Fishing is an incredibly rewarding hobby that teaches patience, awareness, and important life skills for outdoor survival. In earning your Fishing merit badge, you’ll learn how to set up a fishing rod, tie a hook, care for your equipment, and even get the chance to catch, clean, and cook your own fish!
Being such an enjoyable and widespread activity, the Fishing merit badge has easily been one of Scouting’s most popular badges since its inception. Plus, it’s a must-earn if you plan to embark on any high-adventure trips. I earned this awesome badge when I was a Scout, and in this article, I’ll be guiding you through each of the requirements so that you can earn it too. 😀
If you have any Eagle-required merit badges left to earn, you also should check out my Difficulty Ranking Guide to Every Eagle-required Badge. There, you’ll also find the links to my other merit badge guides, as well as a description and summary of each badge’s requirements. I’m certain this resource will be helpful to Scouts on their road to Eagle!
Also, remember that ScoutSmarts should serve as your starting point for merit badge research. In school, we’re taught not to plagiarize, and the same is true for Scouting worksheets. Answer these questions in your own words, do further research, and I promise you’ll gain much more from every merit badge you earn!
Before we dive into my complete guide to the Fishing merit badge, take a second to read the requirements below and familiarize yourself with what’s being asked of you. Once finished, you’ll be all prepared to get started. Pay reel close attention (pun intended 😛 ), this badge is going to be a ton of fun to complete!
What Are The Fishing Merit Badge Requirements?
- Do the following:
1a. Explain to your counselor the most likely hazards you may encounter while participating in fishing activities, and what you should do to anticipate, help prevent, mitigate, and respond to these hazards.
1b. Discuss the prevention of and treatment for the following health concerns that could occur while fishing, including cuts, scratches, puncture wounds, insect bites, hypothermia, dehydration, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and sunburn
1c. Explain how to remove a hook that has lodged in your arm.
1d. Name and explain five safety practices you should always follow while fishing.
- Discuss the differences between two types of fishing outfits. Point out and identify the parts of several types of rods and reels. Explain how and when each would be used. Review with your counselor how to care for this equipment.
- Demonstrate the proper use of two different types of fishing equipment.
- Demonstrate how to tie the following knots: improved clinch knot, palomar knot, uni knot, uni to uni knot, and arbor knot. Explain how and when each knot is used.
- Name and identify five basic artificial lures and five natural baits and explain how to fish with them. Explain why bait fish are not to be released.
- Do the following:
6a. Explain the importance of practicing Leave No Trace techniques. Discuss the positive effects of Leave No Trace on fishing resources.
6b. Discuss the meaning and importance of catch and release. Describe how to properly release a fish safely to the water.
- Obtain and review the regulations affecting game fishing where you live. Explain why they were adopted and what is accomplished by following them.
- Explain what good outdoor sportsmanlike behavior is and how it relates to anglers. Tell how the Outdoor Code of the Boy Scouts of America relates to a fishing sports enthusiast, including the aspects of littering, trespassing, courteous behavior, and obeying fishing regulations.
- Catch at least one fish and identify it.
- If regulations and health concerns permit, clean and cook a fish you have caught. If you are unable to catch a fish for eating, acquire a fish, clean the fish you acquired, and cook the fish you acquired. (It is not required that you eat the fish.)
1a) Explain to your counselor the most likely hazards you may encounter while participating in fishing activities, and what you should do to anticipate, help prevent, mitigate, and respond to these hazards.
While it’s easy to get caught up in the fun of a great fishing trip, it’s important to still always be focused on the safety of yourself and others. That’s why we follow the Scout Motto, “Be Prepared!” In this section, I’ll be explaining a few of the most common hazards that come with fishing, and what you can do to handle them.
