Home » Fly Fishing, Science, & a Trout Named Steve

Fly Fishing, Science, & a Trout Named Steve

I totally understand that fish are just fish.

By that, I mean that I am not the kind of person that ascribes some sort of metaphysical depth to the experience of a bluegill. Fish are great, fish are worth protecting and pursuing – but fish, at the end of the day, are just fish.

But, you have to wonder sometimes.

For example: When two fish are hanging out, all chum-like (salmon pun!), and one gets caught – what do you think the other one is thinking? Again, “thinking” is all relative. Regardless of the cognitive capabilities of a trout, fish A seeing fish B going berserk surely elicits some sort of response.

If you’ve fished enough, you’ve probably seen the three common responses.

  • “Oh crap, what’s happening to Steve!?! I’m out of here!”
  • “Bugs… water… bugs… bye, Steve… bugs…”
  • “Steve! That looks awesome… I’ll do it too! Yee-haw!!!”

Let’s tackle them briefly, one at a time:

The “Run Away” This is the most sensible response of a fish that experiences another fish getting caught. “Steve,” as I labeled him, has gone from a very stable situation to one that has literally shaken him into uncontrollable turmoil. The only reasonable thing for another fish to do is engage the flight response. Under a log, under a rock, upstream, downstream – just swim. You’ve got no chance to catch this one now, but they have proven themselves a worthy adversary.

The “Everything is Cool” Imagine sitting in a restaurant, and the guy next to you is randomly pulled across the bar by an unseen assailant and subsequently tossed around the room. But you sit there, finishing your coffee, acting all cool. Fish will do this, and it is a little troubling. Like, what have they seen that lets them keep their composure while a fellow fish is whipped into a froth? Leave him alone: he’s got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes…

The “Go Nuts” AKA, the stocked rainbow response. This is where other fish in the pool begin to react in similar behaviors as the hooked fish. They jump, cartwheel, swim in circles, or just generally act crazy. I’m sure that there is some sort of biological mechanism that triggers this, maybe some latent schooling response, but it is odd. Some fish – again, generally stockers – aren’t right between the operculum. And he’ll eat your fly, if he slows down enough to see it. But do you really want to take advantage of such a simple creature?


Now I know that there are probably some fancy ichthyological classifications for the mannerisms of various fish species when exposed to all types of stimuli. I get it. “Science.”

But I know what I see. And what I see are fish that are more entertaining than 95% of what is on television today. So what if I anthropomorphize them a little bit… talk to them from time to time… name them, even?

I mean, fish are just fish, after all.

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