Man Fishing In a Pier

Saltwater Fishing Tips For Beginners (Comprehensive Guide)

Saltwater fishing can offer a wonderful variety of fishing experiences.

From the slow relaxed style of pier fishing to the extreme adrenaline filled thrill of deep sea game fishing.

It’s got something for everyone!

If you’re new to saltwater fishing this guide will give you an introduction to the overall landscape.

As well as specific recommendations for equipment and fishing tips that will ensure that you’ll have an enjoyable successful fishing trip.

Maintaining your fishing equipment is a pretty simple process of properly washing your rod and reel with fresh water and lubricating any moving parts regularly after your saltwater fishing trip.

High quality saltwater gear is designed to withstand these conditions so it should only take a minimal amount of care and maintenance to keep its long lifespan.

Fishing Gear on Top of Black Net

You’ve also got to consider the depths and size of the saltwater fish you will be catching.

This translates to selecting the correct size and strength of your fishing gear.

Line, rod and reel all come in different measurements and strengths for various ranges of fish.

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In addition to the water, the size and type of catch can also add extra wear and tear on your lines and gears so remember to factor that into your decision.

Reels

If you are new to saltwater fishing you may be better off going with a good quality medium weight spinning reel.

This will let you cast further and easier than a baitcasting reel if you are less experienced.

You will also have less backlashes and bird nests to deal with.

A spin reel rated for 10-25 pound test lines is a good all-rounder when going surf, pier, and bay fishing.

Rods

The length of the fishing rod is an important decision in saltwater fishing.

Longer rods give more cast distance but shorter rods are much stronger and more powerful when reeling in a big catch.

In this context, ‘power’ refers to the weight that the fishing rod can pull in and lift without breaking.

If you catch a monster with a rod lacking power you are running the risk of the rod snapping on you even if the line itself holds.

NOTE

It’s also important to match the 3 main parts of your tackle correctly. You should match the line test, rod power, and reel size to the type of fish you are aiming for.

There’s no point suffering the drawbacks of a high power rod if your fishing lines are so low test that it will snap anyway.

Lines

Constant exposure to saltwater and sun means that saltwater fishing lines tend to get a lot more wear and tear.

It’s a correct idea to invest in high-quality lines and switch them out frequently.

…you need to be able to trust your lines.

Don’t get tempted by the bargain fishing line offers or unbranded lines.

The fact is you need to be able to trust your lines and you’ll be putting its abilities to the test on your prized target.

Saving a few bucks isn’t even worth the disappointment of losing your catch of the day.

There are also lots of different types of lines, each one suited to different circumstances so it’s important to pick the right one for the job.

Close up Shot of a Fishing Reel with a Clear Line
Close up shot of a Fishing Reel with a Clear Line

Monofilament lines have traditionally been the go-to lines for saltwater fishing, however recently braided fishing lines have become more and more popular.

Braided fishing lines benefit from being significantly thinner while holding the same pound weight test as a thicker monofilament fishing line.

Since they are thinner they cast much easier and further than their thicker monofilament equivalents.

Braided fishing lines also last a lot longer under salty conditions.

Replacing Lines

Monofilament must be changed every year and braid should be changed every 2-3 years depending on how often you use and clean it.

The downside is that you’ll probably need a leader for braided lines to ensure the thinner lines avoid the brunt of the wear and tear.

RECOMMENDATION

Choosing the right leader is much easier. A leader made of fluorocarbon is the way to go. It’s practically invisible to fish in the water and is very robust.

Gaffs & Nets

First you will want a gaff or net suitable for saltwater fishing conditions.

These will help you lift your catch out of the water so you don’t have to rely on your rod and line.

fish effective weight on the tackle is significantly more than it is in the water…

Once a fish is out of the water that fish is no longer partially supported by its own buoyancy.

This means that the fish effective weight on the tackle is significantly more than it is in the water.

Adjust to Weight Factors

A common scenario is for anglers to get the right line test weight and rod power for their catch while in the water, only to wonder why their lines snapped once their catch was lifted free of the surface.

You could compensate for this added weight factor by using heavier weight lines and rods but they don’t come without the downsides of reduced cast range.

