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It’s no mystery to me that some folks don’t like fishing with certain lures, like jigs, because they are not able to detect bites. It makes crankbaits and spinnerbaits and lures like that seem more productive to them because the bass have a way of hooking themselves on exposed hooks on constant moving lures. But developing your sense of feel and detecting bites while fishing is a key to being a good fishermen.

So what does it take to learn how to “feel a fish” on the other end of your line? Well in my opinion, it’s a conditioning thing and understanding what is potentially happening on the other end of the line.

So I backtracked on what helped me develop my sense of feel over 3 decades of bass fishing and fishing for saltwater and other freshwater fish. Here are 5 things to improve your sense of feel with a fishing rod:

Know when your lure feels different

It sounds easy to know when your lure is doing something different. But it takes some time. The best way to learn when you’re getting a bite is to first no what your lure feels like the rest of the time. Simple enough. But most folks are paying attention to how fast they are reeling or how much they are moving their rod or maybe what is in the water.

Wired2fish Quick Tip: You can palm your reel in your hand and place your index finger under the line coming out of the reel to have a more direct connection to the fishing line and light bites. We do this often when fishing offshore in deep water for bass.

When I pull a lure like a worm or a jig, or something that I must feel the bite on, through the water, I’m constantly “weighing my lure.” In other words, I am training myself as to how the lure feels all the time with nothing impacting it.

I recently fished with my brother-in-law on a farm pond. He said to me, “You have got to show me how you catch all these bass down here. I come here all the time and never catch anything.” So we fished that morning and I caught 5, and he finally caught 1 after some coaching. It dawned on me, he’s getting bites; he just doesn’t know it.

Knowing that I explained to him the different ways a bite changes how the lure feels. It might make it feel really light. It might make it feel “mushy”. It might feel heavier or you will actually feel the fish pecking on it. The thing is you have to know how the lure feels all the rest of the time and then anytime it starts to feel different you move to the next key point.

bass often bite and don't move in heavy shallow cover

Sometimes a bite in cover just feels like the lure is stuck. If you’ve hopped it up and down or just pitched it in there, mostly likely it is in a fish’s mouth and not stuck in the cover.

Wait when in doubt

We feel something different on the other end of the line and our immediate reaction is to jerk back. Truth be told, there is a lot on the bottom of the lake. And everything that feels different may not be a bass. The nice thing with “contact lures,” or lures you drag along that contact the bottom, is usually a fish won’t spit them out immediately.

You have time to wait and watch your line, feel for something else to move on the other end while you’re sitting perfectly still. We often miss bites because we’re moving too much. We are bumping along the bottom, and in the middle of many bumps, a fish bumps the lure. We don’t immediately recognize it. But if you are in doubt, just pause and usually you will feel the fish do something.

I tell people all the time to pull a lure, reel up the slack and hold the lure still with a semi-taut line before moving it again. That’s to teach them to feel for a fish without moving the lure. Often a bite comes right after a movement as we pause to take up the slack. Awareness is key to developing your sense of feel. And you gain awareness by stopping, feeling and watching before moving again.

Be a line watcher

I’m still blown away by how many people are not line watchers when fishing. I can tell you a lot of the big fish I’ve caught, I didn’t immediately feel on the line. I saw the bite first. Often that is because I just hopped a lure and the bait is falling on slack line and I saw the “line jump.”

Author’s Note: Keep in mind, you can see line movement with crankbaits, spinnerbaits, jerkbaits, etc. I often see my line do something before I perceive the bait has changed motion, weight or feel.

You’ve probably heard that term, but never knew what it meant. When a fish bites a lure on slack line, he will pull the bait a few inches quickly with a suck of water. That rapid suck of water snaps the limp line a bit tighter and there is a perceivable jump of the loose line on the surface. If you are fishing on somewhat tighter line when this happens you can feel the bite or actually feel the line snapping tight for a split second.

This can also help you develop feel. I’ve often noticed that a line jump bite actually feels like the lure got cut off. In other words it just feels way too light suddenly.

