Freshwater Fishing Tackle and Lures, a Beginners Guide
This article on freshwater fishing tackle and lures will help anglers new to the sport choose the tackle and lures that will need to get started fishing. The selection of fishing equipment is extensive. It can be quite confusing. In this article Capt Jim will break it down and give recommendations. There is no one set of tackle and lures that will cover every fishing situation.
Capt Jim Klopfer is a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida. He grew up in Maryland, fishing both freshwater and saltwater. Capt Jim fishes the lakes and rivers of Florida often. He also has a home in Franklin, NC. He fishes there for trout and smallmouth bass. In this article Capt Jim will not list every lure option, this will just overwhelm anglers. Instead, he will give you his personal favorites.
Freshwater fishing rods and reels
The primary piece of equipment that an angler will need is the fishing rod and reel. The rods are fairly similar. The reel seat and guides are a bit different. Rods come in various “actions”. Capt Jim likes a “fast” action. This means that the rod is stout at the butt (reel) end but limber at the tip. Most outfits are well matched from the manufacturer.
Most rods have recommendations for line and lure size right on the blank. This really aids anglers in determining the best rod and reel combination to use for their application.
However, there are three choices when it comes to reels. These are spin cast (closed faced), spinning (open faced), and conventional (baitcasting). Each has advantages and disadvantages.
Spin cast rods and reels
Many anglers caught their first fish on a spin cast outfit. These have several names including “push button” and “closed faced”. The line is released by pushing a button the the back then releasing it to let the line out. A cowl with a hole in it covers the spool. These reels are inexpensive and fairly easy to use. They are not a bad choice for children and novice anglers.
Spin cast reels do have their limitations. They do not hold much line. Also, the retrieve ratios are usually low, meaning the line comes back in slowly. Finally, the drags are fair at best. That said, these outfits do have a loyal following and plenty of big fish have been landed by anglers using them.
Spin Cast outfits are available in a variety of sizes. Ultra light rigs are best for panfish while the largest versions can handle a big catfish. Below are a few recommendations for anglers to choose from.
Freshwater fishing with spinning outfits
For most anglers freshwater fishing, spinning tackle is the best choice. Some anglers refer to them as ‘open faced” reels. This is due to the fact that the spool is open and easily seen. A bail covers the spool. It is flipped to allow the line to be cast. Anglers put the line under their index finger and let it slide off when casting.
Spinning reels are affordable, versatile, and fairly easy to use. They come in many different sizes. Reels are sized by number, usually using four digits. A 1000 reel is small while a 6000 reel will catch a big fish. Most spinning reels can be reeled from either side. The handles swap over. This is an advantage that neither spin cast or conventional reels offer.
Anglers have a wide range of choices when it comes to a spinning outfit. A quality unit can be purchased for under $100. A serviceable rig can be purchased for much less that that. Below are a few option to choose from for anglers that would like to shop. “10” sized reels are the same as “1000”, 30 sized reels are the same as “3000”. The Quantum outfit is a quality unit for the price.
Ugly Stick outfits have been around for decades. They are an excellent value for the price.
A 1000-2000 series reel on a matching rod is a good all round choice for anglers fishing for smaller fish such as panfish, trout, small bass, and small catfish in smaller waters. Anglers will often be casting small lures and baits. Light tackle is required for this. 4lb or 6lb line should be used with these outfits.
A 3000-4000 series reel is better suited for anglers tossing heavier lures and baits for larger fish. These are still light enough to fish for smaller fish. However, the battle will not be as enjoyable. Still, it is a good choice for anglers who will be fishing in a variety of waters for both small and medium sized fish. Bass, walleye, larger trout, carp, and catfish are examples of this. Spools should be filled with 8lb to 12lb line.
5000-6000 series reels and larger are for anglers seeking big fish. This includes casting heavy baits for big catfish and carp. Big striped bass, northern pike and musky will also require this heavier tackle. For the most part, this type of tackle is too heavy for average freshwater fishing. Lines testing 17lb to 20lb work best.
Conventional, or bait casting rods and reels
The third option for anglers is a conventional or ‘baitcasting” outfit. These are most often used by experienced anglers. They cost more money and are difficult to master. However, in skilled hands, they are awesome! The line comes on the spool. When cast, anglers “thumb” the spool to prevent an over run (tangled line).
