The effectiveness of baited fishing gear ultimately depends upon behaviour of the target species – activity rhythms, feeding motivation, and sensory and locomotory abilities. While any environmental parameter that mediates feeding or locomotion can have an important influence on the active space presented by the bait and fish catchability, few biologists have considered how such variation in behaviour might affect catch per unit effort (CPUE) and the resultant stock abundance estimates or population parameters. This review reveals that environment‐related variation in feeding behaviour can act through four different mechanisms: metabolic processes, sensory limitations, social interactions and direct impacts. Water temperature, light level, current velocity and ambient prey density are likely to have largest effects on fish catchability, potentially affecting variation in CPUE by a factor of ten. Feeding behaviour is also density‐dependent, with both positive and negative effects. Over time and geographic space a target species can occupy wide ranges of environmental conditions, and in certain cases, spatial and temporal variation in feeding biology could have a larger impact on CPUE than patterns of abundance. Temperature, light and current can be measured with relative facility and corrections to stock assessment models are feasible. Making corrections for biological variables such as prey density and bait competitors will be more difficult because the measurements are often not practical and relationships to feeding catchability are more complex and poorly understood. There is a critical need for greater understanding of how environmental variables affect feeding‐related performance of baited fishing gear. A combination of field observations and laboratory experiments will be necessary to parameterize stock assessment models that are improved to accommodate variation in fish behaviour. Otherwise, survey data could reveal more about variation in behaviour than abundance trends.