Wary fish sometime refuse to bite. I can fix that!
By Ron Brooks
We were on the dock behind my wife’s relative’s home on the Florida Keys. The canal that led to the bay was about twenty feet deep, crystal clear, and loaded with fish. Mangrove snapper, parrotfish, and an occasional shy grouper swam slowly back and forth below the dock. I had brought a rod and some tackle with me. I was intent on catching some of those snapper.
These fish came to the surface when you walked along the dock. They were used to being fed dry dog food, and when they saw someone on the dock, they thought they were going to be fed. The parrotfish would be on top of the water, with the snapper underneath. While the parrotfish went into a frenzy eating the dog food, the wary snapper swam slowly underneath eating the pieces that made it through the parrotfish.
I knew these folks loved their fish, so I asked before I began fishing. Thinking I would never catch one of those snapper, I was given permission to try. Lots of other people had tried with no success to get them to bite a hook.
After studying the situation and watching the snapper eat the dog food and avoid my baited hook, I had an idea. That dog food got a little mushy after it got wet, and I figured it would stay on a hook. So I wet some and made a small ball of bait and placed it one my hook.
Because these were snapper with sharp teeth and gill plates, I had a heavy monofilament leader on my rig. Once again, even with the dog food for bait, the snappers ignored me.
So, I took the leader of and ran eight-pound line directly to the hook. Then a changed to a very short shanked hook and hid that hook in the middle of a ball of wet dog food. My bait still looked out of place, being bigger and sinking faster than the other food.
It lay there on the bottom for what seemed like forever as the snapper ate everything except my bait. But, one snapper got curious. He swam over and nosed the bait once. Then he swam off and came back and did it again. Eventually, this one big snapper figured it was okay to eat, so he grabbed my bait. The fight was on!
When I say the fight was on, there were actually two fights. I was fighting the fish and my wife’s uncle was fighting with me to cut the line! These were his fish, and he had them trained! As he yelled at me, I reminded him that he gave me permission!
Needless to say, I released that snapper and was not permitted to fish again. But I learned something by watching those fish. Your bait has to be natural, and it needs to match the surroundings – particularly with a fish as smart as a snapper.
I watch anglers fishing with me who have half the tackle shop tied to the end of their line. Heavy swivels, wire leaders, snaps, and beads – you name it. I fish next to them and catch good fish, while they try to figure out why they only catch the junk fish.
Make your bait presentation as natural as you possible can. I fished offshore one day with some live finger mullet I had netted in the inlet. I thought they would be awesome bait – and they are in the right circumstances. Offshore fishing is not one of those circumstances. Finger mullet are very much out of place on the bottom in 100 feet of water. The cigar minnows I caught out there got bit on every drop. My mullet never got eaten!
I believe you can make fish bite just by the way your bait is presented. A school of vermillion snapper under the boat is generally half way up the water column. Bottom anglers drop their bait right through them and never get hit. I use a jig head that drops slowly toward the bottom, and as it gets to the depth of the snapper, it gets eaten almost every time. I can literally catch three fish for every one my partner catches with his normal rig. It’s all in how you present it.
So next time you are in a situation where you know the fish are there but they won’t bite, look at changing your presentation. Lighter line, no leader, slower drop – anything that changes what is currently not working will eventually make that fish bite. Give it a try!