12 Differences Between Freshwater and Saltwater Fishing

While they may seem similar, there are quite a few differences between fishing in freshwater and fishing in saltwater. There are some distinct differences that you may love, or you may hate. 

12 Differences Between Freshwater and Saltwater Fishing


  • Your equipment will last longer
  • It is generally less expensive
  • More skill is involved
  • Has fewer types of fish you can catch
  • Possibility of more natural predators 
  • Better for those looking to do it for fun


  • The bait is more interesting
  • Fish tend to be larger and taste better
  • Catching can be more fun
  • Tackle is more expensive
  • Water tends to be more rough
  • It is less practical than freshwater fishing

What kind of water you fish in has a lot to do with what you are wanting to fish for, as well as where you are located. Let’s talk about these differences and what kind of fishing is right for you!

The Biggest Differences Between Freshwater and Saltwater Fishing

The main difference is obviously the type of water you are fishing in! Since saltwater contains salt, it has a higher density than freshwater. All saltwater actually started as freshwater, but when it moves across land, it picks up minerals. 

When it comes to freshwater fishing, it has some standout benefits that saltwater does not have. Equipment tends to last much longer in freshwater because there is not as much erosion. This also makes it much more affordable since you are not having to replace equipment as often. Since freshwater fishing is more limited, the types of fish that you can catch is not as great. A great benefit is that freshwater fishing is more readily available in various countries. There are more natural predators that live in and around freshwater, which could put you at risk.

Saltwater fishing tends to be much more interesting all around. You can find locations that are not only sometimes more scenic, but also just have more fish based on the size of the water. Since there are different fish, there are more unique bait you get to try, and the fish are not only larger, but they also tend to taste better! Catching the bigger fish is often a more exciting adventure, but it can lead to higher expenses. The salt erodes boats, rods, and various other equipment that is often much more expensive than freshwater equipment. 

Why Is Saltwater So Different from Freshwater?

You may be wondering if saltwater and freshwater are all that different, to begin with. The short answer is yes! Before we get into how they can impact your fishing. Saltwater makes up the oceans and seas we have here on Earth. Freshwater makes up the lakes, rivers, and streams we have. There are exceptions to some lakes being made of saltwater such as the Great Salt Lake in Utah, U.S.A., and the Caspian Sea.

Saltwater is higher in density than freshwater based on the salt content. The amount of salt (sodium chloride) in the water is referred to as salinity. Ocean water has a salinity of over 3%. Even the freezing and boiling point of saltwater is different. Items tend to float better in saltwater. Technically all saltwater at one point in time was freshwater, but thanks to the mineral content of land, we now have saltwater!

The variety of animals and plants that exist in saltwater and freshwater are different simply based on the makeup of the water. Most of the animals and plants that you find in freshwater would never survive simply due to the salt content. Knowing characteristics of each type of water can have a significant impact on the way you fish!

What Makes Fishing in Freshwater Different?

  1. Equipment Lasts Much Longer: Since freshwater has a low salt content, everything you use is going to last longer. Saltwater causes serious erosion over time on your rod, reel, and even the boat you are using. Doing basic maintenance on your tackle is a part of fishing that everyone should do. Although all of your gear will eventually corrode, it will take much longer for that to happen, and is not as big of a concern.
  2. Freshwater Fishing is Less Expensive: Most fishermen love freshwater fishing because it is less expensive. It also comes in a wider selection that allows you to pick up exactly what works for you. Freshwater fish are smaller due to the lack of size or food resources, and this actually works to your benefit! You are not going to need any large or robust gear for basic freshwater fishing. 
  3. There is More Skill Involved: While it may seem strange, a lot of fishermen believe that you need more skill for freshwater fishing. It mostly relies on the fact that there just are not as many fish to catch, and there are a lot more places for them to hide in ponds, rivers, or lakes. Without the abundance of fish swimming around, you are going to have to have a great understanding of where you are fishing, and what you are fishing for.
  4. There are Not as Many Types of Fish: Although freshwater fishing is one of the most popular past times, some think it can get boring. Since you are limited to the variety of fish you can catch, you might get bored of catching bass. On the other hand, this could be great for you. You can learn exactly what works for the type of fish or location you are fishing. This can increase your catch rate!
  5. Better for Those Doing It Recreationally: Since freshwater is more accessible to most people, it is easier for beginners to learn the basics. The gear is cheap, so you are not making a solid financial investment just to try it out. You can also simply fish from the shore or docks. 
  6. More Natural Predators to Worry About: Depending on where you are fishing, natural predators are something that you need to consider when fishing. In the Southern area of the United States, alligators are not uncommon to see in bayous, lakes, and rivers. In mountainous regions, bears and wolves are also using rivers and lakes as a food source. Being aware of the natural predators around you is necessary for your safety.  

