Guide to Fibs

By Ken Drenon | February 2, 1997
From Missouri Conservationist: Feb 1997

Speculating on what you've hooked before you see it is always an interesting part of any angling adventure. In fact, most the folks I fish with pride themselves on their "fish-identification-before-seeing" (FIBS) ability. And the truly adept can excel at identifying different species of fish.Remembering that there are exceptions to every rule, here are some of the clues for FIBS.


This tactic is often used by fish that spend most of their existence on or near the bottom in deep water. Most notable among this group is the walleye. Anglers anticipate the thrill of bringing a toothy, marble-eyed beauty to the surface after feeling the distinctive shaking of a nightcrawler-tipped jig in 14-16 feet of water.


A friend uses the word "buzzsaw" to describe bluegill, because of their persistent circular gyrations. We've all heard it a hundred times - but it bears repeating - if bluegill were capable of growing to 4 to 5 pounds, catching one could be life-threatening.


Just about every fish will wind up in the tugger category at one time or another. A thumping pull gets me thinking catfish. Although, the closer catfish come to the boat the more they go into the buzzsaw mode. Channel cats especially seem to delight in twisting revolutions that leave fish and angler dizzy.


Runners are best depicted by the white and striped bass, although drum and carp will fit here too. Don't overlook gar as another example of fish that clobber a lure or bait and just keep going. These are sturdy specimens that don't immediately realize, or care, that there's someone in tow.


Leapers don't leave much to the imagination. This trait probably shouldn't even be considered as an element of FIBS. After all, once the fish breaks water, identification isn't too difficult, unless you are momentarily distracted or myopic.

A trout or bass repeatedly popping out of the water quickly makes up for the disappointment of not getting to test your FIBS skills. However, the truly perceptive can implement FIBS before the leaping begins. You see, fighting method isn't the only element of FIBS.

Striking FIBS:

Most anglers use a combination of the fish's fighting and striking techniques to achieve FIBS. Strike classifications range from "thermo-nuclear blast" to "barely noticeable," with several levels between. It takes a truly talented angler to successfully employ FIBS using only evidence provided by the strike. Although, strike may be a bit of a misnomer in the case of some of the less aggressive fish.

The Thermonuclear Strike:

The best example of the thermo-nuclear strike I ever witnessed took place one summer afternoon on a shady bank of the James River. A fisherman had just cast a baited hook to mid-channel, propped his fishing rod on a forked stick and had industriously begun to knead another cereal doughball for a second line when a conservation agent appeared. Greetings were exchanged between the two followed by the agent's request to see the young man's fishing permit.

A short search through the angler's well worn wallet produced the item in question. The two were standing face to face, the agent dutifully poring over the fishing permit and the young man patiently waiting with his wallet in his hands. Without warning the propped-up fishing rod took off for the center of the river like a Tomahawk missile.

The fisherman did a classic cartoon double-take - watching his airborne tackle, then casting a wide-eyed glance at the agent, then looking back at the splash where his rod and reel had disappeared, then another look back at the agent, now not only wide-eyed but with mouth agape as well.

Without further hesitation, or so much as a word, the fisherman shoved his wallet into the surprised agent's hands, pivoted into a classic racing start position, dove into the river and came up almost instantly with the fishing rod in his hand.

The guy was standing in chest deep water, holding his rod and reel aloft and reeling furiously, but to no avail. The fish was gone.

What kind of fish? My guess is carp, but admittedly that's based more on the bait being used than the type of strike, for, you see, just about every species is capable of an occasional thermonuclear strike.

Even suckers may make the thermonuclear strike, but often they're at the other end of the scale - the barely noticeable category - practically to the point of being ignored. The angler will notice a quivering line, or the line will slowly straighten from a relaxed arc to a taut 180 degrees from rod tip to water. That's a pretty good indication a sucker is mouthing the bait.

The Tick:

Another good sucker detector is the "tick." The slight ticking of the line isn't exclusive to suckers, though. Often an angler casts a jig close to a stump or some other cover, but the jig fails to sink as expected and the angler feels a "tick." If you retrieve slack line and set the hook, the result is generally a hungry bass or crappie, but here again, there are a lot of fish capable of "ticking."

The Gulp:

It's always a charge to be bouncing jigs or bait off the bottom and be stopped in mid-bounce with the resistance of a fish. The fish has simply engulfed your offering and is sitting still. This is referred to as "gulping." Identifying the gulper is tough. A lot can depend on location and bait. You could be hooked up with a walleye, goggle eye, catfish or bass. Drum and crappie are guilty of gulping, too.

It's wise to make full use of both elements of FIBS before making pronouncement of the fish's identity, because gulping is such a wide spread trait. I generally find myself hoping for a leaper on these occasions.

The Best Species for FIBS:

What species is the easiest to FIBS, you ask?

I have my best FIBS success with bass. (I already hear the protests... "smallmouth, largemouth or spotted?" Sorry, but, black bass is as close as I can get. I know my limitations.)

An angler with a topwater lure, preferably a popping bug or a chugger lure, is able put several elements of FIBS to use. First, the strike. The magnitude of surface disturbance is a pretty good indicator of species. Less than significant disturbance is generally attributed to green sunfish, bluegill, etc. Significant disturbance almost always means bass.

Of course, since you're fishing topwater, there's that added edge of actually catching a glimpse of the fish. (That's almost as good as having a leaper.)

The process of elimination also enters in. I've caught catfish and drum on jigs and crankbaits, but never on a topwater lure. That's not to say it couldn't happen.

When it does it will add one more level of frustration to FIBS, not that I am complaining. To tell the truth, without the frequent "exceptions to the rules," FIBS wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable.

Truly, FIBS is not an exact science, but it is an activity in which all anglers can participate pretty much on equal standing.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Kathy Love
Assistant Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Jim Auckley
Art Editor - Dickson Stauffer
Designer - Tracy Ritter
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Composition - Kevin Binkley
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
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