Saltwater vs Freshwater Fishing – What is The Difference & Which One is for Me?

Whilst many anglers love the thrill of fishing overall and might take part in both freshwater and saltwater fishing. Some anglers have leaned more to either one or the other.

But it begs the question, what makes one seem better than the other to certain people? How are they different? Is the one more fun than the other? Is one maybe cheaper?

If you were to start fishing for the first time today which kind of fishing would be for you, freshwater or saltwater?

These are important questions that we can ask but it basically comes down to what you personally prefer in the end.

Table of Contents

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Freshwater vs Saltwater (Marine) Biomes

It helps to know that although both the freshwater and saltwater biomes form part of the global aquatic biome they still have some major differences. They have developed their own ecosystems and life cycles.

The freshwater biome is largely inclusive of rivers, streams and lakes which we can find all over the globe. These areas are filled with vegetation which freshwater species have adapted to live in.

Like any other ecosystem this one starts from the bottom up and moves on an endless cycle keeping it going. But it is very different to the saltwater biome.

One of the most notable differences would be that freshwater species wouldn’t survive in saltwater and likewise the other way around. Why does this happen? The answer is called Osmosis.

Without going into the science of it, the simple answer is that freshwater fish are saturated with something called saltwerwater solution, basically freshwater with very little salt concentration, and a lot of it. Equally, saltwater fish are filled with high levels of salt.

If a saltwater fish swam into freshwater areas their body would become saturated with the freshwater causing bloating which they die from. Freshwater fish in saltwater would be saturated with high levels of salt and eventually die of dehydration.

So both species in their species biomes are adapted to live in those areas. There are the odd exceptions though! For example in some African estuaries, the Bull Shark is known to swim so far upriver that they reach freshwater.

The saltwater biome is also vastly bigger than the freshwater biome making up 97% of the world’s aquatic biomes. The saltwater ecosystems are incredibly intricate and change in different areas. For example, the ecosystem in rivers will be different from that of the ones on the shore or deep sea.

The differences these biomes have, also provides a difference in how we fish in them, the rods we use, the bait, and the species we can catch.

Let’s take a closer look at each biome and the benefits to fishing in them.

man fishing in the morning fog from boat in calm river

Freshwater Fishing

Freshwater fishing is loads of fun and incredibly popular all over the world, especially for people inland. Freshwater fishing is normally slower and requires its own set of skill to spot and catch fish.

Many saltwater fishermen would claim that freshwater fishing is a lot easier as you don’t necessarily have to bait up every time and practice your bait presentation. But the truth is that there is a different set of skills needed here.

Most freshwater fishing involves throwing lures, cracks, and soft baits. But simply throwing these lures and reeling them in isn’t good enough. Each lure is designed to present a specific movement to mimic an organic life form.

To make sure your lure is moving how it should you need to retrieve it in a number of different ways. We will cover this further in the technique section of this article.

Freshwater fishing methods include fly fishing, kayak fishing, drop shot, jigging, and balming. You can use a boat or fish from the shore. Hint, boats, and kayaks generally help you get to better locations.

Freshwater Species

There are a vast array of freshwater species in different lakes and streams all ove the world and they vary in size. Many anglers like to specify different fish as you often have to travel to different areas where the population of that species is higher.

You can target so many different fish in lakes and streams its crazy. All also have their own method and skill set required to catch them. Let’s go through some species you can catch and how to catch them.

The Crappie

angler holding freshwater crappie close up with a lake background

The Crappie is a small to medium-sized fish generally found in your lakes and streams with lots of shelter or covers like fallen trees, rock structures, and weeds. These fish like moderate-temperature water and use structure as a means to ambush their prey.

Although these fish are not the largest they still give a fantastic fight on a light rod and they taste great!

Going for these fsh in the Fall is a great idea as they are increasingly aggressive due to the need to fatten up for the coming winter when they hungerdrive slows dow due to cold water. For more information check crappie fishing in the Fall.

Read more:


rainbow trout in fishing net and fly fishing rod

Trout are beautiful fish to catch. Apart from their great taste the feeling of accomplishment when catching that trophy trout rivals that of saltwater fishing. When fishing for trout you generally use fly fishing rods and flies to catch them.

Trout are generally found in flowing streams with little to strong currents. These fish swim upstream to lakes for spawning. Fly fishing in itself is very technical and requires time and experience to master. For more information on fly fishing check out this article.

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Smallmouth Bass in the fisherman's hand

There are two species of bass that anglers fish for – Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass. Both species are major fun to catch and they can get rather large! You can fish for bass from the shore and on a boat or bass fishing kayak.

These fish are more aggressive during spawning season and feed better in the early morning when the sun rises and later when the sun sets. Anglers use lures and cranks to target these fish.

Read more:

Tackle & Technique

Freshwater fishing as said earlier, often uses lures over bait. The fish also arent as big as saltwater fish and the terrain does need rods of extreme lengths for casting.

You can choose a few different rods for fishing in freshwater. It comes down to preference really. You can get baitcasting rods and reels, spinning rods and reels, or kayak fishing rods.

For bait casting rods I would suggest finding a longer rod with a stiffer tip to allow you to cast your large baits further. These rods are often well paired with spinning reels with a bait runner drag system on the reel.

Spinning rods are used more for sport fishing. These rods are shorter, lighter, and easy to use.

They often are used to cast lures and small baits and are paired with spinning reels with your basic drag system and a spool full of braided lines.

Kayak rods are often shorter and lighter, very similar to spinning rods, and paired with a spinning reel or bait caster reel for convenience when fighting off a kayak. Check out this article for your Guide to fishing line types, and types of reels.

