Fishing lies
  |  First Published: August 2013

This month, I’m focussing on the subject of lure fishing, beginning with a look at the underlying philosophy behind fooling fish into striking artificial baits.

It’s been said (rather wittily, in my opinion) that a lure is, “a lie told by a fisherman to a fish.” I really like that saying, because it neatly sums up what lure fishing is all about: deceiving fish! The more convincing the lie that you tell is, the more likely it is to deceive its victim. Over the next few issues, I hope to help turn you into a more convincing liar — at least when it comes to fooling fish!

Becoming consistently successful lure fishers means making our lures look and act in the most appealing manner possible whenever they’re in the water… and notice that I said ‘appealing’, rather than life-like or realistic. Sometimes, fooling a fish into swallowing the lie and biting a lure has little to do with closely imitating reality, as I’ll explain:

For a lie to be believed, it usually needs to contain at least a few elements of truth and have some degree of plausibility. Much the same is true of fishing lures. At its most basic, a lure is simply an artificial or counterfeit bait. Most lures are intended to vaguely imitate, at some level, small fish, prawns, crabs, squid, yabbies, insects or some other potential food item when they’re pulled through the water. That said, it’s also obvious that many lures look like nothing that crawls, swims or flies, yet they still catch fish. Spinnerbaits are a perfect example. So, why do they work?

In case you haven’t noticed, fish don’t have hands. It was well-known former tackle store manager, writer, publisher and accomplished sport fisherman, Tim Simpson, who first pointed out this obvious fact to me and explained its relevance to the angling process. Well over three decades have passed since then, but I haven’t forgotten that conversation with Simmo, nor its importance to my own fishing career.

Think about it. We spend a large part of our lives picking things up or touching them with our hands to find out more about them. For want of a better term, I call this the ‘wet paint syndrome’. Hang a “wet paint” sign on almost any object and watch how many people walk up, touch the surface of the object then look at their fingers — just to confirm that the paint really is wet! We simply can’t help ourselves.

By contrast, if a fish wants to explore an interesting object, it takes it into its mouth and tastes it (remember, fish have no hands). Perhaps eight or nine times out of 10, the fish then spits the thing out, having discovered that it’s not food at all, but actually a cigarette butt, a pebble, a scrap of aluminium foil, a fallen leaf… or a lure. If that interesting object has a hook in it and is attached to our line, and we are lucky enough to detect the bite or strike and react to it in time, we may well catch that fish.

This is an important lesson, and one worth repeating and stressing: Fish explore their world with their mouths, and not everything they take into their mouth is intended to be swallowed. As anglers, we can make great use of this behavioural trait.

While the wet paint syndrome means that fish will take some unlikely items into their mouths at times, we can still increase our chances of lure fishing success by at least vaguely imitating genuine food items or general aspects of the shape, size, colour and action of those food items.

Fly fishers have a useful piece of terminology for describing this process of imitating natural food. They call it ‘matching the hatch’. This refers to the insect swarms or ‘hatches’ that are so important to trout anglers, but the concept is just as valid to a tropical lure caster pursuing barramundi, a soft plastic fanatic tempting bream, or a deep sea game fisher trolling for marlin.

When trout feed heavily on one type of insect (say, flying ants, caddis or mayflies), they can become incredibly single-minded and will often refuse to eat anything else. Many other species of fish exhibit similar behaviour. Maybe their brains are so simple that, after a while, they can’t actually see (or at least comprehend) much else besides the items they’re eating. Who knows? Whatever the exact process involved, if you suspect that the fish you’re chasing are keyed in to a particular food source, you’d be crazy not to try and match it!

Next month, we’ll look in much closer detail at the concept of matching the hatch and how it impacts upon your day-to-day lure fishing success rate.

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