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Know your prey ! : Bass Senses I

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Why do artificials work ? some are going to say: " bass can see them", "bass can smell", "they imitate food", etc, etc. but that doesn 't mean that you know the mechanics and physiology that implies a fish to strike a bait.

To me, bass are fine tuned eating machines and to be fine tuned eating machines everything in them has to be perfect, the way the body is built, the way fins are placed, the way the mouth is conformed everything in them is designed to fill that big mouth and empty stomach. Well, we are anglers, our purpose is to catch fish but many of us don 't realize that in order to catch fish you must be able to undertand how that fishing machine works. When we tie a bait we take things for granted because somebody else ( the designer ) has done all the guesswork for us and we assume that the bait will work, true......to a certain point, because we can be doing things wrong and later we blame the bait for not catching fish, who 's wrong in the first place, you or the bait ? I bet that most of the time the answer lies on the you side of the equation. Why ? because the bait is designed to to certain things but not all of them, the bait is just a lifeless piece of wood, plastic or metal and it is you the one who gives "life" to it.

What is the bait designed to do ? the answer is quite simple, the bait is designed to attaract the attention of the fish, period.

What makes a bait better than another ? it 's the ability to attract the attention to it.

How does a bait attract the attention to it ? well, one way or another the bait attracts the attention to it by attacking the SENSES of the fish.

What are the senses ? the senses are the mechanisms ( anatomical and physiological ) that are used by the body to connect itself with the surrounding environment.

So which ones are the senses of bass ? fish posses the same 5 senses we have: smell, tact, ear, taste, sight plus one we don 't have, the lateral line, but the senses in fish don 't work like ours, in first place we are no longer aquatic creatures, our ancesters, the amphibians, left the water millions of years ago so our senses evolved and adjusted to living in air rather than living in water, that 's why we terrestrial creatures don 't understand fish and how they work.


1.- Eyesight

Fish have eyes in most cases, but there are species like the Mexican Cave Blind Tetra that no loger have eyes, their eyeballs have been subtituted by fatty tissue so the don 't have eyes. Eyesight in fish is quite primitive, they don 't have the ability to see the finer details like us, their eyesight is poor compared to ours, what they see is most definatley what we see. Fish can only see the outer shape and even so they see a spot, they can 't define the shape but they can see the shape moving. Fish in shallow water can see colors, if they couldn 't see colors we would not have fish in such vast rainbow of colors as we have,but UNDERSTAND ONE THING, they don 't see colors the way we do.

They see colors just the way we see them under light with a spectrum more in the utraviolet side and with polarized lenses, if you want to understand how certain colors look to fish get an aquarium lamp used for keeping live corals, put on sunglasses and you will be amazed how different colors look under such lighting conditions.

Fish can see very well under low light conditions because fish possess tapetum lucidum, the tapetum lucidum is a shiny coating of cells behind the retina that refracts light inside the eye, this constant refraction of the available light enhances and augments the ammount of light inside the eye

enabling the fish to see under low light conditions; we DO NOT HAVE that coating, we can 't see well in low light conditions, fish can see under low light conditions like we do with night vision systems.

The fact there are fish without eyes means that in fish eyesight is not the primary sense like in us.

2.- Hearing

Fish can hear very well, they don 't own outer ears because they don 't need them, outer ears are an invention our ancersters made to concentrate the sound waves in the air, but the same structures found in our inner ear are the same structures found in fish. Fish can hear very well well because water is denser than air, 835 times denser, don 't look at the number, we are so used to numbers that 835 means little to us, to make a true comparison of what 835 means compare a 1 dollar bill against a pile of 835 1 dollar bills.

What does this mean ? it means that sound travels faster, to a longer distance and with enhancement in water than trough air. The inner ear in fish is located at both sides of the head in the bones that form the craneum and connected to the brain by the hearing nerve, to the outside it 's connected to the head by a bone. The inner ear is formed by two different parts: the cochlea ( the hearing part ) and the maze ( the equilibrium part ). When sound waves traveling through water hit the fish the craneum vibrates sending the sound trough the hearing part.  

Fish possess something that we don 't, the natatory bladder, this organ is located above the kidney in the abdominal cavity separated from the cavity by a muscular wall, this organ is formed bey a very thin membrane that forms a balloon filled with nitrogen gas. The organ serves two purposes: it 's part of the bouyancy system of the fish, but also acts like a drum, when sound waves hit the body it vibrates so fish can literally "feel" sound.

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Very interesting!

This place is like going to school!

