Fishing is one of the UK's most popular past times & attracts hundreds of thousands of people to rivers & lakes each year. Not only is it an exciting thrill to see & catch fish, it's also extremely relaxing to witness wildlife going about its business on or around the water.
So If you are new to fishing or getting back into the sport after a few years away, then this guide is here to help you select the tackle you need, show you how to set up a rod & reel, how to cast & most importantly how to safely handle your catch.
So what are you waiting for, start planning your next fishing trip now!
Before you go fishing and if your over the age of 12, you must purchase a fishing license. Fishing licenses can be bought from your local post office or directly online via the Post Office Website. If you only want to try fishing for a day and do not want to purchase a full year licence, then you can buy single day or an 8 day licence, these are great if you fancy some fishing whilst on holiday.
It is an offence to go fishing without a license, If you are caught without a license you may be fined up to £2,500
Under 12's do not need to purchase a license
Money raised through rod licence sales is invested in fisheries up & down the country to benefit all anglers
Tackle & Equipment
Before you go fishing you will need the right tackle, below is a basic list of essentials that you will need for float fishing on a still water. It is also a good idea to ask your local tackle shop for advice when purchasing your tackle, not only will they be able to recommend the best equipment for your price range, but will also be able to offer invaluable advice.
Rod - For this guide it is recommended to use a 10-13ft general purpose float rod.
Reel - A fixed spool reel, with front or rear drag which can hold at least 100 meters of 4-6lbs line. The drag is important as it allows line to leave the spool under tension - this is useful so that the drag can be set at a point where the reel gives line before a breakage occurs. To set the drag simply thread line from the spool under the bale arm & pull until line leaves the spool.
Landing Net & Pole - A landing net is a must for safely lifting a fish out of water, a net with a width of at least 18 inches should be big enough to land small to medium sized fish.
Banksticks & Rodrests - A bankstick is a metal pole with a screw thread at the top which allows a rod rest to be attached. Once the rodrest is attached, your rod can be rested upon it.
Line - For this guide we will be using monofilament line with a strength rating of 5lbs and a hook length of 3lb.
Floats - Although there are many different styles of floats, for this guide we will be using an insert waggler. Always take a number of floats fishing with you, as you don't want to stop fishing if you lose your only float in a tree !
Shot - Are weights attached to the fishing line to secure the float and make the baited hook fall through the water. You can buy a pack of shot at your local tackle shop which will come in a variety of different sizes.
Plummet - Is a large weight which is attached to the hook to enable the float to be set at the correct depth.
Disgorger - Is used to safely remove the fishing hook from the mouth of your catch, especially if hooked deep in the mouth.
Unhooking Mat - A mat should be used to lay your catch on during unhooking, it helps protect the fish from a hard sharp surfaces which could otherwise cause damage to the fish.
Hooks - Come in many different sizes a chart below shows the sizes - for this guide it is recommended to use 2 sizes, 14 & 18.
Chair - A camping chair is ideal when starting out as they are cheap & reasonably comfy.
Clothing, Food & Drink - It is important to be as comfortable as possible whilst fishing, being either cold, wet, hungry or thirsty will certainly reduce your concentration, it is therefore important to have warm enough clothing & a suitable rain coat - food & drink is of course a personal preference.
There is a multitude of baits to use whilst fishing, many of which are described in greater detail within the baits section. Some of the simplest yet effective baits to use are bread, maggots & sweetcorn, all three are relatively cheap to buy and are very easy to obtain.
Maggots are a great bait to use when fishing, as the wriggle they make on the hook provokes fish to bite, and for this guide it is recommended to buy a pint of mixed maggots. Mixed maggots come in a variety of different colours, this gives the option of a different coloured maggot on the hook.
Bread is a brilliant cheap bait to use whilst fishing and usually helps attract the larger fish. For this guide we will be using a cheap white loaf which can be bought from any bakery/supermarket.
Sweetcorn like bread is cheap and can be bought from any supermarket. It's highly visible yellow colour and sweet mushy interior makes sweetcorn a firm favourite with most coarse fish.
