The Ultimate Guide to Fishing: A Beginner’s Overview

Spending time outdoors fishing is a great way to unwind, but for those who have never tried it before, it might be a bit daunting. When it comes to fishing, there’s a lot of ground to cover, from choosing the right rod and reel to learning how to read fishing regulations and name the fish you reel in. These are just some of the obstacles that first-time fishermen will likely encounter.

You can read or print this guide at your leisure, as it is written with readers of all ages in mind. We now have a more interactive online version of Learn to Fish available with videos and quizzes.

Gear for casting a line

The sheer variety of rods and reels available at tackle shops and mega-stores might make it difficult to choose on one. We’ve compiled a list of the various options available to you, but novices are advised to start with the most fundamental configurations.

Different Rods and Reels


The system is easy to operate and doesn’t cost too much money, so it’s perfect for beginners. Because of their open design, these reels make untangling line a breeze. To begin, a rod no longer than 4 to 5 feet (about 1.5 meters) is recommended for kids.


The push-button casting release on these rods makes them ideal for kids. Casting distance and accuracy are both diminished when using closed-faced rods, and untangling the line is a far more laborious process.


Bait-casting reels have greater casting power and precision, thus they’re frequently employed with heavier lures and lines. Tangled lines are common with these setups, so only experienced anglers should use them.


To catch salmon or trout in a river, you’ll need specialized gear that’s not at all like what you’d use in any other kind of fishing. The lures, known as flies, are so light that they may float on the water, while the thicker line enables casting. Fun and gratifying as it may be, this form of fishing requires considerable experience to master.

Varieties of Lines


Most fishing lines are made of this material since it is strong, elastic, and durable. It’s an excellent all-around line, and novice fishermen should start with this.


Since it is stronger and denser than monofilament and virtually invisible under water, fluorocarbon is primarily used in bait-casting reels. When it comes to the leader material near your lure, fluorocarbon is typically employed, although it does come at a higher price.


This braided line works just as its name implies. Since it is thinner and stronger than other lines, it may also be easier to spot in the water. Braided line is the most expensive option.

How to Lining up a spinning reel.

  • To begin, thread your line through your rod’s line guides from the top down.
  • The second step is to open the bail and tie a knot around the reel.
  • Third, with the line still held in one hand, begin reeling it in while reversing the bail.
  • Put a pen or dowel through the hole in the middle of the spool, and have a friend create stress on the spool as the line feeds off.
  • Fourth, when the reel is full, stop.
  • Cut the line in step 5. The time has come to fasten your tackle.

Tackle, Fishing equipment, as well as

When you’re done putting together your fishing rod, you may start securing your tackle. You can round out your fishing arsenal with the items detailed below.
Standard Tackle

This method is proven to be effective in luring in fish. Typically, hooks will feature barbs that can be lowered to facilitate the speedy release of caught fish. Barbed hooks are not permitted in several bodies of water. The Recreational Fishing Regulations Summary and Fish ON-Line both have information on local regulations.
A device that floats

In addition to letting you know when you have a bite, these keep your bait in the water at the ideal depth.
The use of weights

You may get your bait right next to the fish with the aid of sinkers. Historically, they have been crafted from lead, but nowadays, steel and tungsten are used as viable alternatives.

Types of bait

Natural bait

Worms, crayfish, fish, and mealworms are typical examples.

You should remember that you can’t let go of live bait or empty your bait bucket into the water or within 30 meters of any body of water.

Some bodies of water prohibit the use of live bait. Recreational fishing regulations are summarized in the Recreational Fishing Regulations Summary and are available on Fish ON-Line.

Plastic bait that is soft to the touch

These baits are made to look and feel like real bait, therefore their bodies are squishy. To make them more convincing as fishing bait, manufacturers add flavor enhancers to soft plastic worms and minnows.

Types of lures

The sheer variety of lures available can make it difficult to settle on just one. You might come across these common kinds of lures:

Spoons and spinners

Damaged baitfish are simulated by these wobbling and whirling lures. Their heft makes for a more precise cast, and they go down lower in the water. Both casting and trolling can be accomplished with these.

A snap-swivel (below) is recommended for use with spinners and spoons to prevent the line from becoming twisted.


Crankbaits (which are rounded and dive deep), jerkbaits (which are thin and dive shallow), and poppers (which float on the water’s surface) are all examples of these hard-bodied baits. Injured baitfish, frogs, or any other edible object can be used as a template for a plug.


Jigs, which are essentially single hooks with weighted eyes, require the intervention of the angler in order to move the bait. Using them correctly results in a jerky up and down action. Adaptable to both artificial and organic bait.

