In Part 1, we looked at the mechanics of striking, by describing the advantages and limitations of each of the three striking styles and then came to the conclusion that modern match anglers needed the ability to utilise all three ways. Yet this was only part of the story. Because we had only looked at HOW to strike, there still remained the crucial questions and examination of...WHEN to strike!

However, this topic became so engrossing and extended, that it has been divided into two further parts. I shall therefore breakdown the definition of a bite first, before bringing you Part 3, which focused on a day spent with Steve Gardener at a local lake. It was here that I asked Steve to target specific fish, using various feeding styles in order to see if we could get different types of bites, we then examined each approach of...WHEN to the individual species involved.

Adding strength and opinions to both these sub-sections are Diego da Silva, who helped greatly in Part 1, so his experience and versatility will once more prove invaluable for these final parts, and the internationally renown and respected Italian, Milo Colombo. It was Nicolas Beroud – InfoPeche's esteemed editor – who first mentioned that I should include an Italian viewpoint for this section saying, “The Italians always strike differently, and much faster, than anyone else in Europe!”

This section relates to understanding bites, and how you might respond to them. However, the concept of a bite is actually quite complex, so I think it's worth spending time analysing what a bite actually is!

The Oxford Dictionary defines the word bite as: bite (verb) (of a fish) 'to take a bait or lure on the end of a fishing line into the mouth'. This, initially, would seem fairly clearcut, but I would add one extra refinement in angling terms to this definition. There are times when a fish picks up a bait but does not fully draw it into its mouth. So does this constitute a bite? I believe it does. Even if the fish sucks up a bait and instantly rejects it, before properly taking it into its mouth, it can be counted as a bite – after all it touched the bait with the intention of consuming it! More importantly, it may probably register on a correctly shotted float!

Our complete striking article is as much about understanding bites, as it is about holding and lifting the pole. Therefore a good starting point is to try and understand exactly HOW fish feed!

The best insight we can get, comes from actually watching them. Steve Gardener has a shallow garden pond in his home containing carp and tench. He feeds and watches them on a daily basis and every time I've worked with Steve he's always referred to them and how they have been feeding. It's like a window into 'fishworld'. For instance, if the fish in his pond sit motionless and hardly move to take any feed offered on a cold winters day, Steve takes this as an indication as to how fish might be feeding, in general, in his area.

For those of us without the benefit of a garden pond, acquiring a large glass aquarium tank for your garden is the next best thing. Although the size of fish contained will be somewhat smaller than a pond, you can nevertheless gain valuable insight into fish behaviour. This tank needs to be a minimum 4'x2'x1.5' and are available from internet sites such as EBAY at reasonable cost. There are also several excellent fishing videos on the market that feature underwater camera footage of fish actually feeding on anglers' baits. These are fascinating to watch and show that big fish, like tench and carp are, in fact, fairly messy eaters and kick up a lot of disturbance on the bottom as they search for food. Most of these videos have been made by carp anglers, with Korda leading the way. Recently there has been no good quality underwater shots of other coarse fish, that is, until 2010, when England's Phil Ringer and Dutch angler Steyn van Oostwaard released a new video featuring underwater sequences of bream feeding in Holland. I watched it whilst writing this article and it was fascinating to see just how they fed, which I will describe a little later.

I believe there are two distinct phases of fish behaviour that go together to generate a 'bite', that we can pick up on a float. The first phase is how fish take a bait into their mouths and different fish do this in very individual ways. The second phase deals with what the fish does after it has taken the bait. Does it just sit there, or does the fish move? This is just as important as how it picks the bait up. Let me expand on this further.

Phase 1
How fish suck bait in
The first thing to consider when thinking about a bite, is that fish feed in water! This startlingly obvious statement hides something we don’t often think about... how can you feed underwater? We rarely stop to think that a fish can’t actually pick up a bait, of course... it has to SUCK it in, as well as water! Because fish have no other way of putting bait/food into their mouths. Each species of fish has evolved the way it sucks bait in, in slightly different ways, to take advantage of specific feeding opportunities and physiology, ie the shape of their mouths. Some are specialised bottom feeders, whilst others are more at home feeding up in the water column. Each species has adapted to this, according to their habitat and principle feed sources. It would take too long to go through every individual type of fish, but I feel confident that I can categorise most coarse fish into three broad feeding groups below:
The mouths of fish, such as roach, are clearly designed for more specific feeding.The mouths of fish, such as roach, are clearly designed for more specific feeding.The 'suckers'
These are fish that feed by quickly sucking in, then spitting out, particles of feed suspended in the water. This is the characteristic feeding style of roach, rudd, and dace. Their mouths directly open like ovals to allow them to suck in They can pick particles up lying on the bottom, but are often more comfortable feeding somewhere off the bottom. Roach have lips that are designed for feeding either straight in the water or leaning slightly downwards for grazing on the bottom.

