How to Fish for Food: A Beginner’s Guide
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This is a guest post by Olivia Nicholson from The Red Rock Flock.
One way of putting food on the table that some homesteaders may not normally consider is fishing. Not only can it be a fun family activity or a relaxing pastime, but it can also be a low-cost, sustainable source of healthy and nutritious food!
There are many species of edible fish that are unique to each region of the US and Canada. With the most basic and inexpensive of fishing equipment, you can stock your freezer full of delicious fresh fish year round.
First, check with your local parks department to read up on local rules and regulations surrounding fishing. Most situations require a fishing license – although some states do have free fishing days or certain parks that are exempt. Children are usually free or highly discounted. Fishing licenses are inexpensive, so don’t skip that step and risk getting slapped with a pricey ticket.
Each species of fish will have a bag limit, meaning, you are only allowed to harvest a certain number of a particular species per day. There may also be a length range that the fish has to be in. It is very important to observe these limits since they are put in place by local authorities to maintain a high quality fishery for everyone to enjoy.
Check if there are any health warnings in your area for eating fish. You will want to avoid harvesting any fish in polluted waters since the quality of the meat will reflect the waters it has been living in. Your state’s health department will release Fish Consumption Advisories that will detail any contaminated areas to avoid.\
There are several inexpensive ways of purchasing fishing equipment. Amazon, your local sporting goods store, or a discount retailer will all have several beginner set-ups to choose from. Garage sales, pawn shops, and classified ads are also great places to find deals! To get started, you will need at a minimum:
- A fishing rod, reel, and line
- A way to store your catch
Rods & Reels:
I’ve lumped the rod, reel, and line together because often times you can buy these in a ‘combo’, meaning, the store will have a fishing rod ready to go with all 3 of these components. This combo rod and reel from Shakespeare is a great beginner’s combo already pre-spooled with line.
Most rods will have the power, action, and length printed on the underside of the rod near the handle. Power is the strength of the rod itself. The action refers to how a rod bends. Line is something you won’t have to worry too much about as a beginner but can vary depending on what types of fish you’re catching and area in which you’ll be fishing; the rod will have a guideline for what types of line it takes. Check out this guide summarizing rod characteristics for more information.
Hooks and Bait:
If you are just starting out, the easiest way to catch fish is with live bait. Worms are your best friend for getting eager fish to bite! You will need an inexpensive plastic or foam bobber, a pack of live bait hooks, and some wrigglers. Earthworms can even be dug up from your own property and stored in a small reusable container filled with dirt.
Live or dead bait for saltwater fishing will also yield great results. Almost all fish will find a cut piece of shrimp or squid irresistible!
Circle hooks or octopus hooks are great for live bait. The size of the hook will depend on the type of fish you are targeting. There are many guides online that can help you choose and understand the sizing of hooks such as this one from The Online Fisherman.
There are some very simple fishing knots, such as the improved clinch knot, that can be learned in a matter of minutes. Seaguar is a great reference to follow step by step videos of knot tying.
Tie your hook onto the end of your fishing line, then slide the bobber up your line to a length of 18-24” (or shallower depending on the depth). Gently cast your bobber out and wait for that bobber to start dipping up and down below the surface. This basic bobber rigging video is very helpful and easy to follow.
If you want to mix it up, you can delve into the world of artificial baits which range from plastic worms that can be wiggled and bounced off the bottom, spinnerbaits which have a metallic spinning element which attract hungry fish, or crankbaits which look like injured bait fish shimmying through the water.
Congratulations! You caught a fish. Now let’s figure out where to store that fish while you try to land some more. The easiest way to store small or medium fish on land is in a simple cooler filled with ice. Simply place the freshly caught fish in the ice for storage.
If you happen to be kayaking or on a small boat, you can hold your live fish in place on a stringer, where it will remain fresh and alive in the water. Larger boats, such as bass boats or saltwater boats, will have a livewell that fills up with water where you can store your catches until the end of the trip.
Preparing, Cooking or Storing your Fish
Prepare your fresh fish as quickly as possible. Most fish can be filleted easily with a sharp knife. Youtube has numerous videos on filleting all different species of fish. If you are looking to prepare a large quantity of fish, you can also look into buying an electric fillet knife, which will make the task a lot quicker.
My favorite way of preparing almost any fresh fish is lightly breaded with butter and lemon or simply grilled.
If you plan on storing fish in the freezer, a vacuum sealer is a great way to package individual fillets for later use.
Overall, fishing can be a really fun way to involve the whole family in harvesting food. There’s nothing more rewarding than a long day on the water, only to return home with a cooler full of tasty fish!