Environment
11:02 am
Wed June 29, 2011

Swimming Upstream: The mind of a fish (part 5)

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All this week, Dustin Dwyer has been bringing us fish stories from around the state for our series, Swimming Upstream. And for today's story, Dustin wanted to get into the mind of a fish. So, he met up with a charter boat captain on Saginaw Bay.  Here's his story:

There's no evidence that fish understand irony. But if they did, they might find irony in the fact that the people who best understand them are the people who get paid to kill them - or at least injure their lips slightly.

And perhaps no one I've met understands fish better than Ed Patnode. He's so good at fishing, I saw him catch one by accident. I climbed aboard his boat, and a few minutes later a 14 inch small mouth bass is hanging off a hook he accidentally left laying over the side of the boat.

"I didn't really catch that. He was on the line.” (laughs)

Ed's been fishing all his life and he can tell you things only a fisherman would know - a fish's favorite color, for example, it seems to be pink.

“It's crazy isn't it? It's just nuts. But they love it.”

Pink and also green. And sometimes chartreuse or orange. Ed says out of the thousands of colors of lures they sell in catalogues, he only keeps a few on his boat. It's a charter boat he ties up in Linwood, a small town on Saginaw Bay that advertises itself as Michigan's Walleye Capitol.

Ed also does salmon fishing charters out of Manistee in the fall.

He decided to start running a charter boat about six years ago. Back then, he used to go fishing every weekend with a group of friends.

"It got to be expensive each weekend going. And so we were just trying to see 'Hey, how can we cut our losses.' It was really, really how do we get out there and get other people to help us pay?" (laughs)

And with a lifetime of experience, maybe even obsession, with catching fish, he certainly knew enough to do it.

But as much as he knows about fish, there's still more he wishes he could know.

“You know we'd be rich if we could tap into the mind of a fish, just get that fish to talk and tell us why do you like pink, or can you tell us what days you're going to bite pink on and what other factors are influencing your decision to bite this pink lure today."

One thing that helps is talking to other fishermen.

And here in Linwood, there are a number of charter boat captains who are surprisingly helpful to each other. As I chat with Ed, he calls over Jeff Godi, who owns a charter boat called the Michigan-X. Jeff's a lifetime fisherman too. So I ask him, what's the big appeal of trying to figure out a creature that's so hard to figure out?

“I realized as a kid that I just love to do these things. It hasn't gotten old. You know, I guess that's always the thought in the back of your mind. But there's always variety, you know, different weather conditions, different people on your boat, different people to talk to."

He says he's had everyone from old World War II vets to teenagers out fishing on his boat. Jeff tells me his job can be as much about figuring out people as it is about figuring out fish.

But ... let's not try to get too deep here. Fishing is also just a lot of fun. And Ed can hardly hold himself back. Before too long, he tracks down a first mate, fires up the engine, and we go out to catch some walleye.

At first it's slow, no bites. But to a charter boat captain, the idea of not catching fish just never enters the picture. Ed changes lures, he changes depths, he changes the speed of his boat. And soon enough he has me reeling in a walleye.

“Keep reeling, keep reeling ... he's in the boat!”

Ed gives me a high five. In the excitement of the moment, I forget to check the color of the lure.

But I bet it was pink.

-Dustin Dwyer for The Environment Report

Next time, we’ll tag along with researchers as they do their annual fish survey on Lake St. Clair.