Column: Scientific knowledge trumps luck on the lake

Great Outdoors by James Murray

Over the past two weeks I have discussed some of the the sciences involved in angling – everything from biology, entomology and ichthyology (the study of fish) to physics, meteorology and the laws of probability.

I suggested that having a rudimentary understanding of the physiology, eating habits and habitat in which fish live goes a long way when it comes to successfully and consistently catch fish. I discussed the physics involved in casting a line and how the flex of the rod is used to create energy and momentum to cast the line.

I talked about how the science of meteorology (weather forecasting) influences fishing in almost every way, from fish activity to our own. I pointed out that there is a certain amount of science in the simple act of crossing a stream. I said that through observation, I have come to understand the seasonal changes that take place above and below the surface of the water. I also talked about how I look for the drop offs on a lake and where there are shoals, weed beds and underwater islands. I also look to see what sub-aquatic insects are inhabiting the shoals, weed beds and underwater islands. Through such observations I have come to learn when certain insect hatches are likely to come off as well as where on the lake they are likely to happen. Any angling success I’ve had has been achieved by acquiring an understanding of lake and stream structure, food sources and the ability to identify fish holding waters.

I said that ultimately, being able to ‘read the waters’ of a lake or stream, is knowing how to put together all of one’s observations so that you can make a calculated guess as to where the fish might be and what they are most likely to be feeding on at any given part of the day and/or season. I pointed out that while some anglers may know the taxonomic names of all the different insect species and can effectively match pretty well any hatch, there are also anglers such as myself who are content to pick an artificial fly pattern that more or less resembles the naturals coming off on any given day.

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Like I said, it has taken me a lot of years to acquire what little scientific understanding and knowledge I posses. I am still learning. There are just so many elements of science that go into the simple act of angling for a fish.

Most of what I know about fishing I’ve learned by making observations both on and at the waters edge and personal experience – trial and error sort of stuff.

I have also learned a certain amount of things about angling from the Internet. It is but another tool in one’s scientific tool/tackle box.

Having said that, however, too many young people spend too much time holed up in their bedrooms playing in virtual realities rather than being outside in the fresh air. Granted, virtual reality games are pretty cool, but sitting in a dark room is not the same as sitting in a boat, out on a lake, casting a line to real fish. A virtual fishing program is not the same as real-life experience. Not only is the heart-pounding thrill of tying into a three- or four-pound rainbow trout more satisfying than testing your skill level against a simulated facsimile, there is something to be said for experiencing all the sights and sounds and smells around you when you are out on the water.

In my previous columns I also suggested there was perhaps a small element of luck involved in fishing.

So what part does luck play? I mean, we have all heard the stories about a completely inexperienced, neophyte angler who catches a whopper on their very first fishing trip. The way I see it, when you’ve attained enough scientific knowledge to make that calculated guess as to where the fish might be, and what they are most likely to be feeding on, you are pretty much making your own luck.

When it comes right down to it, you are far better off depending on scientific knowledge than pure dumb luck – but I guess having a little bit of luck on your side never hurts.


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