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Strike Detection

With the regular trout season about to open in the next couple of weeks, my angling buddies and I have been doing a lot of “fishing talk.” Now understand that “fishing talk” involves a very wide range of topics that would take volumes, and even then, you would barely scratch the surface, so I will narrow this discussion down to nothing more than detecting and reacting to a strike. A strike here, of course, is not a swing and a miss but rather when a fish attacks your lure or bait. When you think about it, a strike or a hit is really what the whole fishing experience is all about. Yea, I know, even when you don’t catch anything, it’s still great to be out on the lake or stream enjoying nature, but I’ll be honest — I really want to put a bend or, better yet, a lot of bends in my fishing rod on any given outing.

As I said, it all comes down to getting a fish to take your offering and then detecting that hit or strike, and when you think about it, that basically comes down to two options — you visually see the strike, or you feel the strike. Granted, most of us, when we started our fishing experience, probably used a bobber of some type to tell us when we were getting a fish interested in our offering. Years ago, bobbers were basically little round, plastic balls that bobbed up and down when a fish tried to take our bait; when you saw that action, you raised the rod tip and set the hook. Today bobbers come in a large variety of shapes and sizes, with some equipped to detect strikes at varying depths and some that signal a strike when the small shaft on the bobber stands up straight. Of course, one of the main reasons for a bobber is to show the angler when a strike is occurring but understand too that a bobber can also serve another purpose. Besides indicating, strike bobbers allow the fisherman to present lures or baits at consistent levels; in other words, if you want to maintain your presentation at a constant mid-depth range where the fish are a bobber can be useful.

There is another visual form of strike detection that ice fishermen often use, and that is a thin, stiff, but very sensitive length of wire attached to the very tip of a rod. The line runs through a loop at the end of the thin wire, and when a fish takes the lure or bait, the wire flexes up and down, signaling the strike. It’s extremely sensitive and works well for those who may have trouble feeling for strikes.

Now, this may shock you, but even sophisticated fly fishermen use “bobbers”; they don’t call them bobbers but rather “strike indicators,” call it what you want, but the tiny indicator attached to the leader signals a trout taking your presentation. I’m not very sophisticated, but I am a dedicated fly fisherman, and strike indicators can be effective at times. What’s interesting is that after reading the late Charlie Meck’s book, Fishing Tandem Flies, it dawned on me that a dry fly actually becomes a strike indicator. You attach a sinking nymph some distance below a floating dry fly, and when the dry fly goes under, it signals that you may have a strike on the nymph. What’s even more interesting about this setup is that trout may take the dry fly at times, so you are actually fishing two different presentations at the same time. The first time I tried it, I took fish on the dry fly on some drifts, and I also hooked fish on the nymph on other casts.

Seeing a fish take a dry fly actually brings up another category of visually seeing and detecting a strike, and that is the lure itself — in some cases is actually a strike indicator. Just as when a trout snaps a dry fly off the surface, the same is true when a bass wallops a soft, plastic frog imitation being wobbled across a calm lake surface. Seeing such a strike usually requires a quick reaction by the fishermen to set the hook correctly.

While I’ve covered the visual detection of strikes in this article, I am out of space, so I will have to save the “feel” part of the subject for next week. Feeling a strike is every bit as important as seeing a strike, and when I’m fishing submerged lures, I depend on feel most of the time — more on that next week.

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