Subtle Signals From Fish,
Anglers Be Attentive!

Published By Captain Mick Maynard
for the 2012 Lake Champlain Rotary International
Fishing Derby Tabloid

Even the best anglers miss a fish now and then. Every fisherman has a story about the one that got away. Some fishermen however miss many more opportunities than they care to mention. The fact is that anglers actually have more encounters with fish than they are even aware of. There is a simple and assertive mind-set you can adopt to increase your numbers and up your percentages of landing the big one. Take this philosophy out on the water with you this season and you’ll bring more fish to the boat...
If it acts like a fish, feels like a fish, or even seems like a fish,
then treat it like a fish, each and every time!

How many times have you paused between casts asking yourself, “Did I just miss a fish?” How often have you commented to a fishing partner, “I think I just had a bite!” In these instances you may have missed a small fish, or quite possibly the trophy of a lifetime. The point is you neglected to do anything, and you can’t get that opportunity back. Had you been prepared and reacted you would have at least had a shot at it.

All good fishermen will readily admit that they bury their hook into the bottom now and then. Most have reeled in the proverbial stick-fish or other inanimate object on occasion. Expert anglers do this often. They work the bottom with their offering and after feeling some slight pressure, a light bump or even the line going limp, they react with authority. More often than not they find themselves hauling in a fish.

The author’s son Marshall displays a pair of robust fish from an autumn outing. The subtle bite of a walleye or smallmouth bass in late fall can be extremely hard to detect.

Fish are curious and they don’t have hands to touch or feel something they see in their lair. They often use their nose to bump things or their mouth to sense or taste things they encounter below. Most fish can inhale and exhale a fisherman’s offering in an instant, so fast in fact that the fisherman never even knew it happened. Atlantic salmon and trout are two such species. A salmon might strike at a lure several times before it actually gets hooked. A lake trout may thump a bait to stun it before eating it. These fish are sending you a signal that they’re interested. If you’re paying attention you’ll get ready knowing the rod is about to jump.

Atlantic salmon like these beauties seem to telegraph their intentions to slam a lure with one or more preceding nips or ticks.

Experienced salmon anglers are always looking for the “tick” or "nip", a signal from a salmon that only the best anglers pick up on. This tick may happen only once before a hook-up, or it may happen several times. An angler trolling for salmon with a rod in his hand feels the slightest tap on the lure; if he’s wise he’ll drop the bait back to see if that tap was a fish. Very often it is a salmon, and more often than not it will strike again. The same goes for casting; if a fisherman feels a bump during a retrieve, he should cast back just beyond the spot he got the hit and pull the lure through that area again purposefully. He will often be rewarded with a hook-up.

Good bass fishermen must also know how detect subtle strikes from fish. Jigging for bass in extremely cold water requires a vigilant sense of touch. Fishing vertically with a drop-shot rig using light line and small hooks requires light handed skill. Flipping jigs or fishing soft plastics takes a sensitive touch and a perfectly timed hook-set. It’s important to be able to feel the bite as it’s telegraphed to the fisherman’s hand. Improvements in the sensitivity of fishing line and fishing rods have created advantages for today’s anglers, but when the bite is light, basics like maintaining a tight line, keeping a finger on the rod blank and watching a slack or wind blown line for movement are vital. These simple practices can mean the difference between success and failure.

This Florida bass tipped off the author by grabbing his soft plastic offering and swimming directly at the boat. Watching the line for extraordinary movement is a basic principal practiced by successful anglers.

The next time you’re out on the water try to keep an attentive mind-set and a positive attitude. Look for the lightest of signals from the depths. Treat every tap, tick and touch like a fish and then react aggressively, it will make you a better fisherman.

Postscript – Captain Mickey Maynard is the owner and operator of Lake Champlain Angler Charters. Visit Captain Mick at Visit Captain Mick's website for Central Florida winter fishing at

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