As a Scout, you already know that any outdoor situation poses dangers that you should be prepared for. The best way to be prepared is to identify risks before they occur, and have a plan of action should things go south. First, the main hazards to be aware of while participating in fishing activities:
- Bodily Harm
- Environmental Risks
Next, I’ll teach you how to handle each and every one of these hazards. Before that though, take a second to review the following safety precautions that you should always be following on any fishing trip or outdoor outing in order to mitigate risk:
- Always bring at least 1 buddy who can help in an emergency
- Pack a first-aid kit
- Tell your parents exactly where you’re going and when you plan to return
- Bring a cell phone to contact help
- Pack more than enough drinking water
- Wear sunscreen to prevent skin damage
This list is the bare minimum, and can change depending on the types of outdoor activities you’ll be doing. Now that you know what precautions to take, here are the main hazards of fishing and what you can do to anticipate, prevent, mitigate, and respond to them:
While doing any activity on the water, the #1 risk you’ll need to be aware of is drowning. This is why it’s important to always wear a life jacket and bring a buddy. The ocean is unpredictable, and you never know when you could be hit by a rogue wave. That’s why life jackets are a must!
Especially if you’re fishing from a rocky boat, or slippery coast, make sure to wear high-traction footwear like reef walkers (Amazon link as an example). This will reduce your risk of falling into the water and also protect your feet from sharp rocks or debris.
You should also have earned your Swimming and Lifesaving merit badges, as these skills are essential should you or a buddy fall into rough waters. By being prepared with the necessary equipment and skills, you and your fellow Scouts will be able to have much safer fishing outings! 🙂
When doing anything outside, you should always pay attention to the weather. Number 1 rule: never fish during a thunderstorm. Fishing is a water-related activity and electricity can be conducted by the water, or even your fishing rod.
Check the sky: Look for any clouds that could indicate bad weather. If you see dark clouds on the horizon, it may be best to consider indoor activities. It is also a good idea to check the forecasts beforehand and to have a radio or phone (if there’s reception) available to give you a warning of bad weather.
You should also take heavy winds into consideration, especially if you are fishing around trees. A heavy wind could knock down debris or even perfectly healthy branches and injure you. Sun overexposure leading to heatstroke is another concern, so always wear sunscreen, pack enough water, and make a plan for getting adequate shade.
Falls, cuts, scrapes, bites, and fishhook punctures all fall under the category of bodily harm. To anticipate and prevent these risks, make sure to pack suitable gear and move cautiously. By keeping your balance and being aware of any signs of fatigue, you can better react and reduce the risks of injury.
If you or a buddy are injured, move to a safe area immediately and consider whether it may be time to end the outing. Fatigue greatly increases your risk for accidents, so be extra cautious if you find yourself making small mistakes. The best way to prevent this is to begin the trip well-rested and to always act cautiously and in control.
When choosing a fishing spot, you should first consider the surroundings. Is there enough room to cast the fishing line without snagging? Is the ground solid? Are you putting anyone at risk? Always take your surroundings and environment into consideration!
To determine whether a fishing spot is suitable, extend your rod out in front of you and slowly move your arm around your body. Do this at your sides and even straight above. This will tell you if you have enough room to fish, and is very much like the “blood circle” we make before using a knife.
Debris is another big hazard to watch out for, even if there is no heavy wind. If you see any debris like branches that could fall, remove it or find a different spot. In addition, consider debris and obstacles in the water. You do not want to fish in water where your line can easily catch on a log or some plants.
1b) Discuss the prevention of and treatment for the following health concerns that could occur while fishing, including cuts, scratches, puncture wounds, insect bites, hypothermia, dehydration, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and sunburn.
Listed below are common first-aid situations you should be prepared for when fishing. Below, I’ll give you a quick rundown of each one, along with some tips for treatment and prevention! However, be sure to seek professional help if at any point the emergency situation goes beyond the scope of your training.
Cuts and Scratches
Cuts, scrapes, and scratches carry a high risk of infection, so always be sure to thoroughly clean your hands before administering first aid. In the case of a larger injury, you’ll want to prevent further bleeding by applying pressure to the wound and not removing any of the applied bandages.
If the cut or scrape is minor, rinse the wound with fresh water and clean around the affected area. After cleaning the wound, apply some antiseptic ointment and a bandage over the injury. If the wound is deep, you should also consider getting a tetanus shot, as deep cuts and scrapes have the potential to become infected.
Next up are puncture wounds. Puncture wounds can be caused by a variety of sharp objects, like fishhooks or knives, and must be treated carefully to avoid further damage. Below are the first aid steps for most medium-sized puncture wounds:
- Press a clean bandage or towel to the area to stop any bleeding.
- Elevating the wound area above your heart will reduce blood flow.
- Gently clean the wound with warm water and soap to remove debris.
- Apply an antiseptic ointment to the affected area.
