We have all heard someone in our life say “You have the memory of a goldfish” implying that we cannot remember anything past a few minutes. The one thing about fishing is that we know the same thing might not work twice, and you have to constantly keep switching up baits, or tactics in order to catch fish from one day to another.
In fact, if you are out camping for a few days, or on a week-long fishing trip, you might notice that each day you might have to switch up your lures and plastic worms because fish will bite on something one day, and the next day that same bait might not get a bite at all. We all are really wondering how long a typical fish’s memory is, or if people who use that saying are completely right, and they have no memory past a few minutes, so let’s take a few minutes to get the facts and find out.
Do fish have a good memory? Yes, they actually have a relatively great memory for how small they are. It has been said that a typical fish can remember things for months at a time or longer. Studies have proven that a fish can be played a sound, and remember that sound months later revealing that a fish can remember, and they have a very good memory.
There has been no case studies of a fish biting bait and then remembering the incident to make them stay away from the same type of bait, so it is unlikely they remember that the brown worm caused them to be caught. It is said that it would be highly unlikely to catch the same fish on the same day with the same bait because they do remember bad experiences.
There have been studies on some fish like carp and a few others that can remember for longer than months, leading up to years making them less catchable each time they get caught. There was also a study where a channel catfish remember a person’s voice for five years after calling it for food, but these are usually exceptions.
Can I Catch The Same Fish Twice
The idea that you catch a big bass, and release it, and then later that day you catch the same fish again sounds good, but it is probably unlikely. Even though fish are not conditioned like humans to remember things exactly like knowing a certain bait caused them to be caught and pulled out of the water, they do remember pain association, so it is probably not going to happen.
There can always be exceptions to this, and there is always the possibility of a really hungry fish going after a different colored bait that you toss out depending on how long you are fishing, so even though highly unlikely, it could happen depending on the conditions. Your chances are probably higher in a smaller pond of this happening than a lake or deep sea fishing because there are fewer places for a fish to hide, and if it is hungry, your bait will be the only thing left.
Do They Remember Smells
When fish are bred in hatcheries, they are fed a certain food pellet, and they learn quickly to associate that with feeding time. Manufacturers of PowerBait base their scent on of what a fish is fed in a hatchery, and they use this to their advantage because a fish will remember what food smells like and will be drawn to it.
Since fish have four nostrils, their sense of smell is actually very good and is used to remember things like food and different places. Fish can definitely remember and associate other fish, places they have been, and even danger from other fish.
Minnows release a pheromone when they are in danger and fish can smell and remember this so they know where to feed. Even though fish do remember off of smells, there are some fish like Bass that still use sight to hunt for food over the smell, so it is not all in the nose.
Does The Memory Span Depend On The Species
Studies suggest that some fish are definitely smarter than other fish, but as far as the memories go, most fish have the same memory span of a few months. There have not been studies on all species of fish, so it is possible that there are species out there that might have a longer or shorter-term memory than others, but we can get a rough idea to use on all of them.
Keep in mind that the memory of a fish is also determined on how it is raised, and what type of events have happened in its current life. An example is that fish bred in hatcheries learn and remember quickly what their food smells like, so they start to remember quickly where and when they will be fed, while wild fish use their sense of smell to remember different parts of the lake or pond they have been to.
It might take a wild fish longer to remember a certain kind of food because they might not see it every day, or ever. A fish might never see a mice or rat until it falls off a tree and is swimming and it has the chance to eat it. Their memory span for certain things all depends on how often a certain thing happens to be conditioned for long-term memory for them.
Can They Remember Good And Bad
Fish can associate different things that happen to them in a good and bad way, but not really the same way a human remembers things. A human will remember things about something good or bad for years, and associate it with different types of feelings while a fish does not.
A fish can associate getting hooked and caught as a bad situation and a bad memory, so that is why you will most likely not catch the same fish twice in one day on the same bait. There have been studies where Carp that are caught will avoid hooks for up to a year, but this is NOT the typical memory of a fish. Fish can and will modify their behavior on memory so they will know whether another fish might be bad or good and whether it needs to fight or not.
Can Fish Be Trained?
As funny as this sounds, YES, fish can be trained to do different things, but they will never be as sophisticated as a cat or dog, or any other animal that can learn to do a lot of different tricks. Fish have been trained to know when their feeding time is, especially with fish in an aquarium where a human feeds them at the same time each day, they will swim up to the top of the tank and be ready for food.
Another study was done where music was played for fish when they were fed, and after months when they were released to the wild, they waited and played the music, and the fish did come back for food. Wild fish are more likely to be trained solely on food-related, or bad experiences, but fish in an aquarium can be taught a few different tricks like following your finger around the tank or even taking food out of your hand.
Are Fish Smart?
Fish are smaller creatures, but have big brains for their size, and are thought to be extremely intelligent. They do remember things off of sight, sound, and smell, so they have many factors that can teach them to remember things. They can remember what prey smells and looks like what, and they can also remember and sense predators when they are around. Even though they do not have the long-term memory as humans do, if they have the same thing happen to them over and over, they will never forget.
The same thing is true if they swim by the same place their whole life, they will keep remembering and associating a certain smell with a place that they frequently visit. A fish’s cognitive also can match or exceed other higher levels of species including primates, so it is safe to say that they are highly intelligent creatures. Fish can associate good experiences and bad experiences helping them learn faster and keeping them safer. Fish, even though fun to catch, are extremely smart and will learn from their experiences and will remember them.