In this bass fishing beginner guide we cover everything from how to get started to essential equipment you need. You’ll also learn about the different types of bass, obtaining a fishing license and the best spots to bass fish! Continue reading below…
Bass Fishing for Beginners
Bass are some of the most popular fish to catch—in fact, they’re the #1 game fish in the United States. There are several different species of bass, and you’ll find them in lakes and ponds, rivers and streams. Want to give bass fishing a try? Read on to learn about the equipment and skills you’ll need to get started.
Types of bass
Before you head out to the water, it’s a good idea to learn more about the fish you’re hoping to catch.
There are many different species of bass, which you can differentiate by their size and appearance, their behavior, and the areas in which they’re found. Some bass species include:
These typically solitary fish are powerful predators, feeding on smaller fish, insects, and frogs in their natural habitats. They live in lakes, reservoirs, ponds, rivers, and streams. Although you may catch largemouth bass year-round, you’ll probably have the best luck during the spring, in either the early morning or evening.
There are two subspecies of the largemouth bass: the northern largemouth and the Florida largemouth. They vary slightly in appearance and, as the names suggest, are found in different regions.
The smallmouth bass lives in the clear waters of streams and rivers, as well as in lakes and reservoirs. They generally like cooler water than their largemouth counterparts and are common throughout North America’s temperate regions. Smallmouth bass are brown or sandy in color.
You’ll recognize these fish by their distinctive red eyes. They swim in the cool streams and rivers making up the Coosa River system in Alabama and Georgia. Redeye bass tend to be smaller and slimmer than other bass species, and the largest known redeye bass have weighed around 5 pounds.
Also known as Kentucky bass, these fish closely resemble largemouth bass. They are green in color with lighter undersides and a pattern of spots and blotches. They prefer clear and slow-moving rivers and streams and are commonly found in Florida.
How to get started
- Choose a location: Ask your friends or search online for promising bass fishing spots.
- Get a fishing license: In addition, you should research the rules and regulations for your specific location: Know what methods and gear are permitted, as well as how many fish you can catch in a given time period.
- Acquire the necessary equipment: Putting together a basic tackle box is a fun and educational process, and it doesn’t have to be super expensive.
- Get out there!
The simplest way to find a good fishing location is often an online search. I like to check the websites for each state’s fish and game department. These are a great resource for figuring out where to go and what the relevant rules and regulations are.
Here, for example, you’ll find regulations for fishing in Oregon.
Common rules and regulations include: limitations on how many fish of each species you can catch in a given timeframe, stipulations that some bodies of water are catch-and-release only, and rules on the use of live bait.
Additionally, state websites often have tons of helpful information. This page from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife offers general advice on bass fishing in Oregon, indicating the best times of year and general locations. You can also check this page on fishing zones in Oregon, and this one on 50 fishing locations within an hour of Portland.
How to get a fishing license
Note that you will almost certainly need a fishing license. Again, just search for “[your state]” + “fishing license” and you’ll soon find out how to get your license.
In general, most states will allow you to purchase a fishing license online, over the phone, and at many outdoors stores.
- Rod and reel
- Weights and sinkers
- Needle-nose pliers
- Tackle box
- First aid kit
Rod and Reel
As a new angler, you’ll want a good all-around rod with medium action, about 6.5’ long, rated for an 8- to 12-pound line. Spinning or bait-casting models work well; of the two, spinning rods are probably a little easier to use.
You have many options when it comes to rods and reels. To make things simple, I’ll stick to four common types of rods and reels:
I highly recommend picking up a spinning rod and reel if you’re a beginning angler. Spinning rods and reels are user-friendly and good for long casts, great if you’re trying to get your line out toward the middle of a lake. Plus, you should be able to find a decent model at a reasonable price.
Pair a basic spinning rod with a crankbait lure (more on that below), and you’ll be in good shape for your first outing.
These are similar to spinning reels, except the spool is enclosed by a cover.
These reels are trickier to use than the previous two options. They’re worth learning though because they can be very effective and precise, giving you a lot of control over your line.
These specialized rods and reels also require some skill and technique to use effectively. When fly fishing, you’ll use a very lightweight lure known as a “fly,” and a weighted line. Fly fishing is perhaps most associated with trout and salmon, but you can use this method to catch bass too.
There are several kinds of line you can use. These include: monofilament, braid, and fluorocarbon.
Overall, there is no single perfect kind of line that is best in all situations. Moreover, there’s a lot of variation even within each category. All three of these options—mono, braid, and fluoro—will work just fine.
Many anglers use one type as their line and another as the leader, an extra segment of line in between the main fishing line and the hook. Leaders are typically monofilament or fluorocarbon.
Monofilament (mono) works great in a variety of situations. It floats, has a good amount of stretch, and ties well.
Braid is very strong and can also make a good choice. It doesn’t really stretch, so it’s very sensitive; you’ll feel every nibble on your line. However, braid doesn’t have great knot strength.
Finally, fluorocarbon is worth considering, offering a combination of shock absorption and sensitivity. It is very clear and difficult for fish to see. With harder fluoro, however, it can be difficult to tie knots.
If you’re interested in learning more, you can watch this video, which breaks down the finer points of fishing lines and explains the differences between these three types.
There’s a seemingly endless array of lures on the market, so what kind should you choose for bass fishing? Crankbaits are one popular option for catching bass. They work well with fairly slow-action rods, which help you cast your lure out further. I prefer to avoid bright and artificial colors in favor of more natural looking lures.
Spinnerbaits are another solid choice for bass. They spin and vibrate, creating movement that attracts fish to them.
