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How to Use the "Fight, Flight or Freeze" Response in Fishing

Posted by 
August 18, 2014
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When a creature is threatened, there's a concept that suggests it does one of three things: fight, flight or freeze. And it's true with fish.

I've found working these behaviors into presentations is a great way to trigger predator fish to bite. Here's a rundown of the three responses and the tactics I use to take advantage of them.


FightFlightFreeze blogThis reaction boils down to self defense — standing ground instead of fleeing. One example is the battle-ready stance of a crayfish: pinchers up and primed to lash out. I've found replicating this posture in a bait adds realism that bass seem more apt to attack. To accomplish this, use a stand-up or football jig to elevate a soft bait's claws or a jig's trailer.

I've also used a Mann's 1-Minus Crankbait to portray a fight response. Pause the bait during the retrieve, twitch it, and then point the rod at the crank. Done properly, this causes the lure to do a 180, and stare down any following bass. It's amazing how well this brings on an attack.


Most forage opts for escape over fighting a predator. This is likely why fast retrieves are effective at catching fish. A fleeting lure cues many species to attack on instinct; predators are hard-wired to pounce on vulnerable prey on the run.

Another way to replicate the flight response is varying a retrieve. An increase in speed works well. As do directional changes, which jerkbaits excel at when twitched. Moving the rod from one side of your body to the other will also alter a lure's trajectory.


Another response is staying still. Natural camouflage allows many creatures to hide and go undetected, but fishing lures are made to do the opposite and get noticed, even when paused. Think of how a tube's tentacles or a creature's appendages sway in the water even when still on bottom.

Prey are seldom completely still, however. Nervous trembling happens, which is good to imitate with a bait. When vertically jigging or drop-shotting, lightly shaking a plastic or spoon frequently triggers hits from bass, walleye and other gamefish. What also often happens is that prey may freeze initially, but then flee should the threat increase. Pausing and then shaking a lure replicates the muscle quivers that precedes an attempted getaway.

Consider the fight-flight-or-freeze response the next time you're on the water. It's difficult to say how frequently the concept unfolds in the truest sense of its definition when fishing, but I believe mimicking prey response with a lure helps me catch more fish. Give it a try and see if it works for you.


Tagged under Read 2304 times Last modified on September 11, 2017
Tim Allard

Tim Allard hails from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He's a full-time outdoor journalist and author and photographer of the multi-award winning book, "Ice Fishing - The Ultimate Guide" (2010), which is also available in French under the title, "Pêche sur glace". Tim regularly contributs to numerous North American print and online publications. For more information visit

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