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Thursday, January 4, 2018

Do Fish Have Individual Personalities?

Largemouth Bass (c)Engbretson Underwater Photography
I'm often asked this question and I have some definite thoughts about it.  I’ve been photographing fish underwater in their natural habitat for over 25 years.  In that time, there are long stretches when I’ve worked with the same individual fish for years at a time.  Because of that, I think I’m uniquely qualified to comment on whether they have individual personalities or not.  The answer to this is unequivocally yes.
Just like the personality distinctions one could make between say poodles and collies, distinctions between different types of fish certainly exist. And not only do entire species like northern pike, largemouth bass or bluegills have their own group personalities, but individual fish in the group have theirs too.  The individual fish and their unique personalities have as much depth and richness as the personalities of our pets. Sometimes I want to assign all the fish of one species with a label.  At first, I’ll think something like, “You know, Black Crappies seem to be a little aloof”.  But then I’ll remember one or two that I’ve met that weren’t and it makes me reluctant to paint the whole species with a broad brush.    
If you're skeptical of the idea that fish have personalities, I would say that you have to get to know them to understand that.  Very few humans have forged anything resembling a relationship with a fish.  Certainly, few people have connections with wild fish.  When you spend the enormous amounts of time I have with fish, secrets like this reveal themselves to you.

So what are some of the different personality characteristics of fish? Here are a few common species and the traits I think they demonstrate, based on decades of underwater interaction with them:
Largemouth Bass: Clever; Focused; Innovative   
Smallmouth Bass: Curious; Enthusiastic; Assertive;   
Walleye: Stoic; Contemplative; Organized;   
Musky: Uninhibited; Clumsy; Suspicious;
Northern Pike: Timid; Patient; Obsessive;  
Bluegill: Friendly; Daring; Active;
Carp: Alert; Decisive; Anxious