Various Aids for the Fishing Kit

Snap swivels

Your line ends up with one of them attached. They prevent your fishing line from tangling and make changing your bait or lure a breeze.

Needle-nosed pliers

The sinkers can be squished onto the line and the barbs bent with these tools. They work wonderfully for unhooking fish with teeth and for releasing fish that have been hooked deeply.


Lifting little fish out of the water is fine, but larger fish may break your line if you try. Cast your net into the water, maneuver the fish into it, and then, while the fish is still submerged, either raise the net or remove the hook.

Knife, nail clippers, or scissors

Excellent for severing the slack from knotted lines.

Gauge and measuring tape

Measure the length of the fish you capture if you intend to retain it, as some species have size restrictions. Seeing how big your catch is is exciting too!

First Aid Kit

The more you have on hand, the better. Sharp things like fish spines and hooks are everywhere.


Perfect for avoiding prickly cactus thorns or larger fish with jaws.

Casting and knots

It’s important to know how to put your gear on your line and into the water after choosing your gear.

The Palomar knot

There are many knots out there, but the Palomar knot is the best because it is strong and simple to use.

  1. Cut your line in half and feed it through the hook, snap-swivel, or lure’s eye.
  2. Use the ring to make an overhand knot, but don’t pull it too tight.
  3. Put the hook through the hole.
  4. Get your line wet, pull it tight, and cut the end of the tag.


After some practice, casting your line will be easy. Use your garden or another dry area to practice casting a lure without a hook. Always keep an eye out for trees, people, or things that could get in your way. Here’s how to cast a spinning rod.

  1. Put your index finger on the line and hold it against the rod.
  2. Flip the bail over with your other hand.
  3. Put the rod exactly over your shoulder at 1 o’clock.
  4. Throw the rod forward and let go of the line around 11 o’clock.
  5. When you’re done casting, flip your bail over to keep the line in place.

Set of rules and laws

For the protection of our natural resources, Ontario has rules and laws about fishing. For legal fishing in the area, here are the basics.

Read the Summary of Ontario’s Recreational Fishing Regulations.

All anglers must follow the rules and laws in the Summary’s introduction, which also includes a map that shows how Ontario is divided into 20 Fisheries Management Zones. Find your fishing area and read through the part once you know where you’re going to fish. Limits on species, seasons, and any other rules that apply to certain bodies of water will be listed in the Summary. You need to make sure you are fishing legally. Fish ON-LINE has the rules that apply to a certain area of water. See the rules by searching for and clicking on the body of water you want to fish.

Obtain a fishing permit.

Sports and Conservation licenses are the two types of fishing licenses. Fishing licenses for sport and conservation each have different catch limits. For catch-and-release fishing, you should get a Conservation license.

A fishing license is not required for Canadians under 18 years old or 65 years old or higher. Others who live in Canada automatically have a deemed license, like disabled people, veterans, and current members of the Canadian Armed Forces. Government-issued ID is needed for these groups. Read the Summary for more information.

It is necessary to have an Outdoors Card before you can buy a fishing license. This card is an addition to your fishing license and is good for three years.

Online or at an authorized ServiceOntario or license issuer, you can buy your fishing license and Outdoors Card.

Identifying, getting, and taking care of different types of fish

Knowing how to identify your catch is part of the rules for fishing. For help identifying and catching popular fish species in Ontario, read on.

Sunfish include bluegill, crappie, pumpkinseed, and rock bass.



Species-Rock Bass


Large numbers of these brightly coloured scrappers can be found in many bodies of water in Ontario. Smaller ones weigh 0.11 kg to 0.23 kg (four to eight ounces), but the biggest ones can get to 0.45 kg to 0.9 kg (a pound or two). They are pretty much hand-shaped and tall.

Sunfish are aggressive feeders that come after bait easily. They fight well with light line and taste great. They hang out in the shallow parts of warmer lakes, ponds, and streams that move slowly. They like to hide in places like rocks, weed beds, floating docks, and so on, so try fishing near those things.

For obvious reasons, rock bass like to live in rocky places. Find them by fishing with a bobber and worms and changing the bait’s depth. You might also want to try spinners, jigs, or small plugs.

Small minnows seem to be especially appealing to black crappie. Although, their mouths are very small, and hooks can come out if they are not handled carefully.

Both smallmouth and largemouth bass

The biggest difference between these two fighters is their mouth size, as the names suggest. The opening of a largemouth bass’s jaw goes past its big eye. For smallmouth bass, it doesn’t go past the eye’s centre.

