Getting Started In Saltwater Fishing

If you’re reading this article it’s a safe bet that you have decided to pursue the truly gratifying endeavor of saltwater fishing. You’ll be joining the ranks of many other anglers who just like yourself were once new to the sport. Take heart! You’re embarking on a very exciting path of discovery, and you have found the perfect place to begin your journey. Here you will find everything you need to make your time on the water more satisfying.

This article’s goal is not to teach you everything there is to know about saltwater fishing. The best anglers NEVER stop learning and are the better for it. Instead this article will walk you through the basic steps of getting ready for and going on your first fishing expedition. You’ll find much practical advice that will help you to avoid some common pitfalls and have a successful outing. Here’s a list of the basic topics covered in this article:

  • Selecting Your Gear
  • Choosing a Rod
  • Choosing a Reel
  • Spooling Up
  • Rigging
  • What Lures Should You Have?
  • Other Fishing Essentials
  • Choosing Where To Go
  • Preparing For Your Trip
  • How To Fish 101
  • Post Trip

So let’s get started!

Selecting Your Gear

Any task is much easier to complete, and perform well, if one has the correct tools. Fishing is no different. Quality equipment (that does not necessarily mean expensive) will go a long way towards a quality experience on the water. So let’s begin where your digits end and get a rod in your hands! The main factors to consider when choosing a rod are rod length and line/lure rating.

The length of the rod will be determined by where you fish. Those fishing from a boat generally opt for shorter rods (Less than 8 ft) which are easier to maneuver in the confines of a boat. The surf fisherman will generally go w/ a longer rod (9 to 11 ft) for added casting distance. Rods are also rated as to how heavy an offering you can throw. There are what we’ll call general purpose rods that will have a wider range (say 1-5 ounces) and other “specialty rods” for lack of a better term that will be rated for a smaller weight range on either end of the spectrum (1/2 oz – 2 oz or 3 to 6 oz for example). Just find a rod of length and rating to suit the type of angling you THINK you’ll be doing. It pays to have a first rod that can throw a WIDE RANGE of lures and/or bait since you are just beginning and may want to try many types of lures. Now let’s move on to the fishing reel. The reel will be selected to match your rod. For that reason there will be a few important factors to consider: size of the reel and durability.

The size and weight should “balance” well with your rod. Try various reels on the rod and see which one feels best. Remember, you may be wielding this rod for hours on end so it should feel comfortable and not be so heavy that you’ll quickly tire out. Durability is paramount. The saltwater environment is EXTREMELY HARSH and can quickly take a toll on your gear. Make sure to choose a reel that is designed to be fished in and around the saltwater and rocks. Now you have your rod and reel combo it’s time to put line on the reel. Seems like a simple task until you realize there are literally thousands of choices of line. All these choices will basically be divided in two groups: Braid and Monofilament (or Mono). Think of mono as one long continuous strand and braid as multiple fibers literally “braided” together for added strength. The debate of braid vs. mono is heated but here are the basic advantages of each:


  • Stronger at the same diameter
  • You can fit more on your spool
  • Dramatically improves casting distance
  • Increases ability to “feel” lure and set the hook


  • Better shock absorption
  • Better Abrasion Resistance (Important in the Rocks)
  • Much less expensive
  • More manageable (less tangles)

Everyone should probably try both at one point or another, with that said mono may be a better option for a true beginner. You’ll probably make a few mistakes like snagging on the bottom or getting wrapped around a lobster pot in the beginning. Using mono will be much less expensive and allow you to really appreciate the difference when you do eventually try fishing braid. Whichever line you do end up choosing you’ll need to attach it to your spool via an “arbor knot” (try googling this phrase for instructions) and reel it onto your spool. Pay close attention to do this in a manner that avoids twisting the line. If possible have a tackle shop spool your reel on a line winder for best results. Rigging Now you’re ready to rig up. That basically means you’ll be attaching a leader to your running line. A basic rig that will take you far goes as follows:

  • Line gets attached to your spool then
  • A barrel swivel is attached to your line
  • Then a piece of leader material is attached to the barrel swivel
  • And a snap or clip is attached to the end of the leader
  • Lures or hooks are then attached to the snap or clip

You can also use specialized knots in place of the barrel swivel or snap. Whole books have been written on the subject of rigging. Basically the use of a leader allows you some luxuries while fishing (like being able to grab the leader while landing a fish). A general leader using 30-50 lb. Mono or fluorocarbon material with a barrel swivel on one end and a snap or clip on the other is a great place to start and a setup still employed by many experienced anglers.

