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> > The Mind of the Trout -- really interesting book

The Mind of the Trout -- my review of a really interesting book

By Troutnut on February 5th, 2013, 6:34 pm
I took advantage of a long flight back to Alaska yesterday to finish reading Thomas Grubb's 2003 book, The Mind of the Trout. It's very good. I'm surprised to see it hasn't come up in discussions here yet, because this site caters directly to the book's target audience of scientifically curious fly anglers.

Most scientifically oriented fly fishing books focus on the insects trout eat, just like the aquatic insect encyclopedia on this site. We devote hours upon hours to learning how to distinguish between nearly identical mayflies using microscopic features. While some entomology does help us catch more fish, we take it to levels that would be absurd if catching more fish were our only purpose. We really do these things because we enjoy every minute on the river more deeply when we better understand what's going on around us. The cycles of aquatic life are fascinating dramas, and dramas are more enjoyable when the characters are well developed. When we understand the life story of each insect we see, when we know the trials and tribulations of its life cycle, the whole experience is more profound. Entomology tells us about the characters in the stories we witness on the river.

It seems odd, then, that we largely overlook one character in our hunger for scientific detail: the trout. We have plenty of observations of trout behavior as it relates to catching them: where they like to feed, how to avoid scaring them, what time of day to pursue them, etc. That's good practical advice from angler to angler, and many of the best angling writers (like LaFontaine and Marinaro) were real scientific naturalists in all but formal title. But the scientific literature also holds some very interesting information about why trout do what they do, and angling writers have overlooked most of it.

The Mind of the Trout changes that. This book, written by a scientist with relevant expertise, very thoroughly summarizes the scientific literature on several subjects related to how trout live and, especially, how they think. It nicely ties in relevant science from other animals when an important question hasn't yet been studied in trout. The author adds excellent insights of his own to fill some of the gaps and tie scientific findings to angling. The book is written on a level for anglers who enjoy technical detail but are not steeped in the jargon of the field. However, I'm completing a Ph.D. on the behavioral ecology of salmonids, and I still learned a lot from this book. I can guarantee the same for anyone who reads it.

Whether or not this book is for you comes down to what you want to learn. Just like the technical books on fly fishing entomology, most of the book is superfluous to the task of catching trout. This is a book to help you appreciate the trout. It sometimes leaves us unsatisfied with how little is known about an interesting question, but that's not the book's fault -- it honestly summarizes the best science has to offer, but the scientific study of trout behavior and cognition is a young field that has barely scratched the surface of the difficult mysteries it's exploring.

I would not recommend this book to someone who picked up a fly rod for the first time last month. However, if you're the kind of angler who can name more than three stonefly mouth parts off the top of your head, but the term "optimal foraging theory" is unfamiliar and you can't fully describe the relationship between food, temperature, and trout growth, then I think you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

Comments / replies

CrepuscularFebruary 6th, 2013, 9:46 am
Boiling Springs, PA

Posts: 923
Thanks Jason, I'll have to check it out!
PaulRobertsFebruary 6th, 2013, 11:27 am

Posts: 1776
Sounds right up my alley.
OldredbarnFebruary 6th, 2013, 4:44 pm
Novi, MI

Posts: 2608

I think the reason we may be avoiding this text is our fear that we may find out that what we think we know might be hokum. :)

It may be better to romanticize here. If we reduce our query to a pea brained automaton and reduce the "skill" needed to pursue it...I might have to ignore my back problems and sharpen my skates.

"Even when my best efforts fail it's a satisfying challenge, and that, after all, is the essence of fly fishing." -Chauncy Lively

"Envy not the man who lives beside the river, but the man the river flows through." Joseph T Heywood
Shawnny3February 6th, 2013, 5:44 pm
Pleasant Gap, PA

Posts: 1197
That's a really nice book review, Jason. I am struck by the cover. What a great image. Even without seeing the title, the curious look on that trout as it peers at me leaves me wondering, "What's he thinking?" Great artwork.

Jewelry-Quality Artistic Salmon Flies, by Shawn Davis
EntomanFebruary 6th, 2013, 8:54 pm
Northern CA & ID

Posts: 2604
I'm surprised to see it hasn't come up in discussions here yet...

Well, with a recommendation like your blog I'm sure we'll see plenty of discussion in the future!

Thanks, Jason.
"It's not that I find fishing so important, it's just that I find all other endeavors of Man equally unimportant... And not nearly as much fun!" Robert Traver, Anatomy of a Fisherman
Jmd123February 7th, 2013, 6:51 pm
Oscoda, MI

Posts: 2608
I've heard of this book before I think, but have not yet read it. Gonna have to find it, sounds good.

Just yesterday I was out ice fishing on Tawas Bay, just south of Oscoda on Lake Huron (look it up on Google Maps). I had probably the coolest ice fishing experience of my life, because the water was very clear and I could see all the way to the bottom in 15-20 feet of water. I spent the entire time watching perch investigate and then hit first a jigging Rapala and then minnows on a teardrop jig. It was like fishing in a big aquarium, where every move the fish made was perfectly visible. And it was amazing how much they just fiddled with it and poked at it and swam around it before somebody finally grabbed it and got hooked. Of between 30 to 40 of them only 7 were big enough to put in the freezer...but it was a serious lesson in fish behavior, considering how much time we fishermen spend UNABLE to see just what the heck fish are doing (like 90% or so?).

