in can influence their color — in clear water, such as that found in a quarry; they tend to be lighter, for example.) These hand-sized fish love ponds and lakes, and appear in running water, as well. They eat a variety of insects and crustaceans, and bite willingly on a variety of baits. Bluegills rarely exceed 15 inches in length, and they are often much smaller. They seek quiet, weedy water where they can feed and hide. They like shade during the hottest parts of the day and usually remain near some kind of cover (like docks) because they are common prey for fish such as largemouth bass. Bluegills adapt well to a variety of habitats, and are often stocked in retention ponds and community lakes. Bluegills fit easily in the hand, but take care with the dorsal fin, which consists of spines that can deliver a painful stab. Bluegills fight fiercely with every ounce when hooked, similar to a lightweight boxer bouncing around the ring. You can see a bluegill in the color section. Crappies: A little bigger, and a bit sportier Crappies fight well on light tackle and can taste great. They tend to school, so catching one is a good sign of things to come. Crappies might grow to nearly 20 inches and 5 pounds, but that would truly be a monster specimen. There are white crappies and black crappies, and although both are common, the white crappie is more widespread. Both species are popular with anglers all over North America because they bite eagerly on all kinds of bait and small lures. Minnows work well for crappies because adults usually feed on small fish, although they won’t pass up insects and crustaceans. Crappies do well in a variety of waters and prefer the silted, slow-moving water found in ponds and reservoirs throughout the country. If you catch a crappie, you can quickly tell which kind you have by looking at its dorsal fin. Check out the figure and consider the following: Black crappies have seven or eight dorsal spines. They prefer cooler, clearer water. As the name suggests, they’re a little darker, and the speckles on their sides are spread throughout, not in noticeable bars. White crappies have a maximum of six dorsal spines. White crappies also are more barred on their sides. Largemouth bass: The most important gamefish in America Largemouth bass appear all over the country, and are pursued with feverish intensity. Bass tournaments are high-dollar affairs, with professional anglers chasing down fish from gleaming boats bristling with arsenals of gear. Many lakes, rivers, streams, and brackish coastal waters have populations of largemouth, and anglers don’t need fancy equipment to get in on the excitement of catching this hard-fighting sportfish. Largemouth bass take lures, plugs, flies, plastic worms, real worms, crayfish, and crickets. In short, they are opportunistic feeders that often strike aggressively. As shown in the color section, the jaw of the largemouth extends farther back than the eye (which is not true of the smallmouth). The largemouth is usually dark green in color with a dark band along the lateral line. The dorsal fin is divided into two distinct portions: hard spines in front and softer ones in the rear. The largemouth is sometimes known as the bucketmouth because of its large mouth, which appears even bigger when it attacks your lure, fly, or bait. Bass grow larger in warmer climates like those found in Florida or California, where 20-pound largemouths appear; in the Midwest, an 8-pound bass is a rare trophy. Smallmouth: The gamest fish In what’s perhaps the most-quoted phrase in angling literature, retired Civil War surgeon James Alexander Henshall called black bass (meaning largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass), “Inch for inch and pound for pound, the gamest fish that swims.” Many people now mistakenly believe he was referring to only the smallmouth bass, because the description is so apt. Similar to its largemouth cousin, the smallmouth is a native of the Mississippi drainage, which makes it a true heartland fish. Where the largemouth likes slow or still water with lots of food-holding weeds, the smallmouth prefers clean, rocky bottoms and swifter water. Lake-dwelling smallmouth might school up, but in rivers and streams, they are more solitary. Similar to the largemouth, the smallmouth is an opportunistic feeder; both crayfish and hellgrammites score well (as do lures that imitate them). Unlike its largemouth cousin, the smallmouth is usually bronze and has a series of dark vertical bands along its flanks, shown in the following figure. The dorsal fin of the smallmouth is marked with a shallow notch between the spiny part and the softer part, while the largemouth’s dorsal fin reveals a deeper notch (one that almost separates the two parts). Another difference is that the smallmouth’s upper jaw does not extend backward beyond the eye. Smallmouth bass, on average, are smaller than largemouth bass, but under ideal conditions can grow upward of 12 pounds. How to pick up a bass: If you try to pick up a bass by grabbing its body, you’ll find it’s about as easy as trying to diaper an angry baby. Even worse than babies, bass have spiny fins that can deliver nasty pricks. With a bass (and with many other soft-mouthed fish), however, you can nearly immobilize it if you grab it by the lower lip, depressing its lip between thumb and forefinger as shown in the adjacent figure. Be very careful to avoid the hook that caught the fish, especially the multiple treble hooks of some lures. Larger fish (of every species) should be held horizontally and supported under the belly. This prevents damaging the fish’s organs.

