Spending time with someone who already fishes is the easiest way to learn to fish. In fact, most anglers learned to fish from a friend or family member. If that's an option do take advantage of it. Most anglers enjoy passing on their passion and wisdom.
For those who don't have that option, there are plenty of how-to videos, articles and books that will have you fishing in no time.
You can get started on the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation website. It's an excellent source of general fishing information that contains helpful videos and practical advice on everything from selecting bait to cleaning your catch.
Below we've compiled a list of topics that should have you fishing in no time. Just click on a topic to get started.
- Buy a license
To legally fish in Minnesota, all residents of Minnesota from ages of 16 to 89 must have a current Minnesota fishing license unless they have a military service, nursing home resident or other exemption.
You don't have to visit a license agent to get your fishing license. If you have a valid credit or debit card and appropriate identification you can:
- Buy a fishing license online; or
- Call 888-665-4236 (888-MNLICENSE).
View the complete listing of fishing licenses types to help you decide which license you need.
There are places to fish in Minnesota where you don't need a license. Find out more with this guide.
- Select a rod and reel
Selecting fishing equipment can be intimidating. That's because modern sports stores offer so many varieties at so many different price levels. Yet you can easily resolve this dilemma by simply explaining to a sales person your skill level and the species you most want to catch. Based on this information you will likely be offered one of five options:
- Cane pole or telescopic cane pole
- Closed-face spinning rod and reel
- Open-faced spinning rod and reel
- Bait-casting rod and reel
- Fly-fishing rod and reel
You don't have to buy a rod and reel. You can make your own pop can casting rig.
- Outfit a tackle box
A tackle box is a handy way to tote your fishing lures, hooks and other gear. Tackle boxes come in a variety of sizes, shapes and costs. For advice on what to put in your tackle box, Read this article.
- Tie your hook to line
One of the easiest and strongest fishing knots for tying a hook to your line is a clinch knot. To tie this knot, simply pass the tag end of your fishing line or leader line through the eye of the fishing hook. Make sure you have at least 6 inches of length on the tag end. Wrap the tag end of the line around the standing end five or six times. After you have wrapped the tag end around your line several times, you have to insert the line through the hoop you have created at the hook's eye before pulling it tight. Moisten and pull both the tag end and standing end so that line tightens up against the eye of the hook. Trim the tag end. Check out complete step-by-step instructions for tying a clinch (some call it a "cinch") knot.
- Set the drag
Before you start fishing you should adjust your reel's "drag" to the appropriate tension. The drag mechanism is designed to create friction so that a fish can pull line from your reel but with the right amount of difficulty. If the drag is too light the fish will easily pull line from the reel without getting tired. If the drag is too tight the fish may break the line because of too much tension.
The easiest way to set the drag is to first test it by using your hand to pull on your line directly above the reel. The line should be difficult to pull out.
Tighten the drag on your open-faced reel by turning the front drag adjustment button a few clicks to the right if the line pulls out too easily. If it’s too tight, loosen the drag by turning the crank a few clicks to the left. Closed-faced reels usually have a roller drag adjustment mechanism, which can be a small thumbwheel on top of the reel or a star-shaped wheel on the handle.
Setting the drag on bait-casting reel follows the same principals as setting the drag on open-faced reels. The only difference is the location of the drag adjustment mechanism. On most bait-casting reels, the drag mechanism is star-shaped and located next to the reel. Like the other reels, turn right to tighten the drag and left to loosen it.
Find complete step-by-step instructions from this online guide.
- Bait your hook
Worms, nightcrawlers, leeches and certain grubs are common and effective natural baits for catching sunfish, bass and many other species.
To bait a hook with a nightcrawler or worm, push the hook through the side of the worm once or twice as you thread it onto the hook. When finished, most of the hook should be concealed and small portion of the worm should be left dangling.
Minnows can be hooked in a variety of ways:
- Through both lips from bottom to top.
- Through the top of the back so it hangs naturally in the water.
- By the tail so that it draws attention to itself as it tries to swim away.
You can view how it's done in our online guide.
