Fishing Around column: Wrinkled fingers have purpose

I don’t recall learning to swim. It’s like I never didn’t know how to do it. We’d go down the street and splash into Lewis Bay, and I’d chase fish, float over scurrying crabs and get spin cycled by ferry boat wakes.

Beyond Lewis Bay, a road trip might be all the way over to Seagull Beach. Later, I’d swim in the sea off Maine and Mexico, down in the Florida Keys and out to Muscle Beach, Venice, Calif.

Whatever the location, I was the kid they had to drag, bodily, out of the water. I remember being cold and shivering and warming up in a towel, sinuses open, muscles loose in that watery way, fingertips scalloped with lines.

Turns out that there may have been a strategic reason my fingers pruned up when they got wet.

Mark Changizi is an evolutionary biologist at 2AI Labs in Boise, Idaho. In a study entitled “Brain, Behavior and Evolution,” Changizi suggests that the long, unconnected channels branching from a point — to help water flow out — on our fingertips in an adaptation to help us grab stuff. Like fish.

The non-connectedness of the channels helps push water away, focusing grip on the tip of the finger.

“That’s where all the work has to be done to channel the water away,” says Changizi in the study. He compares it to the difference in race car tires — smooth for dry tracks, channeled when it’s wet out.

This could be a development, an adaptation that helped our primitive grand elders to grab hold of slippery things by the water’s edge — plants, shellfish, eels and fish. It’s an interesting theory.

Not everyone is convinced. Various fields have weighed in on Changizi’s theory, released in 2011, which was featured in the Cambridge Science Festival earlier this year, as well as a magazine article in Scientific American. Opinions among biomedical engineers and neurosurgeons are mixed.

Tom Smulders and Kyriacos Kareklas from Newcastle University in England followed up with tests where people with pre-soaked fingers could move wet marbles 12 percent faster and more accurately than those with just-immersed fingers.

As to why fingers wouldn’t be wrinkled all the time, Smulders suggests that it may impair the sense of touch, or may be more easily injured. But Changizi is convinced — our fingers prune up to help up grab fish. Keep that in mind the next time you see an eel in an estuary or a herring in a run.

So while thankful to live in a stable, secular democracy, it’s time to ask …

What’s going on?

My intern is already paying huge dividends. She can’t fish a lick, but knows where all the good coffee and mocha shops are located. Her suggestion for this week’s column was “On: Eels. They are gross and make fishing way more scarier than need be.”

1. Buzzards Bay/Cape Cod Canal: Good black seabass bite in Buzzards, especially around Cleveland Ledge. Commercial guys have been limiting out on them, more jigging than with traditional bait rigs. Decent bass down the Elizabeth chain. But all anyone up here can talk about is the bite in the Canal, which is stretching into a weeks-long phenomena at this point. Big, lunker bass are gorging on squid. We had a light spring for squid, the season they are most traditionally abundant, but that seems to be made up for now with big squid; reports of scads of them with over 10- and even 12-inch tubes, from the Canal clear up to Gloucester.

2. Islands: The Derby starts this weekend at precisely 12:01 a.m. on Sunday. Go get ’em! Doug from Dick’s Bait Tackle has been doing dawn patrol “for two weeks now; State Beach to West Chop to Tashmoo and not a word on bonito and albacore.” Been real slow for the funny fish to date, especially from shore. The only place they’re showing up in any numbers is south of the Island, at the Hooter and out toward the canyons. They do have some hefty 8- and 9-pound blues crashing through, and Edgartown Harbor has been filling up with butterfish and herring. Good signs. Nantucket has a little of this, a little of that. Blues all over, at times, with bass more elusive and nocturnal. Occasional false albies at Great Point now, too, according to the Nantucket Tackle Center.

3. Cape southside beaches and estuaries: Shore fishing around Cotuit and Three Bays is picking up with fish straddling the schoolie/keeper demarcation (28 inches is the minimum legal size for striped bass). Popponesset Spit was another spot mentioned; a 36-inch bass bit there the other day. And Bass River has scup and cocktail blues inside with fluke around the mouth.

4. Nantucket Sound: Middle Ground has been holding some bass, and the seabass bite is strong off the wrecks. Blues here and there. You’ll notice them; blues are conspicuous.

5. The Great Backside Beach: Occasional blues ripping around, mostly an early morning bite. The further north you go, the more consistent it has been. Keeper bass were taken off the sands up around Race Point.

6. Cape Cod Bay: From the Canal end to Scorton Creek to Sandy Neck has been most consistent. Guys dragging tube and worm combos close to the beach have been doing well. Forestdale Bait weighed a nice 41-pounder taken on that technique in this area. Barnstable Harbor reported pretty slow for striper, but just outside, Danny from the Hook-Up was slamming black seabass by the channel buoys, even picked up a tautog.

Freshwater: Peter’s Pond was the scene of some trout action. They seem to be moving in closer, to about 20 feet of water. A pike was taken from Wequaquet, and Spectacle Pond had some decent largemouth. Further east, Baker’s Pond in Orleans had a fair bite for largemouth with occasional trout biting on shiners.

Catch ’em up!

Information for this column was assembled from a variety of liars, exaggerators, mis-informants, ne’er-do-wells and roustabouts. In other words, from fishermen.

Contributing writer Rob Conery can be contacted at


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