Introduction: How to Fish

Picture of How to Fish

This instructable demonstrates how to fish in fresh water such as ponds, streams, and lakes, using a minimum of inexpensive equipment. It is designed for non-fishing parents that wish to give their kids a fun and educational experience or for those that simply want to give it a try without investing a lot of money. The thrill of catching your first fish is exactly the same whether you spend $20 or $2000, and you can always ramp up to the expensive stuff later.

Step 1: Materials

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Everything you need to fish can be purchased at your local Wal-Mart or sporting good store for under $20. You will need:

- A cane pole - I bought a 2 piece pole at Wal-Mart for $3.54
- An assortment of small hooks - about $2.00
- Some bobbers or floats, smaller is better- a pack of small ones is about $2.00
- Monofilament line, cheap is fine. Get 10 or 12 lb test - about $10.00

Some country stores may carry long one-piece cane poles, and these are good for serious cane-pole fishing by adults. For kids, I like the ones that come in two pieces and are about 10 feet long when assembled. You simply insert the top end into the bottom end and you are ready to go. Afterwards, they are easily disassembled to put in the trunk of the car.

Step 2: Rigging the Pole 1

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You can rig the pole before you leave for the lake or after you get there.

First, unpack and assemble the bamboo pole segments - they simply plug together. If your pole came with line, hook, and bobber, you can use those if you wish, but the line in mine was way too thin and the hook was too wimpy. You should use the line and hooks and bobber you purchased so you will know how to rig a pole from scratch.

Next, use an improved clinch knot to tie the monofilament line to the end of the pole. My pole had a nice eyelet at the end, but yours may not, in which case simply tie the line just below the last bamboo joint so the line won't slip off.

Step 3: Rigging the Pole 2

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With the line now tied to the tip of the assembled pole, measure out a pole's length of line to just below the bottom end of the pole. You want a couple of inches more than the length of the pole. Cut the line at that point.

Step 4: Rigging the Pole 3

Picture of Rigging the Pole 3

Next, string the bobber onto the line. I much prefer the type of bobber that is long with a hole through the middle and a small plastic plug to hold it in place. If you bought this type, remove the plug, and thread your line through the bobber. Position it about 1.5 to 2.0 feet from the end of the line and insert the plug to hold it firmly in place. Another type of bobber commonly seen is the round ones with a button on top. When the button is pressed a small hook-shaped piece of wire comes out the bottom so you can attach it to your line. After attaching the bottom end, hold the bottom wire in place and press the button down again, only this time do it with the edge of the button to expose the top hook in the middle of the button. You use this to attach the top of your line to the top of the bobber so that the button now faces the tip of your pole.

Step 5: Rigging the Pole 4

Picture of Rigging the Pole 4

We complete the pole by attaching the hook. Select a small hook approximately the size shown. Hook size is determined by the size of the fish you expect to catch and we will be mainly fishing for panfish such as bluegills. If you bought an assortment of hooks as suggested, you should have a supply that will last you for years.

Attach the hook to the end of the line using a palomar knot as shown.

This completes the rigging of the pole. If you rigged the pole before leaving the house, you can now break down the pole by separating the two bamboo pole halves, wind the line around the two poles held together and wrap a quick turn or two of any kind of tape around each end. Make sure you cover the hook with the tape for safety sake. You should pack the pole the same way after you are done fishing and are ready to store the pole for the next time.

Step 6: Bait

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We will be using doughballs made from comon white bread as bait. The fresher and "squishier" the bread the better. One slice of bread will bait a couple of dozen hooks, and a loaf will keep a gaggle of kids in bait for hours.

If you aren't squeamish, you can also be traditional and fish with worms. This can occupy the kids and help generate fishing excitement. It is not necessary to dig for worms - simply find some dead leaves or small logs and turn them over. Worms can be found in abundance under most forest litter. Put some topsoil in a coffee can or small bucket to hold your worms.

Step 7: Baiting the Hook

Picture of Baiting the Hook

To make a doughball, pinch off a small piece of bread. Don't bother with the crust - it can't be squished down into a ball. Instead, you can throw the crust out in the water to help attract fish, or simply eat it yourself.

Make the doughball by squishing the pinch of bread between the thumb and first finger of each hand as shown. Press hard to make a nice square shaped bait glob.

Put the doughball on the hook by inserting the tip of the hook into the ball. The idea is to hide the tip in the ball so that when the fish takes the bait, they also get the tip of the hook.

Step 8: Fish!

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Now it is time to get the bait in front of the fish. With a cane pole, you do not "cast" the bait as you do with a rod and reel setup - you simply swing it out into the water.

To put the line in the water, hold the end of the pole in one hand and the line just above the hook in the other. Face the water near the bank. Hold the pole at about a 45 degree angle and let go of the line so it swings out over the water, and at the farthest end of the swing, drop the end of the pole, thus dropping the bait and bobber into the water. You can get the full distance of the line by slightly raising and lowering the tip of the pole midway through the swing. Practice helps, especially if you will be later showing your kids how to do this and don't want to look dorky.

DO NOT allow your kids to wildly swing the line around to get it in the water. The hook is guaranteed to end up in everything except the water, and that includes the other kids, you, your pet, and trees and bushes. Use only the "swing out" method when cane pole fishing as this offers the best control and safety.

Once in the water, the weight of the hook will take the bait down to where the fish (hopefully) are. The nice thing about fishing for bluegills and other panfish is that they are always hungry, so if there are fish around and they can see the bait, they will probably bite. Be patient. Patience is one of the valuable lessons that fishing can teach your kids. If after a few minutes, you haven't had a bite, pull up the line (raise the pole straight up and catch it with your other hand as it swings towards you) and try another spot. Even a few feet away can make a difference. If changing locations doesn't help, try moving the bobber farther up the line, thus allowing the bait to sink father down in the water.

How do you know when you have a fish? The common wisdom is not to jerk the line up at the first nibble - wait until there is evidence that the fish has the bait firmly in their mouth. That will be the case if the bobber goes completely under the water, stands on end and stays there, or begins to race across the surface. When any of these things happen, pull up the line. Do not jerk wildly, but firmly lift the pole. With luck, you will hook the fish and can then lift it out of the water.

Step 9: Remove Fish From Hook

Picture of Remove Fish From Hook

The cold reality of fishing comes home when you catch your first fish - you now have to take it off the hook! It makes absolutely no sense to fish unless you are willing to follow through - and it is unfair to ask someone else to shoulder the burden of removing it for you after you have had the thrill of catching it. Even if you will not be eating what you catch, you must still remove the fish. This is much easier than you think.

The biggest impediment to removing the hook is that the fish tends to be flopping around. So, the first step is to hold the fish properly so that it is completely in your control and stops flopping. For panfish such as bluegills, you grasp the fish by coming at it from the back of the fish, placing your thumb on one gill and - with your palm over the fish's head and back - put your other fingers on the other gill. Hold firmly and the fish will stop flopping. Don't be tentative about this or the fish will get loose and flop around some more. Once secured, you can then grasp the hook and work it out of the mouth of the fish. It will normally be hooked through the lip. Work the hook around - the idea is to back it out at about the same angle that it went in. Getting the barb back out through the lip is the hardest part and some force may be necessary at times.

For hooks that have been swallowed a bit or are farther down in the mouth out of reach, use a pair of needlenose pliers to get at it. Lacking pliers, you can do almost as well with a small stick. It is often enough simply to push the hook farther into the fishes mouth as this most often gets the barb out after which you can ease the hook out of the mouth.

If you will be keeping your fish to eat, simply toss it in a bucket. The bucket doesn't need any water in it, assuming you will be cleaning the fish within a few hours. You can also use a "stringer" to keep your fish alive. This is a nylon cord with a metal ring at one and and a metal spike at the other, sold for a couple of bucks where you bought your pole and tackle. The spike is inserted up through the gills and out the mouth of the fish and then - for the first fish only - through the ring. The spike is then set in the bank and the fish go in the water.

