Guide Learn about freshwater fishing

Freshwater fishing is great for those who want to learn to fish.You can fish from shore or from a boat, and you don't need a complicated tackle setup. This guide will help answer some basic questions about getting started.

Who needs a fishing license?

If you are 15 years of age or older, you need a license to fish. Use the MassFishHunt online system to purchase a license or visit a license vendor in person.

Note: Licenses are free for Massachusetts residents 15-17 years of age, and those 70 and over.

Do adults need a license to take children fishing?

A fishing license is only needed if you are in control of a baited hook on a line in the water. So if you are helping your child bait their hook, or you are removing a fish from a hook, or untangling their line you would not need a license. The minute you cast the line for him or her, or reel in the line, you are now fishing, and would need a license.

Note: Children under 15 do not need a license, but those 15-17 years old need a license to fish.

Where can I purchase a fishing license?

A Massachusetts freshwater or saltwater fishing license may be purchased online through the  MassFishHunt licensing system or in person at a license vendor location.

How can I learn to fish?

You can learn by attending one of MassWildlife’s Angler Education Program events.Click here to see a listing of all learn-to-fish programs.

Many people find that they can learn to fish with a little help from online videos or even a book from the library. One of the very best ways to learn is by partnering up with someone who has been fishing before. Even if that person is not an accomplished angler, so much can be learned and experienced from fishing with a buddy.

What kind of fishing equipment do I need to get started?

Aside from your fishing license (if you’re 15 years of age or older) you’ll need nothing more than a simple live bait setup consisting of a spin casting (push button), or spinning rod and reel, a few hooks and bobbers, and your bait – typically garden worms or night crawlers. As with any hobby or pastime you’re just starting out here, so no need to break the bank on equipment until you know this is something you truly want to pursue.

Do I have to use live bait?

Absolutely not. If you dislike putting the hook into something alive, there are many other alternatives, likely things you have around the house right now. Cheese, chicken, hotdogs, or bread will work as live bait replacements. Small dense pieces of those food items and many more can work really well. There is also bait you can buy in small jars that come in pellet, paste, or live bait forms and smells that can work well. Then there are fishing lures. Some work very well, while others seem designed to catch anglers more than fish. It’s recommended that you stay away from lures initially as these are not only expensive, but confusing to the beginner – just so many designs, colors, and sizes. Let’s see if you like fishing first before you spend your life savings on lures.

Where can I go fishing?

Here in Massachusetts there are literally thousands of fishable waters and lots of them are overlooked, like that small pond or stream you pass by everyday on your way to work or school.

For more information about where to fish, check out these resources.

What kind of fish should I go fishing for?

Anything that bites, literally. When you’re just beginning a simple bait set up, as described above, can bring surprising results. You can catch anything from the smallest sunfish to larger fish like bass, pickerel, and trout. It really depends on the waterbody you select, the location on that waterbody, and the time of year.

Here are a few simple tips: Always look for structure wherever you fish - a downed tree, large rocks or boulders, overhanging bushes or trees, undercut stream or river banks, or a weed bed. This structure gives the fish some cover and shade, and so is a more likely area to find them. Also go fishing during the warmer months at first if you can, when the water temps are at least in the upper 60’s. For the beginner those warm-water fish (mostly species of sunfish) are much easier to catch, so try fishing in the late spring, summer, and early fall for quick action.

Can I eat the fish I catch?

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) keeps and maintains a list of waters and advisories for those waters, however there is a statewide advisory for pregnant women, women intending to be pregnant, nursing mothers, and children under the age of 12 to NOT eat any fresh water fish from lakes, ponds, rivers, or streams, other than those stocked by MassWildlife. So that’s pretty much all fish except stocked trout if you fit into that demographic.

Please consult the MA Department of Public Health for information about individual ponds, streams, and rivers.

Are there laws about the size and amount of fish I can keep?

Yes, however only if you intend to keep those fish. Please consult a current copy of the Massachusetts Guide to Fishing and hunting regulations for catch limits.

Can I keep a fish alive and bring it home to put in my fish tank, or private pond?

Absolutely not. There are only two legal reasons allowing one to keep fish; to eat, or to have it mounted (professionally preserved by a taxidermist) if you deem it a trophy. The two things both of these have in common are that the fish must be dead upon leaving the water you're fishing. It is illegal to move fish from one water body to the next, including small baitfish. These transport laws were put into place to protect our waters from the spread of nuisance species and to prevent the spread of disease.

Image credits:  MassWildlife

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