Saltwater vs. Freshwater Fishing: A Quick Comparison
A particularly divisive question among the angler community is whether saltwater or freshwater fishing is better overall.
Because both represent vastly different fishing environments, with its own distant challenges and experience, deciding which one is better may ultimately be a matter of preference.
In this quick guide, we compare saltwater and freshwater fishing to help you decide which one may be better suited for your taste.
Saltwater vs. Freshwater Fishing
State regulations for saltwater and freshwater fishing may also differ. However, the most significant contrast may be in terms of the experience.
Continue reading as we compare saltwater and freshwater fishing, and explain the similarities as well as the differences between the two in each major department.
The most significant and obvious difference, of course, when we compare saltwater and freshwater fishing is in the size of the catch.
The ocean is vast and is teeming with massive fish. What would be considered a little saltwater fish would easily rival a big freshwater fish in size. A big freshwater bass may be the top predator of the pond, but it would hardly even be a mouthful for a Goliath Grouper.
This isn’t to say that freshwater doesn’t offer opportunities for a monster catch.
There are plenty of species of freshwater fishes such as the Alligator Gar, Giant Tiger Fish, and the Wels Catfish that can rival many ocean fish in size.
However, due to overharvesting and destruction of fish habitats, such river beasts are getting harder and harder to find these days.
In comparison, the ocean remains relatively pristine, and great sized fish are easier to find and catch. Furthermore, not even the biggest freshwater fish can offer the same thrill and excitement of trying to hook a gigantic black marlin.
The harsh seawater environment is highly corrosive.
As such, gear designed for saltwater fishing tends to offer more rust and corrosion resistance, utilizing more robust materials like copper and stainless steel in their construction.
Saltwater fishing gears may also have special casings for the most vital components, providing protection against seawater.
Freshwater gear, on the other hand, can employ standard materials such as steel because their risk of corrosion is far lower, and components may not need to be sealed off.
Because the catch is often bigger in the ocean, saltwater fishing rods are typically thicker and heavier compared to their freshwater counterparts, granting them additional fighting power.
However, the materials used in their construction may be the same, and the two most commonly used are graphite or fiberglass.
Reels employed in saltwater fishing tend to be more specialized. An angler may utilize different types of reels for catching different variety of game.
Reels used for freshwater fishing tend to more general-purpose, less bulky, and are typically less robust and not of high enough capacity to contend with a massive catch.
For freshwater fishing, the range and selection of baits and lures you can get on the market are immense. From general-purpose types to those explicitly designed for a particular fish species, your choices are almost limitless.
With Saltwater fishing, your range of choices tends to be far smaller. Saltwater baits and lures often have to be both larger and far more robust to meet the requirements of the environment condition and catch size.
In terms of costs, freshwater fishing is a far more forgiving hobby compared to saltwater fishing, and this relative affordability makes it far more accessible.
Freshwater fishing gear is inexpensive, and so is the cost of traveling to the fishing spot, hiring a boat, as well as buying the permit.
Furthermore, since the gear and equipment are far less likely to get damaged or break apart, there is also far less money spent in terms of maintenance cost.
When it comes to saltwater fishing, however, fishing licenses tend to be far more expensive, the required fishing gear more high-end, and accessibility of the location far more difficult in some cases. You might also need other special equipment such as a fighting chair for certain large saltwater game.
However, because of their high durability and better quality, saltwater fishing equipment makes for a better long term investment and can be used interchangeably in freshwater settings as well.
Factors that may influence your chances of landing a catch differ significantly when comparing saltwater and freshwater fishing. Here is a quick overview of each.
Saltwater Fishing Factors
For saltwater fishing, understanding factors such as water depth, salinity, and temperature can significantly improve your chances of success with landing a catch. Differences in the previously mentioned factors created ‘microenvironments’ in the otherwise seemingly vast open ocean.
Certain fish like to hang out in certain types of these microenvironments, e.g. reef sharks like to swim at the bottom of shallow depths in relatively warm waters, while Marlins can be found in cold waters near the surface of deep open waters.
To be good at saltwater angling, you need to have a sound grasp of which species are suited to which depths and temperatures.
Additional indicators to look out for include the density of sea birds and weed lines in the water. The higher the numbers, the greater the number of fish in the area. Do note that when we say sea birds are good indicators, we don’t include seagulls as they will eat anything and everything, including garbage, rats, fast food, and each other.
Weed lines act as a refuge for many small fish, and naturally attract large predator species such as mahi-mahi and tuna. When catching these types of fishes, areas near the weed lines are a good spot.
Freshwater Fishing Factors
Now on to the discussion of freshwater fishing factors. Compared to saltwater, the tide and day cycles are much more pressing factors when it comes to freshwater fishes. You will have a higher chance of catching certain species at night rather than during daylight and vice versa. Tides will also determine when fishes come out to feed or hide.
Temperature also plays a crucial role. Some freshwater species will more likely to come out to eat when the temperatures are optimal for them. For example, trout are most active in feeding at temperatures ranging from 34 to 67 Fahrenheit. At optimal water temperatures, your chances of landing a catch increase significantly.
Insects are at the bottom of the freshwater food chain. Their life cycle has a considerable influence on the entire ecosystem, including fish feeding behavior. Knowledge of local insects and their life stages is helpful in determining what style of tackle is right for the occasion when fishing in rivers and lakes.
Despite the contrast of both environment and catch, the fishing techniques used for both freshwater and saltwater game tend to largely overlap. There are two popular methods – Bottom Jigging, and Trolling.
