Increase your chances of hitting bites by fishing with a correctly weighted and suitable float. Keep a tight line and use a well balanced shotting pattern with a correctly sized sharp hook.
Missing bites is very frustrating. Here will explore why you are missing bites and helo you increase your chances of hooking more fish.
There is no easy catch every time trick. Fishing requires patience and learning. Through experimenting and adapting your methods to suit your conditions, you will increase your chances of catching more fish.
Over time, these tips will become second nature to you. The more you experiment and adapt, the more you will learn.
It could be just one thing that you are not getting right, or it could be a combination of things. Work on getting the basics right and take it from there.
Before you can address why you keep missing bites, you first need to work out why you are missing bites. Hitting bites comes down to experience, the correct setup and a bit of luck.
In this article we will take an in-depth look at why you might be missing bites and how to improve, increasing your chance of catching more fish.
Understanding bite indications
When a fish eats an angler’s hook bait, this is called a bite. The angler needs an indication to notify them of the bite. In float fishing, this is the float itself, whereas when an angler is ledgering then the indication usually comes from the rod tip or a bite alarm. Some anglers prefer to hold the line and feel the bite as their indication.
Once you have a bite, the fish will pull on the line and the float will go under, the rod tip will pull around or, the bite alarm will sound.
Bite indications come in many different forms. Some bites are so small that you can easily miss them. Others are impossible to miss as the fish can hook themselves and scream off almost pulling your rod into the water.
Anglers need a well-balanced setup to get accurate bite indications, giving the best opportunity to hook the fish.
With a late bite indication, there is more opportunity for the fish to feel your hook and spit it out before you can strike. Some new anglers come unstuck here as they do not set up their tackle correctly – or use the correct tackle suitable for their needs.
Choose the correct float
It is important to have a suitably sized float as this is your only indicator of a bite.
An oversized float will need a big tug on the hook and line to pull it under. This could mean a fish has been eating your bait without your knowledge. You could have been sitting there for a long time with no bait on your hook – very frustrating indeed.
Similarly, if you are using a very light and sensitive float then the slightest nibble will have the float going under, meaning you may be striking way too early and before the fish have had a chance to explore your bait.
If you are struggling with your float selection, start at the lighter and smaller end and work your way up to find the most suitable float for the conditions. This way you will still know when you have a bite and stand a chance of hitting it.
Is your float damaged?
Floats can be very delicate and easy to damage. When using a plastic float like a crystal waggler, you may notice water inside of the float. This is a sign that the float may be damaged and is letting in water. As the float takes on more water it sinks, giving the impression that you have a bite.
Make sure your hook is sharp
You may be doing everything correctly with the right technique, but, if you are fishing with a blunt hook this drastically lowers your chance of hitting the bite. Even if you do hit the bite, the fish may be able to shake off the hook as there is a fair chance that a blunt hook has not lodged into the fish’s mouth very well.
Hooks can become blunt very quickly. Rocks on the bottom of a river or lake bed can easily blunt a hook. Always check that you are using a sharp hook – particularly after each catch. Try and get into the habit of checking your hook each cast or when you add your hook bait.
If you are fishing with maggots, you will probably notice you have a blunt hook as the maggot may burst if you are hooking it with a blunt hook.
How to check if your hook is sharp? Gently run the hook point across your fingernail – if it slides off without leaving a mark, then it will probably need changing.
What size hook should you use?
Hook size plays a big role in hitting your bites and hook sizes can be very complicated especially for new anglers.
Just because you are targeting big fish does not necessarily mean you have to use a big hook. Don’t match the size of your hook to the fish you are targeting. Match the hook to the size of bait you are fishing with.
Bait presentation is key to attracting fish to your bait and also to hooking them. The bigger the hook you are using, there is more chance the fish will see or feel your hook and spit out your bait, leading to missed bites – or no bites at all.
There is no right or wrong, but try to use as small a hook as you can realistically get away with. If you are struggling to hit your bites then try a smaller bait. If that doesn’t work then try a slightly larger hook.
The Angling Times has a helpful chart on matching your hook size to different baits.
Shot your float correctly to stop missing bites
When it comes to shotting your float, try to keep it simple. Most floats tell you on the side of them exactly what shot is needed to balance the float correctly. Try to stick to this as much as possible as this will give you the best bite indication.
Don’t overcomplicate your shotting as this will have a big impact on your bite indication. Use too much shot then your float will become too heavy and you may struggle to see the float tip. It can also have an impact on the buoyancy of the float and cause it to react unnaturally to bites.
By contrast, not weighing your float down enough will leave too much of the float sticking out of the water, which may cause you to miss bites altogether.
