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What to do When the Fish Don’t Bite

Anyone who fishes a good bit encounters days or times during the day when the fish are less than cooperative. When the fish aren’t biting, I like to try some things that I have had enough success with over the years that they are now part of my “tough bite ritual” for lack of a better descriptor. Here then is my approach when I encounter fish that won’t bite.

Lure Adjustments

Often, I start a fishing day using one or two fishing lures that I have confidence in for use with the fishing situation encountered. For example, if I am targeting summer bass holding in heavy weed clumps on mid-depths flats, I will fish a big, skirted bass jig in the ½- to ¾-ounce size range tipped with a Rage Craw. My second lure will be a Texas-rigged plastic of some sort. I’ll start by making short pitches to likely spots alternating the two baits. These two lure choices have proven effective repeatedly when “dropping” in heavy weeds.

If I’m not getting bit, or not getting many bites, I will often tweak my baits a bit. For example, I change from a black and blue jig/craw combo to a green pumpkin pattern. Or I change the plastic bait to a smaller version of that bait. What I won’t do, however, is completely abandon these two bait choices because I have lots of confidence in them for this fishing situation and believe that if I’m around fish that eventually I can find the right combination to get some to bite!

Retrieve Adjustments

Another oft-overlooked adjustment involving the use of a high confidence bait is changing how we retrieve that lure. For example, last summer a partner and I were on a dynamite bass bite throwing Thunder Cricket vibrating jigs tipped with plastics and reeling them back with steady retrieves. When the bite slowed, my partner started experimenting with retrieves and eventually caught the two biggest fish of the day by abruptly pausing his retrieve. Two fat “largies” in the four-pound class aggressively ate his jig/plastic combo when it suddenly started plummeting towards bottom!

That situation and others like it again have me believing that, rather than abandoning a high confidence bait, I should try adjusting how I am fishing it before abandoning it all together.


The adjustments above have proven successful often enough that I usually try them when the fish won’t cooperate. Sometimes, however, adjustments don’t work and it’s just best to abandon a school of fish or likely fish-holding area. Abandon them at least for the time being!

Early in my fishing career I tended to stay with a school of negative fish thinking that I could eventually “make” them bite. This often happened during the summer when I would “mark” on sonar what were presumed to be schools of walleyes usually holding on classic summer structure like a sunken island or hump.

One time after a frustrating tournament day, my dad made a comment I’ve never forgotten. “You’re pretty good at finding fish, but you stick with ‘em too long when they don’t bite,” was Dad’s assessment. I thought a lot about that and concluded he was right and since then have tried to be less stubborn about “figuring these fish out” and more willing to move to the next spot in hopes of finding more cooperative fish.

Today when the fish won’t bite, I’ll tweak my lure(s) and adjust retrieves in an effort to trigger bites. If those adjustments don’t lead to success, however, it won’t be long before I’ll be on the move looking for the next group of fish that will hopefully be more willing to eat!

As always, good luck in your search for willing biters this summer and remember to include a youngster in your next outdoors adventure!

– Mike Frisch hosts the popular Fishing the Midwest TV series and is a co-founder of the ZEBCO School of Fish. Visit to see all things Fishing the Midwest.

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