This will sound crazy, but I actually developed a much better sense of feel fishing for crappie on 1/16-ounce jigs and 4-pound line. It’s a great change of pace for me but more importantly it’s taught me to be aware of changes. After I do it for a few trips, I can tell you if it is a crappie, a bluegill or a yellow bass before I even set the hook just by how the bite felt. Most good crappie anglers will tell you the same.

What you can see will help you detect bites

So the other question we get asked a lot is how do you tell the difference between rocks, wood, grass and bass or other fish? Well the best answer is because I know what  each of those things feels like on my lure. Not a great answer but it’s true.

The simple answer to this problem is to go fish where you can see into the water. Say you see a stump on a rocky bottom. Cast your lure up past the stump and slowly pull it up to the stump. Feel how it scrapes and momentarily snags on each pebble. Feel how it hangs for second on the root of the stump and you have to sort of pop it up to climb over it. Feel how it feels when it falls back over the stump and hits back on the rocks again.

Do the same thing with laydowns, and grass and such. You can teach yourself a lot about detecting bites by pulling the lure through cover you can see and knowing when you are pulling through rock, stumps, laydowns and grass. When you feel something different then what you just felt in that cover, it might be a fish.

Unexpected tension

When I’m flipping and pitching to cover, there is something I call unexpected tension that I think a lot of anglers really miss and often leads to their frustration with fishing worms and jigs in cover.

I’ve caught thousands of bass out of grass, bushes, brush piles and other shallow cover.  As you pitch the lure to the cover, it should go to the bottom and then you should be able to move it. If a lure is rigged weedless or has a weed guard on it, it should not go into the cover on the initial pitch and get lodged. Now it will happen from time to time, but most of the time you’re able to move it.

Bass often bite on the initial fall of the lure, and you can just as often miss it if you’re not paying close attention to your line. But when you engage the reel and pick up slowly on the lure the first time, feel for tension, and if so, set the hook. You will find that 9 times out of 10 a fish grabbed your jig on the way down. When a fish is in cover, it often doesn’t feel the need to leave the security of that cover, so it won’t move at all. You will just have added tension.

I find this all the time when I flip bushes on Kentucky Lake. I will pitch into the heart of a bush. Then I will hop my lure up and down in the bush. One hop, two hop, three hop, four hop, and then it feels stuck. I ALWAYS set the hook. My lure came up and down through the cover 4 times fine and then miraculously got stuck? Nope. Something grabbed a hold of it. That unexpected tension again was something different than how my lure felt prior to that.

If you will spend the first several casts with your jig or Texas-rigged worm weighing it and feeling how it bumps over the cover without getting a bite, you’ll be much better prepared to detect when something changes. And that is how you will detect more bites when fishing.

For more information on bass fishing, see our How to Bass Fish GuideWhen to Bass Fish Guide and Where to Bass Fish Guide.

Even in 38 degree water, you can catch bass but the bites will be very subtle so you've got to feel for that slight change in the lure's weight to detect when a fish is on the line.

Even in 38 degree water, you can catch bass but the bites will be very subtle so you’ve got to feel for that slight change in the lure’s weight to detect when a fish is on the line.

20 thoughts on “5 Tips for Detecting Bites While Fishing

  1. Great Article Jason. I wish I had a $1.00 for every time I’ve watched someones line jump when they never had a clue that a fish had grabbed their bait.

    On a side note………If you keep losing weight I’m not going to recognize you. Great job, keep it up!

    • Thanks Phil! I guess I hadn’t realized how many folks still struggle with detecting bites and really that’s what separates good and great fishermen. Still working on losing weight man.

  2. Agree with Phil. Great article. Being a relative newcomer to bass fishing, the senkos, swimbaits and in-line spinners have been easy, but the jigs and finesse worms have really eluded me as far as bite detection. Trying to slow down and learn new techniques is hard when you’re excited about just catching a fish, but it is the only way to really learn how your gear works.

  3. What a great article for those of us just starting to really get into serious bass fishing. People always talk about feeling the bite and I never really understood what they were talking about, now I know what to feel for and look for, and that its just going to take practice. Thanks for this article

    • Glad to help Neil. And glad it made sense. Sometimes it’s hard to know if I’m doing a good job explaining what I feel to another person. Thanks for reading. We are in the midst of putting together a full guide for bass fishing that will hopefully understand all the topics relative to getting started in bass fishing and having a lot more success quickly.

