An Outdoor View: Wondering what fish want

Besides the question all men have, “What do women want?” another question keeps nagging at me. What do fish want?


Right up front, I confess that I have no idea. None.

All my life I’ve wondered what fish want. At various times, I thought I knew what would cause this or that fish species to bite. However, the few times when I was positive that I’d found The Secret, it turned out to be either my overactive imagination, my rose-colored glasses or a convincing combination of both. I’m still wondering.

Thinking I held the Key of Fish Knowledge, I’ve had the audacity to tell others how to get fish to bite. In this very newspaper, I’ve given tips on how to retrieve everything from a Clouser Minnow to a Size 5 Vibrax spinner with a yarn tail. I’ve shared different ways of curing salmon roe. I’ve told anglers how to jig for halibut, troll for salmon and bait a C-hook. Forget all that. Even the times when I was right, I was only partly right, part of the time. I’m sorry, but the rest of the time I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

At least I’m not alone in my ignorance. Everyone else who claims to know what fish want is wrong.

Looking back over a lifetime of fishing, I realize now that quite a lot of my success was due to persistence, a polite word for bullheadedness. Those times that I caught a lot of fish, I was fishing a lot. I simply had my line in the water when the fish — probably on a whim — began to bite.

Oh, I’ve had some success. There were days when the scuppers ran red and the fish box overflowed. On those days, I felt as if I’d finally figured out what made fish tick. But whenever I’ve tried to repeat what I did on these days, I’ve caught naught but disappointment.

I’ve tried everything. The craziest thing happened July 28, 2006 aboard the Cruiser VI, fishing for halibut out of Homer. A client had given the skipper a Biosonix BSX sonic fish-attraction system, an electronic “fish call” that broadcasts prey-fish sounds through an underwater speaker to attract predator fish. It had cost about $700, so he figured he should use it. We tried several settings, but only baby halibut came to our hooks. Then, just as we were ready to turn the contraption off, someone slid the “Dub Side of the Moon” CD into the boat’s CD player, cranked up the volume, and the bite turned on!

It was as if the fish had been poised, all senses alert, for a combination of psychedelic reggae and the pitiful cries of panic-stricken baitfish. We were suddenly reeling in keepers. But we’ll never know why. The skipper changed the music to Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons,” and the bite stopped like a two-dollar watch. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever duplicated that exotic experiment.

So, as I stated at the start of this column, I don’t know why fish bite, and I’ve given up trying to teach others the reason. I’ve come to the conclusion that the main reason I like fishing is the not knowing, the wondering. Everything else about fishing is just so much futzing around.

All that said, I came across something the other day that I want to try on silver salmon this fall. It’s Dr. Juice’s Super Juice Tournament Salmon/Trout Scent, said to contain “fear pheromones, a special amino acid profile, and MF3, a stimulant derived from softshell crawfish.” According to the blurb at, boat captains, guides and tournament pros say Super Juice “can more than double your catch.” You can’t help but wonder.

Les Palmer can be reached at