It seems to me that there is an extreme amount of debate among anglers surrounding the “actual” senses of fish and what they can perceive. I have done some research and found that although fish live in an entirely different atmosphere than we do (okay, yes that is pretty obvious) they still maintain a lot of the same senses and characteristics that we ourselves are very familiar with. To be able to survive in any situation, a fish must rely upon its ability to acquire information from its environment through its senses.
Fish have many of the same senses that we have, they can see, smell, touch, feel, and taste and they have developed some senses that we don’t have, such as electroreception. Fish can sense light, chemicals, vibrations, touch and electricity.
Vision: Fish have a very keen sense of vision, which helps them to find food, shelter, mates, and avoid predators. Fish vision is similar to our own vision; A bass can see in color, and can see in extremely dim /turbid water or light.
The eyes of fish are different from our own. Their lenses are perfectly spherical, which allows them to see underwater. The lenses have a higher refractive index to help them focus. They focus by moving the lens in and out instead of stretching it like we do. They have no way to dilate or contract their pupils as the lens bulges through the iris. As the depth or water turbidity at which fish are found increases, the resident fish’s eye sizes increase in order to gather the dimmer light.
Smell and Taste: Chemoreception is very well developed in fish, especially sharks, eels, Salmon, Tuna, Bass and all predatory fish. They rely upon this to detect their prey. Fish have two nostrils on each side of their head although there is no connection between the nostrils and the throat. The nostrils are directly connected to the olfactory rosette (organ that detects scent). The size of the rosette is proportional to the fish’s ability to smell. Some fish can detect chemical levels as low as 1 part per billion.
Fish do have the ability to taste. They have taste buds on their lips, tongue, and all over their mouths. Some fish, such as catfish, have barbels, which are whiskers that have external taste buds on them. This allows the fish to actually taste something just by rubbing against it with one of their barbels. (Would make a great diet program, tasting without eating!)
Hearing and touch. Have you ever seen a fish’s ear? I never have, but they do have them. They are located within their bodies as well as a lateral line system that actually lets them feel their surroundings. Sound vibrations readily transmit from the water through a fish’s body to its internal ears. The ears are divided into two sections, an upper section and a lower section.
The upper section is divided into three semicircular canals. This gives the fish its sense of balance. It is fluid-filled with sensory hairs very similar to the mammal’s inner ear; the sensory hairs detect the rotational acceleration of the fluid. The ear canals are arranged so that one gives yaw, pitch, and roll. The lower section gives the fish its ability to hear. It has two large ocular centers that vibrate with sound and stimulate surrounding hair cells.
Fish possess another sense of vibration reception that is kind of like a cross between hearing and touch. Fish have a series of sensors not in direct contact with the water. These are located and arranged linearly and form the fish lateral lines.
A lateral line receives signals stimulated in a sequence, and gives the fish much more information, kind of like Sonar. This is how a fish would feel the other fish around it for tight schooling, and short-range prey detection. (This is also the organ that detects when your partner slams down the rod box lid. Yes it CAN spook the fish!)
Do fish attractants work? The answer is a definitive YES! How can I be so sure? I have caught fish just as each and every one of you has.
Fish are attracted to the things that their senses tell them may be food.
Eyes: The flash of a spinner, the profile of a bait, the color of a jig,
Ears: The vibration of a rattle, the thump of a Colorado blade.
Smell/Taste/Touch: I group all of these together because the bass has no hands to touch with and will “pick up something” with its mouth to determine if it is food or not. The taste or smell of an attractant (shad/garlic/anise/crawfish/pheromones) and of course touch plastic worms and the feel of pork or jig trailers may help a fish to hold onto the lure just a moment more.
To be able to decipher what a winning pattern is, you first must understand what senses a bass utilizes. If you think like a fish will you catch more fish? I can’t say, but if you understand what a bass uses to define its world, you will be on your way to eliminating the things that will not attract a bass and increase the things that will.