Conventional outfits are the best choice for anglers who like to troll. Reels can even be purchased with “line counters” to let anglers know how far back the lure is. These are also good for anglers who like to bottom fish for big catfish. Below are a few recommendations.
Freshwater fishing line choices
Fishing line comes in several variations as well. Like everything else, there are advantages and disadvantages to them. The choices are monofilament, flourocarbon, and braid.
Monofilament is the best choice for most novice anglers. It is inexpensive and knots are easy to tie. Flourocarbon is great, but quite expensive. Braided line is expensive, but lasts a long time. It has no stretch, improving the sensitivity. Knots are more difficult to tie and anglers often use a leader with braid. Capt Jim likes Suffix fishing line.
Fish hooks, sinkers, and floats
Anglers freshwater fishing with live or cut bait will need hooks, sinkers, and sometimes leaders and swivels. This is just basic gear for basic fishing.
Freshwater fishing hooks
Hooks come in a variety of sizes and styles. It gets a tad confusing in the larger sizes. The larger the number, the smaller the hook. A #2 hook is much larger than a #12 hook. However, in the larger hooks, they use the “ought” sizing. A 1/0 hook is larger than a #2 hook. A 5/0 hook is larger than a 1/0 hook. Confused?
Just to keep it simple, anglers should get “baitholder” style hooks in various sizes. These have little barbs on the shank that help hold the bait. #10-#8 is good for panfish. #2 would be good for crappie and smaller bass. #1/0 is a good size for catfish. Anglers should match the hook to the size of the bait, not the size of the fish being sought. This will result in a more natural presentation.
Fishing sinkers also come in many sizes and shapes. Basically, they all do the same thing; get the bait down in the water column. Small split shot can be pinched on the line and are good for fishing in shallow water. Egg sinkers slide on the line. Bank sinkers are used for bottom fishing. Anglers can read all about light tackle bottom fishing in this article on light tackle bottom fishing.
Floats, or bobbers, are used to suspend the bait at a desired depth. They also serve to provide casting weight as well as giving a visual reference to a bite. Bobbers come in various sizes and styles. A handful of round red and white bobbers in several sizes will cover most situations.
Freshwater fishing lures
It surprises many anglers new to the sport that artificial lures can out-fish live bait. How can a fake or plastic bait be more appealing that something real? The answer is that fish bite for several reasons. These include angler, hunger, excitement, competition, and defense.
Lures have two big advantages. Anglers can cover a lot more water with artificial lures than they can with bait. Also, lures can trigger strikes from inactive fish. Many lures are designed to vibrate or flash to elicit these reflex strikes.
Lures come in several basic design types. These include soft plastic baits, jigs, hard body baits or “plugs”, spinners, spinnerbaits, and spoons. Capt Jim will cover each of these along with his preferred baits.
Soft plastic freshwater fishing lures
Soft plastic baits are incredibly effective fishing lures. Back in the day “rubber worms” fooled a lot of bass. Since their introduction in the 1960’s, soft plastic baits have come a long way. Bait mimic everything from worms, lizards, frogs, crayfish, minnows, and more. Some resemble nothing that lives but still catch fish! They are fished on a hook or some type of jig head.
Capt Jim really likes the GULP line of baits. He uses the saltwater versions extensively on his fishing charters. The freshwater baits work great as well. They come in a wide variety of sizes and styles. GULP baits are heavily scented and really combine artificial lures with live bait.
Mister Twister makes a terrific line of soft plastic baits. They basically invented the curly tail grub. These range from tiny baits for panfish to larger ones for big bass. Capt Jim will give a few of the baits that he likes best.
The Yamamoto Senko is a fantastic soft plastic bait. It is Capt Jim’s favorite plastic worm, by far. The Senko has incredible action and does not require a lot of action by the anglers. It can be rigged a variety of ways. Green pumpkin flake is a great all round color.
Rigging soft plastic baits
Soft plastic baits can be rigged several ways. Plastic worms are rigged to be weedless on special hooks. This is called a “Texas rig”. Swimbait hooks are another special design that work well on larger baits.
Soft plastic lures can also be rigged on a jig head. This is the method that Capt Jim prefers. It works especially well on smaller panfish baits. However, larger plastic baits are extremely effective on jig heads, particularly for walleye and smallmouth bass.
