You take the line, I'll take the pole, and we're ready to go fish.

Go Fish: Fishing for Fun and Fitness

When you think of fishing, you definitely think of fun and family togetherness. But fitness? Actually, yes. Whether you’re dropping a line off the nearest ocean pier, searching out local stocked ponds, or venturing to a wilderness river, fishing is a great way to get outdoors, get some exercise, and maybe even come home with the evening’s dinner.

If you haven’t fished before, getting started may feel a little overwhelming. And by all means, if you have a friend who fishes, ask him to take you along. But if not, no worries – local sports stores make it quite simple, with lessons and clinics as well as all the equipment you need. And in many areas, government natural resource conservation areas and fish hatcheries offer free workshops.

Here are answers to the most common questions about fishing.

Ocean or Fresh Water Fish?

This is going to depend on where you live, what’s most convenient, what you want to eat. But it’s also just a matter of personal preference; some people like the calm of a peaceful lake, some like the serenity of a river, and some like to listen to the pounding surf. And some like all three.

What Gear Do I Need?

Contrary to popular opinion, you really don’t need a lot of tackle or gear to get started fishing. Many stores sell fully assembled “starter kits” for kids and adults or you can pull together your own gear using this list:

•    Rod and reel combo
•    Small tackle box with divided trays
•    Spool of fishing line
•    Bobbers and/or weights
•    Assortment of hooks in various sizes (size 2 for small bait to size 3/0 for bigger bait)

A few extra supplies that make things easier:

•    Pliers to remove hooks
•    Measuring tape to check the size of your catch
•    Scissors to cut line or leader

Where Should We Go?

Ask around, and you might be surprised to find out how many fishing spots there are within a short drive of where you live. In the Bay Area, Lake Merced, Lake Chabot, Coyote Point, and all seven of Marin Municipal Water District’s reservoirs offer family-friendly fishing.

One of the best places to go for your first-ever fishing expedition is to a private stocked pond. These typically supply gear for a nominal fee and offer lessons and demonstrations, and you’re almost guaranteed to go home with a catch. In the Bay Area, Hagemann Ranch Trout Farm near Bodega Bay and Smith’s Mt. St. Helena Trout Farm and Hatchery are wonderful spots for a family fishing outing.

Do I Need a Fishing License?

Kids 16 and under don’t need a license to fish, and adults don’t need one either if all they’re doing is helping the kids. And you don’t need a license at private stocked ponds and hatcheries, and at some city piers. Otherwise, in most cases you’ll want to apply for a permit – at many popular lakes and ponds you can do this right onsite. For wilderness fishing, you apply for a permit from the government agency managing those lands.

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.