Angler or Psychologist – Memory – No Memory

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The popular observation that fish are merely instinct driven dimwits has given way to new theories. Scientists now believe they possess compound mental and cognitive abilities with the capacity to remember. The ability to remember indicates the mental capacity for memory…

Worldwide, scientist doing studies in aquaculture concerning fish behavior are finding them capable of pursuing Machiavellian strategies of manipulation, punishment, and understanding while exhibiting stable communal traditions. The many species that cooperate in recognizing predators and catching food is a good example.

For fish to learn requires retaining an experience, object, event or information. To retain something necessitates the use of “short-term and long-term memory”. Without getting into scientific rhetoric short-term memory stores limited amounts of information for limited periods, roughly 15-30 seconds. This contrasted to long-term memory, where an unlimited amount of information is stored indefinitely and recalled from 30 seconds to decades later.

Memory also involves and improves with practice, indicating the presence:

1. Procedural (skill based) or how to do things, forage and catch food
2. Episodic (episodes) or objects, events and good or near fatal experiences. For example, fish quickly retain experiences with predators.
3. Spatial (navigate) learn to map and recognize bottom contours as they move about using the same routes from deep to shallow water and back.
4. Habituation (getting used to) repeatedly hooked on a certain lure or bait adequately reinforces this process.

Had the scientist consulted with any aged or seasoned angler they might have shortened the study. Most would gladly explain that fish must have memories how else could they differentiate between sounds, colors, navigate territorial waters; know what food is, and what is predator. Guess it takes someone with a PhD, Doctor or other scientific title to explain it, before accepted as fact.

Anglers, especially avid ones, understand psychological reasoning leads to understanding. In other words, the behavioral characteristics of fish, how they behave at certain times to certain colors, noise, flash, and water depth involves a learning process. To further what many old-time fisherman have known for years, studies being done in aquaculture offer substantiated proof that fish do react to colors, noise and stimuli indicating the presence of memory.

Which brings us to artificial lures or baits? Those who fish with regularity appreciate this question is not easy to answer. Various reasons indicate fish interpret baits or lures as either food or predator, food if previously eaten and predator if hooked. They may also get used to seeing it, which decreases its effectiveness. Psychologists refer, to this as habituation (requiring memory) or getting used to something.

Understandably, we know fish repeatedly eat and are hooked on the same lures and baits. However, this does not indicate a loss of memory. It can however, indicate a stronger urge to protect its territory or the basic instinct associating hunger with food. Territoriality cases in point would be that of a bedding largemouth bass. Tournament bass anglers often spend hours trying to hook a female bass guarding its bed. Time after time, she removes the lure before finally eating it, probably more through frustration rather than hunger. How about that that monster snook hooked many times previously heads for the mangroves or dock pilings remembering this survival technique means freedom.

Consistently, successful anglers and hunters understand members of our animal world use their senses starting from birth to gather information in relation to their world. However, without a memory all would be useless. The fact they do have memories relates to the principal goals of species survival and becomes and important tool in the evolutionary process.

Usually taken for granted, when given some thought, we soon realize these, marvelous creatures are actually somewhat intelligent… often beyond our comprehension. Treat them with the respect and remember that lifetime-trophy you just landed did not get that big…“being stupid”… they just made a mistake.

This article is owned by Capt. Woody Gore and is copyright protected. Permission to republish this article in print or online must be granted by Capt. Gore. wgore@ix.netcom.com