Closer to home for us, back in my UMBS days on the Maple River, I once came across a small rainbow trout, perhaps 8-9" long, that was feeding literally right in front of me, not more than 10 feet away, perfectly visible in all of it's myriad behaviors. Such as, rising to the surface and swallowing every single little green weevil (think a flourescent green beetle in size 20) that floated by on it's left side. I threw flies at this fish and noticed that anything floating by it's RIGHT side was ignored. It took me an hour and a half to finally hook this fish and bring it to hand, and it was missing it's RIGHT eye! As it was facing upstream to my right, it couldn't see me but I could see him (or her?) and all of this fish's reactions to my flies, and of course those tiny green weevils. In those days I was eating anything of legal size, and this fish was back then, but as I was contemplating putting it in my creel it leaped from my hand and back into the river it went. I figured hey, if it's been surviving this long with ONE EYE it deserves to keep on living. Anyway, another fascinating chance to see fish behavior up close and personal. The fish never did tell me how he lost his right eye...

No matter how big the one you just caught is, there's always a bigger one out there somewhere...
DaphillipsFebruary 28th, 2013, 10:20 am
Posts: 1I registered to this site with the intent of being able to post a message. As a fly fisher and insect lover I just wanted to thank you for your commitment to your website. I love to tie my own unique patterns and your pictures provide a great reference. MANY THANKS AND KEEP UP THE OUTSTANDING WORK!

MartinlfFebruary 28th, 2013, 11:43 am
Palmyra PA

Posts: 3222
Welcome to Troutnut, David.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
TroutnutFebruary 25th, 2015, 6:33 pm
Bellevue, WA

Posts: 2736
Bumping this old thread because I'm curious--has anyone else read it yet? What did you think?
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist
MiltRPowellFebruary 25th, 2015, 8:19 pm
Posts: 106No I have not, nor never heard of said book. I shall put it on my look for a copy want list.
I do have; The Way of the Trout, by M. R. Montgomery.
copyright 1991.
I like it when someone gives a good heads up on a read. Thanks-Milt...
MiltRPowellFebruary 25th, 2015, 10:13 pm
Posts: 106 Thanks for the friv-o-lous book review. I'm gonna walk away from that one. It sounds like a, I don't know book, not for me. I am more, The Joys of the trout, The Way Of The Trout, Brook trout,& The Quotable Fisherman. But thanks, but na,ya freaked me out,really with that review,but ya most likely saved me afew bucks.
PaulRobertsFebruary 26th, 2015, 10:29 pm

Posts: 1776
OK... pulled my post. Didn't mean it to come off that I disliked the book, or thought it not to be of potential interest to many anglers. And it certainly wasn't "fri-vo-lous" if that means frivolous, although I enjoyed writing it. So I gutted the fun from my review and will just leave it at:

It's a science book first and a fishing book somewhere further down the line; a worthwhile read for anglers who want to go deeper into the understanding of the cognitive (and other wise –after all they are entwined) lives of fishes. It’s a bit dense (the more you bring to the subject the more you receive kind of thing) for a lay audience, I think. That said, the book is full of intriguing, tantalizing possibilities.
TroutnutFebruary 26th, 2015, 11:14 pm
Bellevue, WA

Posts: 2736
It's a science book first and a fishing book somewhere further down the line; a worthwhile read for anglers who want to go deeper into the understanding of the cognitive (and other wise –after all they are entwined) lives of fishes.

I would agree with that. I tried to convey in my review that it's not for everyone. But I think there are a lot of scientifically curious fly anglers (especially on this site) whose curiosity has mostly been directed toward the insects we imitate, and it's nice to see a book for this technical audience that focuses more on the fish themselves.
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist
MiltRPowellFebruary 27th, 2015, 11:44 am
Posts: 106PaulRoberts, I didn't mean to knock anyones bowl of cheerios over. My meaning per;is simple;per (my) serious attention. With that said, I am sorry, and I shall also leave it at that.
Troutnut,I to say sorry ta, for I did not read your review on top of said, page. You did convey in your review that it's not for everyone.
With this I hope the cherrios are back in the bowl, & all we have is abit of spilled milk.
I'll close this with.
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the differance.
PaulRobertsFebruary 28th, 2015, 12:01 am

Posts: 1776
Not offended, Milt. I pulled my post bc I didn't want it to potentially turn readers off to Dr. Grubb's book. It's a worthwhile read and, as Jason had said, there is not all that much out there on fish cognition for anglers.
MiltRPowellFebruary 28th, 2015, 10:27 am
Posts: 106The literature of angling falls into two genres: the
instructional and the devotional. The former is written by fisherman who write, the latter by writers who fish.
William Humphrey
My Moby Dick (1978)
PaulRobertsMarch 1st, 2015, 8:28 pm

Posts: 1776
Apparently there is also the scientist who fishes, and bothers to write. Not sure exactly where he fits: instructional, or devotional to something beyond hooking fish. Hey, just what IS his book about anyway?

"There is just as much beauty visible to us in the landscape as we are prepared to appreciate, and not a grain more.” -Henry David Thoreau
MiltRPowellMarch 1st, 2015, 9:58 pm
Posts: 106For while the trout fisherman's efforts are ostensibly aimed at taking trout,his preoccupation is concerned with preserving the illusion that his elaborate methodology is at all times justified.
Harold Blaisdell

The Philosophical Fisherman (1968)
OldredbarnMarch 2nd, 2015, 4:12 pm
Novi, MI

Posts: 2608
Ok...I wasn't going to go here, but...I've already upset my friend Tony in a text when I mentioned Bob Wyatt...Anyone heard of him?

I think that Mr. Wyatt would rattle a few hackles here...See my original response above. We anglers do prefer to hold tight to our personal fantasies of what it is we are really doing here, when we chase Mr. Trout. :)

Otherwise...How could we justify the effort, the long trips, the outlay of dough for tackle? Maybe some would prefer that Pandora's Box stay closed.

"Even when my best efforts fail it's a satisfying challenge, and that, after all, is the essence of fly fishing." -Chauncy Lively

"Envy not the man who lives beside the river, but the man the river flows through." Joseph T Heywood

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