- Set the hook
There are many different ways to set the hook or “plant the hook into a biting fish.” The type of hook set depends on the kind of equipment and species of fish you are trying to catch. When fishing without a bobber a good rule of thumb is to wait and feel the weight of the fish before setting the hook. If the fish is cautious and just tapping your bait lightly it is best to wait. Let the fish take the bait, and then pull back on the rod quickly after you feel its weight. When fishing with a bobber it is best to wait until your bobber is pulled nearly or completely underwater or when you feel a good tug on your fishing line or when your bobber starts moving sideways. It is a good idea to reel in slack and keep your line tight. This helps you to feel the fish bite and makes for a more efficient hook set. Learn more by viewing the online guide, but here are some basic techniques:
Reel/Crank Set: Use this hook set for finesse fishing techniques with a light action rod, light line and small hooks for small fish. While fishing, hold your rod in the 2-3 o’clock position. When you will feel a thump, a strike or something heavy on the end of your line, slowly work the tip of the fishing rod to a 12 o’clock position with a firm grip on your fishing rod to tighten your line. Once at the 12 o’clock position, turn the reel handle in a fast motion. This technique will allow time for the hook to properly penetrate into the fish’s mouth and insure that you, the angler, did NOT jerk the hook from the fish’s mouth. This type of lighter hook set is particularly effective on crappies, which have thin mouths.
Snap Set: This hook set is probably the most commonly used hook set in fishing because it’s the most instinctual kind of hook set. No matter the situation or technique, a snap hook set is always a good option. Start by holding your rod in the 1-2 o’clock position. If you feel a strike from a fish, drop your rod tip to the 3 o’clock position and simultaneously reel in the slack from your fishing line. Once you have picked up the slack in your line, move and snap your fishing rod back to the 12 o’clock position with speed and force and begin reeling to keep the line tight. These steps and technique will insure that the fish has no leverage and will give you the best opportunity to penetrate the hook and land the fish.
Sweep set: Use a sweep set while fishing crankbaits. The reason why the sweep set is the best option for fishing this specific technique is because the natural motion of this hook set mimics forage trying to escape from a predator’s mouth. When fishing crankbaits, point your rod tip down in the 5-6 o’clock position while holding both the rod and reel lightly with your hands. As you turn the handle on your reel in a steady speed while retrieving the crankbait through the water, you will see the tip of your rod vibrate and feel the crankbait vibrating in your hand through the line and rod. If the bait stops vibrating or you feel your fishing line go limp or slack, you may have a bite. To set the hook, gently move your fishing rod in a sideways sweeping motion to the left or the right, depending on your position. This motion is similar to sweeping a floor.
- Fish with artificial lures
Though fishing with live bait beneath a bobber is an incredibly effective way to catch sunfish, crappies and even walleye, artificial lures that are constantly cast and retrieved have many advantages over bait-and-bobber rigs. That’s because they cover much more water, make noises that lure fish and can be fished at multiple depths. There are six basic types of artificial lures. They are the jig, plastic worm, spinner, spoon, plug and fly. To learn more about each, download our guide.
- How to land a fish
Landing your catch can be quick and easy or long and hard depending on the size of the fish. Small fish can be reeled-in with ease. Larger fish that take out line and put a big bow in your rod require more time and patience. The best advice for reeling in big fish is that “when it pulls you don’t,” meaning when the fish is swimming away from the boat let your reel’s drag put pressure on the fish. A fish will usually roll into its side when it is done fighting and ready to be landed. Watch this video to see how it's done.
A landing net is a good thing to have if you want to catch larger fish or fish with sharp teeth. A net allows you to lift the fish out of the water without putting stress on your line, which can easily break if the fish makes quick jerky moves. A net also allows you to get the fish safely in a boat or on a dock so that the hook can be removed.
Typically, it is best to place the fishing net in the water and lead the fish into the net head first. If the fish sees the net and reverses course wait until the fish tires and try again. You don’t want to stab the net at the fish; instead, use a little stealth when sliding the net into the water in front of the fish.
- Decide if a fish is safe to eat
Most fish are a healthy source of low-fat protein. In fact, Minnesota anglers eat millions of fish each year. Still, any fish (even store-bought fish) can contain contaminants such as mercury and PCBs that can harm human health – especially children and fetuses. Check online to be sure that your catch is safe to eat or get fish consumption information for a specific lake.
- Fillet a fish
If you want to eat your catch you may want to fillet it, which is a common way to remove unwanted bones, scales and the like before cooking. This works best with an actual fillet knife.
To fillet a fish, lay it on its side on a flat surface. Cut the fish behind its gills and pectoral fin, but only to the rib cage. Neither scaling nor removing the head is necessary. Turn the blade toward the tail and cut along the top of the ribs using the fish's backbone to guide you. Turn the fish over and repeat. Next, insert the knife blade close to the rib bones and slice the entire rib section of each fillet away. Then, with the skin side down, insert the knife blade about a 1/2-inch from the tail. Gripping this tail part firmly, put the blade between the skin and the meat at an angle. Using a little pressure and a sawing motion, cut against - not through - the skin. The fillet will be removed from the skin. Wash each fillet in cold water. Pat dry with a clean cloth or paper towel. The fillets are ready to cook or freeze. To see how this is done, read the online guide.