Home Drifting Easy - Fishing Tips I feel the fish biting but I can't hook 'em!
I feel the fish biting but I can't hook 'em!

“I feel the fish biting but I can’t hook them!”

This is a common complaint we hear all the time. The new angler and the
veteran angler alike have days when they just can’t “hook ‘em.” The worst
possible scenario is when you are fishing and look around, and anglers all
around you are catching fish and you are not. You feel the nibbles, but can’t
catch the fish. “What am I doing wrong?”

Sometimes it is a pure psychological problem. No you’re not insane. You’re
simply trying too hard! Have you ever noticed that when you go out fishing
and don’t really anticipate catching much of anything you can have a really
good day of fishing? Then when you take your best buddy out the next day, on
the same tides, using the same rigs and baits and anticipate a great day,
your buddy catches but you can’t catch squat. Sometimes it is just a matter
of being excited and trying too hard.

In flounder fishing especially, this can be a matter of feeling the bite and
trying to set the hook too fast. Fish don’t have hands, so they can’t hold
on to the bait when getting it into their mouths. And flounder often mouth
the bait before biting into it. The angler should fish with his rod tip up
and then slowly point the rod tip down towards the water when he feels a
bite. Then he should lift the rod tip up firmly when he feels the weight of
the flounder. Don’t start cranking the reel when pulling up on the rod to
set the hook! This will take it away from the fish too fast if it isn’t
hooked yet. Cranking and pulling up at the same time can also rip the hook
right out of a fishes mouth. I’ve been known to fish with my left hand
behind my back to force myself not to crank the reel prematurely when I get
excited. Set the hook first and THEN start cranking!

Sometimes the flounder is just holding you when you set the hook and you
feel it let go. The best thing to do now is to drop your bait back
IMMEDIATELY to the bottom and let out some line. If the tide is moving
swiftly, let out extra line so you can get back to where that fish was.
Often times, that fish is still there and you can catch it!

“I think I had a bite but I’m not sure.”

Look at your bait. If you are fishing with a live minnow you can see if
there are marks of a flounder bite. Some scales may be missing on it or you
can see the indent of a fish bite. If it is cut in half, you can bet a
bluefish or a crab got your bait. (Flounder don’t generally do that.)
Sometimes a big flounder will just hold on and feel like a dead weight at
first. So will a big crab or a snag. Treat all these feelings as if you have
a big flounder on the line, until you eliminate that possibility. (Once you
pull it off the bottom and it still has no fight, you can be pretty sure it
is the bottom, a clamshell, or a crab.) A skate often feels like a big
flounder at first, but you will notice that a skate will start swimming in
circles as it comes up. There’s nothing more disappointing than thinking
you have a big flounder on the line and finding out it’s a skate!

“Let the dummy do it!” is what my husband and I say to each other when we
just can’t hook those fish. The dummy is the rod holder. Some days you can
catch more fish by sitting that rod in the rod holder. You can watch the rod
tip and grab it when you see a fish is messing with it. This works in a boat
or in a sand spike rod holder in the surf. It naturally keeps your rod tip
up and has all the patience in the world! That rod holder won’t crank
prematurely or jerk the bait away from the fish. Sometimes that rod holder
is your best fishing buddy!

I’ve been in the tackle business for over 25 years and I can attest to
weighing in some very big fish caught by women and children that had very
little fishing experience. I’ve seen wives out-catch their experienced
husbands on many occasions. And it is their total lack of experience that
is on their side. They sit the rod in the rod holder or hold the rod and don’t
know they are getting a bite, so they aren’t jerking the bait away from the
fish. Lots of times, they do catch the big one!

Of course, in most instances, experience helps! The one thing the
inexperienced angler will do is let slack get in the line. Once you set the
hook, DO NOT, let the rod tip back down and let slack get in the line. This
is when a large percentage of hooked fish are lost. Once that hook is
definitely set in the fish’s mouth, keep the rod tip up and then start
cranking. NEVER let slack get in your line when fighting a fish.

“I just don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I can’t hook ‘em!”

If you’re doing everything right and still can’t hook the fish, sometime
might be wrong. You can have a $100 rod and a $150 reel and $50 worth of
line. But if your .50 hook is dull or the point of the hook is bent or
broken off when de-hooking that skate, you will be at a disadvantage.
Sharpen your hook or put on a new one. I like to make my own rigs and use
one of the Laser Sharp varieties. Always check your hook periodically during
the day.

Be aware of what is going on around you! If you are using live minnows and
everyone around you is catching flounder on shiners, you can bet the
flounder are biting on shiners. Or vice versa. Check your drift or spot on
the pier or bridge. You might be “off” by a few feet and missing the
location of the fish. Sometimes the fish are just “small” and they are
nipping off your baits and you are doing nothing wrong!

“I’ve been fishing in the surf and the guy next to me is catching kingfish
and I can’t catch any!”

In this instance, you may be fishing with a hook that is too big. If anglers
are catching croaker, spot, or kingfish (these fish all have small mouths)
you need to be fishing with Size #4 or #6 hooks and smaller pieces of bait.
Bluefish, trout, flounder, and stripers have larger mouth and will take
bigger pieces of bait. You may also be using the wrong bait for the fish
you are trying to catch. Don’t be shy! Go right over to that man and ask
him what he is using for bait and what kind of rig he is using. Most
fishermen, myself including, are natural born braggers when they are
catching fish. Most anglers will be glad to give you some advice. Just be
polite and don’t cast over his line or try to fish too close.

“That man is catching bluefish after bluefish on a mullet rig and a finger
mullet. I’m using the same rig and just getting my tails cut off!”

Sometimes you need the “dummy” to hold the rod. But sometimes YOU need to
hold the rod. In the surf, especially, sometimes it helps to cast out and
just very, very slowly bump your rig towards the shore. The bluefish (or
whatever fish) think the bait is getting away from them and will be more
aggressive and grab the bait as it is moving.

“You can’t cook ‘em if you don’t hook ‘em!” is an old saying that rings
true. “Patience is a virtue” is another old saying that CAN ring true. But
if patience isn’t working, try the rod holder, another rig or a new hook, a
different drift, new bait, or start asking a lot of questions!

Good fishing….