"The ABCs of Fishing" - 26 Important Fishing Tips

Long time ago, I read a part of a book called "Fishing Basics" by Gene Kugach. In it, it had a "Fishing alphabet" - basically 26 tips to improve fishing. Being a compulsive fisherman that I am, I had to comment on it one day. Therefore, I'm presenting to you - readers - my comments (based on my fishing experiences) on Gene Kugach's "Fishing Alphabet". Notice that I'll quote all the parts that belongs to the book, and I highly recommend YOU to buy the book if you feel you are interested in its content.

"A - Attraction: Make the Bait the Center of Attraction. To enhance the attractiveness of your bait, keep your equipment simple - use light gear, lines and hooks."

When I fish for White Perch or Sunfish in areas that are known to me (meaning areas without submerged debris - in other words, free of "snags"), I use bottom trolling with light gear. Light hook (usually number 10), split shots, and 6lb line. Therefore, the bait becomes basically the center of attraction. Combined with the movement, there's always a high chance of a reaction from the fish. Also, this tip was made for Carping with hair-rig, seriously! If you are a Carp fisherman, you will surely know what I am talking about.

"B - Baiting: When baiting up, put the bait on properly. Tie secure knots and hook the bait the right way."

My father always used to scold me for lazily putting the worm on the hook. If you are a serious fisherman, you should consider the fact that you want your bait to be covering as much surface of the hook as possible. In other words, you want to "hide" your hook as good as possible. Depending on the bait, it may be impossible to cover the whole hook. However, it's always a good idea to cover the whole thing. When I used to fish back in Brazil, the Nile Tilapias wouldn't eat your bait (as presentable as it could be) if it wasn't covering the hook COMPLETELY. Maybe by being fished and released constantly, they learnt (instincts) how dangerous that hook was. Knots are even MORE important than baiting. You may hook a HUGE fish. When that happens, you certainly want to make sure that your knots are tied good. Can you imagine waiting for a big fish for hours, and finding out that it escaped because the knot wasn't "good enough"? Yeah...this happened to me one day.

"C - Clean: Keep your hooks, lures, and bait clean: Always remove weeds, algae, and the like from your hooks, lures, lines, and bait."

Keeping your bait presentable is very important. When I was little, I used to re-cast my rod even knowing that there was a little bit of dirt on the hook, together with the worm. Well...a catfish will eventually hit it, certainly. However, other species of fish may look at it and not eat it because the bait is "weird looking", for example. A good example for this is the Carp. A big Carp may easily skip your baited corn because of a little bit of mud on it, or a leaf, or something similar. When I fish at the FDR Park in South Philadelphia (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) for Bass and Snakeheads, I always make sure to clean my lures before casting again.

"D - Disturb: Disturb the bottom with your bait or lure. Give the bait or lure some action. Bounce it on the bottom."

Trolling is an example of disturbing the bait on the bottom. I'll use the White Perch as an example, once again. It's common to still fish for White Perch. However, when trolling, your chances of getting a White Perch in a shorter amount of time (than still fishing) increase dramatically. Also, when I fish at the Schuylkill Banks for sunfish (for example), I always disturb my bait by changing the depth of the bait (releasing or reeling a bit of line). As soon as the fish feels the movement of the bait by sensing its vibrations, it will get closer to it out of curiosity. If it's a presentable bait, it will eat it.

Sometimes a fish bites once, and stops biting. By reaction, some fishermen hold the fishing rod in their hands, and "feels the fish" for a little bit. Other fishermen get really close to the fishing rod, watching for the next bite. Disturbing the bait a little bit after a bite is not a bad idea. Sometimes the fish is still around, and it may bite once again (if it didn't take your bait) when it feels the movement of the bait on the bottom.

"E - Equipment: Select the proper equipment. Use the right equipment for the type of fishing you will be doing. Bait casting, spinning or fly fishing?"

Using the appropriate rods, reels, lines, etc is very important. I would never use Braided line (my preference) for constantly casting a lure. When it comes to bait casting, I usually use Monofilament. Sizes apply as well: I would never use a size 2 hook to fish for sunfish or perch because their mouth is clearly too small for such a big hook. Also, I wouldn't use a trout rod to fish for Catfish (even though I did that in the past once), hence it can easily break. When fishing for Carp, I want to make sure that I have a reel with a really good drag, so it can resist a good fight.