Choosing Lures Now what will you be putting on the end of that leader? Walk into any tackle shop and you could quickly become overwhelmed with the sheer quantity of choices and opinions available on the subject. Here are a few basic proven types that will get you started:

  • Bucktail Jigs
  • Casting Swimmers
  • Needlefish
  • Tins
  • Soft Plastics
  • Polaris Poppers
  • Metal Lipped Swimmers (Danny Plugs)
  • Pencil Poppers
  • Plastic Swimmers

Now if you’ll be using bait you’ll need strong hooks and possibly sinkers designed for the task. The Gamakatsu live bait hooks are a good choice when fishing bait.

Other Fishing Essentials

If you were to take your new outfit out the door of the tackle shop and go fishing you’d soon realize the need for other essential pieces of gear. These items really are vital to the success of each trip. Some essential “must-have” items include:

  • Pliers w/ cutters (For cutting fishing line and removing hooks from fish)
  • Pliers Sheath & Lanyard (So pliers will always be handy & within reach)
  • Korkers or other Metal-Studded foot wear (To keep you from slipping on rocks)
  • A surf or boat bag (For keeping your lures and equipment in)
  • Waders or a wetsuit (To help you get out to where the fish are)
  • Wading Belt (To Hang Your Pliers from)
  • Appropriate Water-Proof or Foul-Weather Gear (Keep you dry and happy)
  • Light(s) (For fishinng in low-light and at night time)
  • A Hook Hone or File (Dull hooks don’t catch fish)
  • A large bin of some sort to transport all your gear.

While it is possible to go fishing w/o these items, your safety, success and ultimately enjoyment of the time you spend on the water will increase DRAMATICLY with each item. You’ll find a lot of interesting info on these and other products in the SWE online store. Choosing a spot Congratulations! Now you are completely equipped and ready to go fishing.

So where do you go? Well there are many ways to determine where your next trip will take you. One way is to begin by asking other fishermen. But BE CAREFUL! Anglers are notorious for keeping their best spots secret or being very vague. You do well to take advice w/ a grain of salt. Soon you’ll be able to begin building a network of contacts with which you can trade intel, but since you are new to fishing, and don’t have much experience to offer to others just yet, you’ll do much better by learning the type of water to look for and the best time to fish it. This information is available in various books or by paying for a local guide to take you fishing. Another good place to start is at the tackle shop where you purchased your gear. These people want you to catch fish as they know that will make you want to spend your hard earned $$$.

Once you find info about the types of spots and situations that produce (Points, deep water near shore, drop offs, reefs, outflows, etc.) There are a few online tools that can really help. One is Google Earth which is an amazing tool for finding new and interesting spots to fish. Windows live local’s birds eye view is really INCREDIBLE if available for your area. The NOAA online chart viewer is also a huge help with determining water depth in a specific area. Don’t just chase, but rather, make your own reports and feel the satisfaction of finding a new spot on your own and watching it produce. Be mindful of the influence of the tide. A spot may very well fish VERY differently depending on the stage of the tide and/or the direction of the wind. You’ll do very well if you keep a journal of conditions and results for all your fishing trips as this historic data will be priceless in planning future trips.

Having chosen your spot make sure you’re fully prepared:

  • Rods should be rigged and ready
  • Additional leaders should be tied in case yours breaks or get’s frayed
  • All hooks should be sharpened and lures arranged in an orderly manner
  • Before leaving check & re-check all gear is present and accounted for
  • Finally, give your spouse/significant other a kiss and whatever else you’ve gotten them (movie-rental, flowers, jewelry, etc.) to make up for your absence.

A Few Fishing Tips

So you’ve got all your gear and you’re in your spot, now what?! Well we won’t even attempt to outline the countless ways or methods you can employ rather we’ll provide a list of a few guidelines to go by.

  • Watch the water looking for current and structure
  • Cast to these areas
  • Be mindful of snags and avoid them
  • Use lures or bait that effectively fish different depths of the water column Proceed w/ caution in unfamiliar spots
  • If prospecting new water fan your casts to cover as wide a range of spots as possible focusing on areas with signs of good structure.
  • Keep moving, and keep engaged. Fish will inevitably show when you least expect them.

Look intently for patterns to develop and keep learning.

These are just a few REALLY BASIC suggestions designed to encourage you to go out there with some direction and purpose. Hopefully you can stay engaged and not become discouraged quickly. Once you decide to return home the fishing experience has not ended. One of the most productive parts of your outing waits at home. Productive Post Trip Habits It’s good to look at your after trip habits as preparation for your very next trip. Gear should be cared for. This means hosing your gear down w/ fresh water and following manufacturer instructions for reel care. Leaving your gear ready for the next use will allow you to pick up and go at a moments notice.
The other extremely useful habit is to log your results along w/ the date, time, conditions and location(s) of your outing. As you accumulate this data from various trips patterns will emerge that will help you pick the most productive times and spots to fish.

Well hopefully this little piece helps out some beginning anglers and has made you excited about fishing. See you out there on the water!

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