10 Styles of Fishing Around the World

A fisherman fishing at dawn

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Fishing is one of the world's oldest activities. There are references to it in ancient Greek literature, biblical texts, and prehistoric illustrations. While fishing is a worldwide pastime, the way in which people fish varies greatly depending on where they are and what species they're pursuing. They may use nets, spears, baited hooks, traps, or even their bare hands. Some people don't catch the fish themselves and rely on trained animals to do the work for them.

Laws and regulations around fishing are meant to ensure conservation. This means that some fishing methods may not be legal in your state, or they may require special licenses or permits. Check with your state's Department of Natural Resources for more information.

Here are several styles of fishing, where they came from, and why they're practiced today.

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Fly Fishing

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Fly fishing involves a casting method that is very different from other forms of pole, line, and hook fishing. It was popularized by the writings of Ernest Hemingway, an avid fly fisherman, and films like Robert Redford's "A River Runs through It." The long pole, weighted line, and nearly weightless artificial "fly" are difficult to cast, so fly fishing has a steeper learning curve than other forms of angling.

The bait (the fly) is so light that it follows the fly fishing line. Regular casting rods have weights and lures that lead the line when cast. A fly line is cast out in a series of whip-like motions. The line "unfurls" a little more with each back-and-forth cycle. When the line reaches the proper length, the angler lets the bait fall at the end of the final casting motion.

The light fly sits on top of the water, mimicking the appearance of an insect. Trout are a favorite target of fly fishers, and the method is effective for salmon and grayling, too.

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Surf casting

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Surf casting involves fishing from the shoreline. This is primarily a saltwater fishing method, though you may see long surf-casting poles on large lakes, too. Because they are on the shore, surf casters have to make long casts to reach the fish. They may use poles of up to 18 feet long to get huge amounts of leverage. These longer rods require a two-handed casting technique that may seem unfamiliar to regular boat or dock anglers. Some surf casters wade into the water to get a little more distance.

Surf casting can be an effective means of nocturnal fishing since larger fish move closer to the shore at night. Popular targets for surf casters include stripped bass, tarpon, pompano, red drum, and Spanish mackerel.

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Cast net fishing

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The cast net, or throw net, is one of the oldest fishing implements. These nets, which fishermen throw by hand, have small weights that sink the edges to the bottom of the lake, river, or sea. The thrower then draws the net back in with a line that they often attach to their wrist.

Modern cast nets may have a radius of only four feet when fully spread out. Larger options can have a radius of more than 10 feet, but it may not be possible for one person to pull up a significant catch with a net of this size.

You can use the cast net method from a boat, dock, shoreline, or while wading. Nets of this type work best in waters between five and 10 feet deep (the depth should roughly equal the radius of the net). The legality of cast nets varies from place to place. Net fishing is common in Hawaii, though there are regulations on equipment. On the Gulf Coast, net fishers target bait fish and species such as mullet, which do not respond to baited hooks.

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Ice fishing

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Ice fishing involves cutting a hole in ice with a manual or motorized auger and dropping a fishing line through that hole. It usually takes place on a freshwater lake. For obvious reasons, this method of fishing is only for places with temperature cold enough to freeze the water's surface to several inches thick or more. Casting is not possible, so ice fishers drop the line straight into the water using a short pole.

Traditionally, ice fishers sit on the ice next to their hole. However, modern ice anglers often have tents and small cabins that they place on the ice over their hole. Some of these enclosures have generators or solar-powered amenities such as televisions, refrigerators, heaters, and stoves. Some even have bunks and sofas. Larger structures need a foot of ice to be safely used, but ice fishers who work without an enclosure need only about four inches of ice to safely fish. Conservation and natural resources officers measure ice thickness on lakes where wintertime fishing is popular and post warnings accordingly.


Note that ice must be at least four inches thick to safely ice fish. Check with local officials regarding thin ice and heed warnings of local authorities before ice fishing.

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Cormorant fishing

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A traditional method of river fishing in East Asia, cormorant fishing involves using trained the aquatic, fish-eating birds instead of nets or poles. This once was a method of commercial fishing practiced in China and Japan. Historical texts from as far back as the seventh century have references to trained cormorants catching freshwater fish. A European version of cormorant fishing was once practiced in Greece and Macedonia.