Freshwater Temperature is Important 

The temperature of the water you are fishing in also has a lot to do with the type of fish you are catching. There are three distinct temperatures for most freshwater lakes, rivers, or ponds. These all have different locations and different fish that you can catch.

Cold water fish live in water temperatures between fifty to sixty degrees Fahrenheit. These are mostly found in the Northern United States but are also popular in higher elevations as well. 

Cool water fish like water that is between sixty and eight degrees Fahrenheit. Cool water fish are most often found in the Northern and Midwestern parts of the United States.

Warm water fish want their water to be over eighty degrees Fahrenheit. They tend to be able to live in a wider range of conditions. They are found in most areas of the United States but are best in warmer temperatures.

Cold Water FishCool Water FishWarm Water Fish
Brook TroutMuskellungeCatfish
SalmonNorthern PikeLargemouth Bass
Brown TroutYellow PerchBluegill

Most Popular Fishing Styles in Freshwater

  • Dock Fishing: Dock fishing is by far the easiest way to fish. You do not have to have any special tools, and you can do it anywhere there is a dock! Fish prefer wooden docks, and you should always fish on the shadow side of the dock since your shadow will not scare the fish away.
  • Spearing: In some cases, the bait you choose just is not going to work. This is when spearfishing comes in. Although it is not as common in freshwater, you are allowed to spearfish if you are bow hunting or gigging. Spear guns and anything that is not self-propelled is prohibited in most locations. Before you choose to spearfish, check with your local regulations.
  • Noodling: For those who are brave, noodling has become a popular way of fishing for catfish. It is mostly used in the Southern parts of the United States. The angler will place their arm inside of a hole, and the catfish will latch onto their arm. It can be quite risky if you are not careful.
  • Boat Fishing: One of the main benefits of fishing with a boat is that you are able to cover more water. If you are just fishing on the shore, then you are going to have a tough time reach the middle of the lake or pond where there may be deeper water. The type of boat that you use should reflect where you are fishing. Small ponds, rivers, and lakes do not need a large boat.
  • Fly Fishing: Fly fishing is when you use a lightweight line with an artificial lure as a way to catch fish. A Fly Rod and Fly Line are used to carry the hook through the air. It is a very popular way to catch trout, salmon, and bass.
  • Ice Fishing: This is done through an opening in a frozen lake. It can be done with a normal line, or some fishermen prefer to use spears. They can either use a shelter to protect themselves from the elements, or they will fish in the open.

Fishing Equipment for Freshwater Fishing

When it comes to freshwater fishing, there are certain pieces of equipment that you will use. The most basic thing that you are going to need is a fishing rod. The rod that you use is completely dependent on where you are fishing and what you are fishing for. The most popular types of rods are:

  • Bait Casting/Closed-Spin Casting
  • Carbon-Fiber
  • Fiberglass
  • Spinning Rods
  • Telescopic Fishing Rods
  • Ultra-Light

Once you find the perfect rod, you are going to need a reel to hold the fishing line onto your rod. Reels come in a variety of sizes that are designated for the type of freshwater fishing you are planning on doing. Fishing line is another essential for fishing! You can choose between braided, monofilament, or fluorocarbon depending on how strong you need your line to be, or the style of fishing you are doing.

