Freshwater fishing involves any method of catching fish in habitats such as rivers, lakes, streams or ponds. As a whole, these environments represent two percent of all the water on Earth. Moreover, freshwater fishing techniques vary according to an angler’s skills, a habitat’s characteristics and the types of fish being targeted.

Generally, river fishing is subject to different freshwater fishing regulations depending on the state where each habitat is located. For example, anglers in Wisconsin may only catch three walleye per day. These regulations are intended to protect species from becoming endangered and natural environments from being damaged. Additionally, licenses for freshwater fishing are issued to anglers depending on their residency status, purpose and gear. To learn more about fishing in freshwater, as well as the appropriate equipment, techniques, boats and baits required to catch fish in these habitats, read the sections below.

What is freshwater fishing?

Freshwater fishing occurs when an angler engages in activities to catch fish in freshwater habitats. In the United States, freshwater fishes are commonly distinguished according to the water temperature in their environments, such as:

  • Coldwater – Freshwater habitats with temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees are home to coldwater fish such as trout. Northern states in the U.S. are known for containing a large population of rainbow, brown and brook species of trout.
  • Coolwater – Freshwater fishes that thrive in temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees are typically located in cool water habitats. These species include the muskellunge, walleye and northern pike.
  • Warmwater – Habitats with temperatures over 80 degrees are optimal for freshwater fishing of warm water species. These fish include largemouth bass, catfish, bluegill and crappies.

Overall, freshwater fishing techniques vary according to the species of fish that anglers intend to catch. Moreover, certain fish may be classified as both freshwater and saltwater species. Those fish generally spawn in freshwater habitats but spend most of their lives in saltwater environments. In general, river fishing offers calmer waters in comparison to saltwater locations. Thus, this activity is well-suited for fly fishing, spearfishing and hand-gathering techniques.

What are the types of freshwater habitats?

Anglers can successfully employ freshwater fishing techniques in bodies of water where these species can swim, feed, breathe and spawn. Common environments that house freshwater fishes include:

  • Rivers – Rivers can be classified as tropical, temperate or desert bodies of water, depending on the weather that surrounds them. River fishing can yield bass, catfish, tilapia, piranha and various other species. Moreover, rivers are well-suited for fishing methods such as angling, spearfishing, hand-gathering, net techniques, trapping and even fishing with animals.
  • Lakes – Lakes are large habitats of still freshwater. Therefore, lake fishing is optimal for techniques that require a certain level of stillness, such as hand-gathering methods. Catfish, trout, muskellunge, pikes and carps are some examples of fish that anglers can find in a lake.
  • Ponds – A pond is commonly referred to as a small lake. Thus, ponds provide fishermen with the same water stillness found in lakes. Moreover, pond fishing can take place in a natural or man-made body of water.
  • Streams – Streams are shallow and narrow waterways that feed into rivers. In general, stream fishing yields smaller fish, such as rainbow trout, riffle sculpins and bullheads. Unlike lakes and ponds, streams typically have flowing water. Therefore, depending on the strength of their currents, streams may be challenging environments for beginners to fish in.

What fish can I catch in freshwater fishing?

Most freshwater fishes have a lateral line composed of several small receptors that orientate their swimming, identify pressure changes and detect surrounding animals. That is because freshwater habitats are typically darker and murkier than saltwater environments. Therefore, these fish have had to develop an enhanced sense of touch and navigation. The following are the most common species caught during freshwater fishing:

  • BassBass spawn in freshwater habitats and can go on to live in lakes or ponds. However, these fish typically inhabit saltwater environments for most of their lifetimes. Moreover, largemouth, striped, white, yellow, rock and shadow basses vary significantly in size and overall appearance.
  • Bluegill – Sunfish species such as bluegill are known for being prolific breeders that can be found in freshwater habitats. Specifically, a bluegill is often found in abundance in warm water
  • Catfish – A catfish can be found in both freshwater and saltwater habitats, depending on its life stage. However, catfish generally prefer slow-moving waters, and thus are most commonly found in lakes or ponds.
  • Salmon – Sockeye, Chinook, pink, coho and chum salmon are notable freshwater fishes for anglers to catch and eat. Similar to a bass, a salmon spawns in freshwater habitats but may migrate to saltwater environments.
  • Trout – Trout are very popular fish among anglers in the United States. Moreover, this species can vary significantly in color and overall appearance. For instance, rainbow trout have a pink or red pigmentation, whereas brook trout have green lines and blue marks.
  • Walleye – A walleye is distinguishable within freshwater fishing due to its large and reflective eyes. In addition, these fish are some of the largest types of perch in North America, averaging 11 pounds. Walleye may also be called glass-eye, pike-perch or marble-eye.

