From the time
Dame Juliana Berners wrote her medieval treatise on fishing with artificial
bait, anglers have applied themselves to creating ever more deadly lures. An
exemplar of their skill is the wobbling spoon that has tempted these brook
trout. On the following pages Elgin Ciampi, a naturalist and photographer,
reveals for the first time the actions of these and other fresh-water game fish
at The Moment They Hit the Lure
When Elgin Ciampi
photographed the underwater drama of a game fish hitting a lure, he also
discovered a number of unexpected answers to the fisherman's most burning
question: What makes a fish strike? To some anglers Ciampi's findings will
confirm what they have suspected all along, but to many his conclusions will
doubtless prove to be as unusual as his pictures.
laboratory was Chicago's John G. Shedd Aquarium, where he studied a variety of
fish in environments closely simulating their natural habitat. He was able to
control both light and feeding conditions, and—best of all—none of the fish
involved had ever been exposed to any form of angling.
fish," Ciampi says, "were exactly comparable from a fisherman's point
of view to ones which might be found in virgin, wilderness waters. They had
never seen a plug or experienced the dangers of being hooked. In spite of this,
some species like the largemouth bass were immediately suspicious of artificial
lures. Others, like the eastern brook trout, which some anglers consider
superior to the bass as game-fish, were remarkably slow in discerning
differences between real food and imitations."
To confirm this
first observation, Ciampi isolated groups of bass, muskellunge, pike, trout,
gar, bluegill and crap-pie, and did not feed them for several days. Even then
the reaction to manmade baits remained the same for each species, and the bass
continued to show the most pronounced reluctance to take artificial lures.
Ciampi believes, is directly related to the bass's superior brain power.
"There was no question after repeated tests," he concludes, "that
the largemouth bass showed the highest level of intelligence. The smallmouth
was close behind, and both bass had many behavior characteristics in common.
Along with the muskellunge, they not only demonstrated the greatest suspicion
but were the only species that would not take an artificial bait after any
other fish in the same tank had hit it. "My guess," says Ciampi,
"is that they have a communications system, which actually enables them to
warn each other of danger.
"In the less
intelligent species this ability to communicate either does not exist or is not
sufficiently developed to be of use. For example, I found no indication of its
presence among the trout, bluegill or crappie. This may explain why it is
possible to catch several trout from the same pool on the same lure but rare to
take more than one bass at a time from a given spot."
Ciampi also noted
that several species, again including the eastern brook trout, not only would
strike anything from a bottle cap to an artfully finished spoon but
occasionally would hit the same lure a second and even a third time. Bass,
muskellunge and pike could be induced to strike a lure once but not the same
words," Ciampi concludes, "these species learned that a lure was not
food after only one experience, while the less intelligent species required two
or more experiences to learn the same lesson. Even after several days had
elapsed between tests, bass and muskellunge seemed able to recognize a lure
they had previously encountered and refused to have any part of it."
On the basis of
these experiments, Ciampi ranks the intelligence of the fresh-water gamefish he
studied in the following order: