Fishing 101: Saltwater Fishing Tips for Newbies

Our country’s many coastal waterways provide anglers with a wealth of opportunity, which can be seized upon by any ambitious individuals willing to venture out in search of success. Every year, an untold number of anglers take to such destinations in search of hot saltwater fishing action. 

While saltwater fishing can be extremely enjoyable, the sport can also pose quite the learning curve for those who have yet to experience such an adventure, first hand. The following guide is intended to shorten this learning curve, by providing every angler with the necessary information to find consistent saltwater fishing success.

Types of Saltwater Fishing

The term “saltwater fishing”, is simply used to describe any type of fishing pursuit that takes part in coastal fisheries, where saltwater is present. However, saltwater fishing itself can be categorized into several individual pursuits, all of which differ from each other in context.

The following are several of the most popular forms of saltwater fishing.

Surf Fishing

Surf fishing is conducted from the beach, or while wading the surf a short distance from the shoreline. This type of fishing is a favorite of beginning and experienced anglers alike, as many different species of fish can be caught in this manner. 

Those who surf fish typically employ the use of a 10-15 foot rod, and a heavy-duty spinning reel, for maximum fighting potential. Shrimp, squid, and mullet are all favored forms of bait for surf fishing.

Bay Fishing

Bay fishing is another form of saltwater fishing, which is quite popular with anglers who live in close proximity to the coast. This type of fishing involves working reefs and other forms of structure found within secluded coastal bays, in hopes of enticing the abundant fish that reside in such locations. 

Most bay fishermen utilize spinning reels and heavy-action rods, which typically range from 6-8 feet in length. Jigs and spoons are among the most popular lures used by bay fishermen, though cut bait can also be very effective.

Pier Fishing

As its name would suggest, pier fishing involves fishing from an elevated pier, in hopes of catching fish that hold close to shore. In most areas, many different species of fish can be caught when fishing from a pier, especially when the pier in question extends far from shore. Pier fishing is also a wonderful way to introduce children to the sport of fishing or to allow mobility-impaired anglers to experience an enjoyable afternoon fishing on the water. 

Pier fishermen typically favor spinning tackle, with pier fishing rods ranging 7-10 foot in length. It is also important to have a net or gaff at the ready, as retrieval when pier fishing can be somewhat tedious.

Flats Fishing

While many associate saltwater fishing with open water and pounding surf, some of the greatest fishing can actually be found in backwater canals and shallow water flats. Many of these inshore fisheries are home to a significant amount of opportunity, for those hoping to catch redfish, tarpon, and flounder. While flat fishing can certainly be conducted from the bank, the use of a boat will allow you to cover a far greater expanse of water on any given day.

When flat fishing, most anglers use gear similar to that which is used when bass fishing in freshwater. Medium to heavy action rods are standard, as are spinning and baitcasting reels. Line weights of 12-15 pounds should be sufficient in most applications when an angler adequately meters their drag.

Deep-Sea Fishing

When most anglers think of saltwater fishing, deep sea fishing is what often comes to mind. Deep sea fishing involves utilizing a boat to reach open water, where reefs, wrecks, and other structures can be fished. These open water locations often harbor the largest saltwater species, which are prized for their fighting ability. A deep sea boat trip often yields snapper, grouper, amberjack, wahoo, and cobia in considerable numbers.

Much of an angler’s gear selection when deep sea fishing depends upon the species of fish that they plan to pursue. Medium to heavy action offshore rods are typically employed, with the use of duty-specific baitcasting reels. Line selection is also dependent upon the pursuit of the day. However, 20-50 pound monofilament is relatively standard.

Pro Tip: Many anglers begin their saltwater fishing careers by surf fishing or pier fishing. Each of these two pursuits requires little in the way of expensive gear and can be enjoyed by anglers of all ages and experience levels.

What You Need to Saltwater Fish

When planning for your initial saltwater fishing outing, there are several pieces of key gear that you should have at your disposal. Each of these items plays a key role in presenting you with the best possible chance at a successful day on the water.

Rods & Reels

Before heading out on the water, it is essential to locate the perfect rods and reels for your particular application. As a general rule, the larger the species of fish pursued, the more robust your rod and reel will need to be. While some inland fishing applications require little more in this regard than the same setup you would use when fishing for bass in freshwater, deep sea anglers typically utilize heavy-duty offshore rods and specially chosen baitcasters.  If you intend to pursue fish of varying sizes, more than one setup might be required.

Pliers/Cutters

Due to the size and aggressive nature of many fish encountered when saltwater fishing, landing a trophy is seldom as easy as reaching down to scoop up your fish or hoisting it from the water. Instead, an angler must be prepared to net or gaff their catch. It is also important to have a pair of application-specific pliers/cutters on hand when saltwater fishing. This will allow you to quickly sever lines and remove hooks as necessary.