"F - Find: Find the best areas to fish. Look for areas that provide cover for the fish. Fish the bars, points, reefs and weed beds. Try different places until you locate the productive areas."

Once I believed that "if fish is there, fish should be here as well". Well...it turned out eventually that I was extremely wrong. One should always change locations often, specially fishing in new areas. Also, it's very advisable to always fish over structures or around huge debris under the water. It's a matter of fact that one cannot fish a Walleye at any portion of the Schuylkill, and that Crappies are found usually at certain spots. Fish have their own spots due to a lot of different reasons (oxygen levels, feeding areas, cover - habitat, etc). Like my friend Louis C. once said: "Fish where the fish is".

"G - Give: Give 'em time to take the bait. Don't be anxious to set the hook. Let the fish run with the bait and give them time to get the bait down. Once you take it away, chances are they won't pick it up a second time."

Many anglers make this mistake, specially new ones to this sport: they get too excited, too anxious, and "ZUMMM" - you see the rod bending like nuts as the person sets the hook. A good example to this tip is "Catfishing". Sometimes we see our rods bending strongly. However, it doesn't mean the fish is hooked. Sometimes it takes a fish a good 4-6 times of bending to really chug the bait down and get hooked well. "Patience is a virtue", isn't it? Just as it says above, a fish will hardly pick the SAME BAIT in the SAME SPOT a second time. Therefore, every opportunity is a single opportunity, and every mistake is just a mistake.

"H - Home: Home is where the fish live. Drop-offs, bars, points, reefs and holes become "home" for fish. Fish the edges where the bottom changes abruptly."

It's very important to know where fish are located - where it's their habitat. It's no big deal to find out that the Fairmount Dam is a natural habitat for many different species of fish (including Walleyes, Striped Bass, Largemouth/Smallmouth Bass, etc). Also, it's very important to analyze currents in certain creeks: sometimes one may find spots where trout resides. With all this man-made stuff around us these days, fishing around sunk objects are not a bad idea neither. I've heard rumors that a good sized Flathead Catfish lives under a big rock after the Boat Row...

"I - Identify: Be able to identify your catch. Know your fish - learn to identify them. Learn about their habits, the food they like, their spawning season, and so on."

Basically, it's good to do some homework before going out to fish. It's a bad idea to go out with minnows while fishing for Carp, or going out with bread while fishing for Trout. It's certainly essential to know what they eat. It's good to know what times of the day certain species bites, or under what set of circumstances. You want a challenge? Go fish a Musky in the Schuylkill River. I'm sure you will need to do a lot of homework before you can catch one.

Being able to identify the catch is a big plus. After all, it saves us from being ashamed, isn't it? It's nice to answer a person correctly when asking for information on the fish you caught. It's bad if the person doesn't know the different between a Striped Bass and a White Perch. Other times, it's still OKAY to miss the species. For example, it's not easy to distinguish a Hickory from an American Shad if you are not a Shad fisherman. However, it's easy to distinguish a Gizzard Shad from those two. Sometimes it's really hard to distinguish a White Catfish from other species as well...believe me.

"J - Judgment: Use good judgment when selecting areas to fish. Pick your spots according to the needs and habits of the fish. Learn how to cast properly and accurately."

Picking good spots is absolutely a PLUS. Having a good judgment is absolutely a PLUS. While fishing for Trout, for example, it's good to pick the good spots. If a fisherman has a poor judgment, and decides to fish a very shallow and stagnant area for Trout, the same will not only end up empty-handed, but also may end up losing his/her equipment on rocks, etc. Therefore, it's good to have a nice judgment when it comes to spots, and it's even more important to cast good. A fisherman with a good and accurate cast has chances of landing better fish, specially when it comes to Bass. Dexterity is absolutely important when it comes to fishing.

"K - Knots: Tie your knots properly. Learn the proper way to tie knots and take the time to tie your knots securely. Use plenty of working line. Pull your knot with a steady, even motion until it's tight. Don't trim the tag end too close."