Where To Fish
Finding a venue to fish in your local area can be made easier by using our listings of Free & Commercial venues or by asking a member of staff at your local tackle shop about places to fish in your area - The staff will be more than happy to offer advice on local waters, and may even offer invaluable tips on which pegs, baits & tactics are currently doing well.
Before Setting Off
It is always wise to prepare your gear before you set off, making sure you have all the necessary bits & bobs that you will need. It's also a good idea to practice putting a rod together & tying rigs at home, as you don't want to be wasting time by the side of the water struggling to set up when you can be fishing!
Loading A Spool
Loading line onto your fishing reel is a relatively simple task & your reel should have written on its spool a guide on roughly how much line of certain breaking strains/diameters can be loaded onto the spool. It is important to load the line correctly onto the reel, if the line is not loaded correctly you can end up with line twist which then leads to tangles & problems with casting.
Line twist can be reduced massively by loading line on to the spool in the correct direction. This means that line should peel off the new spool in an opposite direction to which the fishing reel rotates, for instance, most fixed spool reels when looked at from the front with their handle wound move the bale arm in a clockwise direction, this means that the new line from the fishing spool needs to come off in an anti clockwise direction, the pictures below help illustrate this.
Reel & Line Direction
Attaching Line To Reel
Attach your reel to the butt section of your rod. Now look at the front of your reel and wind the handle to see which direction your bale arm moves, this reel moves in a clockwise direction.
Lay your new spool of fishing line on the floor, pull a small amount of line from the spool to see what direction it comes off, the line on this spool comes off in an anti-clockwise direction and is the right side up for loading onto a reel which has a clockwise rotation. If it comes off in a
clockwise direction just flip the spool on its other side.
Now take the line from the spool & thread it through the first butt ring of the rod, open the bale arm and tie the line to the spool with an arbor knot
To tie an arbor knot, put the line around the spool & use the tag end to tie an overhand knot around the main line.
Now tie another overhand knot in the tag end.
Gently tighten the first knot up against the spool - the second knot should prevent the line passing through the first knot. Once completed snip the extra line from the tag end.
Place the fishing line spool on the ground with the line peeling off in the correct direction - a few small weights on top will help stop the spool from moving.
Hold the rod 3-4 feet above the spool on the floor & pinch the line between your fingers under moderate tension. Now wind at a slow to medium pace filling the reel spool with each turn of the reel handle.
Continue to load the line on the reel until the reel spool is filled within 2-3mm of the rim - too much line on the spool will cause line to spring off on the cast & create tangles, too little line on the reel spool and casting distance will be hampered.
A hook length is a short length of fishing line which has a lower breaking strain than the main line used on the reel. The first reason a hook length should be used is in the interest of wildlife, should you become snagged on a tree or underwater snag and the hook will not come free, when pulling for a break, the only length of fishing line that will be left is the short hook length - if you had tied the hook directly to the main line when pulling for a break the line could snap anywhere and leave large amounts of dangerous fishing line in the water. Secondly, should a large fish cause the line to snap, it is only the short hook length which will remain attached to the fish & the fish will easily eject the hook providing you are using a barbless hook.
Making enough hook lengths before you go fishing is always a wise investment in time, not only does it help you practice tying the knots, it also saves massive amounts of time on the bank when you can grab a pre made hook length instead of having to tie one each time you need one.
A Grinner knot is a great knot to use when tying a hook length to a hook, details of how to tie this knot can be found here. Once the hook is secured, the easiest way of attaching your hook length to the main line is either by swivel or by using the loop to loop method, the loop to loop makes changing hook lengths a particularly easy task, more information on tying a loop to loop connection can be found here.
If you find tying your own hook lengths tricky, why not purchase some ready made ones from your local tackle shop, they come in a variety of different hook sizes & breaking strains to suit all fishing situations.
It may sound obvious, but locating the fish really is key to having a successful day on the bank. Fish are drawn to areas which offer them food & shelter, some of these locations are easier to spot than others when standing on the bank, this is due to the fact that many underwater features are not visible from above water.
