Are you smarter than a fish?

Are fish smart? Well, maybe more than you might think. It’s been said that fish have a three-second memory. Wrong.

Many years ago I had a pet largemouth bass in an aquarium. He was my pal, as well as my teacher. I learned a lot about fish behavior from watching him, and he gave me a special respect for a fish’s intelligence. His diet consisted of minnows from the bait shop. If I came home without minnows, the bass would see me walk in the room and not care the slightest bit. But if I came home carrying a plastic minnow bag, he’d get very excited and press his face right up against the glass. That’s intelligence my friends. That’s memory.

Now some might say that’s just conditioning. Precisely, and conditioning depends upon memory; which depends upon possessing some form of sophisticated intelligence. Fishermen have long known that fish have this intelligence. It’s a fact that tackle manufacturers always use fresh fish when testing lures, scents, colors and retrieves. Their experience proves that after a fish realizes a lure isn’t edible, they won’t strike it again for a while. The fish associate the bait with something negative and “learn” to avoid that negative experience in the future. So what does all that mean for fishing? Well, friends, I think the information can be used to help us all catch more fish. If we accept that fish have a memory and can act in an intelligent manner, then our approach to fishing will change. We will fish smarter if give fish credit for being smart.

Let’s say you toss and artificial frog out into the water along a weed bed and a big old largemouth swallows it just for a second, and then realizes something is wrong and spits it out. So the smart fisherman will not throw his frog-like lure back into the fish’s environment to try and catch the same fish. No, he will choose a fresh bait or a different lure that the bass has not seen before. Maybe he’ll bite again, maybe he won’t, but there is nothing wrong with tipping the odds in your favor by acknowledging that even a dumb fish can be capable of outsmarting a fisherman.

Little Wall Lake

I can barely remember driving by Little Wall Lake many years ago and seeing all the muskrat houses that dotted the lake. It sure doesn’t seem like it was about 60 years ago this week that Little Wall Lake was deepened by dredging it out, making the lake about 11- or 12-feet deep through the channel. It’s been a good, healthy lake ever since, and even more especially, it has become a premier ice fishing lake for wintertime anglers.

Water temperatures

I thought spring was here to stay, but last week’s snow storm came in out of nowhere and dumped tons of wet cold snow on top of us. Until that time, local water temperatures were on the way up. Then the weatherman dumped that snowfall upon us and the temperatures took a nose-dive. Water temperatures from farm tile and most small creeks are generally stable and fairly constant and rarely have a huge affect on other water temperatures. But surface water run-off and for the most part that’s what we’re seeing – have a swift, sudden and drastic affect on the temperature of our river and lake waters.

Surface water runoff can drop river water and lake water temperatures 10 to 15 degrees overnight. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we’re gaining. As I put this column together, the water temperature of Little Wall Lake stands at 51.5 degrees. Briggs Woods Lake is 51.3 degrees at the south boat dock. The Boone River (at Nokomis Park in Webster City) reads a stout 58 degrees at the canoe landing. The Des Moines River just north of Fort Dodge stands at 47.5 degrees. Northern pike and walleyes have probably already spawned. And we’re getting close – very close – to when most panfish will be spawning.

In about another two weeks, we will be in that magical never-never-land of 67 degrees to 72 degrees when most all fish will be catchable and the water temperatures will be right where it should be for good fishing. At least one good thing is coming out of all of this: Our local rivers, lakes and farm ponds have been at an all time low – rock-bottom low. And now as they begin to fill up, the rising water levels is bringing up lots of water-borne insects. In particular, the water near shore is filled with tiny – ever so tiny – water critters. And I’m thinking this spring will be absolutely fantastic for fly fishing, both dry and wet fly.

And if we are lucky enough to have a good crop of minnows this year, I might even have to dig through my fishing vest and drag out some old streamer flies that I haven’t used for several years. My chest-high waters are shot, full of holes and leak like a sieve, but I think I can still get my line out there far enough to catch a fish or two.

And finally (don’t go away, I’m not done yet), the Baltimore orioles are back. Larry Graves cornered me in the Hy-Vee Deli the other morning and told me his wife was feeding a pair of Baltimore orioles at their farm. I also observed a pair of Baltimore orioles at a feeder in Ron Keigan’s front yard/ They’re on of the last birds to come north, so you know that spring is in the air.

And now have a good weekend.