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Saltwater Fishing Sites

Article / Updated 10-08-2020

Saltwater fishing can be intimidating due to the vastness of the ocean. Chances are, though, you’re going to do most of your saltwater fishing within three miles of shore, in water less than 100 feet deep. To fish the deep blue of the sea, you need a serious boat, gear, and experience. You may not have those things yet, but you can always hire a guide to get a taste of fishing the biggest water. A guide will have the proper gear and knowledge, which takes the pressure off you. You can relax and enjoy the trip. But fear not — even if you fish on your own, closer to shore, plenty of adventure awaits the coastal angler. Approach saltwater fishing as you would freshwater — seek access and fish. Pay attention to your surroundings, and watch for clues about what’s happening beneath the surface. Saltwater species often come closer to shore to pursue prey because the shoreline offers the habitat that creatures like crabs, shrimp, and baitfish need. In a feeding frenzy, larger gamefish chase huge schools of bait to the shore and, once the bait is corralled, the gamefish feed voraciously and fearlessly. You can catch feeding fish if you understand the saltwater fishing basics of tides, structure, and cover. Tidal inlets, marshes, streams, and bays To fish saltwater, you need to understand tides; they affect all oceans, but the tidal range varies from place to place. Sometimes the tidal range, which is the difference between high tide and low tide, can be less than a foot. But with irregular coastlines with inlets, bays and streams, the tidal range can be as high as 40 feet! Tides affect fishing just as current does in any stream: The fish understand that tides move baitfish and other prey, and they respond accordingly. Tides are basically predictable, and you can find charts informing you of the high, or rising, tide, as well as the low, or falling, tide. But even predictable ones can be very affected by storms and other natural events thousands of miles away. When the tide is neither rising or falling, it’s known as a slack tide. As in a river, where too little current often makes for difficult fishing, a slack tide tends to slow or stop the bite. Who’s home? Gamefish can’t survive without food; tidal inlets, marshes, streams, and bays offer a smorgasbord of baitfish, crabs, shrimp, eels, and the like. In warm climates, places like mangrove coves and flats provide plenty of food, so many species of gamefish will come close to shore in pursuit of it. Tarpon smash through baitfish near the pilings of a causeway. Snook chase bait in the shadows under docks. Stripers pick off bait near a jetty. Bonefish often cruise the flats. Sharks dash through the crashing surf. In late spring and early summer, stripers on the East Coast do the same, and redfish along the Gulf Coast fit this pattern. Saltwater fishing offers anglers a lifetime’s worth of opportunity and adventure. How to fish the water In places like marshes or brackish streams, a high tide offers gamefish a chance to chase baitfish and other prey in prime habitat. But a low tide will force fish back into deeper water, so time your trips to coincide with moving tides. Falling tides are often as good or better than rising ones. Gamefish will often be following the tide, chasing the displaced bait. Fish inside harbor, bay, and creek mouths during high tides, as fish will be moving into shallow water, and outside bay mouths (downtide) as the tide recedes. All tides can consolidate and move fish. Look for ambush points like rock outcroppings that gamefish use (just as freshwater fish do) to catch prey being carried by the tide. Look for variances in structure — reefs, sandbars, and drop-offs — and watch for signs of fleeing baitfish. Birds won’t help you so much in most freshwater fishing situations, but in saltwater, they’re a valuable aid. Watch birds such as terns and particularly seagulls — they’ll respond to schools of baitfish, and if the birds are following the bait, you can be sure the gamefish are, as well. Sightfishing is often better in saltwater, too, as you can often spot fish like bonefish, tarpon, stripers, bluefin, bluefish, seatrout (specks), and redfish when they come into shallow water to feed. Polarized