In bottom jigging, the lure is jerked in a vertical motion that makes it particularly tempting to fishes. For saltwater fishing, this method is employed near reefs or shallow waters.
In the case of freshwater fishing, slow-moving streams and lakes are common areas where this technique is used.
Trolling is a fishing technique used in deep waters to cover a large area in a short amount of time. Fishing lines baited with lures are trailed behind a moving boat.
This method is effective for catching pelagic fish species such as tuna, sharks, and billfish. In the case of freshwater fishing, this is employed to catch the top freshwater predators that often lurk in the deeper parts of large rivers and lakes.
There are also some fishing methods that may be more common for one compared to the other. We will mention two of these – Cast and Retrieve and Balloon fishing.
Cast and retrieve is more popular with freshwater fishers. As the name implies, the angler will keep the bait moving through the water by repetitively casting and retrieving the line until a fish gets caught in the hook.
Balloon fishing is a technique more common in saltwater fishing. It is a simple rig setup, where a balloon is tied to a high capacity fishing line and keeps the bait suspended in the middle of the water, preventing it from sinking to the bottom. This type of rig is usually reserved for catching sharks but can also be used for other large marine species such as cobia, sailfish, and marlin.
The difference in experience between the two can be summed up as simply, Freshwater fishing = Peaceful, Saltwater fishing = Exciting.
Freshwater fishing is more peaceful because it is slower paced, and you often get to enjoy and take in the calm and beautiful landscape around you.
Fishing sessions are far more planned, and there are fewer uncertainties during the trip.
There are also fewer dangers involved, and unless it is a true river monster, the catch doesn’t offer much of a fight. Mistakes are more forgiving, and the risk of injury is far lower.
Saltwater fishing is more exciting. The stakes are higher, and you enjoy the thrill of the chase as you water whizzes through rough waters after the big game.
Ocean fish offer more of a fight, and catching them can test every fiber of your body. While a freshwater fish would struggle on the hook for a few minutes, fighting a large saltwater fish is a battle in its own right, and it can last for an hour or more.
What makes it more exciting is that it is often more dangerous.
A lunge from a struggling marlin, a lucky snap from a reef shark, or even accidents with the fishing gear can land you with a serious injury and plenty of hospital bills. Whereas freshwater fishing may be a relaxation exercise, saltwater fishing is a full-on adventure.
Regulation regarding fishing in both fresh and saltwater may vary from state to state.
When it comes to freshwater fishing, the type of fish you are allowed to catch will depend on the months of the year and location.
Some common fishes such as bass, catfish, and bluegills can be fished year-round while trout and salmon may only be available for some seasons.
Some states may also have closed-seasons, during which months you will not be allowed to hunt certain types of fish. There may also be limits on the size or number of catches you can have on a fishing trip.
Many fishing natural spots will be catch and release only, meaning you cannot take the fish home with you for dinner. Other purpose-built game reservoirs will explicitly stipulate that you take your catch home with you.
Regulation for saltwater fishing may be even more restricting. In some states, you would have to enroll in a special registry for marine fishing when angling certain types of fish.
States would also place yearly quotas on the total catch of some saltwater fish varieties. For migratory species such as sharks and tuna, a separate migratory fishing permit may also need to be applied for.
Furthermore, limits will also be observed on the size and number of catch you can make per day. States may also regulate the type of gears you can use while fishing and even prohibit anglers who do not meet their gear requirements.
Which One Is Harder to Learn?
While it is true that freshwater fishes can be quite finicky when it comes to landing a bite, saltwater fishing is harder of the two to learn and requires a higher level of expertise.
While getting a bite may be easier, landing a successful catch is an entirely different story.
The greatest difficulty, as discussed before, is confronting the fighting prowess of a large saltwater fish. Winning a fight with it requires not just the right level of fitness but also a great deal of willpower.
The gear used in saltwater fishing is more specialized. The catch is more dangerous, and accidents can even be fatal. To properly catch a prized saltwater fish requires plenty of prior experience with fishing.
Which One Is Better for a Beginner?
As with reference from the previous answer as well as the fact that saltwater fishing gear is far more costly, freshwater fishing is better of the two for beginners.
There are no special gears involved, and you don’t need to be particularly athletic to enjoy success in freshwater fishing.
Newbies can start learning to fish in relatively controlled environments the basics of fishing and stick to smaller fish varieties until they gain the confidence to land a bigger catch.
Which Catch Tastes Better – Freshwater or Saltwater?
How a fish tastes depends on a great number of factors such as its species, age, environment, health, etc. With that said, on average, we find saltwater fishes to be better tasting than freshwater ones.
While freshwater fishes such as trout and stripers are undoubtedly delicious, there is no comparing the rich, delectable flavor of tuna, salmon, and snappers.
Can I Use My Freshwater Gear for Saltwater Fishing?
Even if the desired catch is a small species, there is still the issue of harsh corrosive elements that your freshwater fishing gear will have to deal with when you are out in the open ocean.
Even if you try washing the salt off of your gear with clean water after your fishing session, it would be hard to remove all the residue.
This residue would make quick work of your gear components and make your fishing gear useless far quicker than you expect.
Regardless of whether you prefer saltwater or freshwater fishing, at the end of the day, we get to spend time in the water doing what we enjoy.
Both are rewarding experiences in their own right, and you shouldn’t be limit yourself to just one or the other.
However, given the greater dangers, costs, and skill needed for saltwater fishing, we do recommend gaining enough expertise in fishing as well as the required fitness first before having a go at it.