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To be a successful angler understanding how fish use their senses to feed, spawning habits are key to catching fish consistently.
Fish live and adapt in a fluid, highly pressurized underwater environment. Predators and prey co exist in close proximity competing for food and shelter. Survival is based on a refined set of primary senses, vision, hearing, taste, smell and the lateral line enable them to find food and detect danger.
Sound travels five times faster underwater than in the air. Fish are equipped with a number of sound and vibration senses. The lateral line is a series of nerve endings along the fish’s sides, it senses underwater vibrations helping the fish determine direction, speed and size of prey or predator. In off-colored dark water the lateral line is key to its’ survival, as well as enabling the fish to feed, escape predators and act as a radar detecting fixed objects along with swimming together in schools.
Fish lack external ears and hear sound through an inner ear that is similar to mammals and other vertebrates. It is composed of three semicircular canals that help fish maintain their equilibrium and balance. In other words, the inner ear allows fish to swim right side up in water with no light or other limited visual cues.
Similar to animals and humans, fish eyes have receptors called rods and cones in the retina which provides vision. The rods detect light intensity, the cones identify colors.
The eye placement on fish allows for a wide field of vision in most directions with the exception of straight back or down. The optimum presentation of a lure or bait is in the front or above the fish. This explains why surface or fishing in the top water column is so successful.
Most predator fish posses strong eyesight and can discern colors. Northern pike and walleye have shown that a certain lure color pattern draws more strikes than others. Studies have established that walleye prefer green, white, chartreuse and orange. Northern pike; black, orange, chartreuse, white, green with combinations of silver, gold and copper.
Water type and time of day acts as a color filter. The vibrancy of colors lessens in deeper and stained water. As the sun goes down red is the first to disappear then yellow with greens and blues last. At dawn when the sun enters their world blue, green are the first colors fish will see, red being last. Water clarity affects the distance fish can see, in very clear water fish can see well over a 100 feet unlike dark or cloudy water that limits vision to only a few feet or inches.
Percentages of Color Visibility Underwater
(Percentages of Visibilty %)
|Color||10 Feet||20 Feet||30 Feet|
Fish smell as water is drawn through a front opening on the snout and passed through the nasal sac and expelled. Some fish such as salmon (not native to Wawang Lake) have a highly developed sense of smell by which they can detect one part per billion of odorous material in the water, enabling them to swim hundreds of miles tracking the odor of water to which they will return the exact spot where their lives began. Odors also alert fish to the presence of danger. When a predator attacks baitfish, a chemical is emitted that warns other baitfish to flee. .
As many fish have a highly developed sense of smell, most predators use other senses to find food. Vision and the lateral line will enable predators to find prey quickly and more effectively.
The taste sense is of minimal importance to most game fish and therefore this sense isn’t as important as their other senses.
Feeding & Food:
Young fish learn what is and what is not ediable by approaching food with caution and test it before swallowing. As the fish matures they build a list of preferred forage, some seasonal with insect hatches and other times they must eat what is available.
Fish use different techniques when feeding walleye inhale their prey by sucking in water and the food. Other toothier gamefish such as northern pike strike their prey crosswise with their long sharp teeth holding it until it stops struggling then turns it headfirst to swallow.
The preferred choice of prey for gamefish are minnows, ciscos, and suckers which can be swallowed easily. Insect hatches, such as the mayfly, are also a favorite meal for walleye. Other forage includes: Night-crawlers and Leeches.
With all water-based ecosystems the food chain is the key to sustaining life. The food chain starts with algae or phytoplankton growth that feeds a microscopic animal named zooplankton. Minnows and young game fish are called “fry”. These young fry feed on the zooplankton which then feeds the small and large predator fish. Sunlight is crucial for photosynthesis, which is the energy that starts the process, allowing plants to grow and supply oxygen to water. Water ecosystems also have filters cleaning the water such as clams and mussels. This cycle repeats when the dead matter from winter provides the nutrients required to start the algae growth in Spring.
Most freshwater game fish spawn in early to mid spring. This annual ritual brings game fish from the depths to shallow warm water. After spawning is completed they return to deeper water to recuperate. There main type of spawning habit our game fish use is called random, which is distributing eggs over an area of vegetation or rock and gravel. The main determining factor on when spawning occurs and successful is the water temperature.
Catch one big northern pike and you fall in love with these magnificent predators. Their willingness to chase and crush baits is amazing. The fight for which they’re capable is thrilling. It’s no wonder that in Europe where pike reach epic sizes, they’re commonly referred to as “water wolves.”
In addition to all the reasons northern pike are revered for their aggressiveness and tough attitude, they’re also wonderful table fare when they’re in that 3-4 pound class. With a little practice in removing the pesky Y-bones, you’re left with a fresh, flaky fillet that’s tough to beat and northern pike are best to eat right after being caught. They just don’t seem to freeze as well as walleyes or perch.
All summer long, northern pike are among the easiest fish to catch. This is due to their voracious appetite and the fact that pike are keen impulse strikers. I believe they’ll lash out at a bait for the sole purpose of doing it harm. They’re just plain MEAN!
During the warm summer months, you’ll find them predominantly hunting anywhere where there’s weed growth. But as summer surrenders to autumn and the water temperatures cool, things change. The weeds begin dying, and when they do they actually become noxious to fish. The first weeds to go are typically in shallow areas with muddy bottoms. The weeds that hold out the longest are usually related to hard bottom.
When fishing in the fall, if you find weed growth that hasn’t laid down yet and it’s still green, then it will continue to hold fish. Baitfish, perch, walleye, and you guessed it: pike. But as these last holdouts of vegetation finally wane, the pike will change their haunts.
This time of year happens to coincide with the fall turnover. This is the period when a lake’s thermocline disappears. The warm upper water cools with air temperature and ultimately trades places with the once cooler water below the thermocline. Pre-turnover fishing is great. During the turnover, fish generally get negative. But after the turnover is complete and the lake stabilizes, pike fishing gets good again. But don’t look for weedline fish anymore. Instead, search for cover in the form of rocky reefs, points, saddles and edges where flats fall away into deeper water.
A great way to locate fish in the fall is by trolling big crankbaits, swimbaits, spoons or inline spinners. If you pop a couple of fish trolling, pay attention to your sonar and lake map to get a reading of the depth and bottom constitution that’s holding fish. This will help you identify other spots on the lake that match those conditions.
Now trolling is great, but most popular is catching pike on the cast. So once you figure out a location and bait that gets results, start to work these areas by casting. Boat control and casting direction is essential here. You’ll want to position your boat on structure that allows you to cast down the line on productive water, thereby keeping your bait in the strike zone for the longest possible time.
Remember that northern pike are notorious for chasing baits and have no problem smacking a lure right by the side of the boat. So on every cast, keep the retrieve going all the way back to the boat. If you see a pike following but not chomping, give the bait a slight pause or a sudden twitch. Sometimes that change in the action will flip the bite switch in a fish.
If a giant follows but doesn’t eat, you can try this trick too. Have a second rod set up with a quick-strike rig hooked to a big sucker minnow in your livewell or bait bucket. If a jumbo pike follows and gives up, you can be sure that he’s still very close to the boat. Set down your casting rod, pick up the quick-strike rig and pitch that minnow to the last place you saw the fish. Very often, the introduction of a live minnow will be just the thing that fish wants.
Fall is a fantastic time to be on the water. You’ll have the lake all to yourself and no shortage of hungry pike just waiting to pounce. After just one memorable battle with a big water wolf, you’ll fall for autumn pike too.
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