  4. Thanks for the tips. I have fished jigs all my life and know I have had my jig in a fishes mouth and not even know it. Maybe I can be more attentive and put more in the boat. < del

  5. The old adage, when it doubt, set the hook. Sometimes the fish are really aggressive and you feel every bite. Some days all you feel is a change in weight or pressure. I’ve often had my line start moving of the to the side and not even felt the bite. Fish are funny creatures in their ability to suck in food without a perceivable change to the angler at times. Thanks for reading, Del.

  6. Rocking article as always.

    I wonder how many times I’ve actually paused to be sure and then felt the fish spit out the bait. Not a good feeling. ;-)

  7. I am making a printed copy of this to give to a friend of mine, He is new to the modern Bass fishing world and this is exactly what i have been trying to tell him. Well thought out and written. Watched him on Kentucky lake back in the summer miss fish after fish on a ledge, I caught 5 to his one, not because of his lack of bites because i could see his line jump and other times i would see it just drop and go limp. Takes some getting used to for sure, maybe this artical will help get it across…Thanks

    • Thanks Jeffray. I hope it helps a little bit. We’re going to back up some on some pieces geared more towards guys just trying to get a solid foundation built in fishing so should have a lot more of these type helpful articles for folks trying to get up to speed in the sport. We just want folks to enjoy bass fishing and other freshwater fishing as much as we do. Thanks for reading and sharing with your buddies.

  8. I would also add that not only does the bite feel different on different baits I also approach my hook set differently. With a jig I like to set my hook as soon as I either feel or sense a bit but with a big worm I will also feel for the “tick tick” and try to set after I feel the second tick.

  9. Thanks for all the great info. I really enjoy that you guys take the time to cover basic ways to connect with anglers from all levels of fishing. A lot of topics covering different baits sometimes are hard to understand when your still in that stage of branching out to learn new techniques. You guys usually address those topics really well and I appreciate it.

    Will always be a fan of Wired2Fish!

  10. Really good article. Reminds me to pay more attention to my line and subtle changes in the tension. When I’m on the water I’m like 99% of anglers who just look forward to catching fish :)

  11. Thanks for the great read! These articles you guys have posted have really made me a much better fisherman. I’ve caught more fish this year already then I did all last year. In part to reading your stuff. Thanks man

  12. Great article. I go to a freestone creek flowing into a small lake to tune-up my feel. The next morning (after an evening rain) it is loaded with small bass. This lets me sight fish and see what is actually happening. I am always amazed how many times bass mouth a bait with no noticeable feel or movement.

  13. I feel like this is the most difficult aspect of bass fishing for a new bass fisherman like myself. It is so discouraging to know that I’m missing so many fish because I know that I don’t know what it feels like. I also know that the only way I will learn is to keep trying, but knowing that my inline spinners are right there in my tackle box with their no-doubt results makes it too easy to put away the worms & jigs. I think what I need is to go with someone who knows what they are doing & just watch their line & how they respond to it. Videos just don’t give the detail needed. I wonder if you guys rigged a pov go-pro camera so we could see what you see, if that would make for a helpful video.

    • Andrew, I have a heck of a time detecting bites on jigs myself and find myself going back to stuff I know works (topwaters, chatterbaits, etc.). There’s a simple way to learn…Get a small box (like a Plano 3500), toss a couple jigs, a few trailers in it, grab a rod, and go. Leave the rest of your tackle box at home so there’s no temptation to throw what you’re comfortable with. I haven’t done that with jigs yet, but I need to. Now is as good of a time as any to start. I did it with wacky worms, now I need to do it with everything else I own.

  14. I am new to bass fishing but salt water fished when I was younger, so not new to fishing altogether. I can tell the feel of the fish bumping the worm. However, I could use some insight on letting the fish have the bait and setting the hook. The guy that I date instructed me to release the line and let the fish take the worm but it seems when I do this they feel the click when it is released and release the worm. May be my imagination but it has happened more than once. Enjoyed the article, I will definitely be paying more attention and stopping to see what might be going on.

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