The Basics

The Basics

The most basic thing to remember about fishing gear is that nothing is designed to work independently – every piece is designed to work together as part of a system, called a “fishing rig.” A tree branch, with a string and a hook and a worm, is part of a fishing rig designed to lure a fish and enable you to pull it from the water. Even the most complicated-looking fishing setup is just an extension of the same concept. The reel, the fishing line, the rod, the various flashers, floaters, sinkers and attachments, the hooks, bait, the “terminal gear” are all designed to work together to attract a fish and help you get it out of the water. It’s entirely possible to go fishing with nothing more than your bare hands. Bears do it all the time, after all. And collecting some species, like Mussels, requires only minimal equipment like maybe a pair of gloves or gumboots. But for the most part, using specialized fishing tackle will make fishing a lot easier and more successful. The complexity of an expert anglers setup simply shows his or her understanding of what pieces of gear work best to help attract, catch and land a particular kind of fish, and in particular conditions. Each species of fish has its own habits, and its own habitat. And there is gear and equipment designed to work best for each scenario.

Fish love to eat. And every fish likes to eat something different. Fishing bait attracts fish to your hook, and most bait is chosen to resemble what a particular fish might naturally eat at a given time of day or time of year. The important thing to remember is that most fish will be attracted to a variety of baits, but not every type of bait will attract every type of fish. The right bait will trigger a fish to eat, but the wrong bait may simply be ignored.

Natural Bait

Everyone is familiar with the image of a worm on a fishing hook, and many anglers believe that natural baits – whether alive or dead – are the best baits to use. Worms, minnows, frogs and insects are common, natural baits and are often put on the hook while still alive, as they represent the natural diet of various species of fish. Other natural baits are not alive, but still have the taste, odour, colour and texture of natural foods that fish eat. Herring strips and salmon roe are commonly used, depending on the species being fished for. The key concept is to bait your hook with the type of food – or animals – that your target fish naturally eat in the wild and in the season that you are fishing. Finally, some anglers are very successful using human food as bait for fish. Corn and bits of bacon are commonly used as bait for Trout and cooked rice grains are very effective for Carp, for example.

Artificial Bait

The use of artificial bait – or, lures – is also very popular with anglers, and seems to be growing in popularity every year. Lures can be made to look, smell and act like natural prey, but unlike natural bait they do not decompose and can be re-used for years and years. Artificial lures are also preferred when you want to release fish you catch, as natural baits tend to be swallowed deeper making hooks harder to remove. Lures come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colours. They can be designed to look like something a fish might eat – a small minnow, some salmon roe or a squid – and many are designed to “wobble” or move like a sick or injured fish when pulled through the water, which can entice a larger fish to think it has found an easy meal. Although sharing some characteristics with artificial bait, most lures already have hooks attached to them and are not designed to be used WITH bait, which can disrupt the underwater “wobbling” motion they are designed for. Flies made of threads and sometimes feathers are another kind of artificial lure, and are designed to look like flying insects that have landed on the water – a favourite meal for many species including freshwater Trout. Although typically used in rivers and lakes, some Tidal species are also caught using fly-fishing techniques. Fly fishing uses different rods, reels and line than most other angling.



Hooks are used to hold a fish you’ve caught to your fishing line. Hooks are usually used to hold bait and be caught in a fish’s mouth, but occasionally they can snag or “foul hook” another part of the fish’s body. They come in various sizes, with shapes that also vary somewhat depending on their particular, intended use. As hooks get larger in size, the number of the hook gets smaller. So, a size 10 hook, for example, is actually smaller than a size 8. Hooks can be barbed, or barbless. A barb is designed to keep the fish on the hook easier, and prevent the hook from slipping back out of the fish’s mouth. Barbs also make it easier for bait to stay on the hook, but barbed hooks are not always legal to use so be sure to check regulations. Barbless hooks make catch-and-release much easier and reduce additional harm to the fish being released. In British Columbia, barbed hooks cannot be used in any river or stream or for catching Salmon in the ocean.  Additional regulations may also apply.


Some hooks, called Double and Treble Hooks, have more than one point. These types of hooks have specific purposes, but in B.C. they are typically reserved for catching Bottomfish and for fisheries that are “take only.” Treble and double hooks should be used sparingly as they do a lot of damage to fish caught with them. Be sure to check appropriate regulations.



