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

More in Life

Cabbage, potatoes, salmon and an assortment of pantry staples make for a culinary challenge. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Take a culinary pop quiz

Get creative with what’s in your pantry

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: Sometimes I wonder, who needs who

Dog whispers we are not. Suckers for unconditional love, you bet.

This undated John E. Thwaites photo, perhaps taken near Seward, shows the S.S. Dora grounded. (Alaska State Library photo collection)
Resilience of the Dora, part 3

Her long career had come to an end at last.

Meredith Harber (courtesy)
Minister’s Message: Don’t let termination dust bring you down

If I’m honest, this time of year is the hardest for me mentally and emotionally.

Pieces hang on display at the Kenai Art Center for the open call show on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
‘They felt like they could share with us now’

Art center open call offers space for new artists.

The Cosmic Hamlet Entertainment film crew prepares for a new scene to roll on the set of “Bolt from the Blue” at the Kilcher Homestead on Sept. 28. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
‘Bolt from the Blue’ film features Homer

“The Office” star Kate Flannery cast in feature film produced in Homer.

These old-fashioned doughnuts don’t skimp on the fat or sugar. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Memories of old-fashioned doughnuts

My recipe is for old-fashioned doughnuts, and since I make these maybe twice a year, I don’t skimp on the sugar and fat.

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)
Life in the Pedestrian Lane: October is here again

The days are shorter. We are losing nearly six minutes a day. It’s getting colder.

This John E. Thwaites photo shows the S.S. Dora near Sand Point, Alaska. Thwaites sailed as mail clerk on the Dora between at least 1905 and 1912. (Alaska State Library photo collection)
Resilience of the Dora, part 2

The S.S. Dora touched lives on and became part of the history of the Kenai Peninsula and Southcentral Alaska.

Steller Sea Lions can be seen in an enclosure at the Alaska SeaLife Center on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska SeaLife Center to Alaskans: We’re still here for you

You rallied and kept us alive. Today, we’re writing to say thank you.

A wood-carved whale hangs in the Nikiski Senior Center on Sept. 23, 2021. (Photo courtesy of the Nikiski Senior Center)
Whale of a job

Nikiski Senior Center gets addition to dining room.

Tomato soup with grilled cheese. (Photo by Tressa Dale)
On the strawberry patch: The comfort of tomato soup

When I was very young, my mother would make me tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches on days when I was feeling down.