2 Heuristic Fails

I went kayak fishing Saturday planning to target mackerel early in 25-40′ of water and then to come in shallow later in the morning for flounder. I drifted over a spot that had produced mackerel and pollock for me in the past, jigging a sabiki just off the bottom. I felt a light tap that, had I been in shallow water, I would have recognized, but because I was on Salem Sound I figured the sabiki had just brushed some weed and I ignored it. Then another tap and I held the rod still – just in case – and then a definite pull from something heavy. I was surprised to reel in a decent flounder.

I had never caught winter founder in water deeper than 10′, and had never imagined a flounder would take a sabiki, and that is why I interpreted a typical winter flounder hit as weed. I spent a couple more hours drifting over good spots, catching nothing. I did see some fish jumping that might have been mackerel, but I have never seen mackerel jump, even when feeding just below the surface. In my experience a jumping fish is just pogy.

In shallow water I caught only small founder so I decided to call it a day, but not before making one last attempt at catching mackerel by an abandoned fishing pier. I was happy to get one on a wedge and I went home.

I later posted some fuzzy pictures of my catch on facebook and a friend from down south asked what the smaller fish was. Just a mackerel, I said. He commented “I guess mackerel are different up there.”

I had the uneasy feeling of being wrong about something. I had to look back on the previous day and reinterpret: it didn’t feel like a mackerel when I hooked it, and when I got it in the boat it was too deep bodied, the back less blue, the sides more metallic, and it had sharp conical teeth. Yes, it was mackerelesque in size and general build, but the details were all wrong. It was, on reflection, the same species I had seen jumping on the sound.

I had caught a small Atlantic bonito, a new species for me, and interpreted it as something familiar even if I should have instantly known it was different. An application of familiarity bias, I suppose.

I knew little of bonito, and supposed they were a species more common to the south and the open sea when in fact they can be found up to Greenland and are commonly caught inshore. Some people say they are not good to eat but it is eaten in Mediterranean cuisine; I suspect the reputation is based on it being confused with another similar species, the false albacore, or perhaps it just doesn’t freeze well. I ate it thinking it was a mackerel, and it tasted like mackerel… could that have been a misinterpretation? 

I’ve written posts on how before I made an effort to learn about tree species I would look out on a forest and just see “pine, maple, oak, and… other”. Before I learned to see distinguishing characteristics, it wasn’t that I could not tell the difference between, say, a beach or a chestnut, but that I could not even see them in a forest.

This year I am seeing lots of elms that were always there.


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