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Understanding the Nature of Fish

Updated on March 12, 2011

So what about the fish themselves? What of these creatures that we are pursuing, hoping eventually to catch? It's all too easy to imagine them as alien to us in every way -they're cold-blooded, they breathe through gills, have a scaly skin, and are covered in a protective slime.

In all these ways they are indeed different from us, but there are many similarities between fish and humans. It's important to realize that fish have very acute eyesight, that they can feel vibrations just as easily as we pick up sounds, that they have a very well developed sense of taste, and that they learn rapidly through experience. Fish are not fools - they are complicated packages of subterranean life. The fisher who forgets this often ends up Ashless.

It's equally vital to recognize that all fish species behave in slightly different ways. The experienced fish watcher knows that each and every species has its own distinctive characteristics that immediately mark it out as unique and individual. In Europe, for example, roach and rudd look alike and are both shoal fish. Rudd, however, tend to hang much higher in the water, frequently dimpling the surface for insects. Roach, on the other hand, generally work in mid-water, or towards the bottom. Bream, too, are shoal fish, but they are almost always lying deep. Carp will move together in small groups, not really shoals, and then break away for solitary feeding. One predator, the pike, is generally a loner, and yet perch, walleye, and zander, which are also fish eaters, tend to operate in packs. To make things even more confusing, brown trout generally have a territory all to themselves, whereas rainbow trout will frequently cruise together in large numbers.

We often talk about human beings having body language and the same is certainly true for fish. As your experience as a riverside observer grows, you will soon be able to distinguish between the distressed fish, the sulking fish, and, vitally for the angler, the fish that's very shortly going to be looking for food.

Locating the Fish

The first job of importance is to locate the fish within the water. This might sound blindingly obvious, but it's not always easy. You've got to remember that fish aren't scattered about like currants in a cake. Rather, they live tightly packed in closely defined areas. And there's always a good reason for it. In general terms, fish are looking to find homes that provide them with food and security. So, for example, small fish will nearly always hang around reed beds or areas of heavy weed. Such places give them bountiful food supplies as well as the opportunity to hide whenever a predator comes into view. To take another example: imagine a huge featureless pit that has just been excavated and filled with water. There are absolutely no contours or places to hide. However, if a dead tree falls into the water, within days a pike or group of bass will be lurking among its sunken roots and branches, using it as an ambush area. The message is clear: look for anything in the water that can provide the fish with a hiding place or an ample food supply. This may be a bed of freshwater mussels, or a colony of insects. The more you look, the more you'll see, and the better the picture of the water that you build up in your mind's eye.

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