Largemouth Bass

Bigmouth bass and smallmouth bass share some territory, but largemouth bass tend to stay in warmwater weed beds. While you’re fishing, drop your lure or bait near the edges or into holes because largemouth bass like to hide in the bushes and surprise their prey. Worms, real or fake, commonly work best. Cover any logs, rocks, or other possible hiding places with your food.

Although most largemouth bass are between 0.5 kg and 1.4 kg (one to three pounds), every year fish weighing 2.3 kg to 2.7 kg (five or six pounds) are caught in Ontario.

Smallmouth Bass

Most of the province’s smallmouth bass live in cool, clear water, and they like the rocky and sandy parts of lakes and rivers. Look for rocky points, shoals, drop-offs, and logs that are underwater. When it’s hotter in the summer, fish deeper. Any kind of bait or hook will work, but smallmouth bass love crayfish the most!

Although smallmouth bass are strong fighters, they can sometimes make big, exciting jumps. Although smallmouth bass usually weigh between 0.5 kg and 0.9 kg (a pound or two), every year fish that weigh between 2.3 kg and 2.7 kg (five and six pounds) are caught.

Yellow perch

This smaller relative of the walleye is a popular panfish that lives with sunfish. Still, they aren’t as attached to structures and will move around schools looking for food. Cast your net far, and if you find one, you’ll probably find a lot more. When fishing for perch, you can use both natural bait (like minnows) and small lures (like spinners and jigs “sweetened” with worm pieces). Additionally, they taste great!

Although the average size is about 0.136 kg (one third of a pound), yellow perch that weigh at least 0.45 kg (a pound) are often caught, and fish that weigh as much as 0.9 kg (two pounds) are not unusual either.

Bottom fish include common carp, channel catfish, and brown bullhead.

When you want to catch these fish, put your food right on the bottom.

Brown Bullhead

With brown barbels, or whiskers, on its chin, the brown bullhead has a straight tail. The brown bullhead usually weighs between 0.22 kg and 0.45 kg, which is half a pound and a pound, but it can get as heavy as 0.90 kg, which is two pounds. Fishers consider its reddish meat to be a delicacy because it is surprisingly sweet and tasty.

They usually stay in warm, shallow water with sandy or muddy bottoms. It does its best work at night. As bottom eaters, these fish use their sensitive “whiskers,” or barbels, to find food. Naturally occurring bait works best when fishing still. Simply wait while your bait rests on the bottom.

Channel Catfish

Compared to the brown bullhead, the channel catfish is bigger. The tail is highly forked, and it lives in rivers and is usually caught at night. If you want to catch brown bullheads, fish like you normally would or use dead baitfish. When fishing, spinners and plugs made like minnows can sometimes help you catch these aggressive predators.

Common Carp

Although the common carp is native to Europe, it was brought to North America in the 1800s. They are tough fighters that are a lot of fun to catch, and you can often get them from the shore.

There are weeds in shallow, warm water that common carp like. Similar to channel catfish, common carp eat by feeling for food on the floor with their sensitive “whiskers,” or barbels. When fishing still, natural food works best, and they’ll eat anything, even doughballs, corn, or worms. Wait while you let your bait sit on the bottom.

Common carp have big scales that look a lot like armour. On average, it weighs about 1.8 kg (4 pounds), but fish that weigh up to 9 kg to 13.6 kg (20 to 30 pounds) are typical.

Northern Pike

Pike are common in a lot of Ontario. It is a popular gamefish that is actively and aggressively hunting. It is very slim and formless, and its nose and mouth are full of very sharp teeth. This fish can be found by looking for light spots on a dark background.

Most of the time, northern pike live in warm, shallow water with lots of weeds. Arctic pike will eat anything that moves if they are hungry. They are usually caught by pulling or casting spoons, plugs, or bucktail spinners in or near weed beds. For still fishing in the middle of summer, try using baitfish in deeper water near weed beds. Although its meat is very tasty, taking out all of its many bones before making it takes some time and skill.

People usually think of northern pike as being between 0.9 kg and 1.8 kg (two to four pounds) heavy, but in Ontario, fish that weigh between 4.5 kg and 9 kg (10 to 20 pounds) are typical.


Muskellunge, also called muskies, look and act like northern pikes, but they are usually striped instead of spotted. Additionally, they get bigger. Understanding the difference is important because muskie are much less common and have stricter size and catch limits as a result. Identify this fish by its dark spots on a light background.


