Cast a Line to Try Something New in National Parks

Emily KaminNPF Blog
— Edgar Woo

It’s not often that we get the chance to stand still in one place, with our feet planted on the ground – or dangling from a pier – free from the pull of our phones, email, or alarms reminding us of meetings or appointments.

Fishing in national parks provides an escape from the frenzy of daily life, a chance to relax, breathe in the fresh air, gaze upon the water, and marvel at the great outdoors. It’s an opportunity to commune with nature, as well as the loved ones you’re lucky enough to spend the day with; whether it be a friend, grandparent, child, cousin, sister, niece, nephew, or maybe even just yourself.

Most anglers will tell you that the appeal of fishing has little to do with the number of fish caught, and more about the memories that are forged during a day out on the water. For many, fishing is a skill learned from their parents or grandparents, and it’s something they look forward to teaching their children. But it’s more than a sport – it’s a tradition that bonds generations and becomes embedded into the fabric of a family.

For those who are just being introduced to the world of fishing, it can seem intimidating. If you’re someone who – until now – has only seen fishing on your TV or movie screen, read this fishing primer for the confidence and know-how to take up the sport in your national parks.

What You’ll Need

A table with the sign "Rods & Bait" at a teaching station at Biscayne National Park

Teaching station at Biscayne National Park

Edgar Woo

What are those things called again? If you’re vaguely familiar with fishing, but need some help with the lingo, look no further. Here are some basic fishing terms to know:

  • Tackle box: an angler’s toolbox. We suggest starting with the basics on this list and building from there.
  • Rod and Reel: a device that allows you to wind and cast your line into the water. Any sporting goods or fishing store will have a starter set.
  • At the end of the line is a hook, with bait or lure attached to attract the fish. A rule of thumb: it’s important not to use live bait and to use clean gear, as it reduces the risk of introducing non-native or invasive species into the park.
  • Sinkers are also attached to the end of the line, weighing the hook down to the fishes’ eyeline under the water. The line should also have a bobber (sometimes called a float or cork) attached, which floats to the surface to let you know when a fish has taken the bait.
  • Needle-nose pliers will help you to remove the hook from the fish once you’ve made your catch.

Where to Go

Man fly-fishing in the rocky stream in a green forest at Shenandoah National Park
National Park Service

The National Park System encompasses thousands of bodies of water, big and small. Discover the perfect park location for your next fishing adventure by exploring the federally protected rivers, lakes, and creeks in your neck of the woods. Of course, there are also plenty of fish in the ocean and in our national seashores, but no matter where you fish, be sure to check if you need any special gear.

With your gear and park selected, there are just a few other details to consider:

  • Location: Once at your park, you’ll want to cast your line in places where 1) it’s allowed, and 2) fish are most likely to feed. In rivers, fish congregate where deep water meets shallow water and in lakes, near sudden drop-offs or places with reeds and logs. Bonus points for finding a spot where there are also lots of insects – a fish’s favorite food. This is typically at a cut bank or a tiny inlet.
  • Supplies: In addition to your tackle box, you’ll want to pack the fishing necessities: sunscreen, insect repellent, and plenty of water and snacks.
  • Timing: Fish are most active at sunrise and sunset, so plan accordingly!
  • License Requirements: Before you set out on your adventure, remember to visit the website of your state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife or Department of Natural Resources to investigate their licensing requirements. Remember that licenses are state-specific and in most cases, you can apply and submit the fee (discounted for residents) online. You can request a short-term permit or one for the entire season. Most states don’t require a license for children under 16, but be sure to check your state’s requirements.
  • Final Reminder: Stay quiet, be patient, and most importantly, have fun!

Discover an Event in Your Community

The best way to learn to fish is to experience it first-hand. Thankfully, there are thousands of events across the country that are perfect for newbies. Fishing has become increasingly popular – recently named the #2 most popular outdoor recreation activity – and the National Park Foundation and partners have taken heed. The National Park Foundation provides grants so that parks can host events and programs that let visitors learn the basics and connect with the fishing community.

The National Park Foundation also supports the National Park Service’s Junior Ranger Angler program, which engages youth (and those young at heart!) in fishing opportunities at over 200 national parks across the country. The program hosts fishing clinics where kids and their families can learn to fish together in the outdoors.

The fishing clinics also provide a fishing rod, life vest, tackle box, and all other necessary equipment free-of-charge. This means that anyone with an interest and willingness to learn is welcome to participate. At these clinics, experienced anglers teach participants basic fishing skills like knot tying, casting, and catch and release techniques.

A park with a couple students at Biscayne National Park working on the Let's go Fishing! workbook of the Junior Angler program
Edgar Woo

After they’ve attended a clinic, junior anglers can download a recently-released children’s guide on fishing, “Junior Ranger: Let’s go Fishing!” This activity booklet is available for free online and lets kids continue to learn and practice their fishing skills at home. It also has lessons on topics like biodiversity, threats to fish species, and fishing gear basics.

In one recent clinic, 82 young anglers were introduced to the sport of fishing while attending the International Game Fish Association’s “Passport to Fishing” program at Biscayne National Park. The National Park Foundation provided funding for the day-long clinic, during which rangers gave demonstrations on fishing equipment and provided introductory lessons.

Parents and kids were able to experience fishing for the first time together at Biscayne’s scenic Eldora dock while being guided by experts who encouraged them to come back again as a family to practice the skills they learned during the day.

People of any age and experience level can learn to fish at their local national parks. Try this sport for yourself in a national park and consider making it a tradition with your family and friends. With so many programs and opportunities to learn there’s no excuse – #FindYourPark / #EncuentraTuParque and get fishing!


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