Most floats have a little white ring at the base of the float’s tip. Try and shot your float so this is just visible on the surface of the water. This will allow you to notice small bites and little knocks when the white ring disappears.
Experiment with the shot closest to your hook bait. As a general rule, the heavier and closer the shot is to the hook bait, the quicker you will get your bite indication. However, doing this also alerts the fish to your tackle meaning they will try and spit out your hook, so it can be a bit of a trade-off.
This will require practice and experimentation and through experience, you will get a feel of what works best for you based on your fishing style, tackle, and favoured setup.
Keeping your line tight once you have cast out is vital to hitting bites. If your line is not tight, you will be striking into loose line, meaning a big delay in your strike having any effect on your hook. This delay could be enough time for the fish to feel your hook and spit out your bait.
If you are ledgering it is possible to have your line too tight. If your line is too tight the fish may immediately feel the tension in the line and know something is not right, meaning they will spit out the hook bait before you have time to strike. Still keep your line tight, but not too tight that you have a bend in your rod.
How to deal with delicate bites
Some fish give very slight and delicate bites. It can be hard knowing when to strike. For example, with tench and crucian carp you will often get tiny knocks on your float that are easy to dismiss as small fish picking at your bait.
When you have a delicate biter, it can be very tempting to strike straight away but this will often lead to missed bites. Take your time and let the fish confidently take your bait first, especially if you are fishing with large bait.
Don’t always wait for the float to go completely under. If you get a clear dip of your float this can be a good indication of a bite
If you are missing a lot of delicate bites, consider changing to a more sensitive float which will give you a clearer bite indication. Other things to consider are smaller hooks and hook bait. Try and stay away from hard pellets if you are struggling with delicate bites. Consider a soft hookable pellet or pellet paste as fish can take and hang onto these easier.
Delicate bites tend to have more prolonged and continuous movement rather than just a little knock in isolation.
Timing your strike
Striking too early or too late will often lead to missed bites. There are many different factors to take into account when working out when to strike. This takes a lot of concentration and is often where a lot of new anglers get it wrong.
As we have already established, with delicate bites it can be difficult knowing when to strike. It is important to differentiate between a little knock and a delicate bite.
Try not to strike at every little knock, as this could be fish near your hook bait moving the hook bait around. Try to wait for a definite bite where your float goes all the way under. If this does not happen, then few dips in quick succession are also a good indication of a bite.
This is why you should make sure that you have the right float that is weighted correctly is so important, allowing you to differentiate between a little knock and a positive bite.
Striking too hard
When you get a good positive bite it can be very tempting to strike really hard and fast. In some situations this is wise (if you are fishing for really big fish, or fishing at a long distance), however striking too hard will pull the hook out of the fish’s mouth leaving you with no chance of catching it.
If you do manage to hook the fish when striking too hard, then you could cause a lot of damage to its mouth.
Striking too softly
As we have established, striking too hard may pull the hook away from the fish too quickly and may damage its mouth. Striking too softly will not hook the fish and it will give the fish the chance to spit out the hook and get away.
Learning how hard to strike will come to you with experience. If you are new to angling then chances are you are fishing for smaller fish, a quick flick of the wrist is often sufficient to hook smaller fish.
If you are fishing with a pole, then simply lifting the pole once your float goes under will be sufficient to hook the fish.
How to strike when ledgering
If you are ledgering with a large bomb or weight then you will need to strike stronger than if you were float fishing because of the extra weight. However, often when ledgering, the sheer weight of the bomb is enough to hook the fish – firmly lifting your rod in the air and reeling in any slack is usually enough.
When fishing with a bomb, feeder or method feeder carp can often hook themselves and run and you may not need to strike. Consider a baitrunner and this could improve your strike rate.
When to strike when surface fishing for carp
When I surface fish for carp, I will often freeline bread or dog biscuits. Essentially this is nothing on the line other than the hook and the hook bait. The bite indication is the fish taking the bait on the surface.
Patience is important when surface fishing for carp as they may take a few looks at your bait before going for it.
Don’t strike. Wait for a solid take, you will notice your line tighten on the surface. Simply lift your rod and reel in any slack and you’re in. Fishing in its most simple and basic terms.
Some rods can be too soft or too stiff for floater fishing. Check out our floater rods buyers guide for help with your next rod purchase.
Know your depths
Knowing the depth you are fishing at will allow you to adjust your setup accordingly. For example, you could be fishing 2 foot over depth without realising, meaning there is likely to be lots of loose line on the bottom of the lake bed which will delay the time it takes for the float to go under – if it gives an indication at all.
