How to Detect Fish Bites

Detecting fish bites can be challenging, especially for new anglers. In this guide, you will learn all the skills needed to detect when a fish bites your bait. With this knowledge, you will be able to more effectively develop your sense of feel as you spend more time on the water. Let’s start by going over what a fish bite feels like and the different types of bites you will experience.

What a Fish Bite Feels Like

The most common feeling you will experience when you get a bite is a light tap on the line. This light tap is from the fish closing their mouth on your line. To get an idea of what this feels like cast out on land and with semi slack line have a friend gently tap your line with a stick or pencil. This feeling is very close to the feeling of a fish closing its mouth on your line. A fish bite will feel different than anything else you are used to.

4 Types of Fish Bites You May Experience

 1. Heavy Load

A heavy load bite will likely be the first bite you experience when first starting out. These bites come when you are fishing a moving bait like a crankbait or spinnerbait on a steady retrieve. You will feel a steady resistance from your bait as you reel in then all of a sudden it will feel heavier. This heavy load can range from super noticeable to very subtle.

The super noticeable bites will come from fish striking your bait from the opposite direction that you are reeling or from the side. Strikes from these directions will pull your rod away from you and the rod will bend to absorb the strike.

It can also be much more subtle when fish strike from the back because the fish is swimming in the same direction as you are reeling. This way you don’t feel all the extra weight until the fish changes directions or you are reeling in more line than the fish is swimming in.

2. Feel it in the rod

These bites are from slower-moving baits that you work with your rod along the bottom. A jig or texas rigged worm are common baits for these types of bites. As you work the bait you are feeling the vibration that is transferring through the line and rod from the bottom. You are focusing on what your bait is doing on the bottom as you work it over wood or rocks. You are looking for any feeling that feels out of place.

These are some of the hardest bites to detect but with more time on the water, you will get better and better.

 3. Quick Reaction Bites

Reaction bites are quick bites that happen as soon as you cast out. These bites happen before you notice the normal feel of the bait. These bites are almost impossible to describe other than they don’t feel normal. These bites can only really be learned with time on the water. The more experience you have with a bait the better you will become at detecting these reaction bites.

4. Slack / Moving Line

Some bites you won’t be able to feel, instead, you will have to rely on sight. To detect these bites you need to watch your line to know when you get bit. These bites are common with jigs or weightless baits. If your line starts moving when the bait should be sitting on the bottom then you have a bite. Another thing to watch for is if your line stops moving when it should be moving. If you are fishing in 10ft of water and you cast out and it stops sinking after a 2-3ft then it is likely that a fish ate your bait as it was sinking.

How to Detect a Jig or Soft Plastic Bite

The feeling of a jig or soft plastic bite can range from a hard thump to a light tap. In these cases, you are feeling the fish’s lips close on your line.  Other times you may not feel anything at all and the lack of feeling is your sign you have a fish.

With bottom contact baits you expect to feel the bait hit the bottom each cast and each time you pop the bait up. Each time you hop the bait you should feel the bait contact the bottom a second later. If you hop the bait and don’t feel the following contact then it’s likely that a fish took your bait. If you arent sure if you have a bite wait for a second or two and watch your line. If it moves then set the hook, you have a fish.

Detecting Bites on Crankbaits, Spinnerbaits, Swimbaits, and Other Moving Baits

Moving baits like crankbaits, spinnerbaits, etc can be much easier to detect bites on because they are fished on a tight line. Since these baits are always moving you have a constant tight line which transfers feeling much more than slackline.

For these baits, there are a few key things to watch for to detect a bite.

  1. The most common sign of a bite on these baits is your rod loading up. This could be super noticeable if the fish strikes from the opposite direction as your reeling or it can be as subtle as feeling a little extra weight than normal.
  2. Another sign of a bite can come from a sudden loss of feeling. This is common with chatterbaits, you feel the blade vibrating as you reel in then all of a sudden nothing. The lack of vibration comes from a fish closing their mouths on your bait preventing the blade from vibrating. You may never feel the extra weight or see your rod load up if the fish swims in the direction you are reeling in.

Still Can’t Feel a Bite? Try Learning Backwards

If you are struggling at feeling the difference between a bite and cover, try working backwards. Go find some wood laydowns and cast into it a few times, focus on what going over the wood feels like. Drag your bait over different-sized laydowns to learn how small branches feel vs an entire log. Next, go find some rock piles or grass and learn how those feel.

After making a few casts into each, do it again but try with your eyes closed. Really focus on what the cover feels like and try to picture in your mind what the bait is doing. This will really help you understand what each type of cover feels like.

It is much easier to learn the feeling of something you can feel every cast. You won’t get a bite every cast and on some days you may have to make 100 casts before you get the next bite. So it is much easier to learn the feeling of everything else. Once you learn what isn’t a bite it is much easier to recognize what is a bite.

Tips to Help Detect Fish Bites

  1. Pay Attention – It can be easy to get distracted when fishing, especially on slow days. While you’re watching nearby wildlife or enjoying the picturesque view you could be missing your line moving or a subtle tick in your line. If you arent focused on your fishing you may never know about all the bites you missed.
  2. Feel the Line – Place the index finger on your non-reeling hand under the line to feel it as it comes in. Doing this will help transfer the feeling of what your bait is doing on the other end much more than the rod alone. Your finger is much more sensitive than a rod after all.
  3. Watch Your Line – Your line can help tell you when you get a bite. If your line moves in a way that you didn’t influence then it is very likely that a fish is the cause.
  4. Wait – Not sure if it’s a bite? Keep still and wait for a second or two. If you see your line move or you feel any vibration then you have a fish. If you don’t see or feel anything while you pause then it was likely something else.

Fish Biting But Not Staying Hooked?

Unfortunately being able to detect bites isn’t all you need to know to catch fish. Fish are smart and can spit lures out very quickly if they aren’t hooked very well. Being able to set the hook properly will greatly increase the number of fish you successfully catch. To learn how to hook a fish every time read our hookset guide.