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  • Writer's pictureNew Wave Fishing Academy

How To Catch Fish? Let Them Tell You!

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

If you've spent any time online reading fishing articles, watched tv shows, or youtube videos you have certainly heard someone say "Let the fish tell you what to use". While this sounds very nice and straightforward you may be wondering what does this actually mean?

smallmouth bass on shadzilla jr, let the fish tell you how to catch them

It's not as tricky as you might think but you do need to pay attention to really small details.

While out on the water fishing you will experience bites, follows, catches, see no fish, or in the worst case have fish actively avoid your lure. You may not realize it right now but each of these behaviours tells you a lot about the fish, their behaviour, and how to catch them!

Let's start with the most obvious - a catch!

When you catch a fish it means a few things: there was interest in your bait from the fish, you're getting the bait in front of the fish, and can give you hints on how to put more in the boat. For starters think about what technique you were using and where you were fishing it: is it fast, slow, near the surface, dragging on bottom, suspended, tight to cover, inside cover, out in the open. Did it hit at the start of the cast, while it was stopped and sinking, or after you sped up the retrieve. All of these are important details to consider and point you closer to the best technique for the day as well as where the fish are sitting. For example, if I'm casting a swimbait and doing a steady retrieve but all my bites come when I pause the bait to let it sink I would consider switching my retrieve to be mostly a pull pause or pick up a jerkbait for a slower presentation. Once you have the fish in the boat take a look at how it bit the bait as well! If the bait is barely in their mouth or fully engulfed you know how interested it was. If the bait is hooked on the outside of mouth the fish probably just reacted to the movement rather than actively tried to eat it. You may want to try a few different baits to get a better bite or go really obnoxious and loud to trigger these reaction bites. If its fully engulfed you know what you're using is the right bait for the day. Some other clues the fish give include how the fish looks: if its belly or bottom fins, or mouth are beat up they are likely sticking close to bottom and feeding there. If they are very pale this means they were just in deep water. If their belly is hard they are feeding on crayfish but if soft likely more baitfish oriented.

Let's move on to bites and what this means.

If you are getting bites but not getting fish in the boat there are two main reasons: the fish is not fully committing to the bait or you are using the wrong gear. If you are getting bites and fight the fish for a while before they get off its likely you are just using the wrong gear pairings. We have a number of free courses as part of the Zero to Hero Masterclass (link below) to explain what adjustments you should make. If you are getting bites but the fish just don't seem to get hooked then there is something off with your bait that is making fish weary despite fishing in the right areas and getting your bait in front of the fish; it could be the profile, colour, or size! Adjusting one of the three at a time should help pinpoint what the fish want. The easiest to change is usually color. Go more natural in clear water and more contrast in dark waters, the same goes for if it is sunny or overcast. Changing the profile usually means switching lures completely but going from a long slender minnow bait like a rapala husky jerk to a short and fat squarebill crankbait may better reflect the forage in the body of water and get commitment from the fish. The last thing to consider changing is size. I have seen and caught enough small fish on lures bigger than they are to know that if they are interested they will go after it. However, the small fish tend to miss the hooks on bigger fish leading to bites but no catches. If you want to catch the fish you have found downsizing can be key but if you are a trophy hunter moving on is the best way to go.

Follows are just as important as bites but tell you how to switch in a different way. Follows let you know fish are in the area which means they can be caught! If a fish follows your bait but does not bite there are a few things holding it back. Your bait is not getting into their strikezone but is gaining some interest. The two biggest changes anglers should make for following fish are speed and depth. Before switching to different baits, changing color, profile, or anything else try speed and depth changes. Speed helps to make the fish bite by creating a reaction or giving it time to commit. Slowing down is usually the go to adjustment if the fish follows at a distance or shows up after you have brought out of the water but if it comes in hot then veers away speeding up may be the ticket. If this doesn't get the fish to commit try changing the position in the water column (depth). Using a similar bait run just under the surface, in the middle of the water column, or along bottom will all get different reactions from fish and one of them is usually preferred for feeding at any given time.

One of the most disappointing things while fishing is seeing a fish actively avoid your lure. This is a common occurrence in shallow clear water but fortunately there are things you can do about it. The good thing about this event is that you know you are around fish! Finding them is more than half the battle so don't discount that. One of the main reasons for fish avoiding lures is because they get out of feeding mode and into protective mode. They won't eat while they feel threatened. The biggest threat to them is YOU! A boat and angler in shallow clear water with no wind creates a big shadow and a lot of noise. This is a big disruptment to their environment and puts them on guard. You will notice a lot of time that you can catch fish before seeing them but once you do see how many there are the bite will stop. Alternatively, if you see fish and cast to them they won't bite but spook but casting to the direction these fish moved will get bites! Why? If you can see them they can likely see you (or at least know you are there). To help them put their guard down move out of the area and make long casts to it, avoid clanging and banging around in the boat, and watch your shadow. This is especially important when there is no wind to hide yourself and cover up the noises you are making.

Last but not least what does not seeing fish tell you. If you are fishing areas, trying different baits, and not getting bites, follows, or even seeing fish this is a good sign that you are either in the wrong area completely (seasonal movements) or that you are not getting your bait in front of the fish. If you are confident that the bait is getting to where the fish should be (tight to thick cover, over submerged vegetation, etc) then move. Don't wait around. The fish are making it clear they are not around and you should listen to not waste your time. Catching fish, or getting bites/follows, usually only takes a few minutes once you get to a spot where they are. Eliminating water is just as important as finding productive water.

We hope that now when you hear "let the fish tell you" you will have a better idea what someone is talking about and know how to do it yourself the next time you're on the water.

To experience a day of fishing with us be sure to check out our YouTube channel at the link below:

If you or someone you know is looking to get into fishing or you just want to become a more successful angler be sure to check out our "Zero To Hero Fishing Masterclass" for courses on everything fishing! The masterclass is built to help you learn how to find and catch fish like the pro's by providing all the information you need and a clear development path! Don't miss out check it out now at

Have you ever wondered why lures don't come with instructions and wanted to know how to fish them? Look no further than our "How To Fish" series where you will learn what each bait is, how to use it, when and where it excels over other baits, our preferred setup to use it on, and the common mistakes anglers make when using it.


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