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Discussion Starter #1
I have heard the term "educated fish" thrown around way to much. I really feel that a big fish gets big because of probability and luck, not because they have an intellectual advantage over there fellow species. I do think in certain waters fish may spook a little easier but past that, I think us saying fish get smart makes us sound as dumb as they are....I dont know though....I wanna hear everyones thoughts on the matter.
 

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I would argue that and educated fish is a lot like an educated duck, after seeing and hearing the same thing over and over they learn what is good/bad, natural/unnatural. But at the same time when the goings get tough sometimes the good/smart ones slip up.
 
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I would agree with nh, the more they see, the more "edjumacated" they get. I think it kind of depends on how much fishing pressure they see and what kind of water they live in. Trout living in fast, freestone type rivers like the Poudre don't have much time to think about an item drifting by- they snooze, they lose. On the other hand, fish living in flatter water like: the Dream Stream, Flat Creek by Jackson or any spring creek have lots of time to examine a fly, combine that with fishing pressure and you got some highly "educated trout." I'm sure that luck and probability play a part but I don't think it's a major part.
That's my 2 cents. :)
 
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I agree w/slugger, I think we attribute behavior in other animals/fish to traits that humans have, when in actuality most animals/fish are instinctively driven. On days when I'm gettin skunked, I feel like the fish know where I am and can see the flyline and leader as clear as a bell and act accordingly. Other days, I could throw a boulder in the water the same time I cast a midge and they hit it before it hits the water. Who knows what the little buggers think, or do they even have a brain that can think! Oh well, if it was easy, no one would do it.
 

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You'd be suprised at how smart fish can seem.... repeat behavior will "educate fish" at the DOW fishing tank for example I (with the help of kids) caught easily over 400 fish in the 6+ hours that I helped out there. At first they would hit anything (stocker trout syndrome) but by the end of the day you had to switch lures and presentations almost every 5 mins. They become trained and know that ok little white powerbait worm is bad if I eat that I go for a ride.
There are also tons of experiments with training fish to go threw colored doors or ring bells to get food.
When people say the fish are educated there it just means fishing is tough and you really have to work on presentation to catch and land any.
 

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Fish can be conditioned to "learn"...although its not quite like the learning we are accustomed to.

An example was a fish i used to have...infact ive owned several different species of this fish, and all seemed "smart" in one way or another. they were a species of saltwater pufferfish, and one in particular would know exactly which bottle i had that contained its food. when i picked up other bottles it would not respond, but when i picked up the bottle that held its food, it would get very excited and splash around and start nipping at the glass. it would also (this is no lie) spit water at me sometimes when i walked by the tank or put my fingers near the surface of the water. it was kind of like a dog...infact it almost looked like one, it was the only fish ive ever seen that actually looked kind of...well, intelligent, if you believe it or not. i truly believed it liked to play and seemed to like attention. very strange considering no other fish ive ever seen behaived like that.

ive had two of the species below, they are perhaps one of my favorite fish to keep in saltwater tanks:

Dog Faced Puffer


Stars and Stripes Puffer


but to answer the question...yeah, i think some fish are smarter than others...although im not too sure about trout. i think larger trout are just more cautious than smaller ones, and are a bit more picky about thier food sources. that in conjuction with the right conditions, hiding places, and just pure old luck can make for bigger fish. its nice to think of them as being "smart" though...its more satisfying to know you caught a big smart fish than a big dumb one....
 

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Some great answers here, especially the evidence based ones (kid's trout pond and puffer fish studies). In the limited classes I had on animal behavior, I was told that we can observe animal behavior, but we cannot automatically attribute (anthropomorphize) that behavior to higher functioning. Example, a fish may flee from a human's shadow, but that may be a reflex arc in it's spinal cord that totally bypasses the brain (which is pea sized anyway). I'm still not sure how smart fish are. On "Mythbusters", the two dudes had a competition to see if they could train a goldfish, one of the smartest fish that swims, to swim a maze type structure. They couldn't. On the other hand, my betta fish rises towards the surface every time he sees me, hoping for food. Of course, my beagle shows no higher brain function unless food is involved either.
 

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silicone boy said:
On "Mythbusters", the two dudes had a competition to see if they could train a goldfish, one of the smartest fish that swims, to swim a maze type structure. They couldn't.
I seen that mythbusters.... 1 dude who had no idea what he was doing didnt get it to work the other guy's fish did it easily. Here is the quote from their site about that one.

Three-Second Goldfish Memory

This myth states that goldfish only have three seconds of memory, so you shouldn't feel bad when you stick them in a small fish bowl -- by the time they make it around the bowl, it's all new to them.

This silly myth was mainly an opportunity to show off the fact that Jamie really knows aquarium fish (apparently he trained a goldfish to ring a bell). They set up the mythbusting as a competition between Adam and Jamie to see who could train their fish to swim through a maze (four dividers in an aquarium with a hole in each) the quickest.

Jamie busted out bright colored rings, which he used to condition the fish to associate with food. Adam busied himself with trying to prevent the fish from dying. When it came to competition time, Jamie's fish zoomed from one side of the tank to the other. Adam's aimlessly wandered back and forth and never made it more than halfway across the course.
 

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silicone boy said:
we can observe animal behavior, but we cannot automatically attribute (anthropomorphize) that behavior to higher functioning.
Excellent point. It might also apply to some less higher functions such as learning and memory. When a fish "learns" to travel a simple maze, for instance, we have no idea whether it is "remembering" the path that it successfully traveled before, and likewise we don't know that it is "learning" like a monkey would learn. Most or all of a fish's nervous functions are totally hard-wired. Their pea-sized brain is more like a little computer running a fixed program. Maybe their form of "learning" actually amounts to rewiring their little CPU!

