The Bubble Blog » Switch and Bait
Switch and Bait
Posted on December 15, 2010 by freshwater
Fish training often requires ingenuity, and I thank my great-grandfather for bequeathing to me his inventor genes. (I'd thank him even more if he had patented his inventions, gotten rich, and bequeathed to me a mind-boggling inheritance.) But even the ingenious sometimes get stuck, and that's where I've been with Promethea's handbell lessons.

She will ring the bell now and again when music is played near her tank. But during training sessions, you'd think the bell string was the most foully distasteful object known to fishdom.

I tried every trick I knew to make Thea like that string. I painstakingly shaped her behavior one tiny step at a time, but she always refused to clamp down and pull. I tried making the string more palatable, smearing it with everything from smashed peas to kiwi smoothie. I tried replacing the string with a lovely sprig of watercress. No dice. Finally I conceded defeat and began making windchimes that she could ring by pushing instead of pulling. (This in itself is not a bad thing.)

Still, I couldn't let go of the handbells. (Figuratively.) After all, Jor Jor gained worldwide fame with her bell virtuosity. Why shouldn't other fish? So I let the problem percolate in my subconscious. Then yesterday, like a shot of hot magma from some undersea volcano, the solution seared through my brain and burst into flame. (Ouch.) There is already a multi-billion dollar sport devoted to getting fish to tug on a string. It's called fishing! And what makes the fishing industry's mega-machine go? I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Plastics!

What I needed, I surmised, was a soft but durable, plastic bait to replace the bell string. So I set out to find it. Tirelessly I worked day and night with my research associates, Google and Android. (Okay, that's a lie. I got tired.) At first I was discouraged. Plastic bait, turns out, often contains phthalates, chemicals that are at best problematic and at worst, poisonous. Then I began to think green (though it wasn't easy being, um, that.) Thanks to some environmentally responsible fisherfolk, there are a few brands of plasticky fish bait composed of non-toxic, biodegradable substances. They don't litter lake and sea bottom with thousands of tons of plastic that will outwit, outplay, and outlast the human species. Infused with compelling scent and taste, hungry fishies become deliriously attracted to this bait. Some of it is actually nutritious for the fish!


Shaking with anticipation (or with subsonic tremors from the shifting of the glacier on our roof), I searched online for a source. Then, dodging subzero air temps and snow piled higher than a giraffe's eyelash, I raced off to my local Fleet Farm to purchase a substance more precious than mini-marshmallows swimming in double fudge hot chocolate.

I also bought a Christmas horsie. He's just precious!

Arriving home lickety split, I grabbed Thea's handbell, a few tools, some fishing line, and a candy cane, and created the world's most brilliant fish instrument. Behold The Baitbell!



I tried it right away in a training session with Thea, and she rang it six times! YES!

What's so cool about this is that not only will I finally be able to harness Thea's musical impulses, but I have an effective way to color code the bells. And with many sizes, shapes, colors, scents and tastes of bell "string," the Baitbell should excite even the most finicky of piscine prodigies, now and for posterity!

I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Bait!