How to Become a Better Angler

Fishing Expert Christian Nelson shares some tips on how to improve your time on the water so you can confidently catch more fish.

A man stands on rocks at a lake's edge and fishes. A black lab stands next to him.

Photo by Evan Fitzer

I’ve been fishing for over a decade, and along the way, I’ve had plenty of time to experiment and improve as an angler. Having gone through this process, learning how to learn is the biggest issue holding many people back. Learning to learn sounds counter-intuitive, but it isn’t that complicated in reality. Just going fishing won’t make you better as an angler, but the information you carry on from that experience to the next trip will. The difference between a novice and an experienced angler is simple, they’re looking for different things. With that out of the way, here’s a few things you should be looking for and doing if you want to improve as an angler!

Spend More Time on the Water

There’s no faster way to improve as an angler than to spend time on the water. Reading and watching videos are great ways to pick up some new knowledge, but to improve and add to your skillset, you have to get out and fish! Every day won’t be great, but every day can teach you a lesson that makes your next trip just a little better. Over time these small changes will make you far more consistent and confident as an angler.

Time on the water is the best way of learning hands-on what works and what doesn’t. The more experience you build, the more you’ll begin to notice and pay attention to subtle things on the water. Apply what you see the right way, and you’ll immediately be surprised at just how much more success you can have. To make the most of your time on the water though, you have to ask the right questions!

What to Ask Yourself on the Water

A view from a dock on a lake with a fishing rod and blue Curated hat on it.

Photo by Matt J.

If you’re not asking yourself questions about what you’re seeing on the water, then you’re missing a lot of chances to become a better angler! A lot can be learned while fishing, and over the years I’ve come up with a few questions I ask myself while I’m on the water to make sure I’m giving myself the best chances of getting on some fish.

The first question I ask myself before I even make a cast is, “Where should the fish be right now?” This is something I repeat often until I catch my first fish, for good reason. This question makes you picture the ideal spot. When I step into a creek in the summer to fish for bass, this question always makes me picture a deep, slow pool. If I’m fishing for more than five minutes and haven’t had a bite, I ask myself that question again, then look around and ask, “Is this the spot I pictured?” If the spot you’re in doesn’t look like what you picture, it’s time to move on! This strategy can really help keep you moving and remind you to keep searching for better water instead of fishing one area and getting frustrated.

Questions are a big part of learning as an angler, so I really encourage you to ask more! Instead of being upset that you lost that fish, for example, ask why you lost that fish. Did the line break? Did the hook pull? Did you get a good hookset? Try and isolate the exact issue that caused you to lose a fish, and put extra effort into fixing that problem. In this example that might mean buying a new line, sharper hooks, or just practicing your hookset. No matter what happened, analyzing the situation allows you to use a lost fish, or any other situation, as an opportunity to become a better angler!

Show Up Prepared

One of the biggest mistakes an angler can make is not being prepared for a situation on the water. Something as small as leaving the wrong lure at home can take what may have been a good day, and make it a miserable one. That being said, all it really takes is a little bit of planning to resolve this issue. If you’re not thoroughly planning, packing, and rigging your gear well, you’re not going to have as good of a day as someone who prepared well, plain and simple.

To improve as an angler and really become more consistent, you have to pack, plan, and prepare more consistently. It might not seem like it has much to do with whether or not you catch fish that day, but it has more effect than you think. Not only will you always be equipped with all the gear you need, but you’ll fish more confidently knowing you came prepared. Usually, I go through all of my gear and tackle the night before a trip and make sure I’ve packed everything I’ll need for the day. Don’t overpack, but make sure you have a variety of presentations, plenty of spares, and everything you consider a necessity for a good day of fishing!

Give It a Chance!

A lure is attached to a fishing rod.

Photo by Anna Marie

Another big mistake that I see a ton of is anglers are constantly switching their baits. The problem with this strategy is that I often see people switching to throw baits that they have little or no confidence in. This creates a loop where that bait doesn’t catch a fish in the first 30 minutes or so, and the angler changes baits again, and so on.

The problem with fishing this way is that it greatly limits your chances of reliably catching fish. It’s much better to fish a bait that you have confidence in and have caught fish on before. When you’ve had previous success with a bait, it’s easier to understand that you’re doing what you need to do and that the fish just aren’t cooperating. You’re throwing a bait that you know works, so you can start to figure out the real reason you aren’t catching fish. Maybe it’s the spot or the time of the day, but understanding those factors and making changes based on that will be much more effective than constantly changing baits!

Look for Opportunities

One of the things I love most about fishing is that every day offers different and unique opportunities, and if you learn to see and capitalize on these opportunities, you’ll find yourself having a lot more exciting days on the water. In an inshore or saltwater environment, this may be diving birds or fish slicks, while in freshwater this could be jumping baitfish or a nearby blowup. I could talk about these all day, but what really comes down to is paying attention to your surroundings for indicators of fish and investigating them thoroughly. As a rule of thumb, always fish any signs of life, even if it means moving spots to get to it!

Improving as an angler isn’t one big change you make, but rather the result of lots of small changes. Put simply, the more thorough you are, the faster you’ll see improvements in yourself. If you have any questions or are looking for some gear recommendations, reach out to a Fishing Expert here on Curated—we'd be happy to help. Growing as an angler is really nothing more than a combination of time spent on the water while being prepared and looking for the right things, and practicing them in unison is by far the quickest way to improve, so get out there and get to work!

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Written By
Christian Nelson
Christian Nelson
Conventional Fishing Expert
I have been fishing for pleasure for over 10 years, fishing tournaments and doing some guiding as a side gig along the way. ​ I have caught 50+ species of fish, from rainbow trout to giant sharks, and from bass to monster bull redfish. ​ I have a wide array of knowledge to put you on fish, no matter...
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