From the bank it can be relatively easy to find areas where fish may be lurking, always look out for any type of vegetation near or in the water which will attract fish - lilies, reed beds & overhanging trees are good examples of areas which fish will find attractive and often visit in order to find their natural food source.
Under the surface there are other prime fishing holding spots which are difficult to spot from the bank, such as snags, holes on the bottom, plateau’s and gravel bars - To find these underwater features you will need to accurately plumb the depth to help create a mental image of the contours of the bottom.
Although fish feed throughout the day there are certain parts of the day such as dawn & dusk when fish feed most confidently. There are reasons for them to do this, firstly the half light provided by the rising or setting sun provides fish with more cover from predators. Secondly, these times of the day are when many insects & larvae become active & of course these insects & larvae form part of a freshwater fish diet.
At dawn aquatic larvae rise from the bottom or from amongst weed growth, attracted by the light & warmth of the sun. In the early evening & into dusk the water will also be littered with small insects which have been blown onto the water by the wind throughout the day, some of these insects can be seen from the surface as fish feed upon them & many also sink to the bottom ready for hungry fish to intercept.
Whilst these are probably the most productive times for fishing, fish will feed throughout the day & to help find them you have to look for any tell tale signs of feeding activity such as fish breaking the surface or muddy clouds coming up from the bottom as they search for food.
When investigating close to the water’s edge always keep sound to a minimum & tread carefully, any loud noise or heavy thud will soon spook fish.
1 - Always look out for fish cruising beneath the surface - polarised sunglasses can help immensely to see within the first few feet of water
2 - Reeds Lining the margin are great fish holding areas, particularly at dawn & dusk
3 - The edges of lily pads are always a great area to fish as they provide safety & cover for fish, just don't let the fish enter them once you hook them!
Rod Set Up
When assembling a rod always make sure the rod rings are lined up in a perfectly straight line, if the rings are not in perfect alignment you will struggle to cast properly.
Once the rod is assembled, attach your reel and set the drag to the lowest resistance, now thread the line from the spool under the bail arm and pull line from the reel and thread it through each rod ring. Once you have pulled enough line from the reel, you can now rest the rod and begin to attach your rig.
Learning to cast is going to take time and some practice, this can be practiced in an open space such as a park or large garden. All that is needed is to attach a large weight at the end of the line which is heavy enough to cast 20-40 yards - Always make sure nobody is around that can be struck !
Once you have your float rig in place & your hook baited, face the direction you wish to cast & wind the reel so the float is about 3-4 feet away from the rod tip - having the float too close to the rod tip will cause problems when casting & will invariably lead to tangles.
Now grab the line with your index finger and open the bale arm, lift the rod vertically facing the direction you wish to target & tilt the rod behind you, making sure the line does not become tangled on any vegetation.
Now with your free hand holding the bottom of the rod butt and your other hand trapping the main line, push the rod forwards with enough force to make a cast, your hand holding the line should move forward, and the hand holding the bottom of the rod should be pulled towards you. Knowing when to release the line with your index finger is the tricky part, release too early and the float will fly almost vertically and land no more than a few yards away, release too late and the float will be cast into the water with lots of force directly in front of you.
Once you are able to cast with some accuracy it's beneficial to feather the line before the float hits the water, this involves placing your index finger lightly on the spool of the reel before the float lands. This basically slows the speed of the float through the air and allows the line beneath the float to straighten out in front of the float to avoid tangles - as a bonus, this also helps the line fall in arc beneath a float allowing a fish to intercept the bait as it sinks to the bottom.
With the float cast to the desired spot, dip the end of your rod underneath the surface of the water (4-5inches) and wind the reel a few times so the main line between rod tip and float is sunk underwater - this helps keep the line submerged and less prone to any surface current which could move your float out of position. It's also important to keep the main line as taught as possible, if the line is not kept taught, striking into a bite will mean the line is not taken up properly & the hook will not set & you will miss bites.