- Bandage the wound.
- If the wound does not improve after 1-2 weeks, or you notice signs of infection, seek professional medical attention.
If something very large is embedded deep in the wound, leave it in, immobilize it, and call for medical help immediately. The embedded object often prevents the victim from bleeding out. If you’ve been punctured by something dirty or rusty, you should also see a doctor, as rust can cause bacterial tetanus infections.
In the case of fishhooks getting stuck in a body part, which is one of the most common types of fishing injuries, there’s a specific treatment that I’ll be teaching you in the next requirement! 😀
In most cases, an insect sting or bite will not be severe. To treat these wounds, wash the area with a mild soap and water. You can also take an antihistamine (like Benadryl) to reduce itching. However, for some people with allergies, stings, and bites can trigger anaphylactic reactions that have the potential to be deadly.
Especially in the case of bee stings, be ready to call emergency services if the victim has difficulty breathing, facial swelling, nausea, a feeling of faintness, or a rapid heartbeat. They may be allergic. If possible, use their EpiPen on them. If there is no EpiPen available, they can also be temporarily treated with an antihistamine like Benadryl but must be rushed to a hospital.
Hypothermia is a common risk when fishing in cold temperatures, especially if you get wet and there is a strong wind. While symptoms of mild hypothermia include shivering and confusion, in more dangerous cases the victim could fall unconscious and their vitals could shut down.
Fun Fact: Eating a healthy, well-rounded diet can help to prevent hypothermia! Because hypothermia is caused by one’s body losing heat faster than can be replenished, having the right amount of calories and nutrients will give your body the necessary fuel to stay warm.
If you notice someone is shivering uncontrollably, they may be going into hypothermia. In this case, remove their wet clothes and immediately warm them using extra blankets, or anything heated. Drinking hot liquids also helps. Do not suddenly re-warm a hypothermic victim by placing them in a hot shower though, as this could lead to rewarming shock.
Heat-Related Health Concerns (Dehydration, Heat Exhaustion, Heatstroke, and Sunburn)
While fishing, it’s easy to forget that the sun could be causing you to overheat and lose fluids more rapidly. To prevent dehydration and other heat-related concerns, make sure to wear a hat, apply sunscreen, stay in the shade, and drink water often throughout the day to replenish your fluids.
Below, are the most common heat-related health concerns by increasing severity:
- Sunburn: Sunburns occur when your skin gets overexposed to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. This will result in redness, pain, and sometimes even blistering. If you’re feeling sunburnt, move to a shaded area to prevent further exposure. When possible, apply aloe vera gel or a moisturizing lotion to soothe the skin. To reduce the risk of sunburn, wear sunscreen above SPF 30.
- Heat Exhaustion: Heat exhaustion can be caused by high temperatures paired with either water or sodium depletion. Symptoms include thirst, headache, dizziness, vomiting, a feeling of weakness, and loss of consciousness.
- Heatstroke: Heatstroke occurs when one’s body temperature exceeds 104°F. If untreated, heatstroke can lead to seizures, confusion, loss of consciousness, and even a coma.
In the case of heatstroke, contact emergency medical services by calling 911. To treat other types of heat reactions, rest the victim in a cool, shady place and have them drink lots of fluids with sodium and electrolytes. Being dehydrated increases the risk of any heat-related issue, so make sure to drink lots of fluids while fishing, and even hydrate the night before going out.
To recap, you can reduce your chances of heat issues if you stay well hydrated, wear sun protection, and avoid direct, prolonged sun exposure during the warmest time of day. Since proper hydration really reduces risks, I’d also recommend stocking a cooler with water and electrolyte-rich drinks whenever you’re going fishing. 🙂
1c) Explain how to remove a hook that has lodged in your arm.
One of the potential dangers you could face while fishing is accidentally hooking yourself or someone else, especially if you’re using a barbed hook. This even happens to the most experienced anglers, and I’ve definitely snagged myself more times than I’d like to admit!
First, if this happens, you need to calm down. The hook may not have done as much damage as you think. Take a deep breath, then check out where the hook lodged in you and how much damage it did.
Sometimes, the hook only will catch the first layer of skin, not causing much pain or damage, and in this case it can be removed pretty easily. However, if the hook has penetrated your skin and the barb has embedded, you’re in a bit of a bind. In this case, it’s important to extract the end safely to prevent further damage.
