Outdoor Writers Association of America
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

May 8th, 2000

The Bite

Someone made a comment the other day about there being a lot of insects but the fish weren't biting.

I think many of us have a mistaken idea of how a fish bites. If you or I take a bite of something we close our mouth around the item and bring our teeth together. (At least if you paid attention to mother's "Don't eat with your mouth open" admonishments.)

Fish don't do that!

The fish is under water, and when it eats something it usually opens it's mouth, flairs it's gills and sucks in the object in a mouthful of water. Maybe you've seen some bubbles come to the surface as a fish feeds below the surface. The excess water is expelled back out the gills, and the fish swallows it's prey. The fish doesn't bite it's food with it's teeth, and does have the ability to spit something out it if doesn't like it. Orvis some time back (and maybe they still sell them) sold a fly with a particular kind of body intended to catch on the trout's teeth, so if the trout tried to spit the fly out it would be hooked anyway. I have my thoughts on that little idea - I don't think I've ever been that desperate to hook a fish.

There are exceptions to the 'not biting' of course, but let's exclude the salt-water predators for this one.

If you have fished steelhead you are aware if you keep drifting a fly through the redd a fish may eventually get so disturbed as to pick up the fly and remove it to another area. Not many are landed if the angler tries to pick up the fish at the same time, but the fish can just decide it doesn't like the intruder. That's not really a 'strike' or a 'bite' either. I haven't yet fished Atlantic Salmon, but I suspect the traits and instincts are similar. If the fly were another steelhead or salmon it would be chased out of the redd. Teeth might well be involved in that case.

Some of the toothiest of Salmon, the Chum doesn't eat anything they have to chew. It is primarily an eater of tiny krill and Euphausids, yet it has huge sharp teeth. Amazing as it might seem neither of us has ever had a Chum hooked by or through the teeth. On top of that, the males have this massive overgrown jaw, (called a kipe) which would prevent the mouth from closing at all. The teeth appear to serve only as a status symbol to potential female Salmon, or a 'King of the Hill' symbol for other males.

Castwell did an article a while back called Wait for the Turn which explains why we often 'miss' fish. If you read it, and then add the knowledge of how the fish eats your chances of 'catching' instead of 'missing' fish will really increase. ~ LadyFisher

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