Choosing how to fish mostly depends on what fish species you are targeting. If you are targeting a particular species, there are often a few fishing methods that local fishermen prefer, some of which will vary with the season. But that doesn’t mean a fish will always bite your hook; fish can be fickle. You may need to try several fishing techniques to find one that produces bites. Check the local fishing reportsbefore you head to the water for insights on what is working well at the time you plan go fishing.

Before You Begin

Before you choose how to fish, remember you first need to know how to cast. Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to toss your bait or lure to the necessary spot or distance in order to catch a fish. Once you have cast your line, or dropped it in the water, you can try one of the below fishing techniques to entice a bite.  

Which Fishing Technique Best for Me?

A boy and girl fish from a pontoon boat using different fishing techniques

There can be a lot more to fishing than the classic worm and bobber presentation. Though that is a great way to start with kids or beginners who are just learning to fish.

Your main goal is to pick a fishing technique that matches the behavior of the fish you’re after. Ideally you want to ‘mimic’ something a fish would eat. Some fish feed on the bottom, others only in the shallows, so pick a style of fishing that is appropriate to each condition. Some fish feed on other fish, while others prefer insects, and some will eat just about anything on the bottom.

Next, consider whether you’ll use natural bait or artificial lures to target your desired species. Certain fishing techniques work best with artificial lures, while others work best with live bait, while others can be done with either lures or bait. If you don’t already know the species you are trying to catch or you aren’t interested in just one species, your best bet is to fish with live bait, no matter the technique. Fishing with live bait will give you a better chance to land whatever is hungry that day.

Fishing techniques are best described or named by the action of the bait or lure, or its presentation. For example, topwater fishing describes using a popper or other floating artificial lure to excite predatory saltwater fish such as speckled trout into biting in shallow water near the surface. It also describes hopping a rubber frog imitation between lily pads of a freshwater pond in hopes of drawing a strike from a largemouth bass.

TIP: All of these techniques below can be used in both freshwater or saltwater.

Fishing Techniques for Live Bait

Fishing with live bait allows you to catch a wide variety of fish. Store bought live baits might include minnows, eels, nightcrawlers, bloodworms, leeches, crickets or maggots. The size and type of bait will also help determine which species you catch. Your local tackle shop will likely only stock live baits to suit the species common to the local waters.

TIP: Because you can catch lots of different types of fish while using live bait, you may catch fish you’re not interested in. If you are bait fishing, consider using circle hooks as they make it easier to practice catch and release. In some states, circle hooks are mandatory with live bait, so make sure to check your state fishing rulesbefore you go.

Live Lining and Trolling

An illustration of two anglers using live-lining, one of the fishing techniques that allows bait to float at the bottom of a body of water

Live lining is a very popular method for teaching new anglers to fish. To live line, drop your live bait from a boat or pier into the water, allowing it to swim freely at the end of your line. Or if you are in a boat, drop your live baits, then pull,or troll them, slowly behind your boat, perhaps with a weight on the line to keep them down.

Live lining is a classic example of fishing with a worm on a hook suspended under a bobber. The bobber or cork keeps the bait at a preset depth and alerts you to a fish bite by disappearing under the water. This is also one of the best fishing techniques to teach children as it is easy to do with a spincaster reel.

Bottom Fishing

In some instances, fish can be found on the bottom, so the best way to catch them is to put your bait down there as well. You’ll need a weight or sinker on your line, rigged below your hook to get your bait down to the bottom and hold it there (try using a 3-way rig). If there is a lot of current, you’ll need a heavier weight. If you rig your weight above your bait in strong current the bait will drift back the distance between the two. Once you have dropped your lure or bait, let the bait rest and float along until you get a bite. Check your bait periodically to ensure its still on your hook.

Drifting a Bait

Two anglers in a boat use one of the fishing techniques for bottom fishing. They drift their bait along the bottom as the boat moves.

Both live or cut baits can be drifted with a weight on your line to keep it near the bottom, or suspended beneath a bobber or popping cork. The difference between this fishing method and bottom fishing is motion. Drift fishing requires some weight to get the bait down, but the motion of the boat moves the bait through the water slowly. You can also drift a bait under a bobber or popping cork.