Bait Prep Supplies

An angler must come armed with all that is necessary to prepare their bait for use. If using live bait, a holding bucket with an included aerator will likely be needed. If fishing cut bait, it is an excellent idea to carry along a sharp knife of the appropriate size. If you intend to catch your own bait, a cast net will come in quite handy.

Tackle

It is always wise to have enough tackle at the ready, to weather any possible inconvenience. A well-prepared angler always keeps extra hooks, swivels, and weights by their side. This allows you to rig your gear on the fly, in a bid to get back to fishing as quickly as possible, thereby enhancing your chances at success.

Appropriate Clothing

Coastal weather is anything but predictable and should be taken extremely seriously. Before venturing out on the water, ensure that you are properly clothed for the day ahead. It is very important to also have ample rain gear on hand. Ocean storms can blow up at a moment’s notice, leaving an angler in trouble if they are not adequately prepared.

Pro Tip: While by no means mandatory, any angler fishing by boat would be wise to consider taking a GPS along on their trip. If you happen to become disoriented, and unable to recall the way from which you came, a simple check of the GPS can erase all doubt. Additionally, a GPS unit can be used to mark the whereabouts of promising fishing, if underwater structure such as reefs are located.

Bait You Need to Saltwater Fish

The best type of bait for saltwater fishing is dependent upon the species of fish that you are pursuing, and your general location. Every fish has its favored food source, and it is an angler’s job to determine what this food source is upon heading out on the water.

One excellent way of locating the best bait for the task at hand is to speak with other anglers at local tackle shops and fishing piers. Likewise, employees at local dockside fish processors tend to be excellent sources of information.

Generally speaking, both live and cut bait work well in the vast majority of saltwater applications. Shrimp, squid, mullet, and regional specific baitfish are worthy of consideration. If you intend to use artificial lures, there are a few additional considerations that must be taken into account. 

First, it is crucial that your lures be easily visible to predatory fish, even in choppy conditions. The easiest way to ensure this is to use brightly colored lures, or those that reflect light, such as spoons. Additionally, fish are better able to locate lures if they produce vibrations or splash across the water’s surface. This makes both poppers and spinnerbaits viable candidates for use in a number of saltwater applications.

Regulations and Licenses

Fishing regulations can vary dramatically from one location to the next, and it is an angler’s responsibility to stay abreast of that which is required of them by law. At the very least, most areas require all anglers to possess a fishing license when on the water. A failure to produce this license when checked by fish and wildlife officers can result in a hefty fine, loss of gear, and revocation of fishing rights.

Likewise, daily limits are typically in place, regarding the number of fish from a certain species that can be legally kept for consumption. These limits vary by fishery and are strictly enforced. Additionally, minimum size limits are also standard and dictate how large a fish must be before being kept.

If you are unsure of how to interpret a particular fisheries law or statute, contact the appropriate governing fish and wildlife agency, for the area that you will be fishing. A representative from this agency will assist you in locating any pertinent information.

Tides and Tidal Currents

Unlike when fishing freshwater lakes, saltwater anglers must keep an eye on the tides and tidal currents, in any area that they intend to fish. These trends directly impact the availability of fish and your chance at a successful day on the water. This is especially true when fishing inshore, as the water depth is directly influenced by these conditions. Additionally, inshore fishing is typically best during an incoming or outgoing tide. Slack tides generally lead to an overall reduction in biting.

When deep sea fishing, the same rings true. Periods of incoming and outgoing times also tend to be preferred. However, deep sea fishing success seems to be impacted to a lesser degree by these elements, than is the case when inshore fishing. 

Saltwater Fishing Spots

If you are currently looking for the best place to base your efforts on the water, the following list should be just what you have been looking for. Below are ten of the nation’s top saltwater fisheries.

  • Panama City Beach, Florida
  • San Diego, California
  • Miami, Florida
  • Venice, Louisiana
  • Ocean City, Maryland
  • Cape Cod, Massachusetts
  • Key West, Florida
  • Montauk, New York
  • Seattle, Washington
  • Galveston, Texas

The Benefits of Using a Boat to Saltwater Fish

The ocean is a vast expanse, which offers a wealth of opportunity to anglers. However, this is only true if one is in the position to move about as needed to stay on the hot bite. While excellent fishing can be experienced when fishing from shore, the use of a boat allows an angler more freedom to work with the tides, currents, and baitfish movements, in order to position themselves as needed during any given day on the water.

Additionally, there are a number of saltwater fishing pursuits that one cannot participate in without the use of a boat. Deep sea fishing is a sport built solely around the concept of reaching distant waters by vessel. Additionally, flat fishing is highly dependent upon rising and lowering tides. During periods of low water, and angler fishing from the bank can be left with little to no recourse for access.

Luckily, there is no reason for those without a boat to be discouraged. An angler can always charter a trip for almost any imaginable type of saltwater fishing excursion. While such trips do come with a fee, the excellent fishing that often comes as a result is well worth the initial expenditure.