We’ve all had that experience of showing up to a river or lake and seeing fish jumping left and right, but you make cast after cast and they just aren’t biting. It’s exciting to see fish jumping. At least you know they are there. I’m going to take you through some reasons why they are jumping but not biting, and hopefully help you crack the code.
The reason the fish are jumping but not biting is that you aren’t using the right lure, fly, or bait. When fish are jumping, it usually means they are feeding on something near the surface, and if you don’t present something that imitates what they are eating, then they won’t bite.
So now that we know the reason, we need to crack the code by figuring out what it is they want. But real quick I want to talk about fish that are jumping but not feeding. These fish will be almost impossible to catch and you are better off ignoring them.
When Carp Jump But won’t Bite
If you are seeing fish jumping or feeding off the surface, they are likely either carp or trout. If they are trout, then that’s always good news. Jumping carp on the other hand are usually a good sign but can also be a bad sign.
If you see carp jumping but they aren’t biting your bait, then there is a possibility that they could be spawning. During the spawn, carp will move into shallow waters and you’ll notice a lot of commotion.
The carp spawn usually happens in early spring as the water warms to around 60 degrees. So, if it is springtime, you see carp splashing and jumping around in the shallows, but they aren’t biting, then they may be spawning. You are better off targeting another species, or coming back in a week or two.
If you know the carp aren’t spawning but you still see them jumping or eating off the surface, then it’s a good idea to try some different baits and or tactics. I have a post about my favorite carp baits if you want to get some more ideas and recipes.
Another reason they may not be biting is that they are feeding off the surface, while your bait is sitting on the bottom. You can fish for carp on the surface by using a clear bobber and a floating bait like bread, or a dry fly.
Catching carp on the surface is not easy. They are extremely cautious and if they see you or anything funny about the bait, then they won’t touch it.
If the carp are close to the bank then I recommend you try free-lining bread. This is where you fish floating bread without using a bobber or sinker or anything else on your line. Just a hook and a piece of bread.
Carp love to eat bread, and if you want to learn more about how to use this deadly bait, then check out this article on fishing for carp with bread. The article is about grass carp, but it applies the same to common carp.
Trout Jumping But Not Biting
It’s most likely that the fish you see jumping are trout. Rainbow trout in particular do a lot of jumping and feeding on the surface. This makes fishing for them a lot of fun.
For one it’s so much fun to watch a fish come to the surface and hammer your fly or lure. It’s just exciting. Then as you are reeling in a rainbow trout they will often jump clear out of the water to try and shake the hook out. This makes them one of my favorite species to target.
So if you are stuck with fish jumping all around you and you can’t figure out why they aren’t biting, I want to give you a few tips to help you out so you can experience that same joy.
Why Do Trout Jump?
The good news is that if trout are jumping then they are feeding, or at least in a feeding mood. Oftentimes they are jumping or even just slurping off the surface to catch insects.
So if you see trout jumping, then you can be assured that they are catchable, but they may be a bit picky.
How To Catch Trout That Are Jumping But Not Biting
There is no magic lure, bait or fly that will catch rising trout every time. Like I said above, trout can be surprisingly picky. What they want to eat can change from one day to the next, even from one hour to the next.
Rooster Tail lures are great for targeting trout near the surface. When you retrieve these lures they do a good job of staying just about 1 to 2 feet below the surface. So you can be sure that they will be within sight of jumping trout.
I’ll tell you right now, my go to lure is a black, brown or white Rooster Tail.
When you see a fish jump, cast your lure just past the spot and as soon as it hits the water start reeling it in. Don’t reel too fast though, Just fast enough to get the blade to spin properly.
Targeting jumping trout with bait is a little tricky. The key to catching fish near the surface is to keep your bait within the top 1 or 2 feet of the water column.
This means you will most likely need to suspend your bait under a bobber. And the only issue with this is that having your bait so close to your bobber means that a wise trout might decide to stay away from it.
If you are fishing for stocked trout then it probably won’t be a problem. However, I still recommend using the smallest bobber you can get away with. Smaller bobbers make less of a splash as well as do a better job of telling you when you get a bite.
My confidence baits for stocked trout under a bobber are worms or a jig called the Trout Magnet.
The Trout Magnet works incredibly well on stocked trout. They almost always outperform live worms for me. Besides they are cheaper and easier to use than worms.
When targeting jumping fish with the Trout Magnet, I’ll just cast as close to the spot the fish jumped as I can. I’ll let it sink for a few seconds, then every 10 to 15 seconds I’ll give the bobber a good pop by jerking my rod and reeling in the slack. This action can get the attention of the trout in the area and give some movement to your jig.
If you aren’t a fly fishing angler you can still use flies. Just use a small clear bobber and tie a fly onto the end of your leader.
I may be the author of a bait fishing website, but I really love fly fishing too.
When trout are jumping, they are almost always eating insects. These could be big bugs like grasshoppers, or they can be tiny little midge flies. They may not even be airborne flies. Most insect life that trout feed on are hatched on the bottom of the river or lake then as they mature they make their way to the surface, hatch out of their wormlike shell and fly off.
While these insects are emerging out of their shell and spreading out their wings, they are extremely vulnerable to hungry trout.
If you notice the fish are just barely sticking their nose out of the water, then they may be eating emerging insects.
If you have thrown every dry fly in your box and fish are rising all around it but not touching it, then try tying on an emerger. This has been a game changer for me.
But before you go straight to an emerger fly, try to do some observation. See if you notice any flies in the air, or trapped in the surface film of the water. Try to match whatever you see a lot of.
I can’t tell you what fly to use because you have to match the hatch, but I will tell you a couple flies that you should definitely have in your box. One is a BWO emerger pattern and the other is the RS2. The RS2 is a tiny tiny fly, but it has saved me on so many tough days when the fish are jumping but not biting anything else.
If the lures and flies I mentioned above still aren’t working then here are a few more tips that may help you catch those fish that are jumping but not biting.
Stay Ahead of The Fish
Sometimes in a lake or pond you’ll be able to notice that the fish are moving and jumping in a certain direction. Trout in particular like to cruise around a pond looking for food on the surface. If you are casting your bait, lure or fly behind them, then they may not see it, or may just not want to turn around and bite it.
Match The Weather
When selecting what color of lure or fly to use, consider the conditions. The general rule for trout is to use flashy colors on sunny days, and dark colors on overcast days. The idea behind this is that most natural prey will not be flashy unless the sun is out to reflect off of them. So a flashy lure on a dark day doesn’t look natural.
This isn’t going to be as big of a deal when fishing for stocked trout, but if they aren’t biting, you might want to give it a try.
Make Sure The Fish Don’t See You
As I mentioned above, Fish are extra skittish when they are feeding near the surface. Try not to make any sudden movements. Try not to get too close to rising fish. Keep enough distance to not spook them, but close enough to get a good presentation of your bait or lure.
Fish that are jumping can be some of the hardest fish to catch. They are generally much more cautious when they are near the surface of the water. fish have to watch out for birds and humans and whatever other predators there may be. They will probably take more time to investigate your fly, lure or bait before eating it.
For this reason it is important to find exactly what it is they are eating when they jump. Once you know this, you can try your best to match the hatch with lures, flies, or even bait.
Fly fishing anglers deal with the challenge of matching the hatch almost every time they go out to fish. But that’s one of the reasons people are so attracted to fly fishing. I have been in the situation of seeing fish jumping all around me yet not biting anything I throw at them dozens of times. Some days it can be frustrating, but keep at it and don’t give up! It is so rewarding when you finally figure them out and get a fish to the net!
Hope that helps you out. Have fun out there!