Fishing’s three second window

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SMART CRITTER: Giant Murray cod like this one landed by Tim Polis and Terry Himona would have a degree in lure recognition second to none.

  SMART CRITTER: Giant Murray cod like this one landed by Tim Polis and Terry Himona would have a degree in lure recognition second to none. Stereotyped as forgetful souls, it’s often touted that fish are burdened with a memory that spans a window of just three seconds. In this thought-provoking contribution, Rod MacKenzie will have your grey matter ticking as he separates fact from fiction in relation to the thought patterns of fish. An animated fish named Dory depicted this perfectly in the children’s classic Finding Nemo. She bumbled about forgetting all and anything of importance. A cute role but in real life it would most certainly have put her on the snack list of any predator with so much as an inkling of recall. Imagine if this fast-track forgetfulness for fish were truly the case then imagine what it would be like to live in such a world. As you sit behind your log, well at least you think it’s your log because you can’t really remember, you wait for lunch to swim along when it suddenly dawns upon you that you’ve forgotten what lunch looks like. It’s about now you become a little paranoid and begin to look at your surrounds a little closer. Suddenly the questions begin to flow, how did I get here, and why do I feel so hungry, and whose log is this? It’s OK though as just before you wig out and blast from cover you are overcome with a sense of calm because you have totally forgotten what it was you were just thinking about. Thankfully for our scaly friends this doesn’t seem to be the case. There is ample research to collaborate the long-held beliefs of many anglers that fish can indeed recall and ascertain certain information.

Rock on classic carp

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The grand prize … a sensational cod and four very happy anglers.

One example of this was proven at the Rowland Institute for science in Cambridge Massachusetts. It was here that Ava Chase taught carp to distinguish between blues and classical music simply by feeding them. She then discovered that after a period of time, carp could indeed generalize from what they had learnt and classify new music into either category. Like all things in nature there is always an exception to the rule – the perfect example of which lies in the traits of one particular fish we have landed no less than four times from the same area. Sporting a tag, I can’t help but wonder if his mates don’t taunt him into striking the lure with a barrage of high spirited encouragement. ‘Go on mate, you can do it, you know you can grab it without getting hooked, you almost did last time,’ they might say. And sure enough, once again this gullible fish is conned to the jubilation of his mates as he is dragged struggling to the surface. Of course it’s all in good fun and he gets a pat on the back from his tormentors when he is returned to the water. In all seriousness though, could it be that as quickly as we work these fish out they are doing exactly the same with us?

Does the lure catch the fish or the fisherman?

In many instances we have seen certain styled lures work really well one season only to be completely snubbed the next. In a similar vein first time visits to untapped locations have generally outshone most return trips. It’s as though the fish were never there yet you know in your gut they sit and watch every offering that goes past. Could it be that recognition is behind the deliberate reluctance to be fooled so easily a second time round? While few of us are disillusioned by the need for new products to provide industry growth, their overall success often hinges on their uniqueness as opposed to what the fish have already seen. In a similar trend perhaps the theory behind ‘everything old is new again’ goes in a cycle where new generations of fish are yet to experience the past. Last year’s noisy lipless cranks are this season’s silent running models, similar action without the sound. Chances are if it’s not been seen or heard before there’s every possibility it’ll be on the menu.

Advanced warning signs

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It’s days like this when fish are a bonus.

Other sounds outside those made by lures may also be recognized by fish as a warning of what’s to come. The gurgling of a motor and the constant tick of a sounder are noises that often precede the rattle and flash of a lure. If fish can learn to relate music to food then surely they are smart enough to remember angling related sounds and treat them as things to be avoided. In the still of morning the dull thud of a fish short striking a lure betrays its presence. In a similar sense does the sound of idle chatter and the occasional lure smacking into a log as we cast our way around the snags also betray ours.

Are these sounds that fish have come to recognize?

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Yet another monster cod, a legendary Aussie fish.

I believe so especially when it comes to those big old fish that have skulked amongst the snags for decades. A good mate of mine tells of lowering a Go Pro camera into about 3m of water next to a clearly visible Murray cod nest site. The water was perfectly calm and as clear as it gets. His intention was to film the large brood fish guarding and fanning the eggs. What he discovered was quite interesting and not what he expected. The large cod was reluctant to tend the site while the small camera was close by. While he patiently waited for the fish to overcome its shyness my mate had struck up a conversation with two elderly fisherman some 50m from where the camera was located. When he downloaded the film later that day much to his surprise he could hear the muffled conversation he had with the anglers. If a small microphone in a water tight case can pick up the idle chatter of anglers at distance under the water then imagine the effect this might have on fish.

The sound of silence

Do you find that some of your best sessions have been when you are fishing alone? I do and besides the fact it provides you the angler the poetic right for the stretching of truth. You tend to make far less noise when fishing by yourself as the conversation is generally mulled in thought. No idle chit chat, banter or laughter just the whir of the reel and the plop of the lure. Every season these fish become a little harder to catch as they learn to avoid angling related intrusions. It would be fair to surmise that in hard-fished waters most big old Murray cod would have a degree in lure recognition second to none. As the pressure of angling grows, perhaps we are reaching a point where many big fish will be far more educated in the ways of angling than those who might try and catch them. Technology can only do so much, perhaps it’s time we try and match a little grey matter with our forgetful friends – after all they are only fish.  
Rod MacKenzie

About Rod MacKenzie

One of the most passionate anglers you will meet, Rod simply loves his fishing and is eager to share the wealth of knowledge and experience he has picked up over the years.

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