Man Holding a Fish Inside a Hand Net
Man Holding a Fish Inside a Hand Net

Utilize your tools

A better way is to use a net or a gaff to help lift the fish free of the water at the last moments of the catch.

This way will help take the stress off the tackle, allowing you to max out your abilities to cast.

An additional benefit of this is that there is less stress put on the set hook in the fish.

NOTE

Dragging the fish out of the water by the set hook will cause much more damage and distress to the fish compared to supporting it with the help of a gaff or a net.

Pliers, scissors and clippers

These really are essential. Whether you’re trying to clip frayed lines or remove a gullet hook from your catch (or your hand!) a quality set of line clippers and needle nose pliers are essential.

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Make certain to get a pair that will be resistant to rust and saltwater.

Saltwater fishing knives

A couple of good saltwater resistant fishing knives are critical

You’ll need them for cutting bait and cleaning fish as well as a general purpose tool.

Make sure to get one that is made with quality waterproof grips and will not erode with repeated exposure to saltwater.

Also think about the sheath that is used as this will get damaged very quickly if it can’t withstand repeated exposure to the elements…

The main three types of hooks used in saltwater fishing are the J hook, the live bait hook and the circle hook.

The J hook can come as a baitholder type with multiple barbs along its length to easily hold bait or a regular J hook with a smooth shank.

The J hook is ideally used for chunk or strip bait where you want to secure the bait multiple times along the hook.

Fish Caught On Hook
Fish Caught On Hook

Live bait hooks tend to be much shorter and don’t have barbs on them.

They are used to hold the bait in a way that the bait can still move and swim naturally to help attract bigger fish.

With live bait hooks, it is particularly important to match the size of the hook with the size of the bait.

This means if you are using multiple types of bait you will likely require multiple sizes of live bait hooks.

Finally, there are circle hooks. These fishing hooks are particularly popular with catch and release fishing.

Circle hooks are designed to only hook a fish in the corner of the mouth, making them very easy to take out and release the fish.

RECOMMENDATION

The risk with smaller fishing hooks or J hooks is that if you are late on setting the hook, the fish can swallow the bait and hook resulting in a gullet hook in the throat or along the stomach of the fish.

This is really difficult to remove and in general is best avoided.

Lures and Bait

Saltwater Fishing Baits

the best baits to use are the ones that best match the natural diet of the species you are catching…

Most of the time the best baits to use are the ones that best match the natural diet of the fish species you are catching.

This covers a wide range of baits and will require some research ahead of time to discover.

You may also have success using chunk or strip baits, so really this is a case of experimentation and asking other anglers for help on what they have had success with.

Saltwater Fishing Lures

If artificial lure are more your thing then you should look at using plugs, poppers, spoons and soft plastic baits.

You can even find biodegradable lure which releases a chemical trail in the water that triggers the feeding instinct in fish when used.

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When using lures it’s particularly important to practice your rod and retrieve technique to mimic the natural swimming motion of the fish species your lure is designed after.

Try to picture how the lure would bob and swim in the water and match the rhythm of your rod and retrieve.

Surf fishing

Surf fishing is when you are standing on the shore or on the beach and casting your rod and reel into the ocean against the swell….

It’s possible to catch most species of saltwater fish like this especially if you have a good casting range.

The main species of fish you will not be able to catch by surf fishing in the beach are the deep-sea game fish.

These game fish species live in much deeper waters that will not be found in casting range of the beach…

One great thing about surf fishing is you don’t even need to go out into the ocean…

You don’t need a boat or much specialized equipment as well, meaning it’s a great place even for beginners to start saltwater fishing.

Man Surf Fishing by the Shore
Man Surf Fishing by the Shore

Gear

Rod: 12-15 feet long for increased casting range

Reel: Large saltwater spinning reels

Line: 20-25 lb test line

Bait

Shrimp: Attract the widest range of fish but are easily lost from the hook

Mullet/Squid: Attract less fish but have a longer life on the hook before they require replacing

Backwater Fishing
Backwater Fishing

Backwater and Flats Fishing

Backwater fishing happens in inshore salt waters which are shallower and less affected by the tide.