What are the freshwater fishing techniques?

There are several freshwater fishing techniques for fishermen to choose from. These are the most common methods employed in these bodies of water:

  • Angling – Using a rod, line and hook is one of the most common freshwater fishing methods in the world. Angling is often considered one of the easiest techniques due to its simple instructions and easily accessible equipment.
  • Fishing with animalsDogs and birds may be trained to assist anglers to catch fish in riverbanks or other freshwater habitats. Despite being a more common fishing method in the 19th and 20th centuries, this technique is still employed nowadays.
  • Hand-gathering – Catching freshwater fishes by hand may take form as trout tickling or noodling. However, hand-gathering techniques typically require a particular level of skill and strength from an individual. In addition, these methods may pose some danger to fishermen depending on the species they are catching.
  • Net techniques – Net techniques are commonly used for catching large schools of fish at once. Additionally, nets are often used to catch big game fish that would otherwise resist other fishing methods. In general, fishing nets are large and resistant grid-like structures capable of trapping fish with ease.
  • SpearfishingSpearfishing can take place on a riverbank or underwater. However, due to the murky waters commonly found in freshwater habitats, diving in rivers or lakes poses an added challenge. In addition, this freshwater fishing technique typically requires the use of spearguns, handheld spears, tridents and pike poles.
  • Trapping – Trapping techniques involve luring freshwater species to swim into a trap that they cannot get out of. This is a freshwater fishing method that requires little to no active involvement from fishermen, which can be advantageous.

What are freshwater fishing tips for beginners?

Angling is the most common freshwater fishing technique to introduce to children and beginners. In general, freshwater fishing rods, lines and hooks are easy to be obtained and operated. Moreover, because various freshwater habitats have still water, beginners can easily fish from either boats or riverbanks. However, in the case of streams with strong currents, navigating with a freshwater fishing boat may pose an added challenge. In general, the easiest freshwater fishes for beginners and children to catch include:

  • Bass – A bass can be enticed by various baits, which makes this species relatively simple to catch. Additionally, certain bass are small and weigh very little, making it easy for children and beginners to reel them in.
  • Bluegill – Bluegill fish are lured by several different types of bait. Therefore, these freshwater fishes are also fairly easy to be caught. In addition, most bluegill have small bodies, which do not pose a challenge to inexperienced anglers.
  • Catfish – In general, a catfish is larger and heavier than a bass or a bluegill. However, these fish are known for being scavengers, and thus are enticed by virtually any type of freshwater fishing bait. Most anglers consider catfish as some of the easiest species to catch.

What are the freshwater fishing regulations?

All freshwater fishing regulations intend to preserve and restore species of fish that inhabit rivers, lakes, streams and ponds. In general, federal regulations are established by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). However, each region is also subject to particular state regulations that are governed by local fishing agencies. Additionally, it is incumbent on each state to issue freshwater fishing licenses depending on the eligibility of anglers. Federal and state regulations take the following factors into consideration:

  • Applicant’s residency status – Resident anglers are generally eligible to pay less for fishing licenses. Conversely, nonresidents typically have to pay more for the same licenses. For example, Ohio residents must pay $19 for an annual fishing license, whereas nonresidents have to pay $43.50.
  • Applicant’s fishing purpose – Freshwater fishing may serve different purposes, such as recreational or commercial fishing. If anglers intend on selling or exchanging the fish they catch, they must acquire commercial licenses.
  • Applicant’s fishing equipment – Certain states may also place restrictions regarding different types of freshwater fishing equipment. For example, in Florida, fishermen are not allowed to carry recreational and commercial gear at the same time.
  • Types of fish in each habitat – Many freshwater fishes are considered endangered or threatened. For that reason, several states have issued rigorous minimum fish size requirements and daily bag limits. As an example, anglers in Mississippi can only catch three walleye per day.

What are the best times for freshwater fishing?

Depending on weather and time of day, freshwater fishing can be a very different experience. Moreover, the best times for freshwater fishing depend on each region. Typically, freshwater fishes feed during times of low light, thus being more available near riverbanks during dawn and dusk. Certain expert anglers advocate that fishing during a full moon yields more catches. On the other hand, other experienced fishermen make the case for fishing during the three days of a new moon. Because lunar cycles affect tides and fish alike, these arguments may significantly impact an angler’s experience in certain regions.

Spearfishing and hand-gathering are freshwater fishing techniques that require appropriate lighting. Otherwise, fishermen are unable to see and catch fish. However, anglers often make the case for nighttime fishing due to less competition, cooler temperatures and possibly bigger catches.

What is the best freshwater fishing equipment?