Except...the homework is much more enjoyable!


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Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

I've learned so much here in the last few months.

It would have taken years to figure out on my own!!!

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Raul, so how does this vision of the bass relate to color of the line. Would they notice the difference between a color green and a clear?

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Very informative post, Raul.  I've been doing a lot of research of my own the past few weeks on this very subject.  I have a couple of my own contributions I'd like to make to this thread:

It's hard, even through science, to say for certain how a bass might see or taste or smell.  Often scientific data is compared to that of other species as a reference point.  For example:  Let's say a bass has X number of taste buds.  A pike may have X + 300 taste buds.  It can then be argued that pike have a more acute sense of taste than bass.  This may or may not be true.  The taste buds of a bass could be 500 times more sensitive, but we may never know that for sure.

1. - Eyesight

As Raul mentioned, an important thing to remember is the Tapetum lucidum, which amplifies incoming light.  It is a layer of guanine crystals which glow at night, and allow the eye to receive roughly 5 times more light than the human eye.  A bass' eyes are perfectly sperical, which enables them to see underwater because it has a higher refractive index to help them focus.  Contrary to popular belief, bass are not repelled by bright light.  The eye is able to adjust, controlling the amount of incoming light just as the human eye does.  Studies have shown that bass have a greater field of vision than humans do, and can see in all directions except directly behind or below.

Bass see differently than we do, but that is largely due to the water and water clarity, not physical differences in the eye itself.  They do see a wide array of colors, and see them well...especially vivid colors.  To get an idea of what a bass actually sees, try to imagine wearing green (or blue or red) tinted sunglasses, similar to the kind hunters and shooters wear.  Blue water filters out red, so red lures become almost black and white when in blue water.  Red is actually the first color filtered out by any water color.  

2. - Hearing and Touch

I'll lump these two senses together since they're so closely related.  I won't get into specifics about the ear itself because it's really not that important.  As sound travels through the air, it creates waves.  In water, this effect is greatly magnified and bass have the ability to feel these waves as well as actually hear them.  It is believed that bass detect distant sounds more so with their inner ear and close proximity sound with the lateral line.  Initial underwater contact between a bass and its prey is not usually by sight or smell, but through sound waves.  Studies have shown that bass hear better in the low frequency range (below 40 Hz to about 2500 Hz).  They have also shown that bass can detect differences in sound intensity, frequency, and patterns.

Ever since we were kids we were told to be quiet, or we'd scare the fish.  Sound does not travel well from air through water, but it does happen.  More importantly, sound travels well if an object is in the water.  If you're holding your rod, line in water and talking...your voice creates vibrations that tranfer into the water.  

3. - Taste and Smell

This is where I'm going to disagree with Raul a little bit.  My research shows that bass have a highly developed sense of taste.  They have taste buds on their lips, tongue, and all over their mouths.  Other fish species such as walleye have taste buds on their entire face.  Catfish have them all over their bodies, and particularly their barbels (wiskers) which they drag on the lake's bottom to locate food.  Scent is detected through specialized tissue in the nostrils.  The number of these tissues seems to be directly related to how sensitive a species sense of smell is.  In catfish, these number around 140.  Largemouth bass have about 8-13.  

While a bass' sense of taste and smell may not be as sensitive as other species, why not use whatever you can to change the odds in your favor?  Some studies have shown that bass may be attracted to human scent and taste because of the amino acids that are present.

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Here is the way I look at things.

Eyesight~ I want my bait color to stand out from the color of the water and cover I am fishing.

Hearing~I have always caught more fish using a bait the emits a low pitch rattle or vibration. To me it sounds like a bigger bait to the bass than it really is and makes it easy for fish to find it.

Taste buds/smell-when visibility is limited I always add scent to my bait if it is a slow moving lure.

If you ever been on a lake that someone had just sprayed the weeds let me tell you what happens. The larger bass leave the area and will move to areas that are not sprayed. This is before any of the weeds die literally over night they move. There is not a change in oxygen content of that area but something made those fish abandon that area. (my opinion) I have always believed they moved because of smell. Now understand a dog has a great sniffer and a buck has a great sniffer I myself don't have a nose of a dog or a whitetail buck but I do know when its dinner time and without looking I can guess what's for dinner and when my wife wears that perfume I like, I know it too.  I also know how it effects me and I would think a fish would be no different. I can list example after example where a little scent made ALL the difference in the world between catching them or not. I mean just my own experience I know for a fact that scent has an impact on the amount of strikes I get.

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