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Top tips for beginner boat fishers

by Laurie Wilkins 7 Jan 10:13 UTC
Dock line © Laurie Wilkins

Often, when I refer to "a day on the water", I mean a day spent fishing, but there is nothing quite like being on the water.

Fishing from a boat puts you in the heart of the action and gets you away from the often busy shores and banks that you may be used to. If you are looking to take your passion for angling to the next level, then boy, do I have a great list of tips for you to do that! Below you'll find my top 25 tips necessary to go on your first boat fishing excursion - I look forward to seeing you on the water soon!


Much like anything that we do in life, the preparation you do before you start will have a significant impact on the outcome of your excursion - let's make sure you have the prep work down pat!

    1. Know your target: Knowing what you will be targeting will help you, not only on the water but in preparing for other parts of your trip.

    2. Know the best bait: As I mentioned above, you have to know what you're fishing. Once you know what you're fishing, you can properly plan for the type of bait that you'll be using. When you're on a boat, you have a wide variety of ways to attract fish; you must plan accordingly so that you can make use of all of the advantages a boat offers.

    3. Study the environment: On hotter days, fish will seek out shade, which means that that fallen tree you spotted after you launched may be packed with an entire day's quarry. Knowing how you can leverage the environment will make your day a lot more enjoyable.

    4. Tides and currents: Tides and currents play a huge role in terms of where and when your fish will be in the body of water that you are fishing. If you can get your hands on a tide chart, then you're on track to achieving the best results! Fishing Booker does a great job explaining how to read a tide chart.

    5. Talk to the locals (and trust them): Most of the time, nothing and no one will give you better advice than the locals. These guys spend every day fishing the waters you're visiting - they know how to get the best results there, so ask for their advice and trust it.


Between your boat, tackle box, and the gear you'll be wearing, there is a lot to take along with you on your trip. Here are the essentials for every fishing boat trip:

    1. Gear for your boat:

      a. Safety gear including, PFDs for everyone on board (particularly children), flares, a horn, and a fire extinguisher.
      b. Charts, map, and or GPS
      c. Binoculars
      d. An extra hull plug (sure, yours shouldn't malfunction, but you'd rather have one and not need it than need one and not have it)
      e. Flashlight and or headlamp (water-resistant)
      f. Duct tape
      g. Extra engine oil and fuel
      h. Multipurpose tool or tool kit
      i. VHF radio
      j. First aid kit

    2. What to wear:

      a. As with any fishing that you do, dressing in layers allows you to regulate your temperature easily.
      b. Non-skid, rubber-soled shoes
      c. Rubberized gloves (not only do they offer protection, but they also assist in safe handling for catch and release)
      d. A hat
      e. Polarized glasses

    3. What to bring:

      a. Your rod/s and reel/s (if you don't own any or even if you're looking for a new set up, check out my best saltwater baitcasting reels blog post)
      b. Your license and permits
      c. Bait and tackle
      d. Sunscreen (you can't use too much)
      e. Food and water (avoid messy, rich foods)
      f. A cooler box and gunny sack
      g. Cash (particularly on charters)
      h. Hand towel or chamois
      i. A camera (I mean, who doesn't want to show off their prized catch?)
      j. Necessary medication, seasickness medication, and painkillers

    4. What to leave at home:

      a. A poor mindset (90% of successful fishing comes down to confidence. If you've been in a rut or your not confident, be sure to leave that at the door when you leave for your trip)
      b. An unteachable mind (if you're fishing with someone more experienced than yourself, be ready to listen, learn, and grow. Don't be closed off to constructive criticism!)
      c. Alcohol and narcotics
      d. Weapons and fireworks

    5. Avoid overloading your boat: To this end, pack everything that you need and no more. Keeping a checklist of necessary (and unnecessary) items will assist in this regard. If you are hiring a charter, consult with the captain beforehand to confirm that you have packed correctly. They will know their boat and the trip planned, which makes them the authority on what to bring.

Landing a "whopper"

You've likely seen pictures and heard stories of folks catching absolute monsters and wondered how they do it.

These are a few of the things that you can do to join the Hall-of-Famers:

    1. Trolling: (and before someone asks; no, you're not going to catch more fish by being a tool on the internet...): BoatUS gives us a great guide to better trolling

    2. Chumming:

      a. Salt Water Sportsman highlights their top tips for chumming here.
      b. Keep in mind that chumming is illegal in certain states, such as Alabama, though applicable laws vary between saltwater and freshwater and the type of chum used, so contacting authorities beforehand is recommended.

