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Count on Taste, Touch and Scent to Boat More Fish

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#1
Count on Taste, Touch and Scent to Boat More Fish

By Lawrence Gunther Euteneier

A friend who recently acquired sight after a lifetime of blindness said vision is often perplexing. He explained that seeing an object for the first time offered few clues about its true nature, making touching, smelling and even tasting crucial to gaining understanding. For example, he had to use touch and smell before he was able to distinguish a rubber ball from an apple. Similarly, fish also sort out their world by deploying all their senses.

All fish start life by depending on their inherited instincts, and survive on through to adulthood by conditioning their foraging behaviours through negative and positive experiences. They expend considerable effort sorting objects in their world into categories such as food, inedible objects and things that cause stress. Other than the few weeks when spawning becomes central in a fish's life, the rest of the time is spent refining these foraging skills.
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A big part of a fish's maturation process now includes conditioning through repeated catch release experiences, resulting in older, wiser fish developing a mistrust of artificial baits that repeatedly kick their butts, and a heightened mistrust of anything new. The task of identifying real food by fish is getting tougher due to more life-like "match the hatch" artificial baits coming on to the market each year. And while fish may not understand the concept of "artificial", they are competent at using all their various senses to tag objects as things to be either eaten or avoided.

Choosing to purchase artificial baits based on looks alone is equivalent to buying a truck because it looks cool. While its true reaction-style baits such as crankbaits, spinnerbaits and flies depend on their looks to trigger active fish to strike, coaxing neutral or negative fish into sampling your offering involves much more. In fact, sight is incidental to much of a fish's foraging activity since a good portion of their life is spent living under low or no light conditions. Consequently, fish have evolved heightened non-visual sensory abilities. So exactly how do fish taste?

Taste

A distinguishing characteristic between us and fish is that we have hands for grasping and touching, whereas fish have only their mouths. For example, beach goers who are victims of shark attacks are often unaware that an "attack" took place until they look down and notice that their leg is bleeding. Most report feeling only a slight bump. It's not that the shark lacked the capacity to bite off a sizeable portion of their leg, but instead simply wanted to feel and taste. The reason these beach goers still have their legs is because it's a taste that sharks aren't conditioned to associate with food. That's not to say that there isn't a handful of shark species out of the over 500 varieties that wouldn't hesitate triggering a feeding frenzy involving humans. Case-in-point, Bull Sharks were responsible for consuming more downed pilots during the second world war than all other shark species combined.

A fish's taste buds are not only located inside their mouth, but can be found on the sides of their faces, gills and fins, and in the case of carp and catfish, along their barbels (whiskers) and the sides of their bodies. Surprisingly though, fish can't taste with their tongues.

While the degree to which different species of fish rely on their sense of taste is determined primarily by their preferred style of foraging, the importance an individual fish places on flavour has also to do with their attitude at the time. Aggressive or feeding fish are often competing with other fish and have less time to exercise caution, giving them little opportunity to reject baits for reasons of taste, feel or smell. Curious fish, on the other hand, might explore their world utilizing all their senses, while neutral or negative feeling fish first deploy their longer range senses such as hearing and sight before moving in closer to smell, touch and taste.

For example, bass depend first and foremost on hearing to be alerted of the presence of prey. Sight comes into play next for verifying and targeting. Designers of effective reaction baits understand this 2-step process and build in features that provide both the required sonic and visual stimulation. However, triggering inactive bass to strike is when reaction baits fall short and artificial baits that satisfy a fish's taste, feel and smell come into play.

Feel

As fishers we all get asked if fish feel pain when they are hooked. The answer is no, otherwise there's no way toothless fish such as bass could tolerate eating baitfish with spiny dorsal fins or crawfish with their hard shells and pinchers. Bottom foraging fish such as carp scoop up matter with their mouths, grasp on to what they determine through taste to be food and then use water pressure to rinse away inedible particulates such as sand, weed, rock and even metal. The sense of touch plays only a very minor role in this sorting process.

It's not the feeling of a hook penetrating a fish's mouth that cause them to respond, but the pulling as they are reeled in. In fact, most fish aren't even aware they are in danger until brought close to the boat and panic. Up until that moment fish are simply hanging on to what they assume to be incredibly tough prey. A fish's flight into heavy cover following a hook set is simply an evasive manoeuvre to shake off what they believe to be a competitor trying to steal away their meal. However, as stated earlier, sharks aren't the only fish that use their mouths to grasp or injure.

How a fish initially grasps with their mouth depends on their intent. Striking aggressively is used to injure or kill prey. But just as often fish simply want to hold or squeeze an object to determine if it feels or tastes like food.

Senkos were never designed to visually mimic what bass normally eat. Bass find their shape intriguing though, which leads to their taking the next step and either striking, if actively feeding, or simply mouthing the bait to satisfy their curious nature. Once in the bass's mouth, Senkos feel life-like, and as long as they don't taste or smell inedible, it doesn't take long before they're down the hatch.

Scent

The use of scent can assist in triggering neutral or negative fish to strike, and can serve to mask unnatural scents such as tobacco, sunblock, insect repellent or hand sanitizer. However, caution on how you store and handle your artificial baits should make the use of masking scents unnecessary.

When fishing for aggressive predators such as bass, musky or pike using reaction baits, adding scent to create a scent trail in the water will have limited value because of the large amount of territory your bait will cover in a relatively short period of time. It's when you slow things down, giving fish more opportunity to home in on your bait and assess the offering, that using scent attractants makes sense.

Fish that link a certain shape and color of artificial bait to having their butts kicked won't unlearn this conditioning simply by adding scent. However, altering that same bait's color or presentation style, in addition to introducing a triggering scent, just might.

Thus, scents perform two functions. They mask non-organic scents fish don't associate with food, and trigger feeding behaviour by emulating their traditional forage. Some argue as well that scents can also initiate aggression bites if associated with competitors or nuisance life forms.

In what order of priority fish apply their senses depends on many more variables than discussed herein. Foraging style, water clarity and temperature, light levels, competitive pressure, the presence of known or unknown threats, spawning instincts, reaction time, etc. are all factors that need to be assessed when selecting bait. The odds of your bait passing the different sensory tests applied by aggressive, feeding, curious or neutral fish will improve by thinking of your bait both as a complete sensory stimulation package, and the context in which it's being fished.

About the Author: Lawrence Gunther is North America's only blind professional tournament fisher, author, motivational speaker and founder of Blue Fish Canada and the Blind Fishing Boat initiative. Follow Lawrence on Twitter @LawrenceGunther, or visit his website at <!-- w --><a class="postlink" href="http://www.LawrenceGunther.com">www.LawrenceGunther.com</a><!-- w -->.
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BWG
#2
Very interesting.
thanks Roy.

Was also nice to have the question of "do bass feel pain?" finally answered! :blue-cool:
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#3
Most interesting part of this article was when I realised that the author is actually blind which puts things into a totally different perspective.
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#4
Navrik Wrote:Most interesting part of this article was when I realised that the author WAS blind which puts things into a totally different perspective.

To be honest...never knew doctors could fix up a blind person? :blue-question:
Seems cool though. Must be awesome seeing everything after so many years of darkness :blue-cool:
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