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If you're interested in catching fish for food, it's important to know what fishing gear you will need. Catching fish doesn't necessarily require loads of expensive equipment. In fact, it can be relatively inexpensive. If you have no fishing gear at all, you can get started with the basics for under $100.00. Basic equipment includes something to catch fish with, something to keep them in and a way to clean them when you get home.
A rod and reel is the most important and probably the single most expensive fishing gear you will buy. If you are going to be fishing for panfish (bluegill, crappie, yellow perch, etc.) a light weight rod & reel with a light test line 4-6 pound test is my favorite. You can play the fish for the enjoyment, but you can still crank them in when the fishing gets hot.
A "beginner level" rod and reel combo can be purchased for around $30. The reel from this set-up might wear out after a couple of years of heavy use, but it would work well enough to find out if you want to continue fishing.
A much better quality rod and reel combo can be had for under $100. I'm partial to closed face spin casting reels, and recommend this type of reel for the novice. They're easy to cast and retrieve without getting your line snarled up, and are easy to clean and maintain.
For larger fish like catfish and white bass, a heavier rig with heavier test line works better. 10-12 pound test line lets you land some pretty big fish.
The term "test" by the way, refers to the breaking (tensile) strength of the fishing line. Remember that the weight of the fish you catch is not the total force applied to the line.
When the fish fights - and you fight back, additional force is applied. The harder the fish fights, the more pounds of force applied.
Although I have caught some pretty nice catfish and the occasional "accidental" large mouth bass on my panfish rig, it's not what I'm going for, and landing one is a 50/50 proposition at best. Landing a larger fish on a light rig requires a bit more patience and care, but it can be done.
If you tie into a real lunker with light fishing gear...well, just plan on not catching it. I've heard that faint "tink" sound when my line snaps, and it's REALLY disappointing, but - if you're catching panfish, a lighter line will catch more fish, so don't loose sight of what you're really after.
Fishing rods come in many styles and price ranges. They can be made from fiberglass, graphite, and carbon fiber. They can range from being very stiff to very limber. A stiffer pole will communicate a fish bite or nibble more clearly to your hand, but a more limber pole can let you cast further. I prefer to hit a happy medium that lets me get distance as well as a reasonably good feel for the strike.
-Hooks - A "must have" part of your fishing gear are hooks and swivels. Small hooks work best for panfish (I like #6 or #8 Aberdeen style). Big enough to hold a cricket or minnow but not much bigger. If your hook is too big, panfish can't easily get the business end of the hook into their mouths. Larger hooks work for larger fish like crappie and catfish.
The latest "fad" in fishing hooks is hooks with red coating on them. The theory being that fish supposedly can't see red, so they can't see the hook, and will more readily strike at your bait. I've used red hooks, brass hooks and black hooks, and haven't really seen much difference. I guess the jury's still out. I'll have to fish some more trials to test further...DANG IT!
Be careful of fads - you can wind up spending a lot of money on fishing gear that "looks good", but doesn't catch any more fish than if you were using the basics.
-Snap Swivels - If you use swivels (and I highly recommend them), pick them so that the match the size of hook you will use. Small hook = small swivel. The purpose of a swivel is to allow the hook or lure to twist and turn while you are reeling in, without your line getting twisted up as well. If you fish with a bare hook and live bait, a swivel can also add just a bit more ballast and allow you a to cast just a little further.
Snap swivels allow for quick and easy change of hooks or lures. They open and close similar to a safety pin.
-Floats (bobbers) - A float or bobber should serve two purposes.
First it should suspend your bait at a particular level in the water column where the fish are active and feeding.
Second, it can serve as a strike indicator, letting you know when it's time to set the hook and reel in your catch.
It can also add some ballast to allow you to cast further.
When using floats, I'm a firm believer that smaller is better - remember, you don't want to hit the fish in the head and knock them out with the bobber. Big floats can increase your casting distance, but they make a big splash - which can scare the fish off. I prefer very small floats - when I use one at all. Often times, my preference is bare line with a small hook and swivel.