One of the downsides to freshwater fishing is that the bait and lures are not as exciting as saltwater fishing. Different types of fish are more attracted to different baits and lures. One of the best ways to figure out what works in your area is to see what other fishermen are using. The hooks, rigs, and tackle that you choose depend on you own fishing style. Sometimes you will need them, but you can typically get by if you are just casually fishing. 

Common Freshwater Baits

As with anything, the bait you use is dependent on where you are fishing and what you are fishing for. There are certain baits that are more common than others, but you always want to check the regulations in your area. You also need to decide on how much you want to spend. Lures tend to be more expensive than live bait or cut fish.

Worms are one of the most popular and cost-effective baits in freshwater fishing. Not only can you find them in your own backyard, but you can also pick them up at quite a few retailers. If you can find leeches, grubs, or minnows then those are great options for live bait. 

Some fish such as catfish prefer bait that has a stronger smell, you can create your own stink bait, or you can use hot dogs as bait. Cutting up pieces of smaller fish is popular in freshwater fishing, as well. It attracts fish that are more reliant on scent. 

What Makes Fishing in Salt Water Different? 

  1. Bait is More Interesting: With a wider variety of fish to catch, the bait that you are using is more interesting than worms or hot dogs. You can use larger fish to catch bigger fish! Chumming is also a popular form of baiting in saltwater since it attracts a variety of fish.
  2. The Fish Are Larger and Taste Better: Because seas and oceans are enormous bodies of water, there is naturally more room for fish to live. Combine this with an endless supply of food, and you get some pretty large fish! Major predators can grow to huge sizes, and some have even caught enormous squid and octopus as well. Majority of the fish you see in restaurants are from saltwater habitats because they tend to taste better than freshwater fish.
  3. The Process of Catching is More Exciting: There are a lot of varieties of fish to catch, and this can make the actual process of catching your fish a lot more exciting. Not only may you be surprised by what you catch, but it tends to be more difficult to catch based on the size of the fish and the water conditions you might be in. 
  4. The Tackle and Gear Can Get Expensive: What keeps a lot of people away from saltwater fishing is that it is a lot more expensive than freshwater fishing. You need bigger boats, stronger rigs, and more expensive bait. You also have to consider the fact that saltwater erodes your gear quicker too!
  5. You Should Consider Water and Weather Conditions: When it comes to saltwater fishing, the weather and the water conditions are important. The currents and tides not only play into your ability to catch fish but also the safety of being on the water. Storms can roll in while you are out, and that will cut your fishing time short.
  6. It Is Not as Practical as Freshwater: For most fishermen, saltwater fishing is not a practical hobby. Very few people live near saltwater they can fish in, so a lot of people are having to travel in order to fish in saltwater. This is an extra cost to get there, take off work, and find someone to take you out on the water.

Saltwater Fish Live in Specific Zones

When it comes to knowing what fish you might catch, there are a few different habitats that all have their own kind of fish. Pelagic fish spend most of their time around the migratory route. They can fall into both coastal and oceanic fish. They are most often found in waters up to 655 feet. This is one of the largest categories of fish since it has a volume of over 330 million cubic miles. 

Demersal fish live near the bottom of the ocean. They live and feed on the bottom, and this can even be the same for lake beds as well. Demersal fish can be found near the continental shelf for shallow water, and along the continental slope for deeper waters. There are two types of fish in this category, Benthic, which rest on the sea floor, and Benthopalagic, which float just above the sea floor. 

Reef fish live around coral reef systems. These fish tend to be more colorful, but are still able to live and hide among the reef. Most reef fish have adapted to living in this ecosystem, which makes them much different than pelagic or demersal fish. Coral reefs act as a home for almost 25% of all marine species.