Ontario’s most famous gamefish are walleye, which is also known as pickerel. Its mouth is full of small, very sharp teeth. This fish’s name comes from its big eyes that are set high on its head. Walleye that weigh between 0.45 kg and 0.9 kg (a pound or two) are common, but in Ontario, fish that weigh between 2.2 kg and 4.5 kg (5 to 10 pounds) are also common.

Many bodies of water in Ontario are home to walleye, but they prefer big, small lakes and rivers and streams that are big. They do well in cloudy water because their eyes are sensitive to light, but they tend to be in deeper water than other warmwater fish. You can use live minnows or lures like spinners, crankbaits, and jigs during the day. It’s best to fish near the bottom, near weed beds, rock shoals, and downed logs. Even at night, try your luck in water that isn’t as deep.

Trout and salmon

When looking for this big group of related sportfish, you can tell them apart by their smooth bodies, lack of spiny fins, and a small fin on the back near the tail. The majority of them have lived in streams at some point in their lives and all of them like cold water.

Species-Brook Trout

Species-Rainbow Trout

Species-Brown Trout

Species-Lake Trout

Rainbow trout and brown trout were brought to Ontario to make popular fishing areas. Brook trout and lake trout are native to the province. Although you can find rainbow and brown trout in the Great Lakes, brook trout are most often found in cold streams and rivers. Some of the biggest brook trout can be found in Lake Superior and deeper inland lakes.

Like clear, cool streams, brook trout like to live in shady, spring-fed headwater places. Fly fishermen love brook trout, but natural food and other lures will also work. Berkshire trout in streams weigh less than 0.45 kg, which is less than a pound, on average, but they can get as big as 4.5 kg, which is 10 pounds.

As the water temperature rises, rainbow and brown trout can survive. They can be found in the lower parts of streams where brook trout live. Although rainbow trout usually weigh less than 0.45 kg (less than a pound), they can get as heavy as 6.8 kg (15 pounds) in the Great Lakes or in the streams and rivers that flow into them. Rainbow trout, which are sometimes called “bows,” generally hang out in the deeper parts of lakes and the lower parts of big, fast, steep rivers in the summer. Fly fishing is popular in streams, but fish will bite almost any lure or natural food.

Additionally, brown trout are an important gamefish. They are a golden-brown colour when they are in streams and rivers. They are almost silver when they are in lakes. Fish in the Great Lakes have been found that weigh over 9 kg (20 pounds), but most of them weigh between 0.9 kg and 5.4 kg (2 to 12 pounds).

Lake trout usually live in the Great Lakes and other cold, deep lakes with deeper water. Getting bait or hooks down to lake trout, which are sometimes called “lakers,” in the summer requires special fishing gear and methods. Like brook trout, lake trout are native to Ontario.

Species-Chinook Salmon

Species-Coho Salmon

Chinook and coho salmon came from the Pacific Northwest to the Great Lakes and are now popular sportfish in Ontario. For breeding, they go to streams, but they spend most of their time in the Great Lakes. Because they usually live in deep water, you need special gear to catch them. In the Great Lakes, they support a thriving charter boat fishing industry.

Fishing handling

Animals like fish have a slime coat that keeps them healthy and free of disease. Wet your hands before touching fish to keep this protective skin from coming off.

Keep your distance when touching some fish because they have sharp spines or teeth. As soon as you can, get them back into the water if you are doing catch and return.

Preparing to move your catch

Legally, it is not allowed to move live sportfish. You need to clean the fish before you go home if you plan to eat it. Take out the guts by cutting along the belly. For quick filleting (instructions below), remember to leave a small piece of skin on the fish and store them so they can be easily found and counted (i.e., not frozen in a lump). Conservation officers can then use this information to figure out what kind of animal it is.

Where to keep the skin and scales

For those who want to keep their catch, here are some things to keep in mind:

Keeping fish in live wells or transporting live sportfish over land is against the law.

You should leave a piece of skin big enough to identify your fish when you cut and package it, and you should store the fish so that a conservation officer can count them if they are inspected.

Cleaning and filleting your catch

  1. Using a sharp fillet knife, make a cut on the side behind the gills and pectoral fin that curves toward the fish’s head at the top and its tail at the bottom.
  2. Make a cut with your knife and cut down until you reach the bone. That’s the fish’s spine. Carefully run the knife back to the fish’s tail, sawing gently along the spine until you get to the tail. The knife will cut through some smaller rib bones.
  3. Take the fish piece off and flip it over. Using pliers or your finger, grab the skin’s tail end.
  4. Carefully move the knife between the meat and skin until the skin comes off.
  5. Feel through the fillet for the rib bones and cut out the v-shaped piece that has the bones.