Not widely practiced anymore, fishermen still use cormorants in parts of China for subsistence fishing and to show tourists. The tradition is still celebrated in Japan, especially on the Nagara River, which has a centuries-old tradition of cormorant fishing.

How does the process work? Cormorant owners tie a string around each cormorant's neck so that the bird cannot swallow larger fish. The birds still eat the smaller fish, but return to the fisherman's boat with their larger catches.

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Spearfishing is another ancient fishing technique. Paleolithic cave paintings in France appear to show spearfishing, as do illustrations from ancient Greece and historic accounts from India and Pakistan. The sea god Poseidon often appears with a trident, a three-pronged spear that was commonly used for catching fish.

Traditional methods, such as those still used by some Native American fishermen, involve throwing spears from above the surface, But many modern spearfishing enthusiasts use scuba equipment and spear guns to pursue fish underwater.

Spearfishing in all forms is restricted by regulations, which vary by state. Some states only allow spearfishing or gigging (fishing with a multi-pronged spear) for "rough" fish such as carp or bullheads, while other states restrict the practice to saltwater. Surface spearfishing requires shallow water and, often, the use of bait or lights to draw fish to the surface.

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Deep sea fishing

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Deep sea fishing involves heavy-duty sports fishing equipment to catch fish on the open ocean. Though deep sea fishing trips may target one species of fish, such as tuna or marlin, you never know what might appear at the end of the line.

Since big game fish may weigh 100 pounds or more, a deep sea fishing boat often has harnesses that hold the pole-holder in the boat so that they do not get jerked into the water.

Arguably one of the most famous fishing stories of all time, Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" features a days-long battle between a deep sea fisherman and a giant marlin. Today, most recreational anglers hire fishing charters who have equipment, crews, and boats large enough to navigate miles offshore.

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Freshwater fishing

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Different techniques are used for catching fish in freshwater lakes, ponds, rivers, creeks, and streams. Still fishing does not require casting, so it is ideal for so-called "pan fish" such as perch or sunfish. Still fishing with a bobber (and perhaps a worm for bait) is the preferred method for novices. Casting from a boat or from the shore is a method used to catch larger freshwater fish like pike or bass.

Lures are important for freshwater fishing, with surface lures, spinning lures, and jigs each calling for their own method of manipulating the pole and reel so that the bait appears lifelike. Most professional freshwater fishing tournaments involve casting from motor boats for fish such as bass.

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Fish trapping is practiced worldwide. Some traps, such as those used in crab fishing, are movable, while other trapping methods involve permanent structures. Trapping is usually for commercial fishing or subsistence fishing, not for sport fishing. Recreational anglers may use small fish traps such as "pot traps" to catch bait fish that they then use to catch bigger fish with a rod and reel.

The most common type of trap for non-commercial fishing is a wire or mesh enclosure with a funnel-like opening. The fish swims through the opening, but once inside, thinks that it cannot swim back out through the narrow end of the funnel.

Small-scale commercial fishermen use stationary traps, such as fish weirs, which rely on tides or currents to carry fish into an enclosed area. Trapping is regulated by conservation laws. It is usually legal to catch bait fish in a pot trap or mesh trap. Since trapping does not kill fish, you can easily release species that are illegal to keep or under the size limit.

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Bow fishing

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Bow fishing involves spearing fish with an arrow that has a line attached and then reeling the catch in. Today, bows for fishing are relatively lightweight and simple compared to archery equipment for hunting and competitive shooting. Fishing arrows are relatively heavy because they must pass through the water without altering course. Some fancier fishing bows have retractable reels that bring the line back automatically, while others have hand reels.

Bow fishing may be one of the oldest forms of fishing. Subsistence fishermen still practice this method in places such as the Amazon River and insular Southeast Asia. Bow fishermen target different species of fish depending on where they live. The one commonality is that the fish have to swim near the surface. Some traditional methods involve using lights or bait to attract fish near the archer. In the United States, some states allow bow fishing of so-called "rough" fish such as carp and bullheads.