If you find yourself caught, first cut the line with a trusty pair of fishing pliers so that it’s just you and the hook. Then, assess the situation to determine which hook removal method you’ll be using. There are 2 main ways to remove a fishhook: the backing-out method and the string-pull method.
The backing-out method involves applying pressure to the stem of the hook while gently and steadily pulling it out in the opposite direction of entry. Pushing down a bit should disengage the barb and allow you to pull it back out the way it came. However, this is best suited for hooks that aren’t too deeply embedded and have a single barb.
String Pull Method
Using the string pull method, you’ll loop a piece of string or fishing line multiple times around the curve of the hook, close to the entry point. Holding the string firmly, push down on the shank of the hook, and quickly jerk the string in a sharp, downward motion aligned with the hook’s entry angle. This technique is especially useful when the hook is deeply embedded or has multiple barbs. (example)
Below is a great video (2:35) demonstrating this method. (Warning: it’s a bit graphic, but that’s fishing)
If the hook pokes all the way through and its barb is visible above the skin, cut the barb off with pliers and back the hook out through its entry wound. However, if the hook is deeply embedded and not visible, it’s not recommended to force it out by pushing the point through undamaged tissue. Instead, seek professional medical attention or use the above methods if you can disengage the barb.
If you’re hooked anywhere near your face or neck, immobilize the hook, leave it in, and go to a hospital immediately. Remember to thoroughly treat the puncture wound afterward, and monitor for signs of infection. While it’s actually pretty rare to hook yourself badly, knowing how to treat this sort of injury will make for a much safer fishing trip!
1d) Name and explain five safety practices you should always follow while fishing.
Fishing, like any other outdoor activity, has the potential for accidents and injuries. We’ve already covered many of these situations in the previous requirements, but there are five fishing safety practices that you should always follow to mitigate danger and be prepared.
- Be prepared by packing a first aid kit and emergency rescue gear
- Injuries can happen at any time, especially when fishing. You should have a first aid kit to care for injuries when they occur.
- Make sure to also always pack life jackets (when boat fishing), wire cutters, ample water, a cell phone, a signaling device like a whistle, and your personal identification/fishing permits.
- Stay hydrated and wear sunscreen/head/eye protection:
- Always try to protect yourself from overexposure to the elements. This means wearing sunscreen and packing a hat, sunglasses, and even an SPF rashguard (It’ll keep you cooler but covered 🙂 ) if you’ll be getting in and out of the water often.
- Also, make sure to stay hydrated! Not only will these measures help prevent sunburns, but also greatly reduce your risks of any heat-related issues.
- Bring a buddy and write a trip plan:
- A trip plan is a written plan of what you are doing, where, when you are doing it, and with whom. Additionally, make sure to always bring a buddy.
- Leave your trip plan with a parent or trusted friend who knows what time you expect to be back. That way, if you don’t return by then they know where to look and can contact the authorities for help.
- Check weather and fishing conditions beforehand:
- Make sure to check the forecast for rain and stormy conditions. If it looks like conditions will be rough, wear high-traction shoes or even consider postponing your trip.
- Tides4fishing.com is a fantastic website that’ll give you the predicted weather, tide, and fishing conditions, so make sure to check it at least 12 hours before any planned fishing outing!
- Follow local regulations and safe casting guidelines:
- Familiarize yourself with location-specific fishing regulations. This means knowing the legal fishing seasons, size limits, catch limits, and any special restrictions that may be in place.
- To find this, Google “Fishing regulations for (your area).” Also, while fishing, ensure that you’re casting safely and being mindful of your surroundings.
By following these safety practices, you’re all set to have a safe and thrilling fishing trip! While there are many potential dangers while fishing, by taking precautions and not rushing you’ll be sure to reduce your risk. Now that you know how to be safe while fishing, it’s time to talk about gear! 😀
2) Discuss the differences between two types of fishing outfits. Point out and identify the parts of several types of rods and reels. Explain how and when each would be used. Review with your counselor how to care for this equipment.
There are quite a few different types of fishing outfits, from spinning outfits to baitcasting outfits, fly fishing outfits to ice fishing outfits, and surfcasting outfits to trolling outfits. Basically, what you need to know is that a fishing outfit generally refers to the combo of a fishing rod and reel used for a specific purpose!