Deeply hooked fish cost you time and can cause damage. They are usually down to fishing overdepth.Deeply hooked fish cost you time and can cause damage. They are usually down to fishing overdepth.Rudd have an upward turned mouth and are happier feeding either with their bodies straight, or coming up to intercept a bait. If you leave the bite too long the only chance of hooking a fish is if the hook gets stuck in the fish’s mouth as it spits out, or if the fish actually swallows the whole thing... bait, hook and line.

Remember, if you deeply hook a fish and need to use a disgorger, the fish would have had the bait in its mouth for sometime before you've reacted to any bite. Using a disgorger is bad for the fish and effectively slows down your catch rate. It's also worth considering just how many fish may have sucked in your bait and spat it out first, without it registering as a may be more than you think!

A bream's mouth is designed for taking food off the bottom by an extending membrane.A bream's mouth is designed for taking food off the bottom by an extending membrane.The 'slurpers', or 'gulpers'
These are more typically bottom feeders, that move over feed and take it in gulps, often with plenty of sediment as well. Carp, bream, tench and barbel all fit into this category. They have mouths which can be extended through a membrane direct where they suck feed up on the bottom. Bream and tench are more directional than carp in their slurping and can pick off particles without blowing out too much sediment as they feed. This is because they have a better view of what they are feeding on.

Barbels under a carps mouth help locate food, but it's not always accurate!Barbels under a carps mouth help locate food, but it's not always accurate!Carp and barbel, on the other hand, cannot see things immediately in front of them because their eyes are a bit further apart and the top of their heads sort of get in the way! If you watch a carp come up for a piece of floating bread, you will notice that they sometimes miss it completely, if the bread is drifting a little. To compensate, both carp and barbel have barbels on the edge of their mouths to help them feel for food on the bottom. Even so, they are a little vague as to exactly where the feed is and generally take large gulps to get it in. This is why, on a silty bottomed lake, you can always spot feeding carp by cloudy water as they suck in and spite out sediment. Carp anglers were quick to work out that carp will suck in, not just a bait, but a fair bit of water and sediment at the same time. From this understanding, the hair-rig was born!

One of the best carp angling stories I know of, was told to me by my old friend and current World Carp record holder, Martin Locke. He told me many years ago that he caught a fish on a notoriously hard English carp water by using a PVA thread. Essentially he caught the fish on a bare hook, by gambling on the boillie remaining close enough to the hook once the PVA had melted away. It was then sucked up with the bait and sediment...amazing!

However, beware of slurpers. They may be good at slurping bait in, but will instantly spit it back out again if they think something is not quite right. Carp can be notoriously clever at this and it's one of the 'holy grails' of carp angling to invent the perfect anti-eject rig. Because of this, carp still have a way of cleverly removing any suspicious bait without us even knowing it!

The 'snappers'
This final category of fish are much more difficult to read and understand. They are fish who behave and feed in a predatory way like perch, zander, catfish and chub. These fish don't have the same sucking or gulping instincts as the fish above and feed in a more aggressive way. The first thing to notice is that their mouths are much larger, in relation to their body size, than any other fish. They feed by snapping and catching a bait or fish in their large mouths, more than actually sucking in. These large mouths can pose problems for anglers.
Not always the best place to hook a perch, as the bony front of the mouth doesn't usually give a good hold!Not always the best place to hook a perch, as the bony front of the mouth doesn't usually give a good hold!Normally the best place to set the hook...inside the mouth where the tissue is softest!Normally the best place to set the hook...inside the mouth where the tissue is softest!How many times has your float gone under, indicating a seemingly unmissable bite, only for you to strike into thin-air, and then find that the bait's untouched? These could be liners, but more often than not the culprit could be a large perch. Perch are notoriously difficult to hook properly because unless they have taken the bait right into the back or side of their mouths, there is little in the way of soft tissue to get a hook into. If you strike too soon, perch will simply open their large mouths and the hook will come straight out and the bait will look completely untouched, because the fish has not sucked it, as a bream or roach would do.

To give an example of just how differently perch, and other snapping fish, take a bait, I go back to the winters I spent targeting them with prawn hookbaits. I decided to experiment with hair-rigging soft sections of raw tiger prawn, as I could cast them further without them flying off the hook. The idea seemed perfect as these softer prawn sections could be cast a good 60 metres and still consistently stay on the hook. The problem was that when I got a bite, I missed two in every three! Hair-rigging, which is so deadly at hooking carp, just didn't work with perch – and these bites where wrap-rounds! The perch did have the bait and hook in their mouths for sure, but all they had to do was open their mouth and the bait came straight out! It was simply luck if I managed to catch the mouth with the hair-rig as the perch ejected the bait. Suffice it to say that my hair-rigging experiments did not last terribly long!

