Saltwater Fishing Tips for Freshwater Fishing Enthusiasts

Transition to a Whole New World of Fish

Shot of two young men fishing at the ocean in the early morning
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Most young anglers began fishing in a freshwater lake, river, creek or pond. In fact, small rural farm ponds can be excellent places to learn and perfect vital angling techniques like increasing your casting distance and proper lure or bait presentation. For many avid anglers, though, the sea holds a special allure. Those who give saltwater fishing a try often find themselves hooked on pursuing the wide variety of species that are available when fishing the salt.

Saltwater Fishing for Beginners

Fishing is the most popular recreational pastime in America; it boasts more active enthusiasts than golf, tennis, and sailing combined. Saltwater fishing alone draws in nearly 25 million participants nationwide in a single year. Whether it be trolling offshore for big tuna, drifting across a placid bay for flounder, or fishing the water of the intertidal flats for redfish and trout, the numbers of venues and fish species available to saltwater anglers can seem virtually endless.

Fishing Gear and Saltwater

The first thing that fledgling saltwater anglers need to understand is the primary difference between fresh and saltwater fishing: the water itself. Salt rapidly accelerates the corrosion process, and the resulting rust can dramatically weaken anything metallic that it comes in contact with, including your reel and attached hardware as well as the line guides on your fishing rod.

The good news is that corrosion can be easily avoided by simply washing down your rod and reel with fresh water from your garden hose every time that you return from fishing in saltwater. Spraying your reel afterward with a silicon-based lubricant like WD-40 will also help greatly in extending the life of your gear. Saltwater tackle is generally somewhat sturdier than gear that was designed for use in freshwater, but you must still do your part in order to keep it functional.

Basic Tackle

Although high-grade conventional saltwater reels and rods provide the necessary backbone for big game anglers fishing offshore, those who are just beginning to fish in saltwater are better off starting out with a quality medium weight spinning combo. Unless you are already well versed in the art of casting a conventional reel, a spinning reel will help you to cast further while avoiding the frustrating backlashes and birds' nests that are so common with conventional gear. A quality spinning combo that is rated for 10 to 25 test line will also cover you in a variety of different setting from surf and pier fishing to drifting in bays or intertidal estuaries. 

Basic light to medium tackle may be able to cover you sufficiently in most situations when fishing in freshwater. However, depending upon whether you happen to be deep sea fishing, drifting in a small skiff a half mile off the beach, surf fishing onshore, or fishing from a bridge or pier, you will need to carefully match your gear and technique to the circumstances at hand

Fishing Line

Because of the damage dealt out by constant exposure to saltwater and intense sunlight, it is important to always buy a good quality fishing line and change it often. Stick with the brands sold by major manufacturers and avoid ‘bargains’ on lesser-known products that may fail when put to the test. It's no fun losing the fish of a lifetime because your cheap, low-quality line snapped at a crucial moment.

The type of line that you choose is also important. For generations, monofilament line was the most popular among saltwater anglers. In recent years, however, the use of specialized braided lines has increased dramatically. Braided line has a much thinner diameter than monofilament line of the same pound test, which basically extends the line capacity of your reel. It is also more resistant to abrasion. Thinner braided lines tend to cast easier and farther than most monofilaments. The only drawback is that braided line usually requires a leader in order to achieve optimum performance.

No matter what type line you select, the best types of leaders to use are ones made from fluorocarbon, which becomes virtually invisible to fish once it has been submerged.

Hooks

Always match your hook to the size of the bait that you plan to use; if it is too big it will look unnatural and discourage attention, but if it is too small a striking fish could miss the hook altogether and steal the bait.

The most popular hooks for saltwater fishing include the J hook, the live bait hook, and the circle hook, each of which has its own specialized application.

  • The J hook can either be a ‘baitholder’ with a few barbs on the shank or a standard J with a smooth shank. These are best for fishing with chunk or strip bait and allow you to hook the bait multiple times in order to keep it secure.
  • Live bait hooks have a much shorter shank that is smooth and is designed to be pinned through the nose, under the collar, just beneath the dorsal or through the anal opening of a live baitfish. It provides the opportunity for the bait to swim freely in a natural manner that will eventually provoke a strike from a hungry game fish. As always, it is important to match the size of your hook with the size of bait that you are using.
  • Over the past decade or so, the circle hook has become increasingly popular with live release fishermen. Unlike typical hooks which can end up deep in a fish's gullet, circle hooks usually hook up in the corner of the fish’s mouth. This make the experience much easier on the fish, and makes it much easier to release the fish without damage. ather than ending up hooked deep in the gullet, which greatly decreases the chances of a successful live release.

    Baits

    Depending upon the type of saltwater fish that you are targeting, the most effective baits are usually the ones that most closely match the normal diet of that species. This might be anything from clams, mussels and sea worms to shrimp, squid, or appropriately sized baitfish. Many fish will also strike chunk and strip baits, which tend to exude enticing oils through the water column.

    Lures

    If you prefer to avoid natural bait, artificial baits and lures can also be the key to a successful day out on the water. Options include, but are not limited to, hard baits like plugs, poppers and spoons and soft baits such as plastic swimbaits, grubs and slugs. The latter category also includes recently developed biodegradable baits like Berkley GULP!, which incorporate pheromone-based scents that chemically provoke a feeding response in fish.

    Unless you are trolling, the movement of submerged artificial baits are controlled almost exclusively by the speed of your retrieve and the action that you impart to the lure with the tip of your fishing rod. Always try to combine those two factors in a way that will mimic the natural action of the artificial you are using.

    Knots

    The knot that connects your main line to the hook or lure is crucial for successfully fighting a big saltwater bruiser …so make it strong! There are numerous effective knots that can work well in a variety of applications; one of the best is the double palomar which is both easy to tie and extremely dependable.

    Tides

    Tidal movement affects just about every type of saltwater fishing venue except the blue waters offshore. In order to optimize your angling success, it is vital to use the changing of the tides to your advantage. As a rule of thumb, it is a good idea to arrive at your chosen fishing destination at least an hour before the high tide is scheduled to peak, and plan to continue fishing for at least another half hour thereafter.

    Additional Gear

    When you head out to the beach, bay, lagoon, or jetty you'll need your fishing gear, a well-stocked tackle box and a bucket. But you'll also want a few other items to make the experience fun, safe and successful. Bring along a hat, polarized sunglasses, a high SPF sunscreen, a folding chair, and sufficient drinking water or electrolyte beverages to rehydrate yourself under a potentially blazing sun. If you're staying for the day, bring food: there are no convenience stores in the middle of a bay!

    Where to start

    A great place to start building your saltwater fishing skills is a public fishing pier. Many offer free access, and they provide the opportunity to either fish closer to the shoreline or go out to the end of the pier in search of different, and often larger species. Depending upon where the pier is located and the time of year it is, fishing the furthest end of the structure could result in hooking up with a fat grouper or a king mackerel without even getting your feet wet.

    What Awaits

    Once new saltwater anglers get their sea legs, they can begin to explore other options like drifting inshore in a small skiff, fishing on a party boat, kayak fishing, or even eventually heading offshore to battle big tuna or marlin. A whole new world awaits them.