Watching a fish jump and shake off your lure is one of the most frustrating experiences in fishing. What the heck made that fish jump like that? Certain species such as bass, musky, pike, and trout are jumpers. I have occasionally seen hooked crappie jump and the Doobie Brothers have sung about jumping catfish although I have never caught a catfish that jumped. However, I have never seen walleye, bluegill, white bass, or striped bass jump.
Theories abound as to why certain species of game fish jump. One of the most common theories is that these fish are surface feeders and are used to jumping out of the water for food. One fishing guide suggested fish jump because they can and because it feels good so maybe fish also jump for exercising.
Here are some possible explanations on why the following fish like to jump.
A Missouri Department of Conservation fisheries biologist told me bass use their jumping ability to either catch food or to escape a predator. Bass jump to catch other small fish jumping out of the water or nab flying insects, small birds and frogs. Launching itself out of the water is also a great way to avoid an attack by confusing an underwater predator to gain a few seconds to escape while the predator is disoriented.
Bass seem to rely on jumping as a defense mechanism when they get hooked and try to free themselves. One internet theory suggests jumping is an effective escape method for bass because air is less dense than water, which allows bass to put more force behind their head shakes. However, I doubt a bass knows about how it can take advantage of less density in the air to shake free from a hook.
I believe hooked bass jump because they can feel the pressure of the fishing line pulling them towards the surface when you are holding your rod higher than the 10 o’clock position. Keeping your line tight as you point your rod tip down towards the water will cause the fish to feel less pressure and make it swim deep instead of bolt to the surface.
These fish seem to jump at will and are probably the most renowned jumpers of all freshwater gamefish. Trout are well-known for jumping to catch low-flying insects, especially during the mayfly season. Trout also jump to escape from predator birds near the water’s surface or river otters that swim underwater to catch the fish.
Jumping also helps a trout readjust its swim bladder. When a trout’s swim bladder bulges, the fish becomes more buoyant and tends to float upwards. The fish then jumps which deflates the swim bladder and reduces the fish’s buoyancy so it can displace some water and sink.
Stress also causes a trout to jump. The fish will jump when spooked by a boat or when they are hooked. Jumping out of the water puts more slack in your line and helps the trout work the hook out of its mouth.
Northern Pike & Musky
Both of these fish have a lot in common when it comes to their jumping abilities. Both fish are aggressive and agile predators capable of explosive actions including jumping out of the water. Northern pike and musky are both cannibalistic and territorial so the bigger fish usually attack and sometimes eat their smaller brethren. The smaller fish then use jumping as a way to escape from larger pike or musky.
Pike and musky violently strike prey at the surface which can cause the fish to propel out of the water. When these fish hit a surface lure and are hooked, they immediately jump from the water to throw the hook. The tension the angler is plying to the line and the angle the fish is swimming will cause the fish to swim towards the surface and jump.
Similar to salmon trying to jump up a waterfall, musky will also travel upstream during their spawning season resulting in the fish going airborne in an effort to clear obstacles which are most commonly manmade dams.
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