sunglasses will help you see the fish. Surf fishing Waves shake things up and attract everything along the food chain. Stirred up sand displaces everything from zooplankton to crabs, which attract small fish, which of course attract big fish. Surf fishing allows you to fish from the beach or shore, capitalizing on the feeding frenzy sometimes triggered by bait trapped by breaking waves. Who’s home? Striped bass are popular quarry, but anglers catch everything from bluefish to snook to red drum to even bluefin tuna while surfcasting. Small sharks are often spotted cavorting in the waves, much to the dismay of beach-goers! Understanding the seasonal movements of particular species of fish will help you understand when and where to cast from the surf. Some species make what is called a run, or migration, up and down the coastline, sometimes traveling hundreds of miles. Ask the locals or in bait shops for information about the local runs of various species. DNR Web sites should help with this, as well. How to fish the water Although some coastal fishing can be done with quality freshwater tackle, surfcasting requires a longer rod. A long spinning or baitcasting rod, say about 10 to 12 feet, allows you to cast heavy weights out beyond the breakers. You can use livebait or lures, depending on the species being targeted. Watch the water to see the subtle differences in a long stretch of breaking waves. Running roughly parallel to the beach, you’ll often encounter an outer bar, essentially a sandbar that’s more shallow than the bottom on either side of it. Fishing around cuts and dips in the outer bar can be effective, and fish may hold in the drop-offs in front of or behind it. As with all fishing, the more you observe, the more you learn. Experience trumps anything I can say about surf fishing here. Many anglers wade and fish at night while surf fishing, but know your limits so that you can safely take after more experienced anglers. If you use your freshwater tackle to fish in saltwater, be sure to rinse it thoroughly after you’re done. If you don’t, the saltwater will corrode the inner workings of your reel. And clean it more thoroughly after you get home, oiling and greasing the gears according to the owner’s manual. A local tackle shop or bait shop can do this work for you. If you plan to fish saltwater regularly, buy gear rated for saltwater use, which will feature higher-quality bearings and better seals. Rinse saltwater off all equipment, regardless of the grade. Fishing piers While pier fishing lacks the beauty and serenity of stalking bonefish on the flats, it makes up for any shortcomings with convenience. Piers provide a high, stable vantage point for shore-bound anglers (including those who are physically disabled), and offer a safe, inexpensive opportunity to pull fish from the ocean. Most anglers bottom-fish, but it’s possible to cast and retrieve from piers, and some enterprising anglers have developed special techniques to present baits far from the pilings. Who’s home? Although it’s hard to imagine a cleaner, easier way to fish, pier fishing isn’t just for lazy anglers catching baby fish. Major fish are caught from piers every year, including big striped bass in New Jersey, sharks in South Carolina, and salmon in the Pacific Northwest. Depending on the season and location of the pier, it’s possible to catch a major tarpon or a mess of great-tasting weakfish. How to fish it Many fish move in and out of the protection offered by the pilings of the pier itself, meaning that good fishing is literally underfoot. You may want to use bottom rigs to present livebait straight down (see the following figure), although you can also cast away from the pier, or let the tide or current carry your offering out. In the Northeast U.S., blackfish (a.k.a. tautog) love pier pilings. One way to present a live bait far from the pier is to use a three-way rig or try this trick: Cast only a sinker far from the pier and then attach a short leader loaded with a hook and live baitfish to the main line with a snap swivel. The baited leader then slides down the line and into the water. After hooking a big fish, either walk down the pier to the beach, or use the landing net on a rope that many piers leave available. Other anglers will likely assist you with the landing.

