Having moved from South Florida back to the Midwest, I can’t help but detail some differences between saltwater and freshwater fishing. Aside from the obvious (size of water body and mass of fish), there are several general differences between the two styles of angling. I’ve always wanted to do an an analysis to determine which is a “harder” style. Saltwater VS Freshwater.
At the end of the day, you’re spending time on the water so it’s a win regardless of what follows – but having been skunked in both styles, I wanted to note the differences. Hopefully this will end the debate between Salties and Freshies.
Side note, I’m focusing this article on rod and reel techniques. Noodling, spear-fishing, and bow fishing are entirely different creatures in my mind.
Bottom structure – Locating a reef or a drop off or even a shipwreck to hone in on fish.
Weedlines or floating debris – Fish (particularly predatory fish like tuna and mahi-mahi) gather around surface weedlines where bait find refuge. Just be sure to avoid them when trolling and only go alongside, otherwise you’re gonna end up with a sloppy bait display.
Water depth or thermoclines – Differences in temperature and salinity form “micro-climates” within the environment based on depth and temperature. Certain fish will hang out in certain thermoclines (i.e. sharks hang near the bottom while tuna meander in the middle zones).
Bait fish – In particular the mullet runs, flying fish, etc. Saltwater anglers know they’re in for a fight when they see balls of bait fish off their bow or stern.
Sea Birds – One of the most important markers of fish and bait in a vast ocean are diving birds. Take frigates for example, they soar above schools of tuna chasing bait and are large enough to be seen with binoculars from a distance. Find the birds and you are sure to find the fish.
Time of day (tides/moon phases) – This is a much more important feature in Freshwater compared to Saltwater. Tides and sunlight (such as dusk and dawn) are much more pressing factors for the time freshwater fish feed in comparison to saltwater.
Bottom Structure – Essential for locating the predatory fish in smaller lakes (i.e. bass). They will hide and wait for an unsuspecting baitfish to swim by before ambushing them.
Insect life – Depending upon what season, the insect life stages help to determine what style of tackle you should use on a particular lake.
Water temps – Depending upon the species, water temperatures determine when a fish will feed or strike out of defense.
Trolling – using artificials (either solo or stringers), sometimes attached with rigged ballyhoo, to cover lots of area in a short period of time. Downriggers and outriggers are implemented.
Drifting – this technique utilizes live bait, chum and a delivery method. The delivery method can be balloons (large floats) or kites, to suspend the live bait near the surface and within a chum slick. The live bait of choice is Goggleeye. They are the golden fleece of saltwater fishing.
Bottom Jigging – live bait rigs dropped near a reef’s edge or bottom structure and then jigged through the lower water column.
Cast and Retrieve – utilizing artificials, this method can take many forms from spinner baits to jerk baits to topwater poppers. The cast and retrieve is not typically implemented in saltwater, unless you’re already hooked up with a dolphin (NOT Flipper. Aka Mahi Mahi) behind the boat and want to land more from the same school.
Bottom jigging – using live baits (minnows, worms, leeches, etc.) and touch jigging off the bottom to land predatory fish.
Trolling – typically used for the larger fish in larger bodies of fresh water. Utilizing outriggers or planers, freshwater trolling leaves little fight after the fact.
Salt Vs. Fresh Tackle
Saltwater tackle is more robust, larger, and typically costs a crap ton more. With that being said, if you go to a good fisherman’s flea market in a coastal city you can find spectacular custom rods for less than expected. Not to mention the corrosion resistance/maintenance required to keep saltwater gear running. Saltwater also requires the use of heavier braids/monos/leaders to keep a fish on the line without snapping. Overall, Saltwater is more expensive tackle-wise.
This has been difficult for me to conjure up a true synthesis between the two. In freshwater, since you’re using lighter tackle, the fight is strong but doesn’t last more than 5 to 10 minutes. Honestly, I have not really lost fish to a snapped line or rod in freshwater.
There were countless times in saltwater where I battled on for an hour plus. My muscles ached and hands bled. I’ve only landed one blue marlin so far in my life, and that required a fighting chair (again costs). The fight in saltwater puts freshwater to shame.
This is a no brainer. Saltwater fish are much more delicious than freshwater. I don’t care who you claim to be. Even though Walleye and Perch are quite delicious, they don’t even begin to compare to Halibut, Salmon (real salmon not freshwater greyish nonsense), Tuna, Grouper, Mahi-Mahi, Swordfish, Hogfish Snapper, etc. etc. The list goes on and on for saltwater…
All in all, it’s really a toss up between the two. Personally, having been skunked way more times freshwater fishing than saltwater fishing. The two different styles require varying techniques and presumptions about fish location. Saltwater is difficult because of the massive body of water and costs associated, while freshwater fish tend to be more finicky.
I could make the claim that freshwater is “harder” and requires a certain finesse to getting an actual bite. Yet landing – and keeping – a blue marlin grander puts any smallmouth on three pound test to shame. In my opinion, freshwater is “harder” to get a bite, while saltwater is more difficult to locate and keep on the line.
They call it fishing, not catching. So grab a beer, pack a lipper, and get those hooks wet. Tight lines ‘Merica!
I would love to hear your thoughts, in the comments section below. Saltwater or Freshwater?