Rubber worms are another extremely popular option. These worms do a great job of attracting attention from bass and other fish.
Now what about live bait? First, it’s important to know any live bait regulations for your specific area, since some fishing locations don’t allow it.
If live bait is permitted, however, there are several options that are appealing to bass. Minnows and crawfish work very well, as do worms and leeches.
Note that sometimes bass get excited by their favorite live bait (like minnows and crawfish) and end up swallowing the hook—which is less than ideal. Try to prevent this by staying alert and setting the hook as soon as you feel a pull or nibble.
Tip: Check out my recommendations for the best fishing lines for a baitcaster here.
Using high-quality hooks, and swapping them out regularly, is important. Keep in mind that your hooks become dull with use, especially since bass have bony jaws that wear down the hook’s sharpness.
Weights and Sinkers
These little items simply help your lure or hook sink more quickly.
You’ll need a knife if you plan to clean any fish (though this doesn’t apply if you’re doing catch-and-release). If your line snags and you’re unable to fix it, you may need a knife to cut your line. You can also use your knife to chop up bait such as worms.
You might need pliers to remove a hook that has gone too deeply into the fish.
Alternatively, you can purchase a multi-tool instead of a separate knife and pliers.
A tackle box keeps all your tackle organized. They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, so just pick a simple 3600-size tackle box that’s within your budget. You can always get another if your first one fills up.
First aid kit
Have a first aid kit containing essentials such as Neosporin, Band-Aids, hand sanitizer, gauze, and so on just in case of cuts and scrapes.
This is an optional item that will come in handy if you’re fishing by the side of a lake, staying mostly in one position. A simple folding chair helps you stay comfortable.
Final thoughts on equipment
Many new anglers get a bit intimidated by the thousands of gear options out there. When there’s so much choice, it’s easy to get stuck as you try to weigh all the pros and cons. Here’s what I recommend for simplifying your gear acquisition process:
- Have a more experienced friend help you out. If you know anyone who fishes regularly, they can make specific recommendations and help you get set up.
- Go to your local tackle shop or outdoors store and ask for advice. Staff members, especially at dedicated tackle shops, can often point you in the right direction.
- Watch this video, which walks you through an outdoors store and shows you how to put together a beginner’s tackle box.
In addition to tackle, you may want to update your wardrobe with some clothing ideal for fishing—luckily, there’s a good chance you already own some of the necessary items.
I usually wear a thin, moisture-wicking base layer under a synthetic quick-dry top, usually long-sleeved to protect against sun. On cooler days, I’ll add a jacket.
I prefer shorts or pants with plenty of pockets for convenient storage.
As for shoes, I usually opt for a pair of sneakers or some durable hiking sandals or water shoes. If I know I’ll be in mud, I bring boots. When in doubt, closed-toe shoes are safer and provide better protection for your feet.
Since you’ll be outside for hours, take precautions against sunburn. Bring a hat or buff in addition to sunscreen and sunglasses.
If you’re going out on a boat or wading into a river, bring a life vest just in case.
And obviously, wear things you don’t mind getting dirty, since you’ll inevitably get fish, water, dirt, and bait all over your outfit.
Learning to fish
I firmly believe that you’ll learn best by observing and doing. If you have any experienced anglers among your friends and family, ask them to show you the ropes. Watch how they set up their equipment, bait their hooks, and cast their lines, then try it yourself—you’ll get the hang of it fast.
Some of us aren’t so lucky and don’t personally know any experienced anglers. Don’t worry; you can still learn how to fish.
There are some great video tutorials that demonstrate techniques for catching bass. I recommend this 10-part series, which walks you through the basic steps:
- The Bass
- Rods and Reels
- Line and Spooling
- Baits and Tackle
- Knots and Rigging
- Where to Fish
- How to Use a Baitcast Reel
- The Retrieve and How to Attract a Fish
- Hooksets and the Fight
We’ve covered a number of these topics here, but I suggest also watching a few videos so that you can see all the equipment in action and get a visual demonstration of the techniques.
Advice for a successful bass fishing trip
Improving your angling skills is a lifelong process. As you gain experience, you’ll amass all sorts of specialized knowledge and techniques. But even on your first ever bass fishing trip, you can have a blast and catch a few fish. Here’s my advice for making the most of your first few times out on the water:
- Dress for the weather. Staying comfortable is an important part of enjoying the experience and wanting to go fishing again. And remember your sunscreen!
- Your most important pre-trip research has nothing to do with selecting a top-of-the-line rod or memorizing bass behavior patterns. Rather, it has to do with learning the rules and regulations of your state and body of water. Know the rules, and get a license; this way you’ll avoid any awkward encounters with fish and game wardens.
- Learn about other fish species besides bass. Even if you’re aiming for bass, you’re likely to catch other fish as well. Read up on what kinds of fish to expect in your body of water so you know what to do when you catch them.
- Keep an eye out for other wildlife such as bears, snakes, and ticks. Know in advance what wildlife lives in your area so you can take appropriate precautions.
- Don’t worry about catching the biggest trophy bass ever; just have a good time and enjoy being outside. If this is your main goal, then you’ll always have a successful trip.
- Bass are popular among catch-and-release anglers, but (assuming your location permits it), you can keep bass, take them home, and cook a delicious dinner—read some recipes for inspiration.
Bass fishing is a great way to spend time outside, hang out with friends, and maybe even have the thrill of landing a huge fish. All you need is your fishing license and some basic tackle—have fun, and get ready for your first bite.