Fishing at Bastrop State Park. Photo by Stan A. Williams

Fishing is a hobby and a pastime that can offer a lifetime of outdoor entertainment, providing not only the occasional meal, but also campfire stories, bonding with friends and family, and a chance to explore the world. Here in Texas, anglers are positively blessed with many lakes, rivers, and miles of coastline so that any curious individual has an opportunity to try their luck. But where do you start if you’re a newcomer? Here are answers to some of the most-asked questions in the first of a three-part series about fishing in Texas.

Where is the best place to get started?

The answer depends largely on where you live and how far you are willing to travel. Most anglers start close to home and with freshwater locations. Since Texas has 350 miles of coastline, saltwater may be your best bet if you have easy beach access or the right boat. While getting on a kayak or even a stand-up paddleboard can improve access to fish, bank fishing—whether from the shore or a beachfront—is often easiest.

It may sound obvious, but people catch the fish where the most fish are, so before heading out, beginners would do well to visit local fishing shops and check fishing reports, like the weekly online digest produced by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

What skills do you need?

Fishing at its most basic revolves around four fundamental actions: casting, setting the hook, landing the fish, and releasing one’s catch (either back into the water or into the cooler if you’re fishing for a meal).

Casting, or throwing out the line in the water, involves choosing the right fishing rod. A cane pole, or straight rod, with a fishing line attached directly to the rod is the most basic set-up. If you want to cast bait or lure farther out in the water, a spinning rod is easy to learn. Spinning reels come in two styles, with a metal “bail” that you click to open, or with a push-button to cast the line out. If you want to try fly fishing (think A River Runs Through It), it takes a little more practice and requires finesse to cast the line. The hook is also retrieved manually rather than using a reel.

Once the line is cast, a bobber or strike indicator makes it easy to see when a fish has taken the hook—or else you can wait until you feel a tug on the line. Lift or jerk the rod to pick up slack and hook the fish. Depending on its size and the condition of your tackle (that is, your equipment including rods and reels and bait), you may have to “play” the fish to tire it out before you can bring it to hand. (More on tackle basics can be found here.)

Once you’ve caught a fish, grip the fish by its body, or “lip” the fish by its mouth—watch for spiny dorsal fins or sharp teeth—and unhook your catch. Narrow pliers (such as these from Houston-based Fishing Tackle Unlimited) or a medical-style hemostat can come in handy. Then let the fish go, or put it on ice, in which case somebody will need to clean the catch.

What kind of gear do you need?

After figuring out where you’re going and the fish species you are chasing, you need to choose the appropriate gear. Again, best to begin your research at a local tackle shop. Although you may spend more money at a specialty store, you increase your chance of catching fish exponentially by talking with seasoned pros. Most paid guide services provide gear, and several Texas state parks offer loaner tackle.

When starting out, ask for spinning combos (where the rod and reel are sold together), which generally are affordable. Baitcasters (mostly popular with bass anglers and saltwater fishermen) are harder to use but do provide more accuracy when casting.

Lures can range from rubber worms to metal spoons to what’s called a floating topwater, which is a lure meant to imitate injured fish. If using live bait, you will need to be able to carry the bait and keep it alive, so a bait bucket will come in handy, along with a variety of hooks, weights, and bobbers. Either way, at least a cheap tackle box will come in handy to carry these items, as well as a small scissor or “nipper” to cut the line, needle-nose pliers, and other hardware. Last, as fishing takes place outdoors and on water, be sure to dress for weather and wetness.

What are the crucial do’s and don’ts?

Fishing regulations are designed to protect wildlife and natural resources. In Texas, every angler over the age of 17 on public waters (with the exception of some Texas state parks) must have a valid fishing license. You can buy a freshwater, saltwater, or all-water package (recommended) depending on where you will fish. In Texas, resident and non-resident licenses can be purchased at sporting goods shops, fishing specialty stores, and even some gas stations and big box stores. Or go online here to apply.

Anglers need to also review specific regulations that apply to the bay, streams, or other water bodies where they plan to fish. In some places there are rules regarding whether you can catch certain fish, and how big or small said fish can be. Know the rules pertaining to legal bait, target species, size, and limits on possession. (Keeping under-size fish, too many fish, or protected species—some rivers have catch-and-release requirements for bass or trout—can mean a fine if a game warden catches you.)

Beyond legal considerations, when it comes to being on the water and the frequency with which fishing and boating go together, personal safety is always a concern. Make a point of carrying floatation, first aid, and protective gear—sunglasses and decent water shoes come in handy as well.

Where can I find more resources?

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department provides abundant online information and holds regular classes for anglers to learn the basics and brush up their techniques, including “Fish with a Ranger” and “Family Fishing Skills” programs. Seventy-plus state parks offer free fishing, no license required, and the agency also supports small-town and fishing programs in city parks statewide. The Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens is an excellent place to explore and has a casting pond; the Sea Center Texas in Lake Jackson south of Houston hosts “Introduction to Fishing” classes more oriented to saltwater species. The national nonprofit Fishing and Recreational Boating Foundation’s website also has great introductory information.

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