The Science of Triggering a Strike via the Fish Sensory Systems

By Greg Stunz, Ph.D.
Endowed Chair, Fisheries and Ocean Health
Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies
Professor of Marine Biology
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Texas

Fish detect prey by a diverse and highly-evolved set of sensory systems. As most accomplished fishermen recognize, the more senses you can appeal to, the more likely a strike. These specialize sensory systems involve the detection of Sound/Vibration, Sight and Smell.
Sound /Vibration: Two systems: Lateral Lines and Otoliths
One of the most developed sensory systems on a fish allows it to detect sound and vibration. These consist of two highly developed systems, the Acoustico-Lateralis System, commonly known as the lateral line (Figure 1, 2 and 3) and inner ear (Figure 4). These systems give fish a sense of "distance touch" and ability to detect and locate prey in the murkiest waters and even total darkness.

 

Vision:
Most game fish have a highly developed sense of vision and are acute visual predators. Thus, sight plays a very important role in prey detection. While a fish's eye is similar to most vertebrates, fish have an abundance of rods for low light vision, but also cones for detecting a variety of colors in the electromagnetic spectrum. Some fish can even detect ultraviolet and polarized light. As fish near the distance to the prey, this becomes the primary sense used.
Chemoreception (smell/taste):
Many fish rely heavily on their sense of smell (olfaction) and taste to detect chemical signals in their environment. Fish have nasal sacs containing the organs for smell as well as taste buds in the mouth and sometimes all over the body (e.g., catfishes). Stimulation of these organs can often result in an immediate reaction strike.
In Summary:
Once any of a fish's sensory systems are activated, the response is enhanced through specialized Mauthner cells that create rapid millisecond responses. This rapid response can often be seen in what is commonly referred to as a "reaction" strike by anglers. These cells receive direct sensory input from visual, auditory, and lateral line systems, and once activated, bypass "higher" brain functions resulting in a rapid reaction. This will trigger the desired predatory response. Anglers can enhance the chances of a strike by using lures that have visual and sound producing appeal.
The Rockport Rattler® products take advantage of these sensory systems on the fish in these specific ways:

  • Sound / Vibration - Anglers have long been inserting rattles into the bodies of soft plastic baits and have been adding rattles to the line or in a popping cork. The Rockport Rattler® products have improved this greatly by the way the rattle chamber is imbedded into the lead of the jig head and mated alongside the hook. This gives three very distinct advantages.
  • The rattle cannot come out of the bait on a strike. A lost rattle costs around 40 cents each.
  • Both lead and steel are very good conductors of sound. They amplify the sound of the rattle outside the plastic body much the same as a dinner bell being rung. This, combined with water being an exceptional conductor of sound, allows the Rockport Rattler® jig head to be heard from much greater distances.
  • We put the rattle on the business end of your fishing system. Why leave the rattle on the line or in the popping cork?
  • Site - The fish's instincts are to strike the head, killing their prey instantly. The Rockport Rattler®'s various color combinations with light reflecting eyes and motion eyes provide a realistic visual target for the predator fish, resulting in more hookups and less tail bites. The assortments of colors we offer allow the angler to match or contrast their soft plastic color.
  • Smell/Taste - Use the Rockport Rattler® jig head with your favorite scented plastic or apply your own scents to the plastic to give you a bait that stimulates all of the triggers that make a fish strike.

Photos credit: Steve Dougherty
Otolith Photo Credit:
A guide to otoliths from fishes of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean, by Ivy E. Baremore and Dana M. Bethea, NOAA Fisheries Panama City Laboratory