Of course, maybe ours does, too.......
 

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It just so happens that a maze lesson was used in my animal behavior class in college. The researchers would breed generations of mice that were good at running a maze. Good maze runners were bred with good runners of the other sex until they had a generation of mouse that would run the maze in no time. Then they tried to put this genetically selected breed of mouse in a new maze. The mouse would get through this new maze no better than other mice, so they showed that they were able to select the specific genes that were best for this particular maze!

No one can say whether or not a fish knows what it is doing, but it seems very unlikely that their behavior is purely luck. These big fish have learned what not to go after over time and this is why it is a rare event when they are caught. It is the reason that unnatural presentations do not work as well and why different lures work better at certain times of year. If it was all left to chance, then it seems that any lure and presentation would work at any time which has not been my experience anyway.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
wow...I never thought my little topic would create such an out poor of information....really good points made by all! I am going to have to change my first opinion to some extant. However, I will still maintain...that I feel when fishing tough water it's not because those fish carry PHD's. I feel cercumstances such as clear water, and constant fishing make these fish a little more skiddish. I will always maintain that no matter how many times a fish is taken on lets say a black beauty...will they at one point recongize this pattern as a predator. I feel that if I take precontionary measures not to spook a feeding fish and present the fly correctly to them no matter how many times they've been hooked on it in the past...they will continuesly take that pattern.
 
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I agree with TopSlugger- try and find a trount in the quality stretch of the San Juan that dosen't show signs of being hooked- several times! Guess they bite a fly for the same reason I go to work. Probably not going to enjoy it much at the time but I like to eat.
 

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big fish get big for a reason...smartest and strongest survive. I think pretty much everything everyone's saying here is correct. The only thing I would have to add is that we shouldn't confuse fish activity with intelligence...what I mean is if a fish is stressed due to weather or water temp (which affects bigger fish more) we may think the fish is being finicky, choosy, or 'smart' when in reality it doesn't want to eat, period. I have seen this trout fishing often...active fish (of all sizes) will hit anything but when the fish are inactive you can run a lure over them (or poke at them with a stick) and they'll just lay there.
I read once that bass have a 'lure memory' of just a short time (a few days or weeks) before they forget the lure. this was an experiment carried out for the book it was in, interesting stuff.
 

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farmer ted said:
I read once that bass have a 'lure memory' of just a short time (a few days or weeks) before they forget the lure. this was an experiment carried out for the book it was in, interesting stuff.
This is why alot of Bass pro's try not to hook alot of bass prefishing a lake.
 

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I think fish get educated, too. Like Epic said, a lot of bass pros try to avoid hooking fish during practice. I fish a lot of bass tourneys and abide by that way of thinking. I don't want to stick a fish that may win me a prize later in the week.

Trout, I believe, are the same way. Fishing the Arkansas a lot, I'm usually fishing for heavily pressured fish that see a lot of flies. I'll catch a lot of the smaller ones, but the big ones are very quick to spit a fly - probably because the moment that they get it in their mouth, they realize, "UH OH, this is gonna HURT!"

This type of stuff is best illustrated in gold medal water, where those big ones just swirl at artificials, but will suck down naturals by the thousands. I don't think it's reasoning on the fish's part, but I do think it's evolved thinking that is sparked by the penalty they get when they eat an artificial - kinda like Pavlov's dogs.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Hunter, I would certainly agree with some of what you just said. However,  several of my fishing partners who I have been fortunate enough to fish with are well established and higly skilled guides. Even in extremely techinical water like the blue, taylor, the pan or cheeseman, these guys will never leave without a 10+ fish day.  It blows my mind to watch them hook fish after fish, while everyone stands around saying "what the heck, they must be on to the right fly." The truth is, if its midges that are active, they will spank just as many on a black beauty, miracle midge or a barbed wire...it really doesnt matter to them. They know how to present their flies in a realistic manner, and no matter how many times a fish has been hooked, if they spot them feeding...they catch them! SO my conclusion is, if we as anglers perfect our techniques, know exactly where our fly is and becoming master's of out trait, then no fish is beyond our grasp...IF IT IS FEEDING!
 

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wonmorefish said:
Drpends on the fish,take a blue gill for exaple, they will alway eat any thing you throw at them.  It doesn't matter how many times they see a worm or just a plain hook they will eat it...............
Not true. Hook and catch a bluegill on the same fly once or twice, and you may find you have to work hard to make them do anything more than take a close look at that fly for a while right after that. Fish learn, it's now long the memory is retained that varies among species, I suspect.
 

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Cutthroat said:
wonmorefish said:
Drpends on the fish,take a blue gill for exaple, they will alway eat any thing you throw at them. It doesn't matter how many times they see a worm or just a plain hook they will eat it...............
Not true. Hook and catch a bluegill on the same fly once or twice, and you may find you have to work hard to make them do anything more than take a close look at that fly for a while right after that. Fish learn, it's now long the memory is retained that varies among species, I suspect.
This is also only true in certain times of the year. Pre-spawn and Post-spawn gills are always aggressive.
 

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Another example of fish "learning" is a bass a friend of mine has in a pond in his back yard. its been in there a couple of years, and is quite tame. It has "learned" that you will feed it (along with several crappie that live in the same pond) and will swim up to you if you stand near the water's edge and wait for you to throw worms or crayfish at it. I guess it can be called "conditioning", but either way it shows that fish have the capacity to "remember" things, especially when food is involved. I think they are smarter than we give them credit for....
 

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Kept a largemouth in an aquarium that did the same thing. Also learned what foods were good to eat, and stopped eating things it didn't like.
 
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