Inshore salt waters can be a great step up in intensity from shore fishing as you will encounter some more challenging catches in these waters.

It is also fairly accessible for beginner or intermediate level anglers with a small flats boat or kayak.

These are considerably easier to rent and handle than larger boats used for deep sea fishing.

Gear

Rod: 6-7 feet long for a mid distance casting range

Reel: Spinner or Baitcaster reels

Line: 15 lb test line

Bait

Simple gold coloured metal lures and flexible plastic jigs.

Bay Fishing

Bay fishing is fishing in the large enclosed pockets of water that connect to the main ocean but are further inland.

They have a fantastic variety of saltwater fish and crustaceans and are an excellent option for a saltwater fisherman looking for one relaxed and varied saltwater fishing trip.

Gear

Rod: 7 foot long heavy action rod

Reel: Spinning or Baitcaster reels

Line: 20 lb test monofilament line

Bait

Artificial: Gold metal lures and white bucktail jig lures

Live: Various live baits like shrimp, test different baits to see what is working in the waters

Different Types of the Sea Under the Sea
Different Types of Fish Under the Sea

Deep Sea Fishing

Deep sea fishing is the extreme fishing we often first picture when people talk about saltwater fishing.

If you’re not intimidated by adrenaline filled battles with big game fish and have some solid experience under your belt then nothing beats a deep sea fishing trip.

You’ll be battling the elements far from home with nothing but your boat and tackle. It won’t be easy, so you must come prepared for any weather.

Docked Fishing Boat
Docked Fishing Boat

On to The Sea 

Unless you have a boat, you’ll have to rent one. This does come at a cost but you will learn a lot from the captain and crew, they are your guide on this trip so don’t hesitate to ask a lot of questions.

All the fishing gear and bait to be used are included in the charter so it isn’t needed to buy any new extras just to see if you enjoy it, though you most probably will.

If you, a family member, or your friend owns a boat and you’re loving the deep sea action, here is some saltwater fishing gear you’ll need.

Gear

Rod: You’ll need multiple rods to handle different game fish. A good all-rounder is a 6-7 foot medium action offshore fishing rod 

Reel: Heavy baitcaster reels

Line: 20 lb test monofilament line and a 50 lb test line for bottom fishing

Bait

Artificial: Deep diving plugs,deep-sea bottom jigs, trolling lures

Live: Experiment with different baits like cut squid and threadfin herring

Man Fishing on a Pier
Man Fishing on a Pier

Pier Fishing

If deep-sea fishing is the extreme adrenaline filled type then Pier fishing is its relaxed laid back sibling. It’s mostly free and you don’t need much fishing gear or any type of vessel.

You won’t be thrown off by a change in weather conditions and it’s a great way to introduce new or young anglers to saltwater fishing.

Getting Ready 

It’s necessary to do a little prep work at first, research and learn the timing of the tides to make sure you have some fish at the bottom of the pier when you go.

Since you’re reliant on a fixed location for your catch.

This information will improve your chances of catching fish.

Gear

Rod: 6-9 foot medium-heavy action fishing rod 

Reel: Spinning reels

Line: 20 lb test line 

Accessories: Hoop net for bringing the catch up to the pier level once they are out of the water.

Bait

Bloodworms, shrimp and squid. (Test different baits and ask local anglers for tips on what to use.)

Pick your knots:

The last thing you want to do is lose your prized catch…

That’s why choosing the right knot is a necessity, especially in saltwater fishing where your target is typically bigger, heavier and needs to be reeled in further.

RECOMMENDATION

You need knots that can keep 100% strength under all conditions. The Bimini Twist (aka the Twenty-Times-Around knot) is the only choice for the job.

Fisherman Tying a Knot
Fisherman Tying a Knot

Choose the right bait

If you are using live bait then keep it alive and kicking! Keep it out of direct sunlight and make certain that there are high enough oxygen levels in the water.

This may mean you need to use a water bait aerator and change the water every couple of hours.

choose baits that closely match the natural diet of the fish species you are trying to catch…

You should also learn how to choose baits that closely match the natural diet of the fish species you are trying to catch.

