So why do fish jump out of water? We have all seen it at some time or another and it is not for fun. The main reasons for fish to jump are either to escape a dangerous situation, to feed or to remove parasites from their bodies. I’ll take you through some interesting moments of when some certain fish species jump and why.
Only some species jump when they are hooked and others don’t and no one really knows why. I guess they all have their own tactic for getting away and only some of them use jumping in order to try and escape. When you hook a fish and it jumps, it creates slack in the line which will allow the hook to come out. Most fish when they do jump also shake their heads, adding more slack and enough movement for the hook to come out. How the fish worked this out I don’t know, but it’s just instinct. It is an excellent tactic as any tarpon or billfish fisherman will know. Your hook up to landing rate can be as little as 10% thanks to their escape tactics.
Mullet are the baitfish of the world. I have no doubt you have encountered them and they usually live close to shore, using shallow areas as a protective mechanism to avoid predators like sharks, barracuda, and giant trevally. This does not always work though. When you find a school of mullet, they are tightly bunched together and usually moving very slowly, if at all. This is their first defense mechanism, getting close together. When predators come past, you can see the mullet getting more and more nervous until eventually, they get so nervous that they jump. The entire shoal starts to move as fast as possible, jumping through the water in the hope that it makes them harder to eat or puts the predators off. It is quite a sight to behold and the amount of noise they make is incredible. You can hear the shoal moving over 200 meters away.
Trout, as we know, are the bread and butter of fly fishing and for good reason. They live in beautiful places and are fun but quite hard to catch. My favorite way to catch them is on a dry fly. This is done by mimicking a flying insect with a fishing fly and getting a trout to eat it on the surface. Now usually they do not jump when they eat the fly, it is more of a sip and a swirl but there are certain hatches which force a trout to jump. When daddy longlegs hatch, the trout go a little crazy and they jump in the air to attempt to land on the daddy longlegs and try to drown it. The success rate is not that high but it is a lot of fun to see. Trout will also jump when they are hooked to try and shake the hook, but not always.
Flying fish fly, yes it’s true. They have a special set of fins that allows them to glide over the water. When a flying fish feels threatened, it rushes forward, jumps out the way and opens its wing-like pectoral fins. The fins give them lift and allow them to glide through the air. Whilst gliding they also use their tail and slap it against the water to keep up the momentum. This is an excellent escape strategy for not being eaten. Can you imagine being a dorado and chasing a fish, then suddenly it is airborne, it would be very frustrating. Unfortunately for flying fish, the air is also not safe, as sea birds like frigates and boobies have worked out that they can pluck them up and often seize the opportunity.
We all know what happens when you hook a billfish, the jumping is out of this world and it happens at up to 70 mph. The fish can tail-walk and can run loops around your boat. If you’re not ready for it, they can get away and leave your tackle in a complete mess. But this is not the only reason they jump, they also jump to remove parasites and to hunt. Sailfish will use their huge dorsal fin to herd a school of fish tightly together. There might be 8-10 sailfish working the school and one of them will be on the surface, jumping and making a big splash in order to scare the school of baitfish into staying where they are. Clever isn’t it? Marlin will chase their food where ever it goes, so if it jumps they’ll follow it.
Mako sharks love to jump and scientists do not really know why. They say it is so they can look over the surface of the water to look for prey or to remove parasites. I have seen them jump when they eat and have heard stories of them chopping a hooked sailfish in half in mid-air. A hooked mako shark probably gives the most amazing acrobatic display of any creature in the ocean. The jumps can be up to 20ft high and included all kinds of flips.
We have all seen the videos of salmon attempting to leap up and over waterfalls to get to where they need to be. They are doing this to reach their spawning grounds so that they can reproduce. In some areas, you will find hundreds of salmon sitting under a waterfall all waiting their turn to try and make the jump.
Why do fish jump?
It seems like fish will do anything they need to in order to survive. Their instincts command them, and they react in the moment the best way they can. If they need to jump, they will. It can be for all the reasons we have mentioned, to eat, to escape, to be healthy, or to get where they need to be so they can reproduce.