Few experiences are more rewarding than introducing a child to the outdoors. I remember teaching my daughters at the age of three to recognize the voice of a barred owl — “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all!” They were amazed they could identify a bird without seeing it.
And when my wife and I introduced Nora and Emma to the art of morel hunting, they were so proud because they invariably found more than we did. I think it was because their eyes were closer to the ground.
Spring is the season of new beginnings. It’s the perfect time to introduce a son, daughter, or grandchild to outdoor adventure. One way is to take a kid fishing.
April brings the opening day of trout season. Get a license and give a special child a break from cell phones and computer games. Breathe fresh air, get off the beaten path, and talk. And don’t worry about catching fish. It’s more about the experience and getting to know the child.
I can still see the look of shock, surprise, and excitement on my daughters’ faces when they caught their first fish.
Fishing is also a great time to teach kids about fish biology. Lessons about trout senses, for example, can be observed as well as taught.
Fish have excellent vision, but seeing in water is more challenging than seeing in air. Water distorts, bends, scatters, and dims available light; particles suspended in the water create turbidity that compounds the problem. Flowing water in streams makes vision even more difficult.
With eyes on the sides of the head, however, fish have a wide field of view and a small window of binocular vision straight ahead. To the rear, fish have a narrow blind spot that anglers can exploit.
Trout also enjoy color vision. Reds, in particular, provide important visual cues during the spawning season. That’s why many lures include red markings.
The most important lesson about trout vision is that if you can see them, they can probably see you. Every experienced angler knows how skittish fish can be.
But keen vision is just one of their sensory defenses. Trout also hear extremely well, and they have another sensory system that humans can only imagine.
Trout ears are simpler than those of terrestrial vertebrates. They have only an inner ear. Land-based vertebrates also have outer and middle ears, concessions to the relatively slow speed of sound waves through air. In water, sound travels faster and farther so an inner ear suffices.
A trout’s inner ear consists of a series of canals and chambers that transmit sounds to sensory hairs that send signals to the brain. These signals enable trout to both hear and maintain balance.
Because sound travels so well in water even the sound of a lure landing on the surface can alert a trout to danger. Anglers wading on slippery rocks should realize that every slip, every stumble, and of course, every fall warns nearby trout of potential danger. So move slowly, smoothly, and quietly. Fortunately, noisy rapids help obscure your presence.
Though keen vision and excellent hearing might seem sufficient to keep trout aware of their immediate environment, they (and other fish, too) have a third sensory system that works even in muddy, dark, and noisy water.
The lateral line system is a series of pores that runs along the sides of the body. They house structures (again sensory hairs) that can detect changes in wave patterns and water pressure. It helps smaller fish detect the approach of bigger fish. And it’s what enables a school of fish to move as a super-organism. They move seemingly in unison because they can sense each other’s presence. So again a wading angler is at a disadvantage.
If you can take a child fishing this spring, use it as an opportunity to explain their sensory abilities. Kids will be amazed that even in the water, fish they can usually see you, hear you, and even feel your presence.
Shalaway can be heard 8 to 10 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) or online at www.watchdognetwork.com. Visit www.drshalaway.com or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.