If you have been fishing for long enough, you know that learning to detect bites is an important skill to develop. Unless you see the fish do a topwater bite (that is, when it actually bites on a bait or lure on the surface), a tug on the line can mean any one of a number of things: a snag, a twig, or a big catch.
Some fish bite slowly, others quickly. Some strike on a lure, then spit it out a few seconds later. And sometimes, even small fish like trout deliver a bite powerful enough to break lighter fishing lines.
So, how can you tell if a fish has taken your bait or lure? This guide will help you learn what to look for.
Harnessing Your Senses to Detect BitesWhen we’re out on the water, many of us find our minds drifting. We’re feeling the breeze, watching the water, and enjoying nature. Because we feel relaxed and comfortable, sometimes we fail to pay close attention to our fishing. Sadly, that causes us to miss the signs that a fish is at the other end of the line.
The most important thing to remember is to keep our senses alert during fishing, particularly our sense of touch, sight, and even hearing.
Feel for a pull on the line
A tug or a pull is one of the signs of a bite, but it can also mean that your bait or lure is being dragged across the bottom of the water. What is the difference between these two? Often, a tug or pull from a fish is quite sharp, and you can feel it distinctly against your hand while you’re holding the rod.
Sometimes you can also feel your bait or lure become suddenly heavy, which is again a sign of a bite. Sometimes, these changes are obvious, like when a fish strikes your lure from the opposite direction. But they can also be subtle, so you have to focus.
Some anglers also like to take a bit of fishing line through their finger, sort of as a makeshift bite indicator, to sense tugs and pulls. Of course, this can be quite tedious if you’re fishing for hours and there aren’t too many fish biting.
Look at the rod and line
Visual cues are just as important in detecting bites as sound. Keep your eyes peeled for lines that suddenly go slack, or start moving in an erratic pattern. If it moves in a consistent pattern, however, it’s probably not a fish.
Meanwhile, if the fishing rod tip starts twitching and moving, it can also be a sign of a bite. Remember, though, not all rods are created equal. Some of the lighter ones have more flexible and sensitive tips, which can detect bites more easily than heavier and more rigid rods.
Engage your ears
Hearing also plays its part, albeit less prominently. The distinctive sound of the fishing reel drag system or the splash a fish makes while going for a topwater lure can be your auditory alerts for a bite.
Making Use of Bite Indicators
A bite indicator is a device that alerts you of a fish bite with a sound or movement. It can be as simple as the finger on the fishing line mentioned earlier, or as complex as an electronic bite indicator with an alarm that goes off, or an LED bulb that lights up once a fish is on your line.
There are lots of electronic bite indicators in the market. But if you don’t want to shell out the cash for a device you can also choose to go the DIY route. Anything from bells to bulldog clips, a clothespin, a champagne cork with a hook, and a plastic water bottle will work as bite indicators.
Check out these videos of anglers sharing their DIY, handmade, or homemade bite indicators:
Pro Tip 1: Enhance Bite Detection by Understanding the Effect of Fishing Rod Type and Weight
Fishing rod type and weight play significant roles in detecting fish bites. For starters, rod sensitivity, which is mainly dictated by its action, can greatly influence bite detection.
Rod sensitivity refers to how much control and leverage the rod provides during a catch, its effectiveness in hook setting, and its ability to detect bites. Fast-action rods, highly sensitive by nature, bend minimally. This minimal bend allows energy to transmit quickly through the rod blank, providing accurate feedback on fish activity and facilitating effective bite detection.
On the other hand, rod action, or how much the rod bends when pressure is applied to the tip, impacts the angler's ability to manipulate lures and set hooks promptly when a fish bites. For instance, a rod with a super-fast, responsive tip, often found on rods with solid backbones like flipping sticks used for bass fishing, is optimal for moving the lure and driving a hook swiftly. In contrast, a slow action rod that bends more and takes a longer time to transmit energy is typically less sensitive, making bite detection more challenging.
Then there's the power of a rod, which pertains to how much weight it can bear before bending. Generally, rods with higher power, able to handle heavier loads, can be more challenging to cast, unless you're working with weighty lures like large swimbaits. Conversely, lighter rods excel in casting lighter lures.
However, rod power also influences bite detection. A rod with excessive power may make sensing bites from smaller, gentler fish quite difficult, as the rod might not react noticeably to their nibbles.
Pro Tip 2: Understand the Effect of Fishing Line and Weight on Bite Detection
Fishing line type and its weight also significantly contribute to detecting bites from the fish.
A more sensitive line, which transmits vibrations and movements from the bait or lure more effectively, makes it simpler to detect bites. Fluorocarbon lines are well-known for their sensitivity, and as a result, many anglers prefer them.
Bite detection can also be influenced by the weight of your fishing line. If the line is heavy, it's more visible underwater, which can scare away the fish, reducing your chances of a bite. However, a lighter line might be too weak to handle larger fish and could break when a fish bites. So, choosing a line weight that fits both the fish species you're aiming for and the conditions you're fishing in is crucial.
The visibility of your fishing line can also affect bite detection. In clear waters, a transparent or "invisible" line can be less noticeable to fish, potentially increasing your chances of a bite. But, in cloudy or murky waters, a more visible line might be needed to help you detect bites. Adjusting line visibility according to the water conditions can greatly improve your success.
Pro Tip 3: Know the Influence of the Time of Day, Weather, and Season on Fish Behavior and Biting
Fish activity can swing significantly depending on the time of day. Usually, early mornings and late afternoons are prime feeding times, making fish more active during these periods.
Different seasons also cast a considerable impact on fish behavior and their feeding habits. In summer, for example, fish generally display more activity due to the warm water temperatures, feeding more frequently. In contrast, as the water cools during winter, fish might become less active and feed less often.
Temperature changes, especially those in water, can shape the behavior and feeding patterns of fish. Each species has a preferred temperature range, with their activity levels fluctuating according to the water's temperature.
Wind influences fish behavior and feeding routines in a couple of ways. It can modify water currents and turbidity (cloudiness), which in turn, affect fish activities. Furthermore, wind-induced barometric pressure changes can stimulate or suppress feeding activity in fish.
Atmospheric pressure also plays a part in dictating fish behavior and feeding patterns. A sudden drop in pressure can spark a feeding frenzy among fish, while a quick increase might cause fish to reduce their activity and feed less.
Rainfall and other forms of precipitation can affect the clarity and temperature of the water, subsequently influencing fish behavior and feeding patterns.
Moon phases can also sway fish behavior and feeding habits. The debate continues among anglers with some advocating for increased fish activity during a full moon and others favoring a new moon.
Finally, water conditions like clarity, depth, and current can all impact fish behavior and their feeding habits. Depending on these factors, fish might be more or less active.
It’s not always easy to know when a fish has bitten your lure or bait. Even the most seasoned anglers can miss the earliest signs of a bite or get disappointed by false alarms.
But detecting bites is one of the things you'll surely get better at with more practice and time out in the water. Cues such as a feel or pull on the line or a moving rod tip can be a great help to those who don’t want to miss a fish, and so can a bite indicator, whether it’s a handmade or an electronic one.
Interested in kayak fishing? Don't miss our blog post on maximizing your fishing adventures using kayaks.
Want to know if fish bite in the rain? Check out Angler Gabe's article!