The Differences Between Two Types of Fishing Outfits: Spinning VS Baitcasting
To complete this requirement, let’s discuss the differences between 2 of the most common types of fishing outfits: spinning and baitcasting. Then, we’ll also explore the parts of rods and reels associated with these outfits and discuss their usage and care!
- Spinning Outfit: This consists of a spinning rod and a spinning reel. The spinning outfit is very common and well-suited for novice or intermediate anglers. These fishing rods are generally easier to use and less expensive.
- Baitcasting Outfit: Unlike the spinning outfit, bait casters have an open-faced reel where you use your thumb to control the release of the spool. These types of outfits often have greater accuracy and power, but are more difficult to use and can tangle easily so they’re ideal for intermediate to advanced fishermen.
Below is a fantastic video (3:20) showing great examples of both baitcasting and spinning outfits, and explaining their pros and cons. As you’ll see, the looks of these outfits are quite different! When I started fishing, I used a spinning outfit, so that’s likely what you’ll be using too. Enjoy the video! 🙂
So, now do you see the difference between spinning and baitcasting outfits? The main thing to note is that the reels are structured differently, with a spinning reel being based around a fixed spool and a baitcasting reel based around a revolving spool sitting horizontally atop the rod. Here are the parts to know for each.
Most spinning reels and rods consist of the below components. I’d recommend taking a look at your own fishing rod while going through this list and trying to map each part of your rod to the component listed. Here we go!
- Reel Body: The main housing of the reel that contains the line and all internal components.
- Reel Foot: The part of the reel that attaches to the fishing rod.
- Handle: The part you turn to retrieve the fishing line.
- Spool: The cylindrical component that holds the fishing line.
- Drag Adjustment (Knob): A dial or knob used to adjust the drag, which controls the amount of resistance on the line. The tighter this is, the higher the chance a fish could break the line.
- Bail: A metal wire arm that flips open and closed to guide the line during casting and retrieval.
- Anti-Reverse Switch: A switch that can be toggled, preventing the handle from turning backward, which ensures the reel rotates in one direction only.
- Line Roller: A small roller that guides the line onto and off the spool during casting.
In the helpful video (3:20) below, the speaker explains the reel in the order listed above. So, give it a quick watch and try your best to determine what part she’s talking about before she names it!
Next up are baitcasting reels. These are a bit more complex to use and are better suited for experienced anglers. Baitcasting reels offer greater control when casting than a spinning reel, allowing you to stop an over-cast and drop the lure closer to structures. These are great for tackling larger fish like bass.
The parts of a baitcasting reel are pretty similar to a spinning reel, aside from the fact that the spool is positioned horizontally, and can be slowed with a finger. In general, spinning reel terminology will apply to most other types of reels, but below are 3 more terms you should know on a baitcasting outfit:
- Thumb Spool: An open-faced spool giving the angler direct control over the line by using thumb pressure on the spool. This pressure controls the speed at which the line is released, allowing for more precise casts. However, failing to apply thumb pressure can easily lead to line tangles.
- Thumb Bar/Spool Release: A button or lever positioned on the side of the reel that releases the spool for a cast.
- Brake System: Found in modern baitcasting reels, this helps control the rotation speed of the spool during casting, preventing line tangles.
Below is a great video (8:10) that you can skim through to see some of the visual differences between a baitcasting and spinning reel setup:
Since the line is exposed on a baitcaster, you can utilize your finger as a brake when casting to make the line more accurate. This is something that fishermen do to hit a certain spot of water more easily. However, if this is a new technique for you, be cautious! It’s easy to get minor cuts on your finger by applying improper pressure to the spool.
How To Care For Fishing Equipment
To maintain any fishing rod and reel, you should rinse it out with fresh water after use. However, if you want to do a more thorough cleaning, dissemble the reel and use a toothbrush and mild detergent to clean the line and the reel. Lubricate the reel and the line with reel oil, and then store your fishing equipment in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.
