I am sure that all fishermen have had the experience of being convinced they have caught the same fish twice. Some have reeled in one that got away with their lures and hooks still stuck in the fish’s mouth. Others claim distinctly marked or wounded from previous come back to take another bite. But, can a fish bite twice? The simple answer is yes, fish can bite twice but there is a more behind this seemingly simple answer.
The question relies heavily on the fish’s behavior and cognition and how the fish’s memory works (or does not.)
Do fish have a memory?
Most people believe that fish follow the ‘goldfish mentality’ where they forget where they have been before they do a circuit of their tiny glass bowl. Scientists have proven this entirely wrong. Goldfish have shown that they can remember up to five months in scientific studies.
Dr. Loren Hill is the Chairwoman of the University of Oklahoma and one of the top minds in the study of fish behavior. She claims that fish are far from being driven by pure instinct and do have a memory.
Dr. Hill uses an example of bass being difficult to catch if caught and escaped from a spinnerbait. If they are exposed to spinnerbait several times a week, it could be almost 20 days before they fall for the lure again.
And that’s not all. Bass that observe their fellow bass caught on spinnerbaits are smart enough to avoid the lure as well. So much for goldfish memory.
Overfished rivers and lakes that experience high-fishing density also create fish that are warier of lures and certainly won’t bite twice. These are named ‘educated’ fish and exhibit more ‘river smarts’ than their country cousins.
How does a fish’s memory work?
A fish’s memory hinges on two critical factors: the level of reinforcement and the danger or success involved in the event. Fish will remember events of danger such as the pain of a hook and the struggle to free itself strongly, and this memory extends by reinforcement or repeats of the noise of a fishing boat, the sight of similar lures, and the presence of a fisherman.
Are some fish smarter than others?
Just like humans, some fish are much smarter than others. Bluegill and northern pike are the dunces of their class and will bite again just moments after breaking free of a line. Largemouth bass, stripers, and carp have good memories and will be less inclined to make the same mistake twice.
Channel catfish are said to be so smart that they respond to a whistle’s sound at some catfish farms. At the sound of the feeders whistle, they swim towards the sound with their mouths already open, Dr. Hill explains.
Is there any lure that can fool the fish twice?
Dr. Hill advises that fishermen may circumvent the once bitten twice shy scenario by mixing it up. Fishermen should try to find a lure unusual to the ones commonly used. Different kinds of lures prevent the fish from getting habituated with standard casts.
Dr. Hill has some scientific data for those who long to catch a prize-winning bass, and want to get a second chance if they lose in the first round. Surprisingly the chosen lure that basses can’t resist and won’t remember is the humble plastic worm. Dr. Hill explains, the worm bait somehow does not trigger the memory response like other lures.
Does it depend on how you hook them first?
Some experienced fishermen who regularly use a pond for practice have made an interesting observation on the second bite theory. They suggest that it is how the catcher handles the fish in the initial encounter that dictates a second bite.
Fish that snap the line and released without being actively handled are more likely to come round for a second bite. The length of time out of the water and degree of handling cause a stress reaction that makes it unlikely for the fish to return for a second bite.
How smart are fish in reality?
Dr. Culum Brown of Macquarie University biologist whose main area of study is cognition in fish certainly think they are. He claims that they are intelligent in multiple areas, including memory. He has gone so far as to say that a fish’s cognitive is the same if not higher than in larger primates (humans excluded.)
In an experiment, crimson-spotted rainbowfish were taught in a tank how to escape from a net and remembered it 11 months later. Put in perspective, Dr. Brown likens it to a human remembering a lesson from 40 years before.
Studies show that a fish’s long-term memory is based primarily on the ability to associate events with food. The link between memory and food availability may have provided fish with an evolutionary advantage.
Can carp remember being released?
Scientists set out to discover if carp remember being released and placed tagged carps in a pond. After 100 hours of fishing, the probability of catching one of the tagged carp declined decreased dramatically. Recapturing a carp which they had caught and released became exponentially more difficult.
The experiment shows that carp do have a marked ability to learn from capture. The scientists also found that the carp responded to their fellow carp’s capture and non-return by becoming increasingly difficult to catch.
Are some fish just lazy?
In the 1970s, a study was taken in Illinois to test if largemouth bass learned to avoid hooks. Over five years, the team recorded each catch and release, and here’s what they found. One fish managed to get hooked 15 times, and many other basses in the area of the experiment were not caught once.
This result was a bit puzzling for those who believed that bass could learn to avoid lures. Biologists stepped in to save the day by suggesting a theory behind this result. They claimed that certain fish had underlying traits that made them more likely to bite twice (or 15 times.)
To prove this fact, they separated the repeat offenders and the savvy no-biters and let them breed for three or so years and then placed their offspring in a new pond. Guess what? They did this breeding and re-ponding over 14 years and landed up with two ponds. In one pond, the bass would not touch a hook, and in another, the bass would not stop biting.
The bass that avoided hooks had a lower metabolic rate and exhibited less energetic movements than their hungry counterparts. So maybe some fish are just downright lazy to get up there and take the bait?
So, can a fish bite twice?
Although all scientific evidence points out that fish are a lot smarter than anyone expected, there are other factors to consider. Some fish seem to be loafers like that friend who lives on your sofa and won’t get a job.
There is something to be said though for environmental factors such as overfishing or habituation to common lures. It’s best to mix it up try live bait if lures aren’t working or pull out your trusty plastic worm.
Considering all the science and the real-life evidence of so many fishermen, yes fish do bite twice! But as some funny fish-catching guru once said. Yes, fish always bite twice a day, before you get there and when you leave.
Interested in learning more? Read Do Fish Feel Pain?