If you are fishing for fun, simply toss the fish gently back in the water - it will be fine and may even bite again (fish aren't terribly smart). A bluegill about the size of an adult hand is a nice eating size and a "keeper". Smaller ones can be tossed back.

PARENTAL ADVICE: If you want to keep your sanity, I strongly advise making a firm rule that if you want to fish, you have to bait your own hook and remove your own fish. Not only does this foster self-reliance, it frees you up to go back to reading that book your brought with you or doing your own bit of fishing. Once my five-year-old daughter got past the "isn't it cute!" reaction to her first fish, she easily got the hang of taking the fish off the hook and had loads of fun. She now brags about her self-reliance to her more squeamish girlfriends. A very good thing in my book.

There is also a good solid safety reason for having kids bait their own hook. Imagine that your excited child is eagerly awaiting your efforts to make a doughball and bait the hook. They are holding the pole and you are holding the line and hook. Now imagine that your child sees that you have just finished baiting the hook. Seriously now - will your child try and race back to the water before you have let go of the line, or is your child patient enough to wait for you to say its OK? I know what MY kids would do. For the hook-baiter this is a no-win situation and is likely to result in a hook embedded in the baiters hand.

Step 10: Bigger Fish

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There are several kinds of fish that you might catch in fresh water depending on the area of the country and the type of bait you are using. These include catfish, bass, crappie, yellow perch, and others.

Fishing with doughballs might get you a catfish. These can grow large enough to break your pole, but are excellent eating. When removing catfish from the line, you will need to exercise some care (kids will need some help here), since catfish have barbed fins on each side just behind the gills and on top along the spine. These barbs are painful if the catfish flops and manages to embed one in you.

A catfish can be safely held using the same grip as used for bluegills, but because catfish have skin instead of scales, they can be harder to hold and require a very firm grip. The thumb goes on one gill just before the barbed fin, the palm against the back in front of the top barbed fin, and the first and second fingers against the opposite gill in front of the barbed fin, with the third and fourth fingers in back of the barbed fin. This gives you excellent control of the catfish and the hook can be removed safely.

If you are fishing with worms, in addition to bluegills and catfish, you might also catch bass, crappie, or yellow perch. These fish prefer live bait and worms are a favorite.

If you are fishing with worms, the easiest way to bait your hook to catch bluegills is to pinch the worm in half and then thread the worm onto the hook, leaving the tip of the worm to wiggle and attract the fish. Once bluegills realize that worms are available, they will bite on even the tiniest bit of worm on the end of the barb.

Step 11: Good Luck!

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Hooking a really big fish can be exciting and it tends to happen when you least expect it. While taking pictures for this instructable with my daughter, I was carefully explaining that when you hook a large fish you never want to point the cane pole at the water, since a large fish can pull the top segment off the bottom segment. I pointed the pole at the water to show her what not to do, and at that moment a huge catfish grabbed the bait and separated the top segment of the pole which promptly took off across the pond. My daughter immediately took off her shoes and claimed that she was going in after the fish, but I suggested using a casting rod with a lure to hook the errant pole segment and retrieve the pole, line, and fish. After a few tries with a topwater lure, and after removing the three bass that hit the lure while I made the attempts, we managed to hook the line and bring in the fish, with the results seen here.

The filets that came off this fish were excellent.

Step 12: Cleaning and Cooking

A dozen bluegills can easily make a meal if you will be keeping them, and they are delicious. Details of how to clean your fish can be easily found on the web, but for bluegills, the basics are shown below, and it can be the culmination of the fishing adventure for your kids, as well as a fun end to a family outing.


- Use a spoon to scrape off the scales - go from tail to head when scraping
- Cut off the head in back of the gills
- Cut a slit down the stomach to the vent and remove the entrails
- Wash in cold water.
- Dip in milk and egg then roll in flour with some salt and pepper to taste and fry in oil
until golden brown
- Instruct younger kids to be careful of small bones. A fork can be used to flake off the meat from the bones.