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The Anatomy of a Fishing Hook

Article / Updated 10-08-2020

The invention of the fish hook changed history. More effective than spears or bare hands, fish hooks allowed humans to fish deeper water and opened the door for so many things, including, many centuries later, thick catalogs of fishing gear. The first hook-type devices, called gorges, were used during the Stone Age. Gorges were small pieces of wood or bone sharpened on both ends, with a line tied to the center. When embedded in bait, the entire gorge could be swallowed by a fish, and when the line jerked tight, the gorge would lodge across the throat of the fish. Later, the traditional fish hook was carved from bone. The invention of metal made for better fish hooks, and after centuries of progress, today’s hooks are sometimes chemically sharpened and surgical in their effectiveness. But the basic shape of the hook remains the same. Both J hooks and circle hooks are shown in the following figure. Circle hooks have been used for decades in saltwater fishing but are now being used in more freshwater fishing. Circle hooks look like joke hooks — you might swear one could never hook a fish. But they work, and because they rotate around a fish’s jaw, caught fish are often hooked in the corner of the mouth, making them easy to release. Most of the following information about J hooks applies to circle hooks, but the two kinds of hooks require very different hooksets. Following are the most important parts of a typical hook: The point is where tackle meets fish. As in many situations in life, the first impression is an important one. If you don’t have a good sharp point on your hook, you can have the most expensive rod in the world, but you won’t catch anything but weeds. The barb is a type of a reverse point that is designed to keep a fish on the hook after the fish bites. Bigger is not better with barbs. Big barbs can make setting a hook difficult when the hook meets up with a tough-mouthed fish like a bonefish. Or big barbs can make too big a tear in the mouth of a soft-mouthed fish like a crappie. Many catch-and-release anglers fish with barbless hooks, although it is possible to release fish caught on barbed hooks, as well. One way to help speed up the releasing process when you’re fishing catch-and-release is to debarb your hooks. Simply take a pair of pliers (needlenose work best) and crimp the barb against the hook’s tip. The bend is the curved part of the hook, and all those fine-sounding hook names, such as Limerick or Sproat, have something to do with the bend. Actually, such hook names have to do with two parts of the bend: the throat and the gap. Think of the throat as the depth that the hook penetrates. Think of the gap as the width of the hook, from point to shank. A relatively wide gap may be necessary to hold certain bait, to get around the snout of a billed fish, or to dig in beyond the width of a thick jawbone. The wider the gap, the easier it is for the fish to bend the hook so that it can escape. When the hook straightens out, your hook is either too light (referring to the gauge of the wire) or too big in the gap for the amount of pressure that you (not the fish) applied. The shank connects the bend to the eye. A shank can be long or short. As with gap, a longer shank means that a hook is easier for a fish to bend. So why aren’t all hooks short-shanked? The answer has to do with what goes on the hook: different-sized bait needs different-sized shanks to keep it held on securely. A longer-shanked hook makes it easier to unhook a fish, too. Sometimes the shank has a barb or two to help hold bait more securely. These are called baitholder hooks. The eye of the hook (the loop through which line passes) may be turned up, turned down, or straight. The gauge refers to the diameter of the hook’s wire. Heavier gauge hooks resist bending even when imbedded in the mouth of a big fish. Smaller gauge hooks are lighter and easier to hide. The finish refers to the coating on the hook. Some hooks wear a finish to protect them from saltwater; others are finished in bright colors. It adds to the options you have in selecting hooks. J hooks: Some things never change J hooks earned their name from their resemblance to the letter. J hooks work because they fit into a fish’s mouth and then catch on something on the way out, and they’ve worked that same way for a long time. Not every J hook is the same, though, and many styles put a twist (sometimes quite literally) on the standard. Any fish that swims can be caught on the right J hook. Buy J hooks that match your intended target. What’s the typical