Knots are EXTREMELY important, as I mentioned above. It's good to master different types of knots for different circumstances (line to swivel, line to hook, line to sinker, line to line, line to reel, etc). Tying a line to another line with a regular knot is absolutely a bad idea! Therefore, it's good to learn different styles, and apply their use. While doing the knot, it's good to be precise...and even good to apply some extra strength to the line after the knot is tied correctly. As mentioned above, it's not a good idea to trim the tag end too close - your knot (depending on which one) may end up undoing itself if the tag end is too close. however, if there's too much tag end, your equipment may be less presentable inside the water, and your chances of getting a fish may be reduced.

"L - License: Always carry a fishing license. Always buy a fishing license and carry it with you. It is illegal to fish without a license. Besides, most states use the license fees to improve fishing programs."

A fishing license is essential, specially if you don't want your equipment "towed", or a fine in your pocket. When you least expect, the Boat and Commission may be around you! Therefore, always carry it with you. I'm 100% in favor of fishing licenses, and I think everyone should buy one. I've seem many fisherman fish without it, and I'm not judgemental - I prefer to think that it's inside their pockets (I carry mine inside my pocket). If you don't have one yet, it's a good idea to purchase one. It can be easily purchased online, at the website below:
Your money will be going for a good cause, people will look at you with more respect, and you will be expanding the horizons of this wonderful sport that is called angling.

"M - Map: Use a contour map when possible. Try to get a map from the state or county, or from a bait shop near the lake you will be fishing."

If you don't want to get lost, that's a good suggestion. Believe it or not, I once got lost inside the FDR Park (far behind the Park, next to I-95). It was scary, and thanks God I was able to remember the way back (I rely a lot on my memory, which is a good memory). This is a good suggestion when adventuring ourselves into new territory. Particularly, I use Google Earth, and I'm very cautious when adventuring myself in new places. I'll go to certain places if I have company with me, and I'll never go to some places alone. Think carefully before fishing at certain spots, specially if you are alone. Sometimes, fishing can be extremely dangerous.

"N - Noise: Keep the noise at a minimum. Don't scare the fish. Make as little noise as possible. Put your anchor in gently."

People usually don't quite understand well this tip, so I'll explain the definition of "noise" in this situation. Okay....let's get scientific for a little bit:

We talk, therefore we generate sound. Sound is basically a wave; therefore, we generate waves. Waves need to travel through a medium (An intermediate: Air is a medium, water is another medium) to reach others. Therefore, our vocal cords produces specific vibrations. These vibrations become waves that travel through the air until it reaches the ears of another person. Once in the ear, there's a whole process that converts those waves, so we can understand what the other person is saying. Therefore, we can conclude that we are producing noise when we talk. Anything that we can hear is also a noise (such as a bird singing, or something falling on the floor, etc.) One other definition of noise is basically "loud and unwanted waves". However, the most important point of this scientific talk is not how waves are generated, but how waves TRAVEL - I'm talking about the MEDIUMS.

It's OKAY for us to sing while fishing, talk, or even listen to music. That will not scare the fish away because all the waves are travelling through the medium that we know as AIR. What we do NOT want: waves travelling through the medium that we know as WATER.

Therefore, you do not want to drop your anchor strongly in the water (which does generate NOISE: you can hear a "Splash") because waves are going to travel in the water, and the fish will be scared away. You do not want to stomp your feet while fishing because those waves can easily travel from solid objects to the water. You do not want to throw rocks in the water (many people do that to me while I'm fishing, and I hate it), or even release (throw) the fish next to where you are fishing. You want to create waves in the water as little as possible, hence the fish can easily detect those vibrations.

"O - Observe: Observe other fishermen. Ask questions to other people who are fishing. Ask what they caught, where they caught it, what bait they used, and so on."

Did you ever want to become a spy? Here's your opportunity! This is part of doing your homework before going fishing: stealing any possible information from your fellow fishermen. And don't feel bad about it because someone is going to ask you questions one day. Some people are gentle enough to share information, while others keep everything in secrecy. Despite which type do you find, keep in mind to always respect other fishermen. Don't force questions if the person doesn't want to answer them, and NEVER touch the person's equipment without its permission. Whoever one who does that to me WILL get scolded because that's one of the things I hate the most: people without manners.