Here is a great video from James Robbins of Shakespeare giving advice & tips on casting a waggler float
Plumbing The Depth
Plumbing the depth is an important part of fishing as it provides an accurate measurement of the depth, which is crucial when setting up a float rig. Bell shaped plummet weights can be purchased which allow the hook to be threaded through a large eye, then attached to a cork bottom.
Start by guessing the depth of the water by moving your float up the main line away from the plummet, now cast to the desired spot.
1 - If the float is riding high in the water or laying flat on the surface, the rig is set over depth and will need the float moving lower down the line
2 - If the float is submerged, the depth is set too shallow & the float will need moving further up the line
3 - This is dead depth when the tip of the float is just breaking the surface
Once you have the required depth it can be really helpful to mark this on your rod so you know the precise depth you need to set your float should you need to change rigs or reattach a damaged or lost hook length. To do this, simply hold your hook at the bottom of the rod and mark with tippex or pencil on your rod where the float is.
Casting to different areas of the swim will not only reveal the depth, it also gives an indication of any sudden changes of depth such as drop offs & depressions - these areas are worth noting, as fish are naturally drawn to these places in search of food.
Click the picture to enlarge
Rigs are the business end of your fishing line & are designed to suit certain circumstances & catch particular fish. The most important part of setting up a rig is knowing the exact depth of the water in your swim, this is determined by plumbing the depth with a large weight as described above. For basic float fishing the three rigs below should be good enough to enable you to catch fish safely.
On The Bottom
This rig is designed to get the bait down quickly in the water past nuisance smaller fish and fish a hook bait on the bottom.
1 - The float should be held in place with locking shot with enough weight to aid casting and cock the float
2 - The 3 small number 6 bulk shot should be placed below half depth and situated together - the purpose of this is to get the hook bait down quickly through the water & help avoid the attentions of smaller fish which may intercept the bait on the drop
3 - Two smaller shot should be placed at equal distance relatively close to the hook, this allows the bait to fall in a controlled arc to the bottom - this fall within the last foot of water can sometimes produce a bite, so be ready to strike!
If conditions are windy or there is a large under tow which is moving your float, try fishing an inch or two over depth. This extra line laying on the bottom will act as an anchor and prevent the float from moving out of position. If fishing slightly over depth doesn't work and the float is still being moved out of position, you will need an anchoring shot which will pin your hook bait to the bottom and counter the movement of the wind or water.
Click the picture to enlarge
On The Drop
This rig is designed to catch fish feeding up in the water, particularly roach & rudd on warm summer days. When the hook bait hits the water it falls naturally in a downward arc so that fish can intercept the bait.
1 - Make sure the majority of the weight is used as locking shot at the base of the float
2 - Now place 3 dropper shot at equal space descending in size towards the hook
3 - The descending shot size going down the main line promotes the line and hook length to fall in an enticing arc which will encourage fish to bite, especially when used in conjunction with regular loose feeding
To get the best out of this rig you will need to loose feed a small amount of bait before or after casting to attract fish to the area around your falling hook bait - loose feeding five or six maggots on each cast will keep fish actively competing for food & leads to more positive bites.
Click the picture to enlarge
This rig is called the lift method & is used to pin the bait on the bottom and give a classic lift bite should a fish lift & dislodge the weight adjacent to the baited hook. This rig is regarded as the classic tench float rig, but can be equally successful with many other species including carp.
1 - The float should be held in place with float stops, these are small rubber beads which hold the float in place instead of using locking shot
2 - The weight used for the bottom shot should be heavy enough to cock the float & be situated 3 - 4 inches away from the hook - the closer the weight is to the hook, the more sensitive it is as a bite indicator, if however the fish are suspicious & not feeding confidently, you may need to have a longer space between shot & hook
3 - When the fish picks up the hook bait & dislodges the shot, the classic lift method bite is shown by the sudden rising of the float 4
As this is a very sensitive form of float fishing, it is best to keep the main line as taught as possible & have your rod rested on stable rod rests to help give the best indication of a bite.