Fishing “leader” is the name given to a length of fishing line that connects the “main” fishing line to the terminal tackle, such as the hook and sinker. Fishing leader isn’t required, but most anglers use leader for a variety of reasons and for a variety of properties including less visibility in water, reduced line spin and greater abrasion resistance.



SinkeSwivels are small connectors that can be used to connect the fishing line to the leader, or sometimes directly to other pieces of tackle. A swivel helps to prevent the line from twisting and tangling when it is reeled in, and can also be used to more quickly connect or disconnect pieces of tackle. Some believe swivels make it harder to lure fish, and they can also provide a weak point in your line.


Fishing line is designed to help you reel in a fish without breaking. There are many different types available, but the most common is “monofilament,” and the most common difference you’ll find is the weight rating. In general, the weight rating of fishing line is the weight at which the line will break but there is a lot of variation depending on the manufacturer. Every reel has a recommended weight rating for line, so be sure you buy the right type for your fishing rig and for the species you’re fishing for. Fluorocarbon, low visibility, braided, no stretch and very thin line are some popular types of specialized line.



Since fishing line is buoyant, small weights called sinkers are added to the fishing line to help lures and bait sink below the surface, and they can also help you cast a line out further. Different types of sinkers exist for different types of fishing, but they all perform the same basic function. They are typically attached just above the swivel, which prevents them from sliding down the line toward the hook. The use of traditional lead sinkers is prohibited in all Canadian national parks and wildlife areas, but you should avoid using them any time as they can poison birds and other wildlife.



Fishing floats, bobbers, strike indicators and bite indicators are all the same thing, and all perform the same function. They float on the water and move when something is pulling on the line – usually a fish on your hook. As with all fishing tackle, specific types of floats are designed for specific types of fishing and water conditions.


Flashers are very popular in Salmon fishing. They are designed to twist in the water when trolling, creating a flashing effect that appears – to a Salmon – to be like another Salmon chasing bait or behaving in an agitated way. This motion excites the fish you are hoping to catch, prompting it to chase your own lure or bait. Flashers are attached to the fishing line with the narrow end to the front, to promote spinning, and with swivels to prevent the line from twisting. Using a length of leader, a baited hook or lure is then attached two to five feet behind the flasher.



The fishing rod holds the reel, helps anglers cast a line further and also provides leverage to help reel in a fish. Rods come in different lengths and materials, plus have other variations depending on the type of fishing they are designed for.



The reel is the mechanism that spools the fishing line and is designed to both let the line out (casting) and retrieve it (reeling it in). There are five main types of reels – , Spinning, Baitcasting, Trolling, Double and Single action, and Fly – and each has its own particular characteristics. Within each category – for example, Trolling – each reel will also have unique differences that distinguish it from other reels of the same type. Your rod and reel represent the biggest single investments in terms of the gear you will buy, so research which types are best for the type of fishing you want to do.

Landing Net


A landing net helps to retrieve – or, land – a fish once it has been reeled in. A net should be used for catch and release, as it is easier on the body of the fish, and rubber-coated mesh is highly recommended. Even if you intend to keep and eat the fish, a net can be handy to help prevent you from leaning over too far which could make you fall in the water.

Billy Club

If you plan to keep and eat your catch it’s important to kill the fish humanely. The most common method is to stun it first, by clubbing it on the head just above the eyes, where the brain is located. Depending on the size of fish you catch, there are various types of billy clubs specially designed for this task. To reduce trauma the fish should be clubbed as soon as possible after it’s caught.

Fillet Knife


A good knife is indispensible, and has a million uses when fishing. If you’re only going to carry one knife, it should be a fillet-style knife made for fishing. Most anglers use a knife to bleed the fish after it’s stunned then remove the head, gills and internal organs. For increased safety, look for a knife with a rough-textured handle that will help prevent your hand slipping and cutting yourself.


If you are going to keep and eat your catch, it should be stored in an ice-filled cooler after it is killed and cleaned. Smaller fish can be stored whole, but larger fish should be thoroughly cleaned and have the body cavity packed with ice before storing in the cooler.



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