JV7 (author)2016-02-25

Great job. But, little info, please don't lay fish on the banks unless you're going to eat them. The grass, dirt, leaves and etc remove their slimy coating which protects the fish from bacteria/infections :)

taylorslady (author)2015-09-19

Thank you! The fishing I did growing up was always with a rod and reel out of a boat...we now live in creek and cane pole country and I needed this instructable!

Windber (author)2014-08-17

This is, simply, one of the best fishing instructables I've found on the site. Many, many thanks.

KhanMushrooms (author)2013-11-17

Lovely, I Love Fishing

ilpug (author)2011-07-24

this is pretty much the best simple fishing ible ever. i like how you even bypassed poles with reels and used the old fashioned "doodle" poles. you can also bypass buying a rod, and save money by getting a bamboo pole from the gardening department.

craigl (author)ilpug2011-07-25

Thanks - I grew up in the deep south and cane poles were what we used, so that is how I learned myself. I consider them to be better than a rod-and-reel setup when fishing for bluegills and other panfish. Also, cane poles are much easier for kids to learn on - just bait the hook, throw it in, and watch the bobber. Casting takes a lot more skill (and there's a danger from flying hooks). Once a kid has mastered actually catching fish (and taking them off the hook and rebaiting), they can "graduate" to a rod-and-reel fishing if they wish. In any case that's what I did with my kids.

ilpug (author)craigl2011-07-25

i learned on rod and reel poles, but i love the simplicity of cane poles. i agree that they are best for bluegill. in my pond i have caught tons of them with just a stick and a hook and line. bluegill will bite at anything. mainly i catch largemouth bass, which pretty much requires a rod and reel.

slaitch (author)2011-07-05


Clayton H. (author)2010-08-09

sometimes me and my dad go perch fishing out on Lake Erie when their in season, which if anyone has done that, it is pretty much just dropping the hook down and pulling it up half a minute later and you got a fish. Great father-son bonding moment.

random joe (author)2010-07-09

I remember my times as a kid, when I was growing up in PA, when my dad would take me fishing and we would put or hooks in and sit, and we would bring in 14 inch channel cats and huge carp

ikeike40 (author)2010-07-02

I don't use a bobber I just simply walk out on my dock and drop the line. For bait I use hotdog while I wait I contsantly throw out little bits of hotdog out. Doing this I have caught anything from bluegill to bass to gars to bowfin.

larksid7 (author)2010-06-02

whole kernel corn is a good simple bait that panfish llove and easy to put in hook and small enought to fit in a small or big fish mouth.....

danny6114 (author)2010-05-30

 Using a longer length of line, tie one end of the line to the butt end of the pole, then spiral wrap to the tip of the pole. That way if the two sections separate you won''t have to fish for your pole tip. It also helps to strengthen the pole somewhat.

craigl (author)danny61142010-06-01

 Excellent suggestion and wish I had done exactly that :-)  Growing up in FLA, we always used unsegmented cane poles so never had to rig it like that, but the extra spiral down the pole is good advice for the cheapo WalMart poles I feature in the Instructable.  

danny6114 (author)craigl2010-06-01

 The spiral wrap helps to strengthen all cane poles by spreading the stress over more of the length of the pole, like a shock absorber.

dsaavedra (author)2009-04-11

good instructable except for one thing.

there is a much safer way to hold bluegills. as you can probably tell, they have sharp dorsal spines that can go into your hands very easily.

the best and safest way to hold bluegills is to cup your hand in a "C" shape and wrap your hand around the fish.

you do this by coming in from the front (not the back like you said in the instructable). then, using the outside edge of your thumb, gently push the spines down and at the same time grip the fish with your fingers around the belly.

here is a picture of a nice bluegill i caught. i'm holding it in the way i described above

craigl (author)dsaavedra2010-06-01

I passed on the way I was taught - I'm sure your method will work also.  It has been my experience, however, that panfish will continue to flop around unless their gills are compressed on both sides.  My grip accomplishes that, and I have never, ever been stuck with the dorsal fins while using it.

tictac24 (author)2009-06-28

An important step you forgot to add is, before beginning the process of cleaning the fish, to incapacitate the fish somehow, byknocking it unconscious or somehow instantly killing it. I always did it by giving the fish a solid whack on the head (perhaps with the scaling spoon) and make sure they're knocked out. It not only keeps the fish still for carving, but also saves them needless suffering.

