Fishing Basics and Fishing Derbies – Hooked on Fishing!

It’s a special opportunity to help kids catch their first fish. Fishing may seem like an easy task to those who fish often but for those who haven’t ever before a little help goes a very long way. Creating a successful first experience is key to creating an experience that leads to seconds and thirds and enjoyment in nature that lasts a lifetime.

Some Quick Tips for Newbies:

  1. Learn to Tie a Clinch Knot – you don’t want to lose your first fish because you made a sloppy knot.
  2. Use around a size 10 bait fishing hook – small hooks catch small and big fish! More on hooks here.
  3. Put a floating bobber (strike indicator) about 12″ above your hook so the hook is below the surface of the water. 
  4. Keep it Simple – Start with worms…aka fish bacon. You can dig a hole and find them the day before. Only use a piece of the worm so the fish takes the whole thing and doesn’t just nibble and steal your bait.
  5. Choose 5 or 6 pound test line and don’t put too much on the spool. A lot of “bird nests” develop from over spooling a reel, using old line or brand new low quality line that came with a reel.
  6. Make sure you buy and wear your fishing license. It can be purchased online or at a sports shop.  The license is required for ages 16-69 fishing freshwater in New Jersey. You can purchase it online here.  Also make sure you follow all regulations.
  7. Research where to go!  Your state may have a list of accessible stocked fishing access points.  Here is the New Jersey list.
  • Size 10 bait holder hooks
  • 5 pound fishing line
  • 1/8 ounce split shot sinkers
  • Snap on round float bobbers
  • Light action 5-6ft spinning rod and reel or use a bamboo rod/stick without any reel


Each summer I team up with the NJ Fish and Wildlife’s Hooked on Fishing – Not on Drugs program to help promote fishing.

The county derbies that I’m a part of offer awards in male and female age categories of 1-5, 6-10 and 11-15. Each age range has two award opportunities.

  • First Male and first female to catch a fish &
  • Most fish caught for male and female

Tips for participants: Before the Derby begins…

  • Set up your spot along the water’s edge.
  • Please keep a distance from one another when casting so no one gets hooked.
  • Wear sunglasses/glasses if you have them to protect your eyes.

After you hear the start siren….

  • Look around to make sure the area is clear before you make a cast.
  • When you do catch a fish please be respectful and careful as you remove the hook. If you need assistance, please make sure to ask so an experienced angler can teach you the proper hook removal technique.
  • We recommend you remove the fish from the hook before bringing the fish to the tent and that you leave your gear at the edge of the water rather than walking or running with it.
  • You may place the fish in a bucket with water and speed walk over to the tent.
  • Please do not leave fish in a bucket to be counted at the end of the derby. When many fish are left in a bucket they often don’t survive and also won’t be available to catch again.
  • As soon as you get back to your spot along the waters edge place the fish back in the water (and maybe catch it again).

Pointers for Handling and Unhooking Fish

  • Fish can be wiggly, splashy and slimy so if you need help unhooking fish please ask for assistance.
  • Wet your hands before handling a fish.
  • Never drag a fish on the ground as it destroys their protective coating.
  • Hold the fish as you would a baseball: firm enough that it won’t get loose, but not so tight that you can’t let go.
  • Turn the fish upside down to encourage it to stop wiggling so you can remove the hook.
  • Bend down to release the fish directly into the water and wait for it to take off.  

~ Most importantly have fun and enjoy your Parks! ~

I’m available for FISHING 101 classes at libraries, community centers, scout meetings and more:

“Participants will get introduced to the sport of fishing by Professional Outdoor Guide David Alexander as he discusses New Jersey waterways, targeting specific fish species, fishing equipment, knots, bait selection and techniques that will help you catch fish in no time. Create your own Altoids Tin Fishing Tackle Kit to take home with you!”

David Alexander is author of the Buzz Into Action & Hop Into Action Science Curricula.  He is a professional outdoor guide and specializes in making nature accessible to people and wildlife.  You can follow him at


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