Animals foraging in a heterogeneous environment may combine prior information on patch qualities and patch sample information to maximize intake rate. Prior information dictates the long-term expectations, whereas prior information in combination with patch sample information determines when to leave an individual food patch. We examined patch use behaviour of benthic feeding fish in their natural environment at different spatial scales to test if they could determine patch quality and if patch use behaviour was correlated with environmental quality. In seven lakes along a gradient of environmental quality (measured as maximum benthivore size), we made repeated measurements of giving-up density (GUD) in artificial food patches of different qualities. At the largest spatial scale, between lakes, we tested if giving-up densities revealed the long-term growth expectation of benthic fish. At the local scale of patches and micro patches we tested for the ability of benthic fish to assess patch quality, and how this ability depended on the patch exploitation levels between the different lakes. We found that GUD was positively related to maximum size of bream, suggesting that short-term behavioural decisions reflected long-term growth expectations. Benthic fish discriminated between nearby rich and poor patches, but not between rich and poor micropatches within a food patch. This suggests that the foraging scale of benthic fish lies between the patch and micro patch scale in our experiments. We conclude that patch use behaviour of benthic fish can provide a powerful measure of habitat quality that reveals how benthic fish perceive their environment.