Pelagic FishDemersal Fish Reef Fish
TunaFlounder Red Snapper
WahooHalibutGag Grouper

Most Popular Fishing Styles in Saltwater 

  • Pier Fishing: With pier fishing, you are pretty much waiting on the fish to come to you. Piers actually change the entire eco-system of the ocean floor around it, and actually creates small channels that fish travel through. If you see a lot of fishermen head to the pier at a certain time, then that is a clear sign that you should fish there too! A great tip for pier fishing is to head to a bait and tackle shop in the area. Not only are they going to let you know what bait works, but also when and where to go! 
  • Surf Fishing: Fish surfing is when you are standing on the shore or wading in the surf as opposed to waiting on a pier or boat. You are essentially casting your line into the ocean, similar to how you would when fishing at a lake or river. The rod tends to be longer. 
  • Deep-Sea Fishing: For those really looking to get out on the water, deep-sea fishing is the most popular way to do it. You will typically head out on boat into the Intercoastal Waterway. You are more likely to catch larger fish the further you head out into an ocean or sea. If you deal with motion sickness, then deep-sea fishing may not be great for you.

Fishing Equipment for Saltwater Fishing

Remember that saltwater gear is typically more expensive than freshwater. They are usually bigger and stronger, but you also need things that you don’t usually need. Just a warning, you are going to have to replace saltwater gear a lot more often!

When picking up a new rod for saltwater, it is important to know what you are using it for. Long rods are great for casting further, while short rods can help you reel in that prize-winning fish you have been after. How far a rod can bend, and the weight it can handle are also important to picking up the perfect rod. A quick reel is great to retrieve baits quickly, and a slow reel helps you with the fight of the catch. 

Gaffs are a popular item when it comes to saltwater fishing. You should match the hook bite to the size of the fish, but only use a gaff if you intend to keep the fish. If you are not going to keep it, then you should use a landing net. If your fishing location has a catch-and-release policy, then you will definitely need one of these. 

You also never want to be without pliers, scissors, or a knife while saltwater fishing. They can help you remove hooks, cut bait, and are a great tool for tightening knots as well. Depending on what you are fishing for, you may also want to invest in a fishing hook remover since some fish may have large and sharp teeth.

Keep in Mind That You Will Need a License for Both!

While there are some big differences between fishing in freshwater and saltwater, they do have one thing in common. You need a license to fish in both. These licenses will usually cost less than $50 for an annual pass, and under $100 for a five-year license. Some areas do not require you to pay for a license, but you still need to register. Most states allow you to combine your freshwater and saltwater license together to save you some money.

What you are fishing for also has their own types of license. Snook, Spiny Lobster, Sharks, Crabs, and Tarpon all require a specific license, but you can get a combination license that covers all of them. These usually start around $100 and can go up from there, depending on how much you are fishing or hunting. 

Which is Right for You? Saltwater or Freshwater Fishing

Now that we have talked about the twelve biggest differences in saltwater and freshwater fishing, you should have a better understanding of which is right for you. Many of the key differences rely on your skill level, your physical location, and how serious you are about the sport of fishing.

For those looking to fish as more of a recreational hobby, freshwater fishing is not only less expensive, but it is more readily available. It often combines other outdoor activities in nature such as hiking and camping.  Most places have locations where you can fish in freshwater, and the license fee is not as high in some areas. Without salt corroding your gear, you will be able to really get to know your rod, reel, and tackle. Although it is sometimes not as exciting as saltwater fishing, there is still plenty to learn when it comes to freshwater fishing. 

Saltwater fishing is a great option for those who may be looking for more adventure when it comes to landing the big catch. Since the fish are often times larger, you may have to put in more effort to fight the water conditions, weather conditions, and even the power of the fish. Since saltwater fishing is not as accessible to the majority of the population on a daily basis, it is a more expensive hobby for those who are looking to get into it. Combine that with the deterioration of your gear over time, and you will eventually have a small fortune in it. 

By knowing what makes each of these different, it makes it easier to see why fishing is so popular Not only is there a ton to learn in your own backyard, but as you improve your skill, the world can open up as your own personal pond!

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