Freshwater fishing is accessible for most people, but sometimes the saltwater lures you to the coast. There are a lot of similarities between freshwater and saltwater fishing, and a lot of your skills and even some of your tackle will carry over from fresh to saltwater. However, there are also some very important things to note when making this switch. There are several major saltwater mistakes that freshwater anglers make, that are good to know before you go. Otherwise, you may end up spending a lot of time fishing but not a lot of time catching – and all of that, because of a few rookie mistakes. I grew up on the coast, and am very comfortable with beach fishing and deep sea fishing, but this past summer I took my first trip to the Gulf Coast for some inshore fishing for redfish and sea trout. I learned a lot, made plenty of mistakes and also landed some great fish. Here’s what I learned.
Equip Yourself with Patience
Everyone who has been freshwater fishing knows that it is the most important tool when it comes to fishing. You may be used to “working the worm” as they say – you want it to jump and move to entice a strike. While this works great for freshwater fishing, it might be surprisingly detrimental to your performance when operating in saltwater.
The ideal saltwater angler should be even more patient because there is a lot of ‘stationary fishing’ involved. You cast your line, and then you let it sit – do not be tempted to move it as you would do in a lake. There are more currents going on in a saltwater environment, with tides and wind. Fish are also much more mobile, and so instead of you finding them, you need to get used to waiting for them to find you, even with artificial baits.
You should be prepared to work a specific area for long periods of time, even if nothing appears to be happening at first. Freshwater anglers tend to roam around a lot, looking for the best spot. Of course, they also don’t stick into the same area for too long. Saltwater anglers need to have a much different mindset and, of course, a lot of patience. You’d hate for fish to swarm to your old spot just minutes after you decided to cast somewhere else.
What Hookset do Saltwater Anglers Use?
It is not uncommon for freshwater anglers to move the rod in all sorts of directions in order to get the hook set. You want to “swing for the fences” when you have a largemouth on. However, this is might lose you a fish when fishing saltwater. The only motion you need is up and at an angle – nothing fancy, or too hard.
What is next is one of the most important things to remember if you want to avoid the saltwater mistakes that freshwater anglers make.
Keep the Line Tight
Fighting with freshwater fish often involves tightening and loosening the line multiple times, in order to create action. And this works because freshwater fish need that action. However, dealing with your potential saltwater catch will require a different approach. Once you get the hook set motion mentioned above, you do not let the line loosen up. Leaving any slack on the line, and you are very likely to lose the fish.
So, remember to keep the tip of your rod up and never let go of the pressure. Maintain a decent angle as well – sticking your rod too high, and you might just end up breaking it. High-sticking is another rookie mistake that freshwater anglers tend to make. Take it from a guy who just made that very mistake on the Gulf – we were drifting with the tide, and I totally overestimated how much strain that would put on my rig, as I lifted high to try and compensate, “snap!” is all I heard as I watched my rod tip sink to the bottom. So if the tip of your rod is too high, you will only use that part of the rod to fight the fish – this often results in a broken rod. You want to use an angle that allows your entire rod to play its role in the battle. Be prepared to make angle adjustments as the fish gets close to you.
It takes some time getting used to because you also need to be careful not to pull too hard, otherwise you might end up breaking your line. There is a slight learning curve, but a few trips should be enough to grasp this saltwater fishing technique.
While on this topic, you should gear up with some top-of-the-shelf line. The old, beaten-up one might not be ready for the stress that saltwater fishing will expose it to. Of course, this tip applies in all cases – using a shoddy line will cost you fish in any water. Worn out, kinked or sun-beaten fishing line can be a liability when you have a fish on.
Handle Your Bait Carefully
When it comes to live bait, freshwater fish tend to not be as picky when it comes to bait – even the worst-looking live bait can do the trick sometimes, especially with catfish. However, saltwater fish tend to have a lot of food to pick from in the ocean, and they might not be fans of limp or tired looking bait. We suggest that you equip yourself with fresh live bait that is lively and responsive. Of course, make sure to store them properly to avoid killing them off:
- Do not overfill your live well.
- If you are using sunscreen or insect repellent, do not apply it right before working the live well. You might end up contaminating the water and killing off your bait.
- It is best to avoid red/bloated live bait.
Catch Some Local Advice
Chances are you will encounter some saltwater anglers or local fishermen while preparing to embark. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask them – people are more friendly and open with their intel than you might expect. Don’t ask anyone for coordinates to their honey hole, but asking “what’s working this week?” is a great question to ask freely. Not only will strangers supply you with valuable saltwater fishing advice, but they can also tell you a lot about the area you are visiting. Often, their tips can end up greatly enhancing your fishing experience, regardless if you are at a lake or the coast. It is always good to look for useful tips and advice when your fishing trips take you to unexplored territory.
Having an open mind is one of the easiest ways to avoid the saltwater mistakes that freshwater anglers make. While there are other small details, such as the knots to use, the tips above should be sufficient to help you get prepared for your saltwater fishing trips. Do not get discouraged if things don’t work out on the first try – when you were getting into freshwater angling, you also needed some time to get a good grip of it.