Henry Gilbey
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Henry Gilbey blog

How do fish actually hit surface lures ?

Why I am not quite sure, but I suppose I had tended to assume that most fish would see a surface lure going over their heads and then come up and hit it. Perhaps this "vision" better suits the angler than the fish though ? Surely because it's relatively rare to actually see the fish before it goes and hits the lure must give rise to how we imagine they are actually behaving. I am not on about your lure being very suddenly swirled at or engulfed, rather seeing how the fish behaves before it hits the lure.........

I had a few situations earlier this year when I was fishing surface lures for bass from a relatively high vantage point and there were also plenty of fish around. I distinctly remember suddenly seeing a bass come up a fair distance behind my surface lure, chase it for a while, and then drop back down without taking it. I then saw a bass chase the lure again before swirling at it a couple of times and then engulf it when I slowed down a touch to try and entice it. And the actual take looked similar as those far more regular occasions when we don't actually see how the fish behaves before it hits the lure. In no way am I saying that my "vision" of imagining a bass seeing a surface lure from down below and coming straight up to hit it is suddenly all wrong (but it may well be), but it's happened a few times to me this year with the bass and it got me thinking.

Now our angle to the water I suppose must often prevent us from seeing a bass come at the lure when it's at range especially, but it does make me think how our bass most commonly behave when coming at a surface lure - and then how they come at all the other kinds of lures as well. Was I witnessing freak behaviour, or do bass actually prefer to chase (rather than come up from depth and hit) surface lures and we just aren't seeing it very often ? Perhaps some of you are seeing this happen far more than me and can spread some light on it.

I remember when we were filming a TV programme out in Mozambique and trying to catch GTs from the rocks in some very lively sea conditions. A big GT came up behind my chisel plug (a long distance surface lure) and tracked it for a few yards before disappearing. I could see the thing in the waves and I think I nearly passed out. The bulk of my experience with GTs has been on shallow Indian Ocean flats where you see them clear as day chasing flies down, but before Xmas I got to see "proper" GT popping on the reefs outside of Farquhar atoll and for the first time I managed to see how alarming it really is when a big GT smashes into a surface lure. You can hear it almost more than you see it if that makes sense - the sea comes alive if you like, but even then you could sometimes see these big shapes tracking the lures before committing - or not. So just because a lure is working on the surface rather than underneath it, why should this then mean a fish behaves any differently say to chasing a hard minnow down ? Does this mean that we simply don't have a great understanding of how many fish chase and then hit lures ? I love to try and visualize how fish might hit a lure, but I bet you most of the time that I'm way off the mark. I am lucky because I have watched so many different kinds of fish chow flies on the flats, and to be honest it makes me wish that more often I could see bass and even wrasse or pollack taking the lures to see how they most commonly go about it. Watching a bonefish for example literally start shivering with excitement as it prepares to pounce on a fly is quite something.

But is it ever possible that a fish can actually track a surface lure in the air before it goes and hits the water ? Ever since I caught this 43lb golden dorado above on a surface lure at La Zona in Argentina (pretty sure it was on a Halco Roosta Popper), I have been pretty convinced that some stuff is going on about which we have no clue at all. I remember our guide telling me to whack the lure out so that it landed right behind a certain rock he was pointing at. By pure luck it was one of those casts when you nail it exactly right. The dorado hit the surface lure literally the second it hit the water, and I am not exaggerating one bit. I know plenty of anglers say so and so fish hit the lure almost straight away, but I can recall so well how the lure hit the water behind the rock and literally the same moment the river came alive and this old, battle-scarred monster ate it. Now I know that fish can react very quickly, but can they really react that fast ? As I said, is there any chance that some fish might be able to track a lure in the air and be in position to hit it the moment it hits the water ?