This could be clams, mussels, sea worms, shrimp or baitfish.

Proper Storage

Shrimp, crab, squid, and other types of crustacean are easily kept for long periods of time in an ice box.

You need to ensure they don’t directly sit on the ice or the extreme cold temperatures will injure them.

You can avoid this by putting a layer of a damp newspaper of vegetation between the baits and the ice.

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If you’re using artificial baits and lures make certain you keep them clean and bright like they’re new.

Remember to rinse, clean and dry any lures after exposure to saltwater, before returning them to the tackle box to avoid any rust.

Go With The Flow

Unless you are trolling, the movement of an artificial bait will rely on the speed of your retrieve and any additional motion you give to the rod.

Try to use these movements to mimic the normal swimming motions of the bait you are using

It’s also easier to practice these techniques when using loop knots to tie the lure to the line.

NOTE

The idea of this technique is to fool the fish into thinking the bait is a real live creature that is part of their normal prey.

Using Chum

If you’re opting to use chumming to attract fish then you will need to be smart about it. The purpose of using chumming is to create a trail of food that will attract fish to your casting area from a wide radius.

It acts like a trail of bait from far away into your fishing range.

Don’t Overdo it 

Throwing too much in at once will give the fish enough food to be satisfied where they are.

Not throwing enough means you may not catch their interest in the first place.

You should start easy with smaller amounts and increase the concentration of chum little by little.

When you start getting some good bites then maintain the concentration you are tossing out at that level.

Enjoy the company

Plenty of experienced anglers will be happy to swap tales and give their best fishing pointers to visitors. All that being said, nothing beats experimentation and trusting your instincts.

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You can usually start by asking for advice at your local tackle shop when buying products and supplies.

Look out for sunken vessels

Bigger fish tend to find shelter in large cavernous structures.

Since these are relatively rare naturally, a great tip is to hunt down places with a large sunken man-made structure that provides this sort of living environment.

Bigger fish tend to find shelter in large cavernous structures…

Large fish will likely have been attracted to live in these places and if you fish around that area you’ll have a good chance of hooking a monster fish.

Many shops will try to sell you maps of ‘secret’ locations but mostly this kind of information is easily found with a bit of online research.

Keep an eye on your leader

The point of using a leader is to have some extra strong line where the fish is going to be biting without having the drawbacks of using this heavy duty line on the whole length.

The downside is it adds one additional linking point in your line and tackle connections.

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Be sure to keep checking the knot area where your line is tied to your leader. Also keep an eye on a couple feet above this point as this tends to get a lot of wear and tear especially when surf fishing.

When in doubt

If any of your lines looks damaged or your leader is starting to fray then you should immediately replace them.

There’s no worse feeling than losing the catch of the day because you thought your leader could last a couple more casts.

Don’t use a wire leader

Usually a wire leader is overkill and a monofilament leader will work just fine.

Wire leaders have a bunch of downsides and you’ll have much better results avoiding them.

They can kink and even snap easily.

If you keep an eye on your monofilament lead and cut it back whenever it starts to get damaged then it will work fine even for very toothy fish like bluefish.

Just be sure to use a 50-60 pound test fishing line.

If you do use a wire leader then avoid using a swivel. A loop with a Haywire twist with a doubled mono tied with an Albright will work much better.

Man Holding a Caught Fish
Man Holding a Caught Fish

Fish Sustainably

Using circle hooks tends to cause less damage to them when they are caught.

You can also squash the barb of barb hooks with some needle nose pliers to make it easy to remove without damaging the catch.

Here is a brief video to help you learn more about sustainable fishing.

Sustainable Fishing

When taking your catch out of the water for recording and measurement, always be conscious of time. If the fish is out of the water it can’t breathe.

It shouldn’t be out of the water for more than 10 seconds. Always hold the fish above the water so you can easily release it back in.

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Be sure to handle the fish with wet hands or using a wet net. Dry hands will remove the layer of slime that protects their bodies from bacteria.

