How Do Fish Decide What to Eat?

by Capt. Craig Price

Surface feeding frenzies are very angler’s dream – substantial numbers of gamefish flying around on or near the surface with nothing on their minds but beating their buddies to the food (kinda like being at the table with my brothers). But even though the surface blitz is close to a sure thing, there are very few guarantees in nature.

Even active fish can be selective, and watching fish feed close to you, but not catching many is a frustrating experience through which most of us have suffered. Understanding how and why a fish decides what to eat can make a big difference in minimizing these disappointments.

Fishing too quickly when casting artificial’s into “schooling fish” is probably the most common mistake inexperienced anglers make. It’s easy to fire lures into the feeding zone and rip them quickly back to the boat when the adrenaline is pumping.

But even in an aggressive feeding mode, predators look for prey that’s easy to catch. Slow, erratic, injured, i.e. different. These are the attributes that trigger predators to strike.

Consider this analogy – if we as hunters had to chase down our prey, let’s say rabbits, we wouldn’t go after the fastest one we see. We’d quickly determine which one is slow due to the reasons above, and then we’d go after the easiest meal.

Furthermore fish, like all animals, instinctively operate on an “energy in vs. energy out” equation. A positive result in the short and long terms is critical to their health and ability to reproduce.

Internationally acclaimed angler and author Mark Sosin succinctly explains these concepts in greater detail in “Making Fish Eat”. He writes “successful feeding occurs when the rewards prove much greater than the energy expended. Our job lies in convincing a fish that it’s worth the effort to eat the bait or lure we are presenting.”

The article goes onto explain that “3 scientific facts govern feeding behavior. 1) A fish selects and attacks 1 victim at a time. 2) Predators choose a victim that is isolated, disabled, or looks different.  3) Given a choice, a predator will pursue the largest bait it can easily handle.

Sosin also references studies that show fish don’t just charge about with their mouths open. They pick a single prey and pursue it relentlessly. Anything that strays from the school or can be isolated, or is disabled and giving off distress vibrations, is a lure that triggers the predator’s feeding instinct.
That’s why when you put a hook in a live bait and cast it back in the school, you will usually get a strike. Your bait is not acting like the other bait fish…it’s giving off distress vibrations making it easier for the predator to isolate it and attack.

Live bait or lures, there has to be a trigger mechanism that tells the predator that this is good to eat. Use this info to your advantage and I guarantee you’ll experience more Fish On!

Captain Craig Price – Writes articles about fishing ~ 704-996-0946

Capt. Craig Price is locally born and raised, and has been fishing the Catawba River and its impoundments since the 1960’s. As his guide business has grown, his area of operations has also grown to include numerous freshwater lakes in NC & SC, plus inshore saltwater charters along the coasts of both states. Beginners to master anglers, live bait to artificial – Capt. Craig enjoys showing his anglers when, where, and how to catch them all.