Bobbers can be made from quite a few different materials, ranging from porcupine quills, to balsa wood, foam and molded plastic. Some are just round balls that float on the surface and bounce up and down when you get a strike. Others are long and narrow, and lay flat on the surface, but will "stand up" when you get a strike.
One design is threaded onto your line and the line moves freely through the center of the float. The line stops only when it hits a stopper knot that is tied onto the line. This allows you to fish deep using a float, because the knot can be tied at any depth. After you cast, the weight of your bait will pull the line through the float until it stops at the knot. This design is frequently used for catching crappie in deep water over brush piles and submerged stumps.
Crickets, grasshoppers, worms, minnows, bee-moths are a few common examples of live bait. Strictly speaking live bait doesn't classify as fishing gear, but, it's important to know the basics. In my opinion, artificial lures can't compete with live bait. Remember lures are designed to resemble what fish eat naturally. Live bait IS what fish eat naturally.
-Crickets - My personal favorite live bait (and what I have most success with) is crickets. You can usually buy commercially raised crickets by the hundred count and are relatively inexpensive - $3 to $5 depending on where you buy them.
The key thing about crickets is that you can get them almost year round, and panfish will readily take crickets almost anytime you use them.
-Grasshoppers are equally effective (if not more so) You can catch them for free in the summer if you have access to an open field where the grass doesn't get cut regularly. Big problem with grasshoppers is that they have a limited time that they are available. Spring is out as they haven't hatched yet or are too small to be of any use. After the first hard freeze in the fall is out as well, because a hard free will kill most of them off
-Bee Moth - Some of my bluegill fishing friends swear by bee-moth (which is a small white grub of a moth) that can be purchased at bait stores, personally I've never had much luck with them, but I suggest you give them a try at least once. You may have better luck than I have had.
-Worms and Night crawlers are probably the most common live bait, and are highly effective for panfish. Catfish will take a big wad of night crawlers as well. You can dig your own or buy them at a bait store. Either way - they'll catch fish.
-Minnows are the crappie fisherman's favorite, and for good reason. Crappie prey on small bait fish as a large portion of their natural diet. If you find the crappie, minnows your best live bait bet for catching them.
There are many other kinds of live or natural bait. Small crawfish, cut shad, small bluegill, or stink-bait attract big catfish. Leeches are used in northern climates for yellow perch and walleye. Bluegill will eat almost any kind of insect that will fit on a hook. Experiment with different baits, get the advice of experienced fisherman, and talk to the guys in the bait store - whatever is selling best, is most likely what's most effective at the time.
-Lures - there are a huge variety of lures available at practically every store that carries fishing gear. Although my preference is for live bait, I use artificial lures on occasion.
There are so many different varieties of jigs, grubs, flies, and other kinds of lures, it's way beyond the reach of this page. If want to try using lures, talk to the guys at the local bait and tackle shop to find out what's working best for the kind of fish you are after, and for the time of year you are fishing in your area.
If you don't have a way to get your catch home, there's little use for all of the other fishing gear. Stringer, fish basket or bucket - you need something to keep your catch in once you catch it. I believe that simpler is better.
-Stringer is just what it sounds like - it's a length of cord with a spike on one end and a small ring on the other. Fish are kept on the stringer by passing the spike end in through the gill cover and out through the mouth of the fish.
Stringers are ideal for bank fishing, but trailing a big string of fish from a canoe or john boat tends to make paddling and steering more difficult. It also tends to be pretty hard on the fish on the bottom of the stringer when you have 20 or 30 on the string. If you're fishing all morning or all afternoon, it's tough to keep them all alive and fresh.
-Fish baskets are another option that allows you to keep your fish fresh. Fish baskets are collapsible wire or net mesh baskets with a spring loaded trap door on top where you can put your fish in it. It hangs into the water so the fish have fresh water passing over them constantly, with the added benefit of not being impaled on a stringer.
-5 gallon plastic bucket with a chunk of ice and half filled with lake water and covered with an old towel keeps your fish alive and fresh for hours. The ice slows the fish's metabolism down so that they use less oxygen, and the towel keeps the fish from jumping out.
In the heat of the summer, you will still have to change part of the water every hour or so, because the ice will melt pretty quickly. I use this set-up in my canoe with great success. I call it my "redneck live well". I use a half gallon milk jug as my ice container, so when I'm done, I can rinse it off and put it straight back into the freezer for next time.