craigl (author)tictac242010-06-01

 Good point - I when cleaning catfish (which can live for quite a while in the
open air), I usually put them out of their misery with a hunting knife through the brain and into a wooden cleaning board.

sodomschild (author)tictac242009-10-02

You are eating the fish.Knocking it out makes it easier?Grab it by the head and fillet that bad boy!You've already stuck a hook in it's mouth and pulled it out of the water.Why be nice now?"Needless suffering!"

jburchet (author)sodomschild2010-01-01

I think filleting a fish alive is much more cruel than catching a fish with a hook.  It is good to respect  the fish that is about to nourish you

juntti (author)2010-05-30

We use a small weight just above (2-5 cm.) the hook to make it to sink faster & stay better in place. 

Also (I skimmed through some of the text so you may actually mention this) but it is important to learn to adjust the bobber and thus adjust the depth of the bait. Different fish swim on different depths at different times, water temperatures etc.

Also, as kids when we did not expect to have anything big, we just carried the line readied with the bobber & weight and made the poles on the spot from tree branches etc. We seldom used dough or bread,  we user worms most of the time as dough & bread lure a bit poorer type of fish around here.

craigl (author)juntti2010-06-01

 I've also used small split shot weights at times, but was going for simplicity in the instructable.  Also am not convinced that the weight actually is a benefit - without the weight, the bait and hook sink slower and appear a bit more natural to the fish - at least that's my theory :-)

I mainly use weight when I want the bait to sit on the bottom - for example, when fishing for catfish at night with a rod and reel and no bobber, etc. I use a 1/4 or 1/2 oz. slip sinker for that, along with either doughball/cheeseball/stinkbait for flatheads and bullheads or cut up bluegills for channel cats.

juntti (author)juntti2010-05-30

Ah, you did mention about moving the bobber. Sorry about that.

xjetfixer (author)2010-05-30

 Good looking channel cat. Get out the frying pan.flour,salt, pepper,and Crisco.
Cook some fries and you are in for some good eating.

craigl (author)xjetfixer2010-06-01

 it *was* good eating :-)  Since we made this instructable, the channel cats have about doubled in size from what is pictured here.

The Man From Nantucket (author)2009-07-28

Tell me the 11 secret herbs and spices to your original recipe! I must have it now!

  • Salt,
  • Pepper,
  • Chicken salt,
  • Chicken pepper,
  • More salt,
  • More pepper,
  • Chicken,
  • Time,
  • Thyme,
  • Even more salt,
  • Even more pepper.
In that exact order.
Possum Living (author)2010-05-30

Great instructable! I have been fishing for 40 years, and I still love cane pole fishing for bream and catfish.
Another way to control a fish is to stick your thumb in its mouth and pinch its lower jaw. This subdues the fish without harming it, forces its mouth to stay open and makes it easier to remove the hook. It also gives a good grip and keeps you from getting "finned".

jongscx (author)2008-10-14

Are you going to follow up with "How to Fry a fish?"

craigl (author)jongscx2008-10-14

I mix some milk and an egg, roll the fish in that, then roll it in flour or cornmeal with some salt and pepper. I fry them in vegetable oil on medium heat until they are golden brown, then put on a plate covered with a paper towel to drain. Done!

eranox (author)craigl2008-12-05

Question on that. I notice that you do not mention removing the skin of the fish, only the scales. Do you dredge, fry, and eat the fish with the skin on? I'm curious.

jongscx (author)eranox2008-12-05

dredge? never heard that used in relation to fishing, what does it mean? Yes, you can actually take the scales off without pulling the skin off of the fish.