Click the picture to enlarge
Baiting Up & Feeding
Regular loose feeding is key to attracting fish & holding them in your swim, this can be achieved by either throwing or catapulting maggots/corn around your float on a little & often basis. The aim is to not overfeed the fish, but make them compete with each other for the feed that is introduced. Too much loose feed and the fish will become preoccupied on the many food items & will feed in a cautious manner before filling up and moving on. Whereas fish that are actively competing with each other for food introduced on a little & often basis, will invariably let their guard down & take the hook bait.
It is always worth remembering that you cannot take out what you have put in, so by feeding on a little & often basis you should not run the risk of overfeeding.
Hooking a maggot is a relatively easy task, but will take a little practice to get right. The best place to hook a maggot is through the area of extended skin near its air holes (they look like miniature eyes). Hold the maggot between finger and thumb and apply gentle pressure until the small flap of skin is extended near the air holes. The hook should be passed through the flap gently to avoid penetrating the main body of the maggot - should the main body be punctured, the maggot will quickly lose its effectiveness to wriggle once in the water, these “bursting” maggots should be discarded. More information on maggots here
Bread is a great bait for catching above average sized fish, its only drawback being its delicate nature, which means It can be difficult to cast any distance & keep it on the hook. Try using a piece of bread flake moulded around the shank of the hook close in next to marginal reeds, as this is a great way to catch early morning or late evening fish which come close in to inspect the margins for food. More information on bread here.
Sweetcorn is very easy to hook & should be placed on the hook in a way which does not mask the hook point, should the point be covered it will be difficult to connect with bites if the hook needs to pass through the skin of the corn. Sweetcorn keeps well on the hook during casting & can be fished at distance & is a firm favourite of bream, carp, roach & tench. More information on sweetcorn here.
Landing & Handling Fish
Once the float dips under water or sails away, now is the time to strike, to do this lift the rod upwards in a firm controlled manner with enough force to set the hook, but not so much that the hook will be bumped out of the fishes mouth.
If the fish is relatively small (no more than 5 inches) it can be reeled in relatively easily and then swung into hand for unhooking. If however the fish is larger and begins to fight hard, care must be taken to not exert too much pressure on the fish in case of a hook pull or line breakage. It is at this point when your reel drag setting comes into play and peels line from the reel before a line breakage occurs. If the fish heads for known snags such as lilies or tree branches, exert enough pressure on the fish to guide it away - if the fish is taking line from the reel tightening the drag can help to stop a fish entering a snag.
In order to land larger fish, lift the rod upwards and let the bend of the rod take the pressure, when the rod is at its highest & the fish is no longer taking line, begin to lower the rod & retrieve the slack line created by the lifting motion, always ensuring that the line is kept taught at all times - should the line be allowed to go slack the hook hold will invariably fail and you will lose the fish. Repeat this process until the fish is close enough to be netted.
Once the fish is close to the bank, lower the landing net into the water so its partially submerged, now guide the fish over it before scooping it up - never make lunges at the fish with the net, this can easily spook the fish & give it a second wind which can cause a lost fish.
With the fish in the net, lower it gently onto an unhooking mat, if one is not available use soft bank side vegetation. Never lay a fish across stones, gravel or wood, as any hard surface can soon cause damage to the fish, especially if it begins to flap.
Once on its side, put down your rod, wet your hands & begin to unhook the fish. Once unhooked, take a picture & admire your catch, then get the fish back into the water as quickly as possible - if the fight was a lengthy one and the fish needs time to recover, always cradle the fish upright in the water with your hands until it moves off under its own steam.
Always keep your landing net submerged prior to guiding a fish over it, if you have your net too high out of the water & make lunges, it will definitely give the fish a second lease of life & you may lose it.
If the fish is large, lay it on an unhooking mat & remove the hook by hand - always be ready in case the fish begins to flap, to calm a flapping fish, hold it down gently with wet hands.
Smaller fish can be unhooked by holding them in a wetted hand. If the hook is within the lips, it can be gently removed by threading the hook back on itself.
If hooked further back in the mouth, the job of removing the hook is made easier by using a disgorger. To do this keep the line under a moderate amount of tension & places the line within the groove of the disgorger, now slide the disgorger down until it comes into contact with the hook & gently remove.