So, what is the “smartest” fish?

Published 8:30 pm Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The words smart and fish seem mutually exclusive.

    They do not have large brains and are not known for their trainability or task mastering skills.

    However when it comes to evading anglers certain species are much more wily than others, especially when the pressure is on. Call it wary, smart or attribute it to pure survival instincts but the fact is some fish are downright frustrating to pursue.

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    The following is a ranking of smart fish in descending order according to my experience. This is based on overall wariness and response to fishing pressure in a given area in the large specimens. Juveniles of most species are fairly easy to catch so this is only looking at the big ones.

    5. Tripletail—This may be my bad luck with the species but tripletail can be super shy and equally frustrating. They are one of those fish that you are usually sighting casting to and will bite like crazy for a few minutes and then shut down for seemingly no reason. They seem to notice line color and can get spooked by careless casting.

   4. Crappie—These tasty panfish might seem easy to dupe but don’t forget we are talking about the very largest specimens of a given species. Big crappie are super wary. In fact John Prochnow of Pure Fishing (He is the inventor of Gulp) has spent extensive time studying fish in laboratories and said crappie are the second most intelligent fish according to their data. As I wrote in a column earlier this year I got to hand feed some two and three-pound crappie underwater and they blasted a jet of water onto the shiner I held in my fingers before striking it. In the wild I have experience a solid “thump”, set the hook and nothing. When I slowed down and gave them a second, I would often catch the fish and it was usually a big one. I think they are testing out the food before committing.

    3. Speckled Trout—If we knew how many big speckled trout we cast right next to we would be stunned. Well, I am stunned from trips taken to South Texas where there is super clear water and you have opportunities to sight cast to huge specks and in most cases they will not respond to anything. Speckled trout can become extremely lure shy, line shy and get really nervous when someone makes a loud, careless cast that just flops into the water. Catching trophy trout is not easy.

    2. Alligator Garfish—I know you’re thinking, “Chester has finally lost it.” No, I am dead serious on this one. In fact, I debated them being number one.  The alligator gar is perhaps the most meticulous large freshwater fish in the world. In my interview with Jeremy Wade, host of Animal Planet’s smash-hit “River Monsters”, he said they were by far the most challenging of the huge fish he pursues. Gar and I am talking about six foot plus gar will pick at a bait for upwards of 30 minutes before finally taking it and according to some gar fishing guides are very wary of noise made in boats and from the shore. Really big gar are really old fish and far any fish that has a commercial value and is pursued by bow fishermen and anglers with rod and reels to make it to 50 plus year of age, indicates some kind of smarts.

   1. Largemouth Bass—When it comes to getting super finicky on water bodies ranging from one acre to 100,000 acres it is hard to deny the smarts of the largemouth bass. Pro anglers often talk about how in the blink of an eye largemouth will seemingly get lockjaw and refuse to hit anything but some certain obscure color. The largest specimens spend most of their lives in seclusion in deep water away from the shorelines pounded by most anglers. On small impoundments I have had bass even get shy to live bait and forced me to use very unusual methods to catch them. Their wariness is a huge reason they are North America’s most popular and will probably remain so in perpetuity.

    Earlier in the story, I mentioned John Prochnow of Pure Fishing said crappie were the second smartest fish according to their research. What is the first?


    I kid you not and that will be the subject of my column next week. I figure I need at least an entire column space to explain how an ugly, bottom-feeding suckerfish is smarter than a speck.

Chester Moore, Jr. is The News Outdoors Editor. To contact Chester Moore, e-mail him at You can hear him on the radio Fridays from 6-7 p.m on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI or online at