Why Fish Won’t Bite – Dan Kaggelis – July 16

There is nothing more frustrating in the world of angling then finding fish that just refuse to feed. Whether it’s watching them stacked up on the sounder or spotting them in the water, when they just don’t want to bite it can be hugely annoying.

The simple fact is that sometimes fish just aren’t hungry and no matter what lure you roll in front of them or what bait or plastic you drop, they will just flatly refuse to cooperate. The reason for this is a simple one- fish just like humans don’t eat 24 hours a day and whilst you can always count on a opportunist grazer, on most occasions they will wait for certain elements to line up which trigger their feeding instinct. There is also some very interesting scientific research being undertaken that is also shedding some light on this fishermen unfriendly phenomenon. Either way understanding the reasons why fish won’t bite is valuable information fishermen need to know as finding fish and getting them to feed is a whole different ball game.

To start off with it most anglers who can tell a pillie from a prawn will know that time of day/ night can play a huge part in triggering a bite. Some fish like golden snapper will rarely feed in the middle of the day and for many of our prized catches like Saddle Tail Snapper the cover of darkness often brings the best bite. Whilst this is common knowledge it is amazing how many people will write off spots because they haven’t fished them at the right time. For example one spot I fish is filled to the brim during the day with trevally however fish it at night and the trevors are nowhere to be seen and reds appear in their place. It’s not like the reds are not there, they are just not biting.
The other factor to consider especially with fish like Golden Snapper and Saddle tail Snapper is their tendency to shut down and stop biting the moment a fish is lost. Whether it’s through a snapped line or a lucky escape, these fish can quickly convince the others in the school to move on and stop feeding. There is little you can do at this point but hurl insults at the guilty angler and often it takes some time for the fish to return and start biting again. If this does occur it is worth your while fishing marks around the same general area as these fish will move but not too far away. On some occasions I have moved between three marks all within 200 metres of each other to keep the Saddle tail Snapper bite active when fish have been lost and the bite has shut down.
Another key element is the tide and once again most anglers know the worth of a bit of run in getting the bite to begin. Some will argue that the move from slack water to running water will trigger a bite instinct in fish however I am more for believing it’s about the behaviour of bait. Being an avid free diver it always amazes me how the turn of the tide from slack to moving water has the ability to condense bait fish in a very short time. Whether its offshore or up the creek during the slack water you will notice bait tends to cruise around in bits and pieces quite relaxed and spread out. However once the tidal pressure begins to build they quickly shoal up around structure. There is little wonder this can trigger fish into biting as finding a feed becomes so much easier. Coral trout in particular are prone to this and it never seems to amaze how quickly an area can spring to life with trout once the tide begins to build. GT are also bite prone to tidal run and this is because of the tidal bait effect. You can pop your guts out during the slack but once that tide begins to run and the bait pushes together it usually doesn’t take long before they come out to play.
It is for this very reason that if you do find a spot which is showing fish but they just aren’t biting that you invest the time until something changes and the bite begins. This may mean sitting in a single spot for hours on end until everything aligns because when it does the action can be amazing. Barra in particular are like this and many barra gurus impoundment and salt have honey holes which they know hold big numbers of fish but most importantly know when they bite. Knowing when they move from stubborn to starving can see big numbers of fish caught in a very short time frame. The same can be said for offshore fish like saddle tail snapper, when they come on the bite they can lend themselves to red hot fishing sessions which see chaos and carnage in a very short amount of time.
Some of the best fishing advice I have ever heard was to never give up on a spot until you had fished it across a range of tides and times as it may be barren 90% of the time but for that 10% it may just be a gold mine.
Whilst there are plenty of natural elements which can affect the bite there are also some newly found ideas which can also have a considerable effect on the bite and appetite of fish. One of the most interesting of late has been the research around the concept of ‘social learning’ of fish in particular coral trout. Social learning is the process whereby fish are able to learn from each other to acquire skills and knowledge to become better able to succeed in life. In the case of several of our reef species there is plenty of research to suggest that individual fish are learning not to take baits. I am not talking about fish which are hook shy because they have been caught before and social learning applies to individuals that have not had a direct experience such as being caught and released, but have acquired knowledge of the risk from their fellow fish.

As stated in the 2014 QLD Stock assessment of the Queensland east coast common coral trout fishery “The social learning may take place by fish directly observing their fellows being hooked, or perhaps heeding a chemo-sensory cue emitted by fish that are hooked. As part of the assessment, analysis of data from replenishment closures of Boult Reef in the Capricorn–Bunker Region (closed 1983–86) and Bramble Reef in the Townsville Subregion (closed 1992–95) estimated a strong social learning effect.” http://era.daf.qld.gov.au/4547/1/CoralTroutStockAssessment2014.pdf

The sensory cue is essentially the sound made when a fish is hooked. As fish like coral trout tend to live in groups they have effectively begun to associate this sound with danger. Therefore it is common to get one or two fish before the rest begin to wise up. This is particularly the case in areas where fish see plenty of baits as well as lots of boat traffic. A lot of this research has been collected by watching fish from view buckets and with divers in the water. The only way around this is to provide a variety of different and ‘new ‘ offerings which the fish may not have seen before. Hence the effectiveness of soft plastics and slow pitch jigs which offer something the fish have not seen.
At the end of the day finding a way to get fish to bite can be a tough learning curve. It’s important to realise that often it’s out of our hands and its more about a waiting game and fishing smarter not harder.