    3. Learn how to cast: How you cast plays a big part in your overall success, so it is important to ensure that you know how to cast effectively. To this end, I've linked an awesome post from Ultimate Angling here. They explain, in great detail, how to improve your casting distance and what to practice.

    4. Learn your lures: Have you ever stood in a tackle shop and been completely gobsmacked by the sheer volume of options when it comes to lures? Most novice anglers have a hard time figuring out what is going to work best for them, so here are some of my top tips for choosing which lures to take with you:

      i. Know which species you intend to catch. The reason that there is an overwhelming amount of lure is that there are so many fish species, who will respond differently to different lures or bait, depending on weather conditions, time of day, time of year, the body of water they're in - the list goes on and on. Choosing the right lure starts with knowing the habits of your intended catch.

      ii. Know how to read your surroundings. As you grow as an angler, this will become something you can do on the fly, but when you're starting, I recommend doing a quick internet search to find out how best to present your line in the conditions you intend to fish.

      iii. Food or foe? Lures aren't made to imitate food exclusively. Some species are incredibly territorial and will be tempted by your bait because they are protecting their home, more so than because they are hungry. Understand your prey and choose a lure to suit their characteristics.

      iv. Color, shape, buoyancy, prey size - Once you know what species you are fishing for and understand the demands of the environment, your choice of lure becomes easy. When you know the target and the place, your local tackle shop can advise on the best options for you.

    5. Stay Quiet: When you've dressed in drab, perfected your cast, masterfully presented your line, and selected the perfect spot, you shouldn't suffer a poor day on the water because you or your buddy couldn't keep the volume down.


Any time spent outdoors is time well spent, though it is also time spent at the mercy of the many elements that mother nature can throw at you.

Being prepared for any incidents that can occur will negate any potentially harmful situations, so it is important to consider safety.

    1. Check the weather: Even when you are familiar with the region you are fishing, your prep work will be heavily influenced by the weather you are going to encounter - ensure that you know what to expect!

    2. Take lots of snacks and water: Your body will be burning energy and consuming liquid, make sure you have the means to replenish your internal reserves.

    3. Stay hydrated: Yes, I know this one is similar to the point above, but I'll reiterate - your body needs water to survive, particularly when you are active in the sun. Be safe, stay hydrated.

    4. Keep safety in mind: The outdoors is unpredictable and preparation will only get you so far. When on your trip, safety should be top of mind at all times!

    5. Keep the right company: This one is a big one if you are a novice angler or outdoorsman. Make sure that you are in the company of an expert at all times.

    Chartered boats will boast an experienced captain and crew who can assist with any incidents. Freshwater fishing is a bit different, though most freshwater areas will have guides who can accompany you on your trip.

    Not only will you benefit from their experience, but they can save your life when things get hairy.

    6. Freshwater VS saltwater: You may be an experienced angler when it comes to freshwater fishing, but if you have never done any kind of saltwater fishing (or vise versa), then you are in for a lot of new challenges - ensure that you have prepared yourself as best you can for the new adventure.

Pro tips

You're almost ready to hit the water! Here are the last four tips for you to get the most out of your trip:

    1. Check local laws and regulations: I can't provide you with a complete list of all the laws and regulations you'll need to know, because each state differs, so the onus is on you to make sure that you are fishing within the legal limits of the state you are in.

    2. Be open to changing tactics: You may have a great plan of action, but as I mentioned earlier, nature doesn't stick to anyone's plans (or at least, not any that I've made). Be prepared to change your tactics if the weather, the fish, or the conditions of the water aren't in line with your "plan A".

    3. The best time to fish: Each type of body has different "ideal" times of the day to fish. Riffles and pools (freshwater) are best fished in the morning and afternoon, while runs are best fished during the day. I generally recommend that you get on the water as early as possible to maximize your chances of success.

    4. Rain rain, don't go away: Don't consider your day over when it starts to rain. No, seriously, your chances of landing your fill of fish are improved in light rain - don't despair if you are fortunate enough to encounter a drizzle, instead, don your raincoat or anorak and thank mother nature for her gift!

So, you should be all set to enjoy your first boat fishing trip!

If there is anything that you would like us to add to our list, get in touch with us.

If you think that someone you know would benefit from this post, go ahead and send it to them! I look forward to hearing from you in the comments!

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