Tips and techniques

Setting the hook

When a fish bites, you need to do something! The fish will understand your lure isn’t food and let go if you just start reeling. That’s when you need to make a short-sharp “hook set.” Mastering this skill is necessary to catch fish. In order to “set the hook,” jerk your rod back about one to two feet (30 to 60 centimetres) away from the fish. This is going to depend on how stiff and flexible your fishing rod and line are.

Time of day

They can see their food better and don’t have to worry about being attacked by other animals, like birds, at dusk or dawn, when many fish are more active. Even though these times are fun for fishing, you can catch fish at any time of the day; you just need to find the places where they might be hidden. There are often fish that are ready to bite near docks, weeds, log jams, or deeper water.

See what the fish are eating.

Look around you while you fish. See what I see? Dragonflies, minnows, and frogs? Locate hooks and baits that look like the things fish eat in the wild.

Gear up for the type of fish you want to catch.

Smaller hooks are needed when fishing for sunfish or perch. Lighter line and softer rods will make fishing these easier and more effective. You can cast them now, and soft-biting fish won’t be scared off. Use a stiffer rod and heavy line when you’re fishing for bigger fish or with heavier lures.

Take a look nearby

Quite often, the best fishing is closer than you think. There might be great fishing in some small ponds or creeks that you pass every day. You can’t say for sure until you try it!

Time is needed for these things.

It takes time to get good at fishing, just like with anything else. It’s easier than ever to get fishing information online, and Fish ON-Line is a great tool for finding new fishing spots in Ontario. You can get a lot of good starting point information from online forums, articles, and movies. After studying, try out various methods. There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes or changing things up. It’s all part of the learning process!

When you go fishing with kids, keep it simple.

Bring lots of treats and things to do. Compete to see who can catch the cutest, biggest, or tiniest fish. Remember to make them want more—try to end the fishing trip before the child gets bored or loses interest.

Being safe

Prioritize safety to have a fun and exciting fishing trip.

  • Make sure you have a life jacket, sunglasses, and sunscreen on.
  • Someone should know where you’re going and when you’ll be back.
  • Watch the weather report.
  • Have a first-aid kit on hand.
  • A fishing license is needed for both you and the person driving the boat.

Ethics and respect

Like a good citizen, a responsible angler treats the earth, animals, and people with respect. Keep these things in mind when you’re swimming outside.

  • Do not throw away trash. Shuffle trash or put it in the right bins. Get rid of any remaining line; it could hurt wildlife.
  • Keep other anglers away. A lot of space is good for casting, fishing, and moving around.
  • Exceed the limits. Public spaces, conservation places, and provincial parks all have great fishing. Respect other people’s private stuff.
  • Carefully and respectfully handle fish and other animals. Release fish slowly. If you come across other animals, stay far away from them.
  • Have only the fish you want to eat in your freezer. Catch-and-release fishing is a fun way to fish that also helps protect fish for future generations.
  • Do not overplay fish. Use gear that is heavy and strong enough to land the fish quickly if you plan to return some or all of the fish you catch. Get the fish back in the water right away by unhooking it.
  • Know what alien species are and do what you can to stop them from spreading. Explore unwanted species you might come across and learn how to properly get rid of them. Round gobies, for instance, are widespread and can’t be put back into the water after being caught.

Ice fishing

Winter is over, but you don’t have to stay inside. Being daring: bundle up and go ice fishing!

Prior to going out on the ice, remember that safety is the essential factor. Make sure the ice is thick enough by asking the officials, bait shops, or people in the area.

It is recommended by the Canadian Red Cross that you check the ice for at least 15 cm, or six inches, of thickness before going out alone. It’s best to wait until the ice is 20 cm (8 inches) thick before taking a group out on it, and 25 cm (10 inches) thick before driving a sled or an all-terrain vehicle on it. If you look closely, clear blue ice is the strongest, while honeycombed or cloudy ice is the weakest.

If you want to drive on ice, make sure you are well-prepared by checking the thickness and colour of the ice. A floating suit or PFD, waterproof matches, a whistle, and the right clothes (dress in layers) should be with you for safety reasons. Make sure you go with someone so you’re not on the ice by yourself, and let someone know when you plan to come back.

Don’t forget to look over the most recent Recreational Fishing Regulations Summary before you go. It has information about lakes where you can ice fish, as well as the seasons and limits. Over-the-ice fishing isn’t officially allowed in Ontario, but it is done in lakes during the open season for a certain species.

The equipment is easy to use. You will need a line with a hook and a minnow or bait, as well as an auger or spud bar to make a hole in the ice. Most fishing stores sell jigging rods, which are easier to use than tip-up poles.

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