Of course, you should always be aiming to release the fish after you have documented it so use a net or your hands to give it a short period of time to recover in the water before releasing it.

Give them a little time

Fish are often dazed from lack of oxygen and shock after a catch so always let them recover a little.

Don’t just toss them overboard without giving them time to recover.

There is a whole host of information on how best to handle and release fish which can be found here.

Keep your gear clean

You’ve likely invested a good amount of time and money selecting your tackle so you should put the effort into maintaining it.

Saltwater fishing is especially wearing on tackle since the saltwater can erode and rust materials much quicker than fresh water.

Make certain to always soak your reels in freshwater for 2-4 hours after saltwater fishing to ensure you’ve got all the saltwater out.

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You should also rinse your rod and reel before putting them away for storage.

Change your lines

Just like with leaders you should keep an eye on your lines for any signs of wear.

If the monofilament begins to look worn out or feel rough then it has started to weaken. You should replace the line or cut off the worn part and re-tie your leader.

Use the right line

The bigger the target the heavier duty lines you will need.

100 pound tarpon will need a 80-100 pound test fishing line, but casting heavy duty lines is very difficult. The best compromise is to split your line into two levels.

You’ll really start to feel the mass of the fish once it has been reeled in so you can keep the real heavy duty stuff to 20 inches or less and use a lighter easier cast line for the rest.

RECOMMENDATION

For lures that sink quickly like jigs use a gel braided line. They are easier to feel than monofilament lines and are great for heavy jigs in deep water where the vibrations are often harder to feel.

Set the hook well

When catching big saltwater fish you should ensure that you’ve firmly set the hook. It’s usually better to wait an extra couple of seconds if you can’t actually see it before setting the hook.

If you can see the fish, you can wait until the bait has disappeared inside the fish mouth.

If you wait too long you may end up with a gullet hook which can often be a challenge to remove. So timing really is everything with this.

Understand the currents

It’s important to see and understand how the tidal currents operate in the area you are saltwater fishing.

In open water the most important factor is the height of the tides. Saltwater fish will usually respond to the height of the tides and often move to different areas as a result.

However, in inlets and channel entrances the current may be delayed by more than an hour behind the tide.

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The speed and direction of the water movements in these locations will be more likely to affect the fish than the actual height of the tide.

Use lures that make noise

If there is limited visibility or murky water then it can usually help to use noisy lures. If you move the lures slowly and noisily then it can help fish to find them.

Smaller lures can work better in clear waters but if conditions are choppy then bigger lures can be more advantageous.

Lube your reel

Another part of maintaining your gear is lubricating your reel every few months.

When you get a new one make certain to give it a once over to check if the factory hasn’t missed any spots that could do with some additional lube.

Give it another check every 6 months or so to clean and relube where necessary. Baitcasting reels may require some extra attention on the spots around the levelwind gears.

RECOMMENDATION

Make sure to use light oil and not grease on these gears every few months so they continue to move freely and don’t get sticky.

Use familiar equipment

Always use equipment that you know and trust.

Saltwater fishing for a big catch is not the time to be relying on the discounted lines you’ve just snagged.

More times than not they will snap at the worst possible moment leaving you without other options.

Use the appropriate hook

It’s important to consider the types of hook you are using and what you are trying to achieve.

Circle hooks are great for catch and release and you will have fewer cases of deep set hooks in the fish’s throat or stomach.

Treble hooks are a bad choice because they do far more damage to the fish when easily swallowed, simply remove them and replace them with a J hook. If a fish manages to swallow a treble hook and escape, that fish is very likely to die.

Be Considerate

Think about your hook choice sensibly and responsibly. Remember your goal is to have fun and leave the minimum impact on the habitat where you are saltwater fishing.

In this guide, we’ve covered everything you will need to get started with saltwater fishing.

If you’re new to saltwater fishing then pier or surf fishing can be a great place to start.

If you’re more experienced or have some experienced friends to take you saltwater fishing then there’s nothing quite like the thrill of deep-sea fishing to knock the cobwebs off.

Help your friends and loved ones with some saltwater fishing tips. Feel free to share this content!

Let’s all enjoy the wonders of saltwater fishing!

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