What to know about fish bites


There seem to be three main types of stings and it doesn’t matter if an angler is throwing a big musky jitterbug at 1am for bigmouth hogs or standing knee-deep in a trout stream.

There are few anglers who don’t get charged when they see a wild fish breaking the water, especially where they cast their bait.

And we all get into the fight, that physical connection that we savor when we finally have “one”.

But sometimes it all starts with a tug on the line.

Other times it’s more subtle, the first signal is a little “tap, tap, tap” transmitted down the line, through the rod, into our hand and detected.

And other times we can see the line move ever so slightly, as it moves through the water.

What we call “the bite” or “a bite” is that moment when we tricked the fish, somewhere between our dream of where a fish hangs out and our battle.

Sometimes a bite is a surprise.

No warning.

Fish hook themselves. And as they say, “You can’t tell by the size of the bite, the size of the fish.” Sometimes a little fish is a real fighter and hits hard. Other times a big fish is lazy and hardly struggles at first.

There seem to be three main types of stings and it doesn’t matter if an angler is throwing a big musky jitterbug out at 1am for big hog mouths or standing knee deep in a trout stream, expecting a hatch in the late afternoon with a No. 18 sec. fly tied on a diminutive tippet.

Some fish sometimes “sip” the lure. They feed very slowly, silently and gently with the minimum of fuss and the least energy expenditure.

Sippers act like sensitive fish. Nature is efficient. The fish have settled into a pattern, have no doubts or doubts that the bait is food, and with an almost nonchalant approach they take it with an apparent attitude that they have better things to do. That is, until we put the hook. So hold on!

If the “sip bite” is deep, we may feel a “tapping”. That’s all. Set the hook! Make sure the line is taut; reel engaged and lift the tip of the rod. When a fisherman feels a “tap, tap” — two taps is usually too late. The first hit is when you feel the fish inhale the bait as it sucks it in, the second is when it spits it out. It takes a lot of concentration and good reflexes as well as tuned equipment to convey that subtle bite.

The second type of bite is the “swirl bite”. The fish are more aggressive here when they take the bait in a whirlwind. They are probably in the early stages of “feeding” or “hatching”. The fish are more engaged here and they show it. Anglers with quick reflexes and good gear can actually snatch the lure from the fish during visual or auditory whirling (low light fishing). There’s nothing quite like the “swoosh” sound of a big bass or a northern pike sucking on a big black jitterbug on a dark night in the shade of an island.

In fact, I had a fishing buddy once “put” a jitterbug in my groin as a kick in the dark. On a dark, quiet night, as is usually the case when the jitterbug is fishing well after sunset. Suddenly a beaver slapped its tail next to my buddy’s slowly puffing insect. He stepped back. The big wooden plug came out of the water like a Polaris missile. It whistled over the water with a slight click of hooks, over the lily pads just before it hit my thigh, three big treble hooks and all, all the way to Mosquito Lake.

The biggest bass I’ve ever landed was on a “swirl” type of bite. The dawn water swirled four feet around where I had just dropped my baby albino soft bait.

The first thought was that a large pike had appeared. (They’ll even take jitterbugs at night, though rarely.) When I recovered my senses after seeing this whirlwind, it was time to back up and set the hook. At first it looked like a log sinking in deep water. A big something… I knew it.

And then there is the “airborne bite”. You know when a trout or bass or whatever doesn’t just eat the bait. When these wide-eyed feeders touch food, they leave the water and, for a split second, visit the realm of birds and animals. Like when you go swimming, only the other way around.

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Nature, which is often so good at conserving energy, but seems to waste it here.

Is the fish brimming with enthusiasm and eager for excitement or does it not realize where the surface is or does it really care?

When fish are in a feeding frenzy, they chase bait all over the place, whether it’s minnows or mayfly nymphs. From time to time, their enthusiasm for the hunt propels them through the surface film of their aquatic home. It must be almost like stepping into another dimension for them.

Anglers are strongly advised to keep the line as taut as possible here as they sometimes seem to be snagging themselves. Sometimes we can get so excited that we pull the bait out of their mouth.

But whether the bite comes as a barely perceived sip, or evidenced as a whirlwind, or surprises us with a hop and a splash; we have one.

And that’s the main thing!

Oak Duke writes a weekly column appearing on the Outdoors page.


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