In my personal opinion, I think it's best to keep your catch out of the water that you are fishing in. I'm convinced that fish produce a fright signal (scent or sound) after they are caught. Other fish can sense this and will stop or dramatically slow biting. As far as I know there is not scientific evidence of this, only my personal experience.
A good fillet knife is an essential for anyone looking to put fish on the table and in the freezer. It should have a narrow, thin, very flexible blade that comes to a very sharp point, and can take and hold a razor's edge. Don't skimp. A good quality fillet knife won't cost you that much. Trying to clean fish with anything else is an exercise in frustration and waste.
There are lots of cheaply made, stiff, poorly sharpened fillet knives out there. As far as I'm concerned, Rapala makes some of the best fillet knives out there, and are easy to find. I suggest getting a 4 inch blade and a 6 inch blade.
The smaller blade is better filleting bluegill or other sunfish. The larger blade is better for filleting larger fish like crappie, bass, and catfish. I also use the larger blade for skinning even small fillets. It seems easier that way, but it's personal preference. You can even find a package set with both size blades and a sharpener.
There are lots of other fishing gear available on the market. Here are a few additional things that I recommend, but certainly aren't necessities.
-Landing Net - If you are fishing for crappie from a boat or dock a small landing net is a good idea to have. Crappie have fragile mouth parts, and lifting them out of the water still on the hook can result in some losses.
Getting them close and landing them with a net will help you put more fish in the boat.
-Weights - There are times when a small weight comes in handy. 1/16 and 1/32 oz weights are good to have if you are fishing into the wind. The added ballast can help you cast a bit further. They also help if you are trying to get your bait to the bottom more quickly. You can buy a small assortment pack of weights for a couple of dollars.
-Hook Remover - If you are fishing for sunfish like bluegill, keep in mind that they tend to swallow the hooks. This means that they often get hooked deep in their throats instead of in the lip. It's a good idea to have a hook remover for when this happens.
There are many kinds of hook removers available, but my preference is a simple pair of surgical hemostats. They allow you to reach deep into a fishes mouth and grasp the hook for easy removal.
-Minnow bucket - If you are going to fish with minnows, you will need something to keep them in. A small bucket or coffee can will work fine if the weather is cool, but in the heat of summer, minnows will die quickly if you can't keep them cool. The more minnows you have, the faster they will start dying. An insulated minnow bucket will help keep your bait cool for a longer time.
-Cricket Cage - crickets are frisky little critters and can be hard to catch. When you buy crickets, if you don't have your own container, they will put them in a cardboard tube with a lid. The tube and lid both have a small hole cut in them that when you twist the lid, the holes will line up. You can shake a cricket out through that hole when you're ready to use them.
These tubes work fine, but the bait shop will charge you a buck and and a half for that tube, and they are usually only good for one trip, because they tend to get wet and fall apart. You can buy a wire mesh cricket cage for a few dollars that will last for years. Cricket cages are open at the top, but have a plastic ring that fits into the opening and extends down into the cage about 1 1/2 inches. This ring prevents the crickets from jumping out, but makes reaching in and grabbing one easy.
Catching fish for food is an inexpensive and enjoyable way to put fresh healthy meat on the dinner table and in the freezer. Having the right fishing gear makes the task much easier. Remember that the basics include something to catch the fish with, something to keep them, and a way to clean them after you get them home. Good luck - hope you catch a bunch!
When it comes to fishing licenses, they're a lot like the old American Express commercial - "Don't Leave Home Without It!!! I have been fishing for most of my life, and have only been stopped one time by a fish & game officer to see my license. This is probably because I always carry mine with me.
As my luck runs, If I were to go fishing and accidentally leave my license home - that would be the day I get stopped. The fine for fishing without a license is far higher than the cost of buying a license, not to mention, in some states, they can confiscate all your fishing gear as well!
An annual state fishing license for a full time resident in Indiana only costs $17 - it's just not worth the risk to fish without one. Most states don't require a license of your fishing in a lake or pond on private land. (always have the owner's permission).