Possum Living (author)jongscx2010-05-30

Dredge means to roll it in batter before frying.

craigl (author)eranox2008-12-08

Panfish such as bluegills have scales which are removed before cooking. You can scale a fish by holding the fishes head down on a board and - using a spoon - scrape from the tail towards the head. Flip over and repeat to get the other side then cut off the head and remove the entrails, wash, dip in flor or batter and fry them up. Catfish do not have scales and you are correct that the skin should be removed for them. There are various techniques for skinning a catfish that cary based on fish size, but in general most involve using a very sharp knife to cut around the entire fish just behind the head, then using pliers to grab the skin at the incision and pull it off. Cut off head, remove entrails, better and fry.

harley_rly (author)craigl2008-12-29

When we fillet fish(no matter what kind, scaled or not) we just cut from the front fins back to the start of the tail, trying not to cut to deep, so you just get the meat, then flip over and cut the meat of the skin/scales. its really quick and makes great fillets.

An Villain (author)2010-02-05

a 3.54$ bamboo rod, where did you get that?

craigl (author)An Villain2010-02-08

 Got everything in the picture from the local WalMart.  The bamboo pole is fine for kids fishing for bluegills or other small fish, but as the final couple of pictures in my instructable show, it doesn't hold up very well for a large catfish that weighs > 3 pounds :-)

An Villain (author)craigl2010-02-08

oh, the walmart by my house does not have a very large fishing department, and i also see you bought the old version of trilene XT, i have the new version in 8 LB.

waqs84 (author)2009-09-03

Well I must say this was big help help. thnks very much, U guys have made it so easy for me to fish nw. Hopefully!!!!!

i can go supersonic (author)2009-08-10

use my way it works every time. take a nightcrawler and throw it in the water far away and cast out your pole right over there and wait for the fish to come or...................................... take a nightcrawler and put is on the hook and cast out far................realy.....realy far and attract the fish 4 times (yank the fishing pole 4 times) and then real in 5 times. it works almost every time.WARNING do not use fake bait. use these thiings............... worms,nightcrawlers,hot dogs,bread,minos and anything else fish love.

The Man From Nantucket (author)2009-07-28

Great instructable! It's sad that it seems like the younger the generations, the less and less people fish and just enjoy the outdoors now days.

jona991 (author)2009-06-29

here in the Netherlands you don't may eat the fish. sorry for bad English I'm 13

blaahhaa (author)2009-06-18

Great instructable. Lots of advice that has helped alot.

GCLumpkin (author)2009-06-18

What a great Instructable. Good detail, good pictures and good descriptions. This is the only kind of fishing we did when I was a kid. My fondest memories are of my family fishing local ponds in North Carolina with my grandparents. Papa and Granny would have three rods each in the water! LOL I grew up eating fried panfish and yes, the tiny bones were a pain, but the fish was worth it. Now I have two little ones of my own and I plan to use this Instructable to teach them how to fish. Again, great job and thanks for stirring up some fond, fond memories. Greg

iamismail (author)2009-03-22

camara flash a bit to strong

iamismail (author)2009-03-22

i am a vegitrian but i still go fishing i eather do cacth or release or i give it to my dad and he cuts it cooks it and eats i just go fishing for fun. nice prensation.

canida (author)2008-10-12

Excellent! There's little better than fishing the edges of a well-stocked lake, and bluegill are quite possibly the tastiest fish ever. I like to do the final dredge in Jiffy cornbread mix - it goes nicely with the naturally sweet flavor of bluegill or catfish, and adds a bit more texture.

craigl (author)canida2008-10-13

My daughter and I caught three catfish and 10 keeper bluegills on one slice of bread when making this instructable, after which we cleaned and fried them up in cornmeal. I also like to use Jiffy. Good for hush puppies, which we also made.

harley_rly (author)craigl2008-12-29

Me and my dad were fishing off my cousins dock a couple of winters ago and together we caught 20 large crappie on green and yellow jigs with red heads, and minnows(I used some powerbait, and that actually worked I caught 4 more fish and we were both fishing in the same spot. we also caught some massive perch they were about 8 inches but we threw them back, don't really like cleanin' 'em.

About This Instructable




Bio: Decorated codebreaker with US Army security Agency and NSA 1971-1978. Computer Systems Scientist with Planning Research Corp 1978-1988. Founded Mindwrap, Inc in 1988. CTO of ... More »
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