There are few fishermen who don't get a charge when seeing a wild-acting fish break the water, right where they threw their bait.
Anglers get into the fight, that physical connection with fish that we enjoy so much when we finally say, with satisfaction, "Got one on!"
Whether a little "tap, tap, tap," transmitted through the rod, into our hand and delicately sensed, or we are hammered - shocked and startled by the ferocity of a top-water explosion of shaking fish. One can easily make the argument, that the bite is the key moment in fishing.
What we term "the bite" or "a bite" is that moment in time when we have fooled the fish.
"The bite" happens at that precise cusp in our mind between the dream of where a fish is and the reality of our life and death struggle with him.
Sometimes "a bite" is a surprise. There's no warning. Mr. Fish hooks himself.
And we say, "You can't tell by the size of the bite, the size of the fish."
Sometimes a little fish slams the bait, and we think it's a "good 'un." But other times big fish are lazy and they just suck the bait with only the slightest, telltale tap. Only when the rod bends like a hoop and the water swirls do we know that it's a lunker.
For this discussion, lets say there are three types of bites.
And it doesn't matter whether a fisherman is tossing a magnum Musky jitterbug at 1 a.m. for hog large-mouths or standing knee deep in an upland riffle anticipating a late afternoon hatch with a No. 16 Light Cahill tied to a diminutive tippet.
Some fish, some of the time, "sip" the bait. They eat ever so slowly, quietly and gently with the barest minimum of surface disturbance or commotion, and the least expenditure of energy.
These sippers are good, sensible fish. Nature is efficient then. The fish have settled into a pattern, have no doubt or question that the bait is food, and with an almost nonchalant approach, take it in with an air, almost that they actually have better things to do.
That is sippers are almost lethargic until they feel the pressure on the line from our side. When we set the hook; then hold on!
If the "sip bite" is deep though, we feel a "tap." That's all. Set the hook with the quickest of reflexes. Make sure the line is tight, the reel engaged, and lift the rod tip.
When a fisherman feels a "tap, tap," especially when fishing for small-mouths in deep water, it's usually too late. The first tap is when we feel the fish inhaling the bait and the second one is when he spits it out.
Set quickly when the first tap is felt. It takes a lot of concentration and lightning quick reflexes along with well-tuned equipment to transmit the subtle bite.
The second type of bite is the "swirl bite." Fish are more aggressive here when they take the bait in a swirl. Maybe they are in the early stages of a "feed" or "hatch." Fish are more committed here and they show it by pushing surface water.
Anglers with quick reflexes and good gear actually can rip the bait away from the fish during a visual or auditory swirl. There's nothing quite like the sound of a big "shooosh" sound of a big bass or northern pike sucking down a big top-water lure.
Matter of fact, I had a fishing buddy set a big jitterbug into my groin like a shot in the night.
It was quiet and black as only a hidden Canadian Lake can be on a perfectly still summer night. Suddenly, right next to the boat, a beaver slapped its tail, near my buddy's slowly chugging 'bug.
He reefed back instantly. The big wooden plug launched out of the dark water like a Polaris missile straight at that point where my legs connect to my torso. Course I couldn't see it and was only aware of the plug whistling right at me over the invisible lily pads and weed.
The big treble hooks stuck like Velcro on my jeans with that ominous rattle that only large hooks can make. No time for foolishness. The other guys were roaring with laughter. But I didn't think it was funny, not one bit, that is until I cut the hooks out with demands, "Don't Move! Don't anyone move!"
The biggest bass I ever landed was on a "swirl" type bite. The water at dawn swirled four feet around where I had just dropped a baby albino Sluggo. My first thought was that a big pike had come up. (And pike do take jitterbugs at night, though rarely.)
When I recovered my senses from seeing that swirl, the timing was right to reef back and set the hook. The big fish felt like a slow moving log underwater. It was big...something. I knew that.
The nearly seven-pound bass, which is big for the Thousand Islands, had chosen to hang out on a hump of weed covered rock next to a main channel between a couple of islands. The water level dropped from four feet on the chimney of rock to 16 feet and bare bottom all around. The bass buried himself in the weeds, but my telescoping handle on my net came in handy. Never could have dug him out of there.
And then there is the "airborne bite." You know, when a trout, bass, or whatever fish, is simply not satisfied with simply eating the bait. When these bugged-eye feeders hit the food they leave the water and for a split second visit the realm of life where only birds inhabit.
Like when we go swimming, only the reverse.
Sometimes we go into their world and sometimes they come into ours.
Nature, which is so efficient when it comes to conserving energy, seems to waste it here.
Is the fish brimming with enthusiasm and hunger-driven excitement or maybe there is a confusion as to where the surface is located? Maybe the fish don't care or maybe they think it is fun.
When fish are in a feeding frenzy they are chasing bait, helter-skelter, whether minnows or mayfly emergers. Once in a while their enthusiasm for the chase powers them through the surface film of their home.
Must be like breaking into a different dimension for a fish to go airborne.
Anglers need to keep a taunt line here and the fish will often literally hook themselves. Don't set the hook. Too many times we pull the hook out of the fish's mouth before it has a chance to turn.
Whether the bite comes as a barely perceived sip, is evidenced as a swirl, or surprises us with a jump and a splash; - got one, and the fight is on.
Oak Duke, publisher of the Wellsville Daily Reporter writes a weekly column, appearing Sunday on The Outdoors Page. Email: email@example.com