For a bigger haul, head somewhere quiet

If it feels like the fish at your popular fishing spot know to nibble but not bite, there’s a strong chance you’re right.

New research out of University of Queensland’s Centre for Marine Science indicates that fish in highly popular fishing locations have learned to be wary of bait on hooks – particularly if the hook is a risk for their size.

The researchers set up baited hooks with an intricate underwater video system, gaining insight into how fish actually interact with hooks.

In areas where fishing is common, it appears that fish understand the presence and implications of a hook. The team commonly observed fish hanging back from hooks that were designed for their size, while quickly moving in and nibbling from hooks that were too big for them.

However, fish in quieter areas where fishing is not common had no such awareness, and simply moved in to attack the bait – regardless of hook presence or size.

Associate Professor Ian Tibbetts from University of Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences said, “This kind of behaviour indicates that the fish observe and learn from their environment and from the mistakes of others.”

This is a new insight, which shows that fish may be smarter than we first understood. It may also explain why fishermen in popular locations can complain of constant nibbles, but no actual bites.

Further research is underway to determine whether an individual fish will change its behaviour if moving from a heavily fished area to somewhere more quiet.

For the everyday fisherman, the implication from this research is that if you want to take home a big haul – avoid the popular spots. Instead head somewhere out of the way where the fish won’t be familiar with our angling tactics.

It also puts the theory about fish having a short attention span on its head (Dory in Finding Nemo for example) – they may be smarter than we realise.

For more information on this research, head to the University of Queensland news page.