The best freshwater fishing equipment varies according to the context in which anglers will be catching fish. For example, standard freshwater fishing rods are versatile gears that are well-suited for anglers fishing from land or from boats. However, advanced freshwater fishing reels may be required for anglers attempting to catch bigger game. To evaluate the various types of freshwater fishing tackle available, consider the following factors:

  • The freshwater habitat – Freshwater habitats vary in size, scope and particularities. Therefore, the optimal freshwater fishing equipment for the still waters of a lake may not be the suited for the strong currents of a stream.
  • The freshwater fish – Large freshwater fishes may be too strong for a traditional rod or spear, thus requiring professional equipment to be utilized. For example, large and resistant nets are well-suited for catching big game or many fish at once.

What boats are used for freshwater fishing?

A freshwater fishing boat must generally provide anglers with safety from predators and enough room to move around. Moreover, these vessels are typically built as mostly silent structures that will not scare fish away. The following are some of the best freshwater fishing boats available to recreational anglers:

  • Aluminum fishing boats – Aluminum boats are inexpensive, reliable, durable and easily towed. Therefore, they are great choices for fishermen on a budget. In addition, these vessels typically have low engine power, which makes them very silent. When navigating still waters, anglers can benefit from silent engines.
  • Bass boats – A bass boat is a small, low-profile vessel made for freshwater fishing of bass species. However, anglers may also catch other popular species with this vessel. In general, these boats come with enough storage space for anglers to store live bait and daily catches.
  • Center console boats – This type of vessel has a large open deck that allows anglers to move around freely while fishing. A center console boat is also designed to withstand large tides and extended periods, making it suitable for both saltwater and freshwater environments.
  • Pontoon boats – Pontoon boats are ideal for anglers who want to own a freshwater fishing boat that is also great for entertaining. Thus, these vessels can provide comfort to guests who want to engage in other activities besides fishing.

What baits are used for freshwater fishing?

A natural or artificial freshwater fishing bait may be best suited for different species. For example, artificial lures have benefits such as generally having hooks already attached to them. Conversely, live baits have smells that can entice fish more efficiently. The most common types of baits for freshwater species include:

  • Live baits – A live freshwater fishing bait is generally more effective than a manmade lure. Examples of live bait include dough balls, leeches, minnows, grubs, worms, insects, cut bait, crayfish, clams and mussels.
  • Artificial lures – Artificial lures are manmade baits intended to catch freshwater fishes based on their appearance and movement. In general, large lures are suited for large fish such as bass, walleyes and pikes. Conversely, small lures should be used to catch smaller fish. For instance, plastic worms are optimal for catching largemouth bass. On the other hand, artificial flies are more appropriate for catching trout.

What is river fishing?

River fishing can take place in a tropical, temperate or desert river. In these environments, anglers can angle, spearfish, hand-gather, trap fish, use nets or fish with animals. In general, a river begins at a source, follows a course and ends at a mouth. Moreover, rivers are typically confined to a channel that may be narrow or wide, depending on each habitat. Upriver is a term that describes a river with tides heading toward its source. Conversely, downriver describes a river directed toward its mouth. Among the most popular freshwater fishes found in rivers, consider the following:

  • Bass
  • Catfish
  • Piranha
  • Tilapia

What is lake fishing?

Lake fishing typically involves fishing techniques that do not disturb a lake’s characteristic stillness. Lakes are large bodies of freshwater surrounded by land and disconnected from any outlets that feed or drain water. The following freshwater fish are most commonly found in lakes:

  • Carp
  • Catfish
  • Muskellunge
  • Pike
  • Trout

What is pond fishing?

Pond fishing is similar to lake fishing. Ponds are also still bodies of freshwater surrounded by land, but they are smaller and shallower than lakes. However, there is no precise measurement to determine which lakes are small enough to be considered ponds. Therefore, this classification is open to a per-case evaluation. Moreover, the diversity of freshwater fishes in ponds varies depending on whether the pond is natural or manmade.

What is stream fishing?

Stream fishing is unlike most freshwater fishing habitats due to the fact streams contain a flow of water. In certain cases, these currents may be strong. Depending on the strength of each current, it can be challenging for an inexperienced angler to fish. These species of fish are most often caught in streams:

  • Bullheads
  • Rainbow trout
  • Riffle sculpin

What is destructive fishing?