mouth size of the fish you hope to catch? Bluegills, for example, have small mouths; even a big specimen would have to open wide to bite the tip of your thumb. So, using giant J hooks to fish for bluegill will only result in hooks stripped of bait. But a fish with a big, toothy mouth, like a northern pike, calls for a larger J hook. Setting the hook with J hooks When a fish bites a baited hook or lure, you’ve been successful: You’ve seduced that fish into making a connection with you. But that connection — through the rod and reel, down the line, across any terminal tackle your rig consists of, and culminating in the sharp hook you’ve selected — is a tenuous one. You need to act quickly and wisely to ensure that the fish stays connected to you. This is called setting the hook, and it’s the process by which the hook passes from merely being in the fish’s mouth to being through the fish’s mouth. When fishing with J hooks, setting the hook means pointing the rod at the fish, tightening the line, and jerking the rod sharply up toward you, driving the hook into the fish’s mouth. Different species call for different hooksets, and different baits call for different tactics. For example, it pays to let northern pike run a big livebait for a bit, to allow the pike time to turn the baitfish in its mouth. Largemouth bass striking at a plastic frog through a layer of algae need a bit of time to get the frog bait into their mouths. Some fish have hard mouths that require hard and repeated hooksets. Others, like crappies, will go free if you set the hook too hard. But the following tips should work for you most of the time, with most fish caught on most rigs: Keep a relatively tight line between your hook and your reel at all times. When fishing with a float rig, for example, slack line can form between your rod and the float. When a fish bites and the float sinks, that fish is ready to be hooked, but the slack line can prevent you from driving the hook home. By the time you furiously crank up the loose line, the fish may have spit the bait and moved away. Keep your line tight, and be ready to set the hook at any time. Let the rod help you. As you sweep the rod overhead, the rod should bend. This bend is providing the force that sets the hook. If your rod isn’t bending on the hookset, you’re not providing enough force. The other possibility is that there remains too much slack in the line. If that happens, quickly reel up the slack and set the hook again. The fish may still be on the line! Quicker hooksets are usually better. I don’t usually advise waiting to set the hook, unless it’s one of those odd situations, like catching bass through the moss. Look at it this way — if you feel a fish tap your bait, or your float goes under, that fish has your hook in its mouth. If the bait is in a fish’s mouth, then the hook should be able to find purchase. Some folks will tell you to wait, to “make sure he has it” or something, but most of the time this pause results in a swallowed hook. A swallowed hook can lead to an inadvertent fish death, and is usually the result of waiting too long to set the hook. Your goal should be to land every fish that bites, but also to be able to release every fish you land, should you choose to do so. Keeping J hooks organized As I explain in the earlier section “Keeping a range of hooks,” you really can’t avoid accumulating more than a few styles and sizes of hooks. Having a good variety of J hooks on hand will find you ready for about any fishing challenge. But although you may lump all your plastic worms together or carry a sack of assorted sinkers, you should keep your hooks divided. Separate your hooks in your tackle carrier by placing different sizes in different compartments. Plastic lidded trays like those from Plano and Flambeau are perfect for this, and some are made of materials that resist the formation of rust on your hooks. Sort by size and function. Put small baitholders (ideal for bluegill) and the like in one place, larger hooks for rigging soft plastics Texas-style in another. Hooks have a nasty habit of tangling together when stored in proximity, making it harder to remove the hook you need when you need it. Picking a tiny hook from a snarl of hooks is like reaching into a bag of needles. Circle hooks: From saltwater to freshwater Circle hooks are sized like J hooks, and available in the same wide range. Because they are so often used in saltwater, circle hooks for species like groupers and sharks could almost encircle a coffee cup. But manufacturers make small circle hooks too, and they work for many freshwater species. (And they are increasingly available anywhere