Phase 2
What fish do next
This is another aspect of analysing a 'bite', it's not simply about picking up a bait. If a roach was to simply sit in the water and suck in bait, then blow it out without moving, there is very little to actually register on a float! Luckily, roach are active feeders and normally move in, take a bait and then dart off. Even if they spit the bait out, it's often done on the move. This gives a roach bite that classic tremble, or flicker, on the float (the suck in) before it slides under. Larger roach do the same thing, but more slowly, so you can often tell the size of it by the way the float goes under. The slower the slide, the bigger the roach...usually!

The underwater bream video, that I mentioned earlier, gave a fascinating insight into how bream move around while feeding. (See the short YouTube clip and many other feeding clips) The thing that struck me about them was how much they actually move while feeding. There was plenty of underwater footage, taken over several days fishing, where we could see the fish in various stages during feeding activity. These fish seemed to be in three different categories of feeding mode:

  • Reluctant feeders. Here the fish were moving quite fast over the feed, not staying long at all. They came in groups of five or more, swimming over the feed. One or two fish would lean down and pick up a particle or two, almost without breaking ryththum, and then move away. They seemed to do this repeatedly.
  • More positive feeding, but still not settled. Here the fish travelled slower over the feed and more in the shoal would lean down and pick off a particle then lift up their heads and swim off. The interesting thing was that the fish did not hang over the feed, but rather swam repeatedly over it, going in what seemed like a circle.
  • Proper feeding. Here a shoal moved slower over the feed area and would turn their heads down into it, taking several gulps of feed, before sitting straight again and moving away. At no point did the fish remain still over the feed. It was amazing to watch the number of fish that moved over the feed, yet still manage to reject a baited hook! The anglers were feeder fishing in the film and, on several occasions, you see fish actually pick up the bait then spitting it out before they hooked themselves against the weight of the feeder. The answer seemed to with a shorter tail and less line on the bottom.

This proved fascinating to watch in several ways, as caught on camera were other fish feeding. At times, shoals of feeding roach would actively move over the feed, as would tench and the odd big carp. But what struck most was the mobility of the feeding bream. We have this misconception of bream being somehow a lazy fish when feeding – perhaps we think of them as grazing cows! But the vision of these fish moving over the feed, from one side to another, was more graceful and bird-like, than any plodding and grazing large animal.

Missed the mouth...just one of the problems when trying to hook a crucian.Missed the mouth...just one of the problems when trying to hook a crucian.Sadly, not all fish behave in such obliging ways. For instance, watch carp feeding on film and they move much slower across feed than those Dutch bream did. They are also much better at taking a bait and spitting it out again without tearing off and hooking themselves. Then there is the crucian. These fish, and all their related cousins, F1 hybrids, carrassio etc., are able to feed and pick up bait, seemingly without giving any indication at all. Because bites do not develop properly, the fish are notoriously hard to hit.

The Panel's View
Our panel all have differing views and stories about the way individual species take a bait and how this influences their fishing. Talking to Milo regarding how Italian's strike, he agreed with Nicolas “yes we strike quickly on bites, too quick sometimes!” he comments. “It is because we are mostly fishing for carassio or carp”. Milo explained that carassio are very shy fish and sit back away from the feed. This is why Italian anglers feed short and then fish behind the feed, in order to catch them. But because carassio barely move the float when feeding, Italian anglers fish with floats set very low in the water and strike at any movement. “We miss bites, of course” explains Milo “Maybe about 20% of the bites we miss. Even if we miss 20%, we still manage to hit 80% of them!”

A perfectly hooked small roach, but you may miss a few bites to get it!!!A perfectly hooked small roach, but you may miss a few bites to get it!!!Diego applies the same sort of thinking to targeting smaller roach. I've watched him many times, strike at the tiniest movement on the float... bites many anglers would simply not pick up, let alone strike at...flickers, slight dips and such like. But talk in depth with Diego and his vision of small roach feeding is one of sucking in and blowing out feed. Therefore by striking immediately at every tiny indication he looks to maximise his catch percentage as each fish suck the bait in! Even though he misses lots of bites doing this, he accepts this percentage as part and parcel of catching more fish. Of course the alternative is to wait for a fish to take the bait 'properly', but by which time three or four fish may have already have had the bait in, and out, of their mouths!

This is a theme we will be reviewing throughout the article...the paradox of bite's. The premise being, if you want to catch more fish, you need to miss more bites to do it! Many good anglers ignore little dips and movements of the float, prefering to wait for a fish to take the bait positively. For sure, every time the float goes under they seem to catch a fish, claiming that they miss fewer bites. But go back to my definition of a bites at the beginning of this article… 'if a fish picks up the bait with the intention of eating it, this is a bite.' Diego, although missing more bites by striking at every slight movement will, in the end, probably have more fish in his net than the angler who waits for the float to go under every time…and there, of course, is the catch more fish, you have to miss more bites!

In Part 3, we shall actually try to put into practice all the theories discussed, in a day spent with Steve Gardener. We'll try to separate species, by using different methods and baits and bring you the results.