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Sun., Oct. 4
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Hooks-Antlers outdoor column


Fish senses are survival tools that aid fish in finding food and eluding predators, and an angler who pays attention to these senses is likely to see an increase in the number of fish at line’s end. While hearing, smell, taste, and feel play a part in fish survival, vision and lateral line are a fish’s primary survival tools.


Because of the position of eyes on the sides of the head, fish can pretty much see in all directions except for minor blind spots directly behind, directly in front, and directly below. Obviously vision plays a more significant role in clear water than in murky water.

In very clear water, fish can see over 100 feet while in very murky water, fish may see only a matter of inches. On the average, fish probably rely on their vision out to the 20-foot or so range. Species like northern pike and brown trout have good long-range vision because they swim out from a hiding place to attack their prey.

The size of a fish’s eyes also affects the importance of sight. For example, catfish and bullheads have very small eyes and are basically nearsighted so they rely more on other senses for survival.

Large eyes translate to effective feeding in low-light conditions so walleyes and muskellunge can see effectively under dark conditions when their smaller-eyed prey does not see well.

Fish see colors, too, and colors play a more significant role in shallow water than in deep water because the deeper an offering goes, the more the water filters out color and the more the bait or lure appears in a shade of gray to fish.

In clear water, baits emit their natural colors and lures emit their painted colors, but in dark water, fish see a silhouette more than color. The colors red, orange, and yellow fade fastest as a lure descends while the colors green and blue hold up best.

Lateral Line

The lateral line is a sensory structure consisting of a longitudinal line running the length of a fish’s body. The lateral line consists of vibration-detection sensors that enable the fish to detect vibrations from anything moving the water.

Because fish are such vibration-sensitive creatures, the ability of the lateral line to detect vibrations plays a key role in finding prey and avoiding predators. Experts believe the lateral line also plays a role in detecting pressure changes, temperature changes, sound, and current flow.

While the lateral line does play a role in clear water, that role becomes even more important in stained water where fish have to rely less on vision and more on vibration for survival.

No matter what conditions an anglers fishes, though, he is advised to create as little “negative” vibration as possible when wading, controlling a boat, or doing anything else because such vibrations will likely put the fish in a defensive mode rather than a feeding one.

Hearing, Smell,

Taste, and Feel

To a lesser degree than vision and lateral line, fish also rely on their other senses for survival. Fish have an inner ear that allows them to pick up sound as it travels through the water. Some people believe that talking will scare fish; that is unlikely, though, as the sounds of normal talking do not travel through the water.

For the most part, sound is not an issue when using live baits, but the sound features of such lures as top-water ones and rattle baits can certainly get a fish’s attention.

The use of the sense of smell varies in different fish species, but nostrils on either side of the head allow fish to take in water and identify odors of both prey and predator. For feeding purposes, trout rely on their sense of smell more than other species do.

A highly developed sense of smell is necessary for survival of the species among anadromous fish that live in salt water and must return hundreds or even thousands of miles to their native freshwater stream to spawn.

From an avoidance-of-predator perspective, fish go on the alert when baits or lures carry foreign odors from humans, when baitfish and other fish become alarmed and emit chemicals, or when a large predator such as a northern pike fins nearby.

Fish have sensors in their mouths that facilitate the tasting and feeling of would-be foods. These senses of taste and feel often result in a fish expelling a lure before the angler has a chance to set the hook. Slow-moving, bottom-feeding species such as carp, bullheads, and catfish rely on taste and feel more so than other fish do. Certainly the use of natural baits has the edge over most artificial lures when it comes to taste and feel, but soft plastics impregnated with fish attractants do offer a realistic appeal.

Outdoors Calendar

Monday—Trap and Skeet Shooting at Lisbon Sportsmen’s Club (Pray Rd.).

Saturday—Cape Vincent C of C hosts Annual Spring Fishing Derby (654-2481).

Saturday—Kids Free Fishing Classes at Wellesley Island State Park (482-2479).

May 28—SLC Fisheries Advisory Board meets at Canton BOCES at 7 p.m.

May 31—Spring Turkey Season closes in NYS.

June 8—Bowhunter Education Course at SLVSC (Pre-register at 393-3775).

June 15—Traditional Bass Season opens on NYS waters.

June 15—SLRWA hosts Annual Smackdown Walleye Tournament at Massena (384-3450).

June 15—SLVSC hosts Annual Opening-Day Bass Derby at Ogdensburg.

June 15—Opening-Day Bass and Walleye Derby at Henderson Harbor.

June 15—Frog Season opens in New York State.

June 29-30—Free Fishing Days on NYS waters.

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