Freshwater fishing jigs
Jigs are similar to a soft plastic bait rigged on a jig head. The difference is that the jig is a complete unit. It comes with a jig head along with some type of dressing over the hook. This can be a natural material such as buck tail or marabou. These look very natural in the water. Synthetic hair is popular as well. Some come with rubber legs that undulate enticingly in the water.
Capt Jim’s favorite jig for freshwater fishing is the Blakemore Roadrunner. It comes in sizes for every fishing application and will catch every species. The lure can be purchased with a marabout tail or plain so that anglers can add a soft plastic tail. It also has a spinner blade which adds flash and vibration.
Freshwater fishing plugs
Plugs are hard baits that used to be wood and are now almost all plastic. For the most part, they mimic bait fish. However, some are crawfish and other imitations. Some plugs are worked on the surface. These are called “topwater” plugs. Others have a lip which causes them to dive down into the water. Plugs can be cast or trolled.
Plugs are easy to cast. Most have a built in action that makes them easy to use. On the negative side, plugs are expensive. They also have treble hooks which are more dangerous when casting or unhooking fish. However, they are very productive and a lot of fun to fish!
The Heddon Tiny Torpedo is Capt Jim’s favorite topwater plug. It has been around a long time and still catches fish. The size is perfect for catching fish of all sizes.
The Rapala X-Rap Extreme Action Slashbait is Capt Jim’s favorite subsurface plug. This type of bait is knows as a “jerk bait” due to the manner in which it is worked. The lure is sharply jerked then paused. This pause usually draws the strike. Colors vary depending on the water fished. White is a great all round color. #8 is a good size for most species.
The Bill Lewis Rattletrap is a lipless crankbait. It is easy to use. The angler simply casts it out and reels it back in with a steady pace. This lure has a ton of built in action that provokes strikes from inactive fish. Chrome with a blue back is a top color pattern
Spinners are simple yet effective freshwater fishing lures. They consist of a shaft with a blade that rotates, emitting flash and vibration. The hook is on the tail and is often dressed with hair. Spinners are easy to use and are extremely effective, particularly in streams and rivers. They can also be trolled.
The Wordens Roostertail is Capt Jim’s favorite spinner. It is also by far his favorite river fishing lure. The Roostertail is extremely effective on all trout species. It also produces panfish in lakes and ponds. The larger versions will catch pike, musky, and bass. Color patterns are endless. Capt Jim likes bright colors with a gold blade. They are available in single hook versions for trout fishing where treble hooks are not allowed.
Spinnerbaits are odd looking lures that really do not resemble anything in nature. However, they do combine two great lures; spinners and jigs. They have a wire frame that resembles a safety pin. A blade or blades run at the top. A jig with a skirt or grub is at the bottom.
These are terrific artificial lures for novice anglers! The cast well and are very easy to use. They also have a single hook, which makes releasing fish easy. The design also makes them very weedless. There are a lot of great spinnerbaits out there. However, Capt Jim loves the Johnson Beetlespin. The small versions are extremely productive on panfish. Larger models catch bass and other species. Black is his favorite color.
Spoons are a simple lure that have been around a very long time. Basically they are a bent piece of metal with a hook at the rear. Properly designed, they wobble and flash enticingly, putting out flash and vibration. Spoons cast a long way and are easy for novice anglers to use. Anglers should use a swivel with a spoon to reduce line twist.
Spoons can not only be cast, but are extremely effective when trolled. Walleye, trout, and salmon anglers have been catching fish with them for decades. The spoon that Capt Jim likes best is the Johnson Sprite. Small models are great for river fishing for trout and smallmouth bass. Larger spoons work well for other game fish. Gold is his first choice, silver is second.
An article on spoons would not be complete without recognizing the Eppinger Daredevil. This is THE lure for northern pike. It is also effective on musky, bass, walleye, and other species. It comes in several color patterns, with the red and white and “five of diamonds” patterns being the best.
There are a few other items that anglers will need to get started fishing in freshwater. These include a pair of pliers, landing net, good pair of sunglasses, bait bucket (if fishing with minnows), fillet knife (if keeping fish), and waders, if needed. Like any hobby, equipment is needed to enjoy the sport!
In conclusion, this article on freshwater fishing tackle and lures will help beginner anglers understand what gear they need to get started!