Maybe you just bought a new center console fishing boat. Or, maybe you’re an old salt who needs to acquire some new fish-catching tricks. No matter what type of angler you are or what type of fish you’re chasing after, one thing is for sure: learning these top 10 fishing skills will help you fill the cooler.

10 top skills for fishermen

Maybe marlin get your blood pumping, or perhaps trout are more to your taste. Whatever - having these 10 fishing skills is a must.

1. Knot Tying – If you can’t make a passable Palomar, fly through a fisherman’s knot, or battle through a Bimini Twist, you’ll never be a high-liner. But don’t worry, there’s an app for that. Take some lessons on linking your fishing lines with Animated Fishing Knots.

2. Casting Accurately – At times, the difference between a hook-up and a snag is a mere six inches. From 50’ away, can you hit that mark? If not, you’d better get one of those hook-less plastic casting plugs, find an open field somewhere, and start practicing.

3. Reading the Water – You can’t catch fish if you can’t find them, and often the surface of the water is a dead give-away as to where fish might be hiding. Ripples, color changes, standing rips, and visible structure are all top items to look for.

4. Netting or Gaffing Fish – Poor netting and gaffing skills result in a lot of lost fish. Most people fail to realize that fish should always be netted head-first with a fast stroke (remember, fish can’t swim backwards), gaffed with a downward swing (not up from below), and that when it comes to very large fish, they should be landed only when played out (or they might rip the gaff or net right out of your hands). Practice netting by going after minnow with a dip net—the same principals apply—and hone your gaffing skills by trying to gaff a foam coffee cup floating in a pool or tub, which is a lot harder than you might think.

5. Selecting Hook Size – Many anglers assume you need big hooks to catch big fish, but this isn't necessarily true. Savvy anglers choose hook size according to the size of the bait they’re using—not by the size of the fish they’re chasing after.

6. Selecting Lure Color – Those wacky patterns and fluorescent colors are mostly painted onto lures to catch fishermen in the tackle shop, not to catch actual fish. When choosing lure color, stick by this simple rule: match your lure color to the water’s color. Most of the time, greens or chartreuse work best in green water, blues are effective in blue water, root-beer is a winner in brown water, and black or dark purple slays at night.

7. Reading a Fishfinder – Marine electronics can give you a huge edge over the competition—if you know how to use them. And your fishfinder is the most important electronic angling device on the boat. Read our Six Tips for Tuning your Fishfinder article, to brush up on your electronic fish-finding skills.

8. Stealth Abilities – We anglers spook an awful lot of fish, long before we ever have the chance to tempt them. Learn to keep the volume down on your boat; engine noise, people’s voices, slamming hatches, and dropped weights all count.

9. Gathering Intel – Again, file this one under ‘you can’t catch fish if you can’t find them.’ In today’s digital world, there are lots of ways to gather fishing intel, fast. Perusing the online fishing reports is a way to make your good fishing day great.

10. Boat Handling – Maneuvering within casting distance, pulling your trolling lines exactly where you want them, holding position over a school of fish, and setting up for a drift that takes you across the hotspot are all musts. You say you’re not that great at boat handling, and you don’t have enough flexibility in your schedule to practice more? Then there’s only one thing you can do: read more on the boats blog!

Written by: Lenny Rudow
With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to publications including YachtWorld,, Boating Magazine, Marlin Magazine, Boating World, Saltwater Sportsman, Texas Fish & Game, and many others. Lenny is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and he has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.