Fish are dumb. In the scale of animal intelligence, fish rank just above bivalves and just below Congress.
We know this deep inside, yet sometimes the fish will "outsmart" us anyway. Which is why when a snook glances at our bait and swims off, we can come up with such odd sentences as: "That dumb fish is just too smart!"
Smarts have nothing to do with it. Fish rely completely on instinct, yet it's an instinct honed by an unimaginable number of generations. Fish-like animals may not be older than time, but they are older than anything else with a spinal cord. Scaly, backboned fish have been around since land was just bare rock with some smelly green slime around the edges.
The prey of fish are just as finely evolved as fish, and indeed, they may be fish themselves. If bait is presented to a fish in a strange fashion - a small, shiny spoon heading toward a trout instead of away in fear - many times the fish will spook.
Redfish and snook shut down easily if there are waders in the area. Maybe they are scared of us, but they may also be unsure of any bait that acts calmly when an obvious predator is around.
In these situations, something just isn't fitting correctly, and the fish will avoid what it doesn't understand.
A fish doesn't process bait the same way as a human. It will check smells and sights, sounds and movements against its built-in encyclopedia of instinct.
An off scent, such as a glob of suntan lotion, may ruin a perfect lure presentation. The movement of a plastic worm may be unrealistic, even though the shape is correct.
And, of course, a natural prey fish doesn't have a huge steel hook sticking out of its tail, with 100 yards of 80-pound monofilament drifting up to the surface.
Artificial baits try to amplify a particular instinctive trigger, such as sound, motion or scent. The amplification may override instinct - nothing in nature looks like a spinnerbait, but they do catch plenty of bass.
Understanding what is being amplified will help select a different type of artificial when a fish just isn't interested in that trigger that day. When fish spurn artificial bait completely, though, try live bait.
Live bait often will draw a strike just because it matches an instinctive prey template.
The warming waters are starting to bring baitfish and kingfish back from the south. The hunt is on for the first wave of cobia, but there were few reports last weekend. I saw a cleaned cobia carcass in the 30-pound class at Port Canaveral, so there are a few early catches. On clear days, keep an eye out for large rays, and a cruise by offshore buoys might be worth a look.
Pompano enthusiasts have reported catches of a dozen or more near the Sebastian Inlet beaches, four or five across from Patrick Air Force Base, and some stragglers at the Cocoa Beach Pier. The southern concentration is following the surf temperatures. When found, pompano are hitting live shrimp or sand fleas. Whiting catches are steady with the same baits or cut clams.
The warming flats have been good for trout and redfish, especially in the shallow Mosquito Lagoon. There are some early reports of snook near Sebastian Inlet and the creek mouths, which should increase with the water temperature. Live shrimp is top bait for most species in the Indian River, though D.O.A. shrimp artificials are working for the trout and redfish.
Anglers have started to report catches of small bass in Lake Washington last weekend, even with strong winds on Saturday. Shad reports are around, but spotty, indicating that the annual run may not be as strong as hoped.
Peter Krause has fished all over the Florida ever since his childhood, when he pulled bream out of the Everglades canals. He has fished Brevard waters for more than 10 years. Peter can be contacted at email@example.com. Pictures of great catches can also be sent to him at that address.