Have you ever spent 30 minutes or maybe an hour fishing the same spot and coming up empty? You return to the place where you had great luck last time, only this time…bupkis. It happens to everyone, from the newest anglers to the most seasoned veterans. Here are 10 of the most common reasons why the fish aren’t biting.
1. You’re In the Wrong Place
Just like toddlers, fish get sick of sitting still all the time. In fact, many of them have to keep moving just to stay alive. So, where you caught 12 bass last time might not be the best place this time. Fish move with temperature changes, to follow their food sources, to escape predators, and to spawn. Likewise, the same fish you caught in one spot might be filled with a different kind of fish next time.
If you’ve spent 25 minutes fishing the same spot without catching anything, it’s time to pick up your gear and move on. Try a different part of the river, a deeper part of the lake, or a completely different habitat. If another 25 minutes go by and still nothing, move again. Spending another 45 minutes in a place with no fish doesn’t increase your chances of having one strike your lure. You might as well fish in your bathtub. Once you’ve found your fish, you can stay put and take your time.
2. You’re Too Loud
In general, fish have all of the same senses we do, even if they do it with different parts. When it comes to hearing, fish actually have two different ways to sense sound. Inside of their skulls, fish have tiny bones called otoliths. When tiny hairs on the otoliths vibrate, the signal goes to the fish’s brain and it perceives sound. For those fishes that have a swim bladder, the closer it is to the otoliths, the better the fish can hear.
Carp and catfish have great hearing. Secondly, they have what’s called the lateral line. That’s essentially a tube that runs down the body connected to the outside world by sensory patches called neuromasts. This line allows fish to sense vibrations in the water. When you fish a buzzbait, this is how the fish picks it up. But, the sound of your voice carries through the water just as easily. Sensing a large predator nearby, the fish heads for the hills and leaves you and your lures high and dry.
3. It’s the Wrong Time of Day
Another reason you could be missing the fish is the time of day you go fishing. If it’s too hot or too bright, many fish seek shelter in deeper waters and save their prey-chasing energy for the evening. With sunlight comes not only heat but visibility. This works against you in two ways.
First, the fish can see you more clearly. Again, it’s going to split if it thinks there’s a giant predator nearby.
Second, you can see the fish better. If you can, so can other, larger fish, bears, mountain lions…you get the picture.
The fish knows this and seeks shelter until conditions are a little more in its favor. The best times to go out angling are typically in the morning or when the sky is overcast. If you’re not a morning person, try going out when the air has cooled off in the evening.
4. You’re Using the Wrong Bait or Lures
Have you ever looked in a fisherman’s tackle box and seen only one lure? Unless that angler is brand new, the answer is probably no. In fact, the very design of tackle boxes is to facilitate carrying multiple lures. So, why stick with just one lure when you’re out on the water?
If you’re someplace where you know the fish are – either you’ve seen them in the water or seen other anglers pull them up – it could be your lure that’s the problem. If you can sneak a peek at what the others are fishing with, it might give you some ideas.
Otherwise, check that you’re “matching the hatch” and choosing lures that match what the fish in that area have in their normal diet. If you’re using live or cut bait, make sure it’s fresh. Fish have a sense of smell in addition to sight and aren’t likely to strike on a foul-smelling lure.
5. Your Lures Are the Wrong Size
When it comes to lures, size does make a difference. If your target fish eats a lot of insects, it’s probably not used to choking down something the size of a minnow. Likewise, a fish with a big appetite for squid and ballyhoo might not be satisfied with a mealworm. Getting food can be risky for a fish. Depending on what it eats, that creature might have defenses like claws, stingers, or teeth.
So, if your lure is a large intimidating crawfish, the fish you’re looking for might decide that today is not the day to tangle with it. On the other hand, if the fish is conserving its energy, say for mating or swimming away, it might hold out for a meal that’s going to last it a while and not cost too much energy. At this point, it probably seems like you’re darned if you do and darned if you don’t. But, variety is the key. Don’t pin all your hopes on just one lure.
6. Your Lures Are the Wrong Color
The reason there’s such a big debate about colored line – some say it works, some say don’t bother – is that fish can see color. Depending on the depth of the water and the brightness of the sun, different colors are visible to the fish. Some fish can even see better than people, into the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. Plenty of baitfish and insects go through color changes based on their maturity, the season, and if they’re seeking mates. Using a lure that mimics the fall colors of a small fish when it’s springtime will probably seem off-color (pun intended) to your target fish.
Look at a fish and wildlife guide online, chat with a shop owner, or start up a friendly (quiet) conversation with the boat next door to get the skinny on the locals. This is why lures often come in a range of colors for the same model. Again, match the hatch.
7. You Need to Change Speed
Although it’s not as much of a concern when you’re fishing live bait, speed has a lot to do with whether or not the fish will strike. With live bait, the point is to have it move naturally. As long as you give it a chance to do just that, retrieval speed isn’t much of an issue. With cut bait and lures, getting the right speed can mean the difference between having a killer day and a wasted day.
On a warm day, in really clear water, speeding up your retrieve is a good idea. You don’t want the fish to think about what it’s seeing for too long. Since fish see better in clear water on a sunny day, don’t linger long enough for the fish to detect a fake. In low visibility conditions, fish rely on vibrations to detect their prey. Give them enough time to move in once they get a signal.
8. The Water’s Too Cold (or Hot)
I don’t know about you, but I’m super sensitive to the cold. When it’s freezing outside, I want nothing more than to stay in the house and cozy up with a hot beverage. I am certainly not motivated to go out there and move around. Fish are the same way.
Since they’re incapable of generating their own body heat, they rely on external temperatures to keep their blood moving. If it’s too cold in the water, the fish will be sluggish and less enthusiastic about chasing your lures. The reverse happens too. When it’s a really hot day above water, it’s a hot day in the water too. Instead of becoming parboiled, fish will seek out cooler water in the shade or in the depths.
A simple change of location with these thoughts in mind ought to improve your catch. This also goes back to speed. Warm waters encourage fish to move faster, so your lure should move accordingly.
9. The Weather is Too Cold (or Hot)
There’s a reason meteorology is an “ology.” A lot of factors go into predicting the weather. When you’re looking at a weather map on the nightly news, a long blue line dotted with blue triangles indicates a cold front. Why is this important? That line represents where a layer of cold air is rapidly cutting under a layer of warm air. Temperatures along that line tend to drop very quickly and, if there’s enough moisture in the air, it produces rain and thunderstorms. Nothing will drop the temperature of a pond or lake faster than a cold rain pouring into it.
The disturbance on the surface also affects visibility. Since most fish rely heavily on their sense of sight, choosing a loud lure or a bright yellow or green lure is beneficial. On the reverse, high heat can stress fish out. Hot water has a lower oxygen content, which makes it harder for fish to breathe.
10. You’re Fishing at the Wrong Depth
Temperature can obviously change with the seasons, but so can the position a fish occupies in the water column. In saltwater, fish have a lot more room to swim. They might move to shallow coastal waters in the summer and deep water in winter.
The spawning season can bring about a major change in terms of depth too. Some fish spawn in shallow waters and then move offshore as they mature. Salmon, famously, head from the oceans upriver in the fall, where bears, beavers, and anglers snap them up by the thousands. It pays to do a little research on the fish you’re angling for to find out what their normal behaviors are. Sometimes it depends on where its prey lives. If it’s a bottom-feeding fish, like a fluke, don’t fish for it with topwater lures.
That’s the end of our quick review of common reasons the fish aren’t biting. The two main takeaways: know your fish and make variety your friend. Now, get out there, be safe, and enjoy!