If you are fishing on the bottom and struggling for bites, or in this case struggling to hit bites, go slightly over depth or vice versa. Knowing how deep you are fishing gives you a reference and allow you to make subtle changes that could make all the difference.
To fish overdepth, plumb your depth based on the nearest shot to your hook bait. Make sure this is level with the bottom, then you can have the line and hook a few inches beyond that. This will help with your bait presentation. Rather than having a bait suspended on the bottom, fishing slightly overdepth presents a more natural-looking bait as if it is just laying on the bottom with the rest of the free offerings you have thrown in.
Plumbing the depth is important not just for hitting bites, but when fishing in general. Knowing the depth of your swim you can find the perfect spot where the fish will be. This is usually at the top or bottom of a ledge.
If you do not have one, invest in a plummet. They’re very cheap and can make all the difference to your fishing.
Change your bait
This one may seem a little strange, you’re getting bites so clearly the bait is working. Fish are very clever and after a while can become aware and cautious of your hook bait. This can cause false bites because they may waft their tail at your hook bait to see how it reacts or they may grab it and immediately spit it out to see what happens.
Switching to a different bait offers something different
and mixing things up and resting a particular bait for an hour or so can work wonders.
Another reason for this is that your bait may be too big for the fish to get in their mouth. You do not necessarily need to change your bait completely, try changing to a smaller bait.
For example, if you are fishing with a bunch of maggots, change to double or single maggot and see if that has any impact or a smaller piece of luncheon meat. Remember that if you are using a smaller bait then you may need to change your hook size.
If you are fishing on the bottom, consider using some particle baits like hempseed, small pellets or groundbait to get the fish digging around for bait on the bottom. They may not even see your bait, but getting the fish digging around on the bottom will increase your chances of a solid take as they may take your bait without even realising.
Are you hooking the bait correctly?
Bait presentation is vital and it can have a really big impact on hitting your bites. When hooking any bait, make sure the hook point is visible – this will improve your chances of a successful strike. If the hook point is hidden, then there is more resistance on the hook when you strike.
In some cases, you can get away with the hook point being hidden, for example when using bread, which is very soft when wet – but even then, try to keep the hook point visible where possible.
Consider hair rigging your bait
If you are struggling to hit your bites, try a hair rig. Depending on the bait, hair rigs allow for better bait presentation. They allow the fish to suck in the bait and then the hook. If the fish panic and spit the bait out, then there is a fair chance the hook will still catch on the fish’s mouth.
In some cases, you will find that fish take hair rigged bait more confidently than they do with a hooked bait. This is all down to bait presentation and a more natural-looking bait.
Hair rigs are mostly used for carp fishing with larger baits, but they are also worth considering with other baits and fish. For example, you can hair rig a big ball of maggots or worms which otherwise would not have fit onto a small hook.
If you are fishing with single or double maggot, then stick to using them directly on the hook, but bait such as meat, bread and cheese can work very effectively when hair rigged.
If you are struggling to hit your bites when fishing with a hair rig, you may need to adjust the length of the hair – it may need to be longer or shorter. Experiment and see what works best for you based on your methods and styles.
Some fish, chub in particular, have a habit of taking the bait in their lips and swimming off to safety before they attempt to swallow it. If this happen, you will struggle to hook the fish if you are fishing with a hair rig.
If you notice this happening, try a smaller hook, or change from a hair rig to hooking the bait directly on the hook.
Small fish attacking your bait
Sometimes the fish that are giving you bites are simply too small to be able to eat your bait and get the whole bait in their mouth – this will give you a low chance of hooking these fish.
If you are getting lots of small bites or noticing that your bait comes back nibbled, this is likely to be small fish picking at your bait. You have a few options here:
- Wait it out – continue as you are and hope a big fish will come along. If bigger fish can see smaller fish feeding confidently it will give them more confidence to move in.
- Tackle down and fish with a smaller hook/hook bait and catch the smaller fish. Catching smaller fish will confirm the reason why you were missing bites – your bait/hook was too big for the fish that were biting. Seeing lots of smaller fish feeding confidently can attract the bigger fish. Even if you do not catch bigger fish, you have still had a good day fishing catching lots of fish.
- Tackle up and fish with a bigger bait for the bigger fish. A bigger bait that the smaller fish simply cannot eat and wait it out for the bigger fish to come along.
- Change your depth – fishing deeper or shallower may help you get away from the “nuisance” fish.
- Fish in a different part of your swim
- Move swims
Conditions on the day can have a huge impact on whether fish will bite, and whether they will bite confidently.
The time of day, weather, temperature, and other external factors can all play a role. Has the lake been heavily fished the day before? Was there a match on? (If it was heavily fished, then a lot of bait may have been thrown in so the fish may not be hungry. Additionally, the fish will not be feeding confidently if lots have been caught). Has it recently been restocked? Are the fish spawning?