An angler in a boat throw tiny bits of fish, or chum, in the water around his boat to improve his fishing methods

Chumming or chunking is an effective addition to the bait fishing techniques you use. By releasing tiny bits of ground up bait called chum into the water, you create a scent trail that the fish can follow to your boat, and your baits. Chum can be ground fish, creamed corn, cat food, or just about anything that creates a fish-like scent. Simply throw pieces of bait into the water around where you are fishing to bring feeding fish close to your boat.

Fishing Methods for Artificial Lures and Soft Plastics

The world of artificial lures may seem endless, but the methods for fishing with them are relatively similar. Remember that artificial fishing lures are meant to mimic baitfish, so the way in which you fish with them should do the same. Consider the fishing techniques below.  

Cast and Retrieve

Use whatever lure you want, a swimbait, a crankbait, a spinner — they all are designed to be tossed out, and reeled back in using a particular motion, this is called cast and retrieve. This fishing technique can cover a lot of water quickly as the motion is mostly horizontal. The speed at which you reel to retrieve the lure, the angle at which you hold the rod and the design of the lure all impact the depth of the lure on the way back. Many hard swimming lures have a lip at the front that helps dive the lure to a particular depth. Many are available in deep, or shallow running versions. Soft plastic minnows, or curly-tailed worms can also be used. Here are the steps on how to fish using the cast and retrieve technique:

  • Cast your lure to your target – remember fish love structure or cover
  • Let the lure fall to your desired depth
  • Retrieve the lure by reeling in, using your line to pull the lure to mimic a swimming fish. You may wish to vary the speed of your retrieve to find a speed that entices a bite
  • Wait a couple seconds, then cast again
  • Repeat the retrieval

Topwater Fishing

Topwater fishing is a variation on cast and retrieve that uses a floating lure. Cast the lure to your desired location, then reel in using a retrieval motion that mimics a fish’s meal. Some topwater lures such as poppers, have a concave face that makes a big splash when you jerk the lure sharply on the surface. Or they can be “walk the dog” type lures that shake their head back and forth when you just twitch the tip of your rod in a rhythm. This shaking head action mimics a dying baitfish on the surface.


An angler in a boat jigging lures, fishing techniques where you pull the line and lure up and down in a popping motion

Jigging is one of the best fishing methods when teaching someone new how to fish. It is also one of the most active methods, requiring you to snap or pop the rod tip up quickly to move the lure vertically in the water column. You can jig straight up and down as you drift, or cast the lure out and jig it back towards you horizontally while reeling. Jigging a lure or bait creates the look of an injured baitfish that a game fish would want to bite.

Many spoons are designed for jigging — they flutter as they fall enticing a fish. Soft plastic worms are also used for jigging as are painted lead-headed hook and feather combo jigs called buck tails. If you are learning how to fish by jigging, here are some simple steps:

  • Cast or drop your lure straight down
  • Count a few seconds or wait until you feel the spoon hit the bottom
  • Snap or pop your wrist and rod tip up quickly a short distance
  • Let the lure fall again
  • Reel down a little bit to keep the line tight in case of a strike
  • Repeat

Tip: If you are casting a jig out and retrieving while jigging, you’ll need to reel in slowly to keep the jig near the bottom.

Trolling with Lures

Two anglers pulling fishing lines behind a boat as they learn how to fish by trolling

One of the more popular fishing methods while boating, trolling, drags lures behind, usually a good ways back, while the boat moves forward slowly. The motion of the boat imparts action on the lures, whether they are spoons, swimming lures, or live baits. The depth of the lure depends on their weight, how much line has been let out, the diameter and type of fishing line being used, and the speed at which you are trolling. In addition, some lures have a lip which makes them dive when pulled through the water. The names of such lures might reference the designed depth.

Bottom Bouncing

An illustration of one of the fishing techniques that drags the lures along the bottom of the lake or river

Bottom bouncing is done from a drifting or trolling boat, and it’s a great way to attract or locate fish. Use a buck tail jig or natural bait and drag it along the bottom. The dragging motion causes the lure to bounce along stirring up small clouds of sand or mud.

Fishing techniques can vary when you are freshwater fishingor saltwater fishing, make sure to read up on each as you learn how to fish.