Lake Fishing for Beginners: 5 Steps to Get Started

By Debbie Hanson

Dec 06, 2020

Lake fishing for beginners guidance, freshwater fishing resources, species to target, lake fishing tips for beginners on how to get started with live bait

Small inland lakes can be great places for new anglers and boaters to get more experience since small lakes generally mean calmer, more accessible waters. If you're looking for some guidance on lake fishing for beginners, there are five basic steps that can help you learn how to catch fish in a lake.

Learn about Fish Species Habitats

The first step is to find out which fish species inhabit the lake where you plan to fish (you can use the places to fish and boat map to help). Once you complete this step, you can make a decision on which species you'd like to target. One of the key lake fishing tips for beginners is to find out if the particular species you want to target is active or in season at the time you plan your trip. For example, if you want to catch crappie in a Florida lake, the best time to target this species is during the cooler months of the year. Also, be sure to purchase a freshwater fishing license while planning your trip, unless you are fishing on a state designated free fishing day.

Learn about Species Feeding Habits

Next, you will want to learn about your preferred species feeding habits to determine the best bait and tackle to use. Artificial lures might seem intriguing, but it's best to stick with live bait if you're at a beginner fishing level. There are often many different techniques that go along with artificial lures, so it’s best to keep it simple at first and start with live bait for your best chances of catching. Live minnows or worms are popular live baits that you can use for a variety of species when freshwater fishing. When you head to your local bait and tackle shop to buy bait, they can advise you on which size hooks to buy depending on the type of live bait you'll be using.

Get to know the Lake Structure

Consider the fact that certain lake fish species prefer shallower waters, making them easier to catch from the shoreline, while others inhabit deeper areas or open water. If you want to target panfish or largemouth bass near vegetation, you can fish from the shoreline, but you may need a boat to access deeper or open water areas when targeting species like walleye or lake trout. These considerations will play a role in determining where you fish in a lake. Another one of the key lake fishing tips is to look for structure (logs, stumps, rock piles, weedbeds) or depth changes because these types of areas are likely to hold fish.

Watch Fishing Videos

Watch online videos that can help you with knot tying, rigging, how to land a fish, and provide other lake fishing tips for beginners. There's a lot of information out there, but find a trusted source, commit to learning one or two new things a week, and then get out on the lake and put your new freshwater fishing skills into practice.

Check the Weather

Stay tuned into the weather. In other words, plan your trips when the weather is safe, but also learn how weather can affect fish behavior in a lake. If you become an amateur meteorologist, you'll understand why you generally have better fishing days before a front moves through and brings a significant temperature change along with it. Windy days can also push baitfish into certain areas of a lake, which means that predatory game fish will always be nearby.

Now that you know a few more things about lake fishing for beginners, get outside and enjoy some time on the water with your family. There is always plenty of natural beauty to appreciate when you're out on the lake.

Debbie Hanson
Debbie Hanson
Debbie Hanson is an award-winning outdoor writer, women’s sport fishing advocate, IGFA world record holder, and freshwater guide living in Southwest Florida. Hanson’s written work has appeared in publications such as Florida Game & Fish Magazine, BoatUS Magazine, and USA Today Hunt & Fish. To learn more about her work, visit or follow her on Instagram @shefishes2.