You, other anglers, or other factors could be creating lots of disturbance on the bank and making the fish feed very cautiously. It’s important to create as little noise and disturbance as possible.
Sometimes it is just a struggle before the fish are not biting, and when they may not bite very confidently. This is where you need to make sure you have the basics right and concentrate on capitalising on each bite.
Sometimes you just need to rest your swim for a while and either build or rebuild your swim to give the fish confidence to feed again. If the fish are not feeding confidently, then they are not going to take your bait with any conviction and this will often lead to missed bites.
Either stop fishing for a while, or fish further out, or closer in for 30 minutes to an hour. Remember to regularly feed your swim to get the fish feeding confidently again.
Another alternate in dealing with cautious biters is to introduce more natural baits such as worms and mattots. Fish are used to feeding on these as natural bates and will hopefully take them more confidently.
Feeding a bed of groundbait and particle baits can really help too. Try and mix this with your bait of choice.
Remember when fish are being cautious it’s because they don’t feel safe. Try to be as quiet and create minimal disturbance as possible.
Under or overfeeding your swim
When offering loose feed to build up your swim, a good rule to stick by is “little and often”. Regularly feeding small amounts builds fish confidence. Knowing that food is regularly incoming and fish are feeding on it safely, gives the fish confidence and security.
Loose feedings little and often will also create competition in your swim and once the fish are feeding confidently they will take your bait without thinking, giving you a good solid bite.
Are you getting line bites
Sometimes what appears to be very positive bites are line bites. This is where fish swim into or near your line. Line bites can be frustrating, but they are a good sign that fish are in your swim and there is lots of movement.
There is not much you can do with line bites, however, if you are getting a lot of line bites, then consider shallowing up slightly – the fish are in your swim and swimming around above your hook bait so try and intercept them.
If you are fishing in a swim that has lots of weed, then your line can get caught in the weed. This can give the impression that you have a bite when it is actually weed pulling on your line.
If you are regularly missing bites and each time you reel in, there is weed on your line, around your shot and/or hook, then this is a good indication that the weed could be causing these “bites”.
Are you using the correct rod?
Most of the time, you can pick up almost any rod and it will be fine. You do not need to spend loads of money on lots of expensive equipment all at once.
However, your rod could be having an impact on your ability to hit your bites. If your rod is too stiff and rigid, this can cause your strike to be very harsh. This will pull the hook right out of the fish’s mouth. If the fish runs, then you could easily snap your line and lose the fish. A flexible rod assists the strike and the playing of the fish.
If your rod is too small and flexible with too much bend, your rod will absorb the strike. This will mean there will not be enough power in the strike to lodge the hook. If you do manage to hook a fish with a very soft and flexible rod, too much bounce could dislodge the hook.
The wrong quiver tip
Quiver tips are used when ledgering and are extensions to your rod tip (not all rods can take a quiver tip). Quiver tips are your bite indicator. When the tip moves you have a bite – just as when your float goes under.
Quiver tips come in different sizes (strengths). If you are only targeting small fish, then you need a light quiver tip. A heavier tip may not register for bites from smaller fish. Similarly, if you are fishing for big carp, then you need a stronger tip as what may only be a small knock will show as a big bite with a lighter tip.
Use the correct size bomb
If you are ledgering, make sure you have a suitably sized bomb. Small fish won’t be able to move a large weight, meaning you may not get any indication of a bite.
Alternatively, if you are targeting bigger fish, use a larger weight suitable to the size of fish you are targeting.
Ideally you will have a number of different bombs to choose from with different sand texture to change between. This will allow you to find the most suitable weight for the conditions. Always be prepared to adapt.
Fishing is very relaxing when it’s not frustrating. That being said, you need to concentrate. Looking on your phone, talking to your friend, or simply just looking away may lead you to miss bites and hitting them too late.
Lack of experience
Sometimes things just take a bit of practice. If you are new to fishing then it will take time to pick everything up. There are lots of things to learn and it takes time. Keep your fishing simple and basic and slowly build your experience. Take a look at our course fishing for beginners guide which will help you with the basics.
If you are struggling to get bites, we gave put together a handy guide to help you get more bites.
How to avoid missing bites? Fishing with a correctly weighted and suitable float, with a tight line and well balanced shotting, with the right sized sharp hook, will give you a good chance of hitting bites rather than missing them.
You may have noticed that a lot of guidance is linked together. This is because it is not just one easy fix. Fishing can be difficult. Stick to the basics and build your expertise. Next time you go fishing, hopefully, you are not talking about the one that got away.