An Outdoor View: That got me thinking

My dentist loves to fish. Like me, he also likes to talk about fishing, which he often does while he has me in a position where I can’t respond. However, we recently squeezed in an interesting conversation about pain, and that got me to thinking.

The word “pain” reminds me of living in Anchorage, where my dentist’s name was Luther Paine. That was 40 years ago, but I can still see the look on my sons’ faces when I told them I was taking them to see Dr. Paine.

My present dentist asked me if I thought fish felt pain. I told him I wasn’t sure.

“I think they do,” he said. “The way they jump when they’re hooked, they have to be feeling pain.”

“That seems to depend on how you hook them,” I said. “If you fish with bait, some species don’t jump as much as they do when you hook them with a lure. It also matters how you ‘set’ the hook’ and pull it in. If you yank its head, it seems to cause it to panic and try to escape. But if you just slowly crank your reel without doing a lot of pumping, a fish will come right in without a struggle, at least until you pull its head to the surface.”

We batted the subject around until installing a new crown in my lower jaw took precedence. But talking about whether or not fish feel pain got me to thinking.

Scientists are all over the place on the do-fish-feel-pain question. Some have found some indications in some fish that the fish may sometimes feel some pain. According to Science Daily (Aug. 8, 2013), a study in Germany by a team of neurobiologists, behavioral ecologists and fishery scientists found that fish don’t feel pain the way humans do. These researchers concluded that fish don’t have the neuro-physiological capacity for a conscious awareness of pain.

After considerable study, much of which involved watching the tip of a fishing rod, I’ve concluded that it’s a total waste of time to try to figure out why a fish is doing or not doing something. As for feeling pain, we’ll never know for certain until we can get a fish to talk. Even if we succeed, how will we know if the fish is telling the truth?

Despite thousands of years of trying to shed light on the mysterious ways of fish, they continue to resist our efforts. What will it take to get them to talk? Do we have to resort to drugs or torture? Maybe the relatively harmless tactic that pried Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega from his refuge would work on a fish. After a couple of days of rock music blaring from loudspeakers outside his room, he surrendered. Would a fish succumb after two days of listening to “I Fought the Law” by The Clash and “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses? We won’t know until we try.

Pondering the do-fish-feel-pain question got me to thinking about other fish-related questions.

I start my days with a few rousing games of on-line Boggle. The players are mainly over-50 women, most of whom have pet dogs and cats. In the Boggle Bash chat room, a player recently asked, “Do pets go to heaven?” Someone replied that, yes, pets do go to heaven. This got me to thinking.

If pets go to heaven, what about pet fish? Do only koi, goldfish and guppies get to swim past the pearly gates, or do all fish — well, all good fish — get in?

If you’re one of the “chosen” fish, will fishing for you be allowed? If so, will it be catch-and-release only? If fishing isn’t allowed, how can it be heaven?

This is what happens when I get to thinking.

Les Palmer can be reached at

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