"P - Presentation: Make your presentation appetizing. Try different presentations: very your retrieve, use different-colored lures, experiment with different baits."

One of the things I found out through experience was that the Crappies at the Schuylkill River (tidal) prefer yellow lures over any other colors. Through many sessions, and observations, I was able to conclude that they bite best on yellow. Also, through many sessions fishing for trout, I found out that half silver/ half golden spoons work better than completely silver or gold (at least that worked for me). In conclusion, always try different things! By that, I don't mean to put the worm through the head instead of the tail. When I go fishing, I usually bring at least two different types of bait, and at least 3 different types of lure. If one doesn't work, maybe another one will.

"Q - Quarry: Select the quarry you are after. Use the proper gear, lures, or bait for the type of fish you're after."

Sometimes I get out of my house with a goal: "Today is sunfish". I get my Trout rod with a light action reel, 6lb line test, split shots, and size #10 hook. Other days, I go out thinking "Today is catfish". I get my medium action rod with my Shimano 4000, 14lb fluorocarbon (I could go as high as 20 - braided), 1-2oz sinkers, size #2-4 hooks. In other words, it's always good to have targets in mind, and be prepared for them!

"R - Rig: Rig your equipment properly. Know your gear and how to rig it. Improperly rigged equipment will cause backlashes, tangles, and the possibility of losing a trophy fish."

One thing that I always do is check my line before casting my rod. I always check if the line is loose, and not tangled somewhere. Also, I avoid rigs that tangles easily. The one that I use the most is the Egg sinker + Snap swivel. 1 oz sinker works the best for me...

"S - Structure: Always fish structure. Learn what it is and how it affects fish. Fish underwater points, drop offs or bars, deep edges of weed beds, submerged logs, and so forth."

This is a GODLY tip: always fish STRUCTURE! Some people stay away from them, afraid of getting snags. However, those spots can turn out to be the BEST SPOTS. Time for stories...

One day I was fishing for catfish at the Schuylkill Banks, next to the "loop" (the white little boat next to Walnut Street). I set one rod for Catfish, and the other rod for Sunfish/Perch/Eel (whatever hits on Nightcrawlers). It turned out that no sunfish hit on the Nightcrawler rod. I decided to be a little bit adventurous, and go fish next to the loop (which was covered with litter, literally). Guess what? I caught 10 sunfish in less than 5 minutes... Structure is what it matters!

One day I was fishing for Trout at the Pennypack Park, up to the Fox Chase farm. No luck at the creek, whatsoever. I decided to hit under a bridge, just for fun. There were some bats flying around there, and it didn't look very promising, but there was a HUGE Trout over there. I'm still trying to catch that one till today, if someone didn't get it yet. Structure is what it matters!

One day I was fishing for sunfish at the FDR Park (Franklin Delano Roosevelt). I walked all around the main lake, and had no luck. Then, when I decided to give a shot at a small puddle of water behind the pier over there, it was a blast! Again...structure.

Fishing structure is good most of the time. My advice? Never ignore structure...

"T - Temperature: Know the water temperature fish prefer. All fish species prefer certain water temperatures and seek out the depths that suit them best. Learn those depths and you will catch more fish."

I would recommend all readers to read my post on "Fish, Temperature, and Oxygen at the Wissahickon Park":
Even though it talks about the Wiss, it is still very informative when it comes to water temperature. Certain fish only bite through certain water temperatures. Be aware that it's very important to measure the water temperature. For example: let's say that we had a heat wave for 5 days, and the 6Th day was finally cool. This does not mean that the temperature of the water has cooled down as well, as water takes much more time than air to cool down. Therefore, a person may go out thinking it's going to be really good, and not catch a single fish. Particularly, I always carry a thermometer to measure the temperature of water when I think it's necessary. Sometimes, it's really important to know it.

"U - Utilize: Utilize proven methods and techniques. Learn tried and true techniques like jigging, live lining, trolling, mooching, and still fishing. Find out what has worked for other anglers."

