Making Fish Eat

Frustration fosters disappointment in most of us when we watch some of the more aggressive predators refuse every offering we toss in front of them. At times, they’ll turn down frisky live baits, palate tempting dead morsels oozing the aroma of something good to eat, or your favorite artificial. Fish don’t eat continuously or chase down everything they see. Frequently, refusal can be traced to a phase of feeding rhythm in which the fish ignores food.

Feeding for a fish fuels a major expenditure of energy, requiring considerable time for any fish to recover from that exertion. Water temperature is also a factor. The cooler the water, the longer it takes a fish to digest a meal and the less aggressive it becomes. Our job centers on convincing a fish that it’s worth the effort to eat the bait or lure we are presenting. If a fish senses there is too much energy involved or if something does not look natural, it will break off the attack.

Three scientific facts govern feeding behavior. (1) A fish selects and attacks one 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 handle easily. From these studies, we know that a fish does not simply charge about with its mouth open. Instead, they focus on a single prey and pursue it relentlessly until they catch it or it escapes. How long the pursuit lasts depends on water temperature and the amount of energy the predator must exert. Anything that strays from the school or can be isolated becomes an easier target. The same for a bait that is disabled and giving off distress vibrations or a lure that looks different. That’s why you can put a hook in a live bait, cast it back into the bait school, and still get a strike.

A natural presentation blends your quarry’s habits with the habitat. Fish expect their food to come with the flow of water. They do not anticipate being attacked by their prey. Anything that approaches them from the flanks or tail becomes a threat and not a meal. If you’re working the water column, start from the bottom and move the bait or lure toward the surface progressively. For species that belly up to the bottom, make sure your offering stays in the productive zone and does not rise too far above the fish. Inexperienced anglers often think their bait is on the bottom, but the current or drift of the boat moves it above the area where the fish will eat.

Hardly a day goes by that someone does not ask what the best bait or lure is for a particular species. They erroneously believe there is some secret offering that will outfish any other bait or lure. Presentation holds the key to catching fish. Everything else comes in a distant second. Experts will tell you that the three most important things in fishing are presentation, presentation, presentation. Once you master the skill of presenting a bait or lure realistically, your catch rate will increase dramatically and there will be a big smile on your face.

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