Freshwater fishing regulations prohibit anglers to fish through methods that are considered destructive to a habitat and its species. Destructive freshwater fishing techniques include:

  • Bottom trawling – Trawl nets are large, heavy and strong, allowing fishermen to drag them along a seabed in order to catch fish. However, on average, 80 percent of a bottom trawling catch consists of waste. Conversely, this method destroys and damages coral reefs significantly. Moreover, fish that have no value for recreational or commercial purposes end up being killed along the way.
  • Ghost fishing – Freshwater fishing equipment may not be left abandoned or lost in a natural habitat. Willingly or accidentally leaving nets or other gear in a body of water is a destructive practice called ghost fishing. That is because fish become accidentally entangled or trapped by the equipment left behind. In addition, ghost fishing generally serves no purpose, as the caught fish are not actually retrieved by fishermen.
  • Overfishing – Freshwater habitats are known to house several endangered species of fish. Therefore, anglers must be mindful of the daily bag limits established by the freshwater fishing regulations in each region. The overfishing of endangered or threatened species contributes to an overall imbalance in a natural habitat.
  • Poison and explosives – Fishermen have been known to contaminate freshwater habitats with substances such as cyanide or types of explosives. These practices are done in an attempt to catch dead fish as they float to the surface. However, these destructive methods often destroy or damage ancient coral reefs and kill endangered freshwater fishes that pose no value.

What are the endangered freshwater fishes?

In the United States, freshwater fishes are animal species with some of the highest endangerment rates. According to a 2008 study published by the U.S. Geological Survey, 40 percent of freshwater fish in North America are classified as being vulnerable, threatened or endangered. Thus, consider the following examples of vulnerable species:

  • Rainbow trout – Also known as steelhead, the rainbow trout has been classified as a threatened species since the 1990s according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The regions that pose the most risk to the rainbow trout are California and the Columbia River.
  • Sturgeon – The sturgeon is one of the largest and most ancient freshwater fishes in the world.  However, it is considered critically endangered in North America and in Europe. Moreover, a recovery plan for this bottom-dwelling species has not been effective. In general, fishermen are encouraged to avoid catching sturgeons in order to delay or circumvent their full extinction.

What are freshwater fishing rods and reels?

Freshwater fishing rods are very important pieces of equipment, since they are the objects closest to the controlling angler. There are many types of freshwater fishing rods available to fishermen, each made of different materials and serving specific purposes. Moreover, freshwater fishing reels must be appropriately paired with rods. Reels hold the fishing line and work to control the distance at which the line goes out and returns. Therefore, it is important to know how to choose a freshwater fishing reel in order to maximize your fishing success.

What is freshwater fishing clothing?

Certain types of freshwater fishing clothing can significantly enhance an angler’s experience while catching fish in these habitats. Today’s freshwater fishing apparel is typically made with windy, watery environments in mind. In addition, some types of apparel are even resistant enough to keep from retaining fish blood. Most freshwater fishing apparel brands design performance clothes that protect anglers from sun exposure and keep them warm in the cold. Thus, your choice of women’s or men’s apparel for freshwater fishing will depend on the temperature in which you are fishing.

What are freshwater fishing electronics?

Electronic tools for freshwater fishing range from simple water temperature gauges to advanced 3D fish finders that display full-color images of where fish are located. Electronic devices for freshwater fishing such as electric reels can assist anglers who have difficulty manually reeling in line. These devices are particularly useful for disabled persons, but can be used by all anglers who enjoy measured fishing experiences. Among the various types of electronic tools for freshwater fishing, fish finders can precisely identify where species are located.

What are freshwater fishing knots?

A very important part of a rig pertains to freshwater fishing knots, which hold the line and the hook together. Without strong knots for freshwater fishing, fish may escape, as knots are essential to keeping a line intact. There are many types of freshwater fishing knots to choose from, all with varying degrees of strength and simplicity. For example, some knots involve one or two simple loops tied together. Conversely, other knots involve more complex coiling around their hooks. Moreover, freshwater fishing knots can be used to tie line to lures or mainlines to line extensions. In general, these extensions are known as leaders.

What are freshwater fishing lines?

Freshwater fishing lines are the connectors between anglers and the fish they catch. Several types of freshwater fishing lines are available to anglers, such as braided, monofilament and fluorocarbon lines. Generally, braided lines for freshwater fishing work better than others in harsh conditions, as they are relatively stronger. Conversely, fluorocarbon lines are more sleek and invisible than different types, making them preferable for still, clear-lake or river waters. As a rule, freshwater fishing lines are more versatile than saltwater ones. However, they are relatively weaker.

What are freshwater fishing rigs?

Special angling setups are known as freshwater fishing rigs. In general, rigs are the combination of various types of fishing gear, such as lines, hooks, swivels and sinkers. Specifically, the most popular types of freshwater fishing rigs are the Texas and the Carolina rigs. However, having different rigs for fishing in freshwater can be beneficial for certain depths and environments. For instance, trolling rigs are particularly useful if you are fishing in a deep lake and/or must keep your line and hook situated in one place. In comparison, components of freshwater fishing rigs are made of different materials than saltwater varieties, as conditions differ significantly.