By maintaining your rod and reel, you’ll prolong the life of your equipment and ensure your greatest catch doesn’t slip away due to a gear failure. The video (4:51) below does an insanely good job of concisely describing the 3 levels of cleaning you should be doing for your fishing outfits, so make sure to watch it too:
3. Demonstrate the proper use of two different types of fishing equipment.
Now that we know the difference between the two most popular types of reels, it’s time to show that knowledge off! Using these reels are pretty easy once you get a bit of practice in, so don’t worry about messing up the first time and just give it a try. 🙂
I’ll include a video for each reel that will outline the basics for you, but the best way to learn is through hands-on practice! Buy some heavy weights or practice lures, and try casting them in your yard or at a park. The ones linked are great for practicing casts of different weights, and will greatly improve your fishing skills in preparation for the real thing!
This is a great video (7:08) on using a spinning reel, and should help you to better learn the basics:
Feel more confident using a spinning reel yet? You should! A few additional tips to remember include:
- Manage Your Line: Pay attention to how the line is spooled on your reel. Ensure it is not twisted, tangled, or overfilled, as this can lead to line tangles or casting issues. Proper line management is an essential part of any fishing outfit!
- Set The Right Drag Setting: Adjust your drag setting relative to the size and strength of the fish you’re after. A properly set drag allows the line to release smoothly when pulled, preventing line breakage while still giving enough resistance to tire out the fish.
- Cast Correctly: Master the art of casting. Hold the rod firmly, aim for a specific target, and cast the line in a smooth, controlled motion. Avoid excessive force or jerky movements, as this can lead to inaccuracies, tangled lines, or the worst of it all — hooking yourself (although you already know first-aid for that 😛 ).
Here’s another quick but helpful video (3:01) that explains the proper use of a baitcasting reel:
Since baitcasting reels and rods use an open spool that must be slowed with your thumb before contacting the water, if you forget to use your thumb after casting the line will tangle. That’s why these types of outfits are best suited for experienced anglers.
With that, you’ve just learned how to properly use both spinning and baitcasting reels! Now, all that’s left is to do is get out there and practice. As I mentioned before, dummy lures are a great way to get a better feel for the weights you’ll be casting, especially when using a baitcasting outfit. After a few hours of perfecting your cast, you’ll be ready to get this requirement signed off by your counseler!
4. Demonstrate how to tie the following knots: improved clinch knot, palomar knot, uni knot, uni to uni knot, and arbor knot. Explain how and when each knot is used.
Fishing would knot be a great merit badge if we didn’t learn how to tie some knots! For some Scouts, this might be a little tricky — but knot to worry… (okay I’ll stop with the bad puns now 😛 ) Thankfully, most fishing knots are actually pretty easy to learn and worth using. Plus, I’ll be guiding you through every step of the process!
Improved Clinch Knot
Improved Clinch Knots are one of the most popular knots used to tie terminal tackle and hooks to a fishing line. They’re super easy to tie in dry, well-lit environments, and still very strong. You thread the eye once and wrap the end of the line around multiple times. Then you loop it back through the base and tighten. Easy-peasy!
This is the essential knot for attaching hooks to lines, and it’s the first knot I learned when earning my Fishing merit badge. Soon, you’ll learn it like the back of your hand too! Follow along with this great video (3:49) demonstration, and you’ll master the improved clinch knot in no time:
Next up, the Palomar knot is known as one of the strongest fishing knots for attaching a hook to a line. However, the knot is only strong if properly tied. The knot threads a folded-over loop through the eye of the hook, then is passed around the hook and secured.
Note that the Palomar knot works best for hooks or smaller lures, as you’ll need to pass the loop around the entire bit of attached tackle. The video (2:34) below provides another great tutorial that will guide you on how to successfully tie the knot for your counselor.
When passing the folded-over line through the eye of the hook initially, try not to bend the line in half too sharply as this could compromise its tensile strength. Instead, keep it a bit curved as you pass it through. That way, your line is far less likely to break in the event you catch a big one! 😀
Congrats on Finishing The First Half of the Fishing Merit Badge!
Wow, we just covered a ton of info. Great work! Are you feeling even more prepared to start fishing like a pro? You now know how to provide first aid, use spinning and baitcasting outfits, and even how to tie some essential fishing knots. Give yourself a huge pat on the back! 🙂
Also, if you’re interested in the difficulty rankings for every Eagle-required merit badge, you can check out my full guide here! PS: The article also links to my other ultimate badge guides that’ll help you to complete your merit badge worksheets.