freshwater gear is sold.) I use small circle hooks — about a size 6 — to catch carp. And 8/0 circle hooks, which work well for a variety of saltwater species, are perfect for blue catfish. The design of the circle hook would appear to render it impotent — with the point of the hook aimed back toward the shank, how could it possibly catch fish? Well, therein lies its beauty. Circle hooks are less likely to snag, and that includes your person, simply because the point of the hook is not exposed. But they will catch fish, providing the angler can forget everything he or she knows about setting the hook in the traditional J hook fashion. Setting the hook with circle hooks Anglers fishing with J hooks should strike fast and hard to set the hook. Indeed, a wimpy hookset could lead to a freed fish. But circle hooks work differently than J hooks, and they require a different method. Circle hooks work because fish often move after they pick up a bait or lure. Say a smallmouth bass grabs a nightcrawler rigged on a circle hook. The smallmouth will inhale the nightcrawler and then most likely turn away from the place where it sucked in the bait. The nightcrawler — and the hook — will be in the bass’s mouth for a second or two before it swallows. As the bass turns, the hook drags across the mouth of the fish, lodging in the corner of the jaw. As the bass continues to move, the hook rotates until the gap of the hook fits around the jaw. Then the point sinks in and the bass is hooked. I know it sounds unlikely. I didn’t believe it at first either. Now that I have caught hundreds of fish using circle hooks, I rarely buy J hooks. Circle hooks work that well. Here’s the secret — you cannot set the hook in the traditional J hook fashion using circle hooks. If you do, you will simply jerk the baited hook right out of the fish’s mouth. Instead, you need to maintain constant line pressure, and let the fish hook itself against the steady pull. A hookset with a circle hook looks like this — the angler feels the tap, then slowly raises his or her rod and holds it in a raised position. The fish will pull the rod down, and the action of the rod will drive the hook point into the fish’s jaw. When the angler feels the fish has been hooked — often when the rod bends as much as it would with a J hook hookset — he or she simply commences reeling in the fish. Anglers used to fishing with J hooks will have a maddening time trying to retrain themselves, but they can do it. (At first, they’re likely to instinctively jerk the hook out of the fish’s mouth!) But beginners, who have never learned the hard hooksets of J hooks, will take right to it. Using rod holders for circle hooks A great way to learn how to use circle hooks is to go stillfishing for almost any species and bring along some rod holders. Rod holders, often steel or heavy plastic, do just that — they hold the rod for you. For bank fishermen, rod holders are often designed to be driven into the ground or sand. (Surfcasters use them, too.) Some are made to attach to piers or fishing docks. There are many rod holders designed to be used with a variety of boats. All rod holders work the same: They hold the rod securely, allowing the angler to fish multiple rods, or to put some distance between himself and the rod (say, so he can sit by the fire and eat fried chicken). Whereas rod holders work with all kinds of fishing gear, they are ideally suited for bank fishing with spinning, spincast, or baitcasting gear. And they work perfectly when paired with circle hooks. When using rod holders, the angler doesn’t have to fight the urge to set the hook. Simply cast the bait out, and place the rod in the holder. Keep the line fairly tight. When a fish strikes, the rod pulls down, or loads, against the weight of the fish. (It’s important to have strong rod holders, mounted securely, or you risk losing your gear!) When the rod is sufficiently loaded, the rod is removed from the holder, and the fish is already hooked and ready for battle. Kids, beginners, and elderly anglers may have trouble setting the hook with sufficient force. This kind of stillfishing — using rod holders and circle hooks — removes the need to “cross the fish’s eyes” with a rocking hookset. And the enjoyment of fighting the fish is the same. Experiment with circle hooks, and I think you’ll find that most caught fish are hooked in the corner of the mouth, ready for an easy release. I also think you’ll find that fish hooked with circle hooks have a difficult time throwing the hook during the fight. When the circle hook finds its place, the fish is quite simply . . . hooked.

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