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The Power of Observation

by: Chad LaChance 9/18/2013

Fish aren’t very smart. There, I said it.  At the risk of loosing my fish catching mojo, or at least offending the fish gods, I’ve manned up and admitted that the very quarry I’ve spent my life in an oft-futile pursuit of really isn’t very bright. Come to think of it, neither is most of the game I attempt to harvest during this beautiful fall season. How is it then, assuming you agree with my diagnosis of their sheer brain power, that catching fish or harvesting game is such a challenge? I mean come on now, any human ought to be able to apply technology and cognitive skills in such a way as to easily succeed at catching little ‘ol fish…right?

Science tells me that fish aren’t capable of reason. They can learn, at least for short periods of time, through negative stimulus but the fish world is definitely void of Einstein types. Food, shelter, annual mating – the basic survival stuff – is all they’re capable of processing. Birds, though smarter than fish, aren’t a lot smarter. Watching a wild tom turkey trying to mate with a plastic hen decoy for an hour pretty much sealed my opinion on that point. Mammals of course are the smartest of the wild creatures, yet even they are really just going through the motions of daily survival. Tomorrow is probably never on their mind.

So back to my original question; why can’t I catch fish or harvest game at will? After years of applying whatever brain-power I can muster to this burning question, I think I know the answer. Fish and game are more observant than humans – it’s as simple as that. Since their brain is free of cluttering thought process, they can focus whatever power they do have on being dang observant of everything that is happening around them. And they do it at nearly all times.

Try to sneak up on that love-stricken turkey and you’ll see what I mean. Drift a minute fly over the top of a feeding trout and see if you can trick him.  Perhaps grab a high-powered rifle equipped with a telescopic site, print aerial photos of the area you’ll hunt, load your hand-held GPS with waypoints downloaded from GoogleEarth, study seasonal migration, buy the best high-tech outdoor boots and clothes on the market and go hunt elk for a few days. Statistically speaking, you’ll only succeed 20% of the time or less. They may not be “smart”, but you’ll swear they are on your drive home empty-handed. Trust me - stories of cagey old rooster pheasants and wily hook-jawed browns were invented to soothe the bruised egos of those defeated by the powers of observation contained within tiny brains. 

The lesson in all this for outdoors enthusiasts is also the secret to success: being extremely observant in your outings. Observe the details - all the details - and then use your brain to determine how those details will affect your quarry. We may be smarter, but it’s being observant that will allow us to beat them at their own game. CL

Blog content © Chad LaChance
Member comments
JKaboom, CO   9/18/2013 2:02:55 PM
I was ponderding this very point on Saturday when I was talking to my buddy who is a longtime buddy but newer to fishing. I told him "fish are tricky that's all they are full of tricks" and I am thinking to myself "Is what I am saying really true because as a fisherman I know I spout a lot of BS too". After pondering this I came to the conclusion that animals are in constant evaluation of survival (i.e. is this good for my survival or not). This is in line with your postulation that animals are stupid but always very observant. Good BLOG :)
Coyute, CO   9/18/2013 2:15:06 PM
In addition to what you said, in a lot of cases, I think all the 'technology' that floods the market and the marketers try to stuff in our brains as essential equipment hampers our observation skills. Being a technology junkie myself, it is sometimes hard for me to overcome that mindset and believe that less is more, but I am trying to take that approach from here on out because I know it's true.
Coyute, CO   9/18/2013 2:18:20 PM
Aye, good blog. Better than a deluge of chest beating.
shiverfix, CO   9/18/2013 2:54:44 PM
I like this take of it. Of course, we have all read the articles and blogs and posts about how smart fish are. But in the real world I have always come to the conclusion they are dumb. Seriously, all of us have caught a bluegill on a bare hook, or many other examples. What you say makes perfect sense. The animals (fish in our case) that are the most observant are the ones that make it to trophy size, which makes them harder to catch. It isn't that they are smart or have "learned" about lures, it is that they are inherently more observant and less likely to bite at something that doesn't look quite right.
tracks, CO   9/18/2013 3:09:13 PM
Good thoughts! Having been a hunter and a fisher since the wee age of "a long long time ago" I've learned that paying attention to what is important at the moment does not come easily to us humans.
team FMFO , CO   9/18/2013 3:42:59 PM
Great read CL ! :-)
skiman, CO   9/19/2013 5:50:52 AM
Chad... Spot-on with your observations! How often do you hear an elk bugle followed by the slamming of a truck door, or the "slap" of a poorly cast fly-line, or the smell of cigar or cigarette smoke on your bow-hunting partners' camo when you're almost lined up for that perfect shot? Critters' brains ARE devoid of all the "what-ifs" and "maybe I should'ves" of the technologically crippled sportsman. That could be the key...K.I.S.S., and focus on how the animal "thinks". Thanks for a good read! Ski
KingFisher13, CO   9/19/2013 7:16:17 AM
Great read (lol at the turkey), but you probably did offend the fish gods.. Eric Allee taught me a long time ago to sit down & watch the fish before fishing. It has helped many times. It's hard not to cast right away. However 15 or even 10 minutes of observation can really helps me know what to fish with, & how to fish it.. Thanks Chad!
J-Bizzle, UT   10/8/2013 5:12:35 AM
I had professor in college who always said the devil is in the details. Good advice.
Tiny Stevens, CO   10/9/2013 12:30:20 AM
Great writing Chad! It really does make all of us stop and think for a minute when approaching a body of water, new or old. Keep up the great work, I love to read your words! Tiny
Chad LaChance
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