Fishing with lures requires you to provide the lure with the correct movement to draw the fish’s attention. Some lures require you to allow it to drop the quick rise again with a reel or tug action.

Other lures require a slow steady retrieve so the lure seems as if it is swimming. Others fast to create as much movement in the water as possible. Check out this article for more information on fishing lure types.

fisherman casting rod and catching big waves in ocean

Saltwater Fishing

Many anglers would say they prefer saltwater fishing over freshwater fishing as there are so many options of what fish to target. The unfortunate aspect of saltwater fishing is that most coastlines are largely overfished making catching certain species very difficult.

Saltwater fish vary from small to extremely large and feed on a number of different things from crustaceans to ocean plants to other fish. This provides anglers with a large variety of choices when it comes to choosing bait.

When fishing in saltwater the angler can use bait, plastic lures, soft bait lures, live bait, and metal lures. I’ve even seen anglers attach a hook to a teaspoon and catch fish with it. So the range of tackle available and bait is large.

Different areas and types of fishing in the ocean also require specific tackle, rods, and reels for different species. You can take a kayak up rivers, fish offshore in a boat or kayak, or fish into the surf of the beach or rocks.

Anglers generally divide saltwater fish into two groups. Edible and non-edible. Your edible fish include fish that are fun to catch and are great to eat. Non-edible includes your sharks and rays.

Here are some edibles anglers love to target:

Saltwater Species

Dorado (Mahi-Mahi)

The Dorado is an incredibly beautiful fish normally caught offshore in open water. This fish grows super fast and can reach a length of around 1.4 meters. They are lovely to eat and thankfully not endangered as they grow and breed very fast. ​​

These fish can be found all over the globe as they travel long distances following warmer currents.

Using large lures and plugs with a fast retrieve often will attract this fish’s attention.

Giant Trevally Kingfish

This fish is insanely strong and for that reason is often a bucket-list fish for money anglers! The GT Kingfish is known to launch itself out of the water to catch birds even! This fish can be caught in rivers, from the surf and offshore.

When fishing for this fish make sure to have a strong rod with a good line and smooth drag. This fish fights hard and takes loads of line!

This fish goes for large plastic lures and softbait lures with a fast retrieve on the surface of the water.

River Snapper

The red river snapper isn’t as large as the fish about but gives an extremely good fight! This fish is found in rivers closer to rock ledges and plantation. This fish generally goes for bait.

Use baits that are local to the area such as mudprawns from the river bank or squid. Make sure you have your drag set well as this fish hits the bait hard and runs. You don’t want to snap off as the fish takes!

fisherman fishing at the ocean

Tackle & Technique

When fishing in the ocean or in rivers you want to have the right tackle. For rivers, I would suggest a shorter rod around 6ft with a medium to soft tip paired with a spinning reel.

Reels for saltwater are made differently from those for freshwater so they can withstand the wear and tear that the saltwater gives. For the fishing line avoid going too heavy. You can use a monofilament line or braid.

Braid would be a better suggestion as it is strong, thinner, and thus allows more line onto your spool.

Fishing from the rocks or surf it would be better to have a longer rod with an extended back for casting. Using a spinning reel or a multiplier that holds a good amount of line is a great idea here.

Fishing in the surf where there is little rock you should use braid as it cuts through the water well and helps on the cast. Fishing near rocks I would suggest rather using a monofilament line or Fluorocarbon as they are much more abrasion-resistant.

The fishing deep sea is a whole world in itself. Here you should use a shorter, stiffer rod with ideally a multiplier real filled with fluorocarbon or monofilament with a dacron leader. Dacron is expensive but very strong!

Techniques vary depending on where you are fishing and what you are using. Fishing in the surf with a lure is very similar to freshwater fishing. Give the lure movement by reeling fast or slow, tugging at it.

Fishing with bait is more revolved around how you present the bait and your feel when a fish bites as some bite very gently so you need to know when to strike.

Offshore fishing can include vertical jigging which is a strong reeling and pulling up movement or you can use bait. Always be ready for a heavy take and have your drag system set correctly.

If you are brave enough to venture deep sea on a kayak as well that is loads of fun and much cheaper than your deep-sea boat options. Here are some great choices for ocean fishing kayaks.

Here’s some more information on types of rods for surf fishing.

fisherman floats on a white fishing kayak in ocean along the coast

Let’s Check Costs!

Costs of fishing vary between both types of fishing depending on how seriously you want to take it. Freshwater fishing can be very cheap when you are fishing off the shore and spot fishing with a basic fishing rod, reel, and lures.

When you look at getting a boat such as a bass boat prices starts to get much higher. Especially if you want to take it to the competitive level.

Fishing in saltwater regions can also be very cheap if you tick with minimal tackle and source your own bait by searching rock pools or throw netting for live bait.

Saltwater fish can become extremely expensive though when take deep sea. Boat prices and maintenance are very expensive.

Basically, the measure of the cost depends on how seriously you want to take it but to make a comparison with both types taken to the extreme.

Saltwater fishing in the long run is way more expensive as you lose more tackle, have more maintenance and have to consistently buy bait.

man fishing from stand up paddle board in ocean

So Which One is for Me?

Both freshwater fishing and saltwater fishing are great fun and it largely depends on your preference. Do you prefer slower pace strategic fishing then freshwater is your best choice!

It provides a great mix of adrenaline rising but also a calming experience in nature. Whereas if you prefer more high intense action with crazy strong fights and the need for strategy and patience then saltwater fishing is for you!

We hope this information helps you make the right decision that will maximize your enjoyment! Tight Lines!

If you have any experience in this topic please share it below! We love to hear from experienced anglers!

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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