Don't be stubborn when it comes to fishing. Being stubborn is going to be your "down fall". If you see your technique or bait is not working, shift to something else. If you see everyone is getting fish on Nightcrawlers, and you are using corn...that's a good sign that you should change your bait as well! When it comes to different fishing techniques, unfortunately I didn't try some of them yet, simply because I do not own a boat. However, I did try some of them (my specialties are trolling in middle or deep water, and still fishing), and it's always good to change your techniques when fish are not biting.

"V - Variety: Use a variety of baits, lures, and other approaches. If the fish aren't biting, vary your approach - your bait, your presentation, your rig - until you find what works."

Exactly as I said above, huh? Varying your bait is essential for successfully landing a fish. Through my experiences, I've caught fish in a large range of different assortments of bait. I've caught Carp on pieces of Banana, and Trout on BubbleGum. I'm always trying new stuff, and holding myself to the good old worms. This does not mean that you should go out and put a piece of Lasagna on your hook! However, putting a little piece of linguine on is not a bad idea...Who knows...you might get lucky! After all, one of the excitements of fishing is never knowing what's coming up next.

"W - Weather: Watch the weather. If you're on the water, keep an eye out for storms. Don't fish in a lightning storm. Watch the weather reports for approaching cold fronts and other threatening conditions."

This is so important: always WATCH it before you go out, so you can get ready for the day. My favorite website for checking weather here in Philadelphia is below. I check it everyday, and I like the fact that it gives conditions by hour:
You just have to imput the zipcode of the area you are fishing at, and Ta-da! There we go: like magic! I'm crazy enough to fish under thunderstorms, but I would recommend all of you to not do so. I'm very aware of the material my fishing rods are made off, and I'm constantly fishing at lower altitudes when thunderstorming, meaning that there are higher lightning attractants above me.

X - "X" marks the spot: Mark an "X" on your map where you've caught a fish. Keep records of your catches. Get a map of the lake you are fishing or make one and mark the spots that are productive."

Collecting data is very important, and I've been taught to do so since I was a kid. Writing things down; measuring fish; remembering locations; are always a plus! While fishing at lakes, it's an extra plus. Also, this is a very good technique while fishing for Crappies, hence they are quite hard to find at certain times of the year.

Sometimes we can learn about their migration around certain waters just by marking "X"s around our maps. At the tidal Schuylkill, for example, I've a map (I created it myself) for Black Crappies that work like magic!

"Y - Yield: Using "A" through "Z" yields results. Learning the basics and applying them will result in successful fishing. Remember to make your bait the center of attraction, select the proper equipment, use good judgment and always fish structure."

Reading is certainly one thing. Applying it in real life is certainly another thing. You can easily read this whole post and say: "okay, now I know all about it". However, if you don't apply all of these next time you go fishing, nothing is really going to change. Following these rules are not a must; however, it will eventually bring great results if followed! It's always through improving our skills and techniques that we become sharper when it comes to fishing.

"Z - Zone: Fish in the fish zone - where the fish live. Locate the zone where the fish are likely to be. This zone will provide some type of structure, giving you access to everything from deep water to the shallows."

I always classify my zones in two: Fish or Dead. Therefore, I'm fishing either a zone with fish, or a zone that is dead. It's very important for a fisherman to be able to differentiate these two areas: you do not want to spend hours in a dead zone, wishing that fish will eventually swim there. Of course there are countless factors that may influence the zones; and fish zones can turn into dead zones and vice-versa. Therefore, again, do your homework before going fishing.

Also, this concept can be directly applied when it comes to different depths. It's incredible how different depths can bring you different fish. Some people watch me getting sunfish at the Schuylkill Banks, and they think it's an easy feature to do so. Well...it's not that simple. In order to catch some fish, such as the Bluegills or the Yellow Perch, one must know first their respective "depths". Then, when you position your bait in that zone, you are more likely to get one of them. It's important to always research your own zones, and be aware of different circumstances that can turn your fishing zone into a dead zone. Good luck with that!

I hope this was an informative post for you guys.

Best of luck for all of us!

Long days and pleasant nights,


Leo S.


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