Don’t Spook the Fish

Stealthy fishing is successful fishing. Here are 10 tips for better results.

SOUND KILLS — the bite, that is. Most anglers know that loud noises and vibrations
can scare the fish and turn off the action as quickly as flipping a light switch. Whether
they’re casting for crappie in a lake or trolling for tuna in the ocean, anglers need to
minimize how much noise they make if they plan to fill the fishbox. These 10 tips for
stealthy fishing are guaranteed to help.

Before you leave the dock, have a short conversation with your crew about watching the volume level. While you, the captain of the boat, may be aware of how slamming a hatch will scare the snook, the people you invited aboard may be a lot less familiar with the finer points of fishing. So before you even cast off the lines, make sure everyone knows to minimize the noise.

While a modern four-stroke outboard makes virtually no noise at idle, shifting it (or any engine) into gear creates a metal-on-metal “thunk” that can be heard above and below the water. And that abrupt noise is more than enough to spook fish. Savvy captains will plan their drift carefully and avoid shifting, even if the boat is out of the ideal position, until they’re well away from the fish.

All forms of propeller-driven propulsion create prop noise underwater, including electric motors. The level of that noise is directly related to the speed of the propeller. So a potent electric trolling motor running at full throttle may actually be creating more noise than some gas-powered outboards running at idle. To boost the catch rate, simply slow down.

Many boats leak stray electrical current into the water, and some species are sensitive to electrical charges. Whether a charge emitted by a boat attracts or repels fish is anyone’s guess, so making sure the boat doesn’t leak electricity is a good idea. Attach a voltmeter to the negative terminal of the battery, with the other lead attached to a bare wire that’s five or six feet down into the water, to give it a test. Set the meter on DC zero to one on the 10ths of a volt scale, and turn the boat’s accessories on and off while watching the meter for jumps of more than a 10th of a volt. If it happens, there’s probably a cruddy connection or a bad ground somewhere in the system, leaking a charge into the water.

Another sort of foam that can deliver a boost of stealth is a foam pool noodle. This fix is specific to boats with hard chines, which may create a lot of chine slap as they drift. You can eliminate it by taking a foam pool noodle up to the bow and sliding it under the chine. Its natural buoyancy will usually hold it in place between the hull and chine, but just to be safe, the noodle should be leashed to a line that’s either clipped or cleated to the boat.

One way to lower the volume level of a boat is by adding a layer of cushioning foam to the deck. SeaDek, Marine Mat, Ocean Grip and other companies make closed-cell EVA foam sheets and strips that can be used to cover that fiberglass or aluminum, shushing all kinds of noise-making accidents, such as dropped weights, stomped feet and dragged coolers.

Some lures that are otherwise attractive can actually spook fish, particularly in very still, calm water. Lures with loud rattles, for example, can do more harm than good when the water’s surface is mirror-still. Same goes for poppers and chuggers. Casting a large or heavy lure that makes a big splashdown can have the same effect.

While there’s no doubt that booming bass or terrifying treble can scare the fish, many anglers believe that music played at a reasonable volume can improve the bite. It has nothing to do with fish “liking” the music and everything to do with masking abrupt sounds with those that are non-threatening. Just as humming a tune or whistling when walking through bear country can avert a nasty surprise, the steady sound from a low-volume stereo can prevent a sudden startle.

Everyone knows that fish will often attack a lure or bait multiple times before it finds the hook. One of the ways anglers discourage a fish from striking repeatedly is by losing their cool and laughing, cursing or hollering at the initial strike. The human voice carries through water amazingly well. Remain calm and bite your lip when a fish takes a swing and a miss, and you’re much more likely to get a follow-up bite.

Slamming hatches and other harsh fiberglass-on-fiberglass noises are guaranteed fishspookers. But you can put a damper on the damage by adding small rubber bumpers, or in some cases peel-and-stick rubber gaskets, to the surfaces where a hatch or lid mates with the gutter or rim. It may take a bit of experimentation to find the size and shape that cushions the blows without ruining the hatch’s seal, but the time and effort are worthwhile.


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