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Noise Factor

By Rob BelloniJanuary 19, 2005

In the winter time there's not many people out on the lakes. Sometimes you can actually hear the quiet out there.  The next time you hear it, take a good close listen because that's the noise that big fish hear when they are feeding.  The more time I spend trying to catch big fish, especially largemouth bass, the more I realize that fisherman as a group are a very loud bunch.  I hear motors, talking, splashing, dogs barking, banging around in boats, wakes hitting the shore, feet crunching down the shore, etc etc etc.  People just make a lot of noise, and I think the longer a fish survives, the more in tune with noise it becomes.  Consequently large fish tend to feed during quiet times.  If you become part of that quiet time, it can up your odds considerably. 

I'm going to suggest some very specific things in this article that you can do to be quieter because I believe that noise is one of the top 5 factors why some people catch big bass and others do not.  I'll talk about bass because that's what I do, but this undoubtedly applies to many species of fish.  If you do these things, you will get closer to fish before they know you are there.  If you get closer to them before they know you are there, you'll spend more time with your lure in front of fish that aren't spooked.  That means bites, and those bites will be bigger than the fish you'll catch if you've been making noise.

Boat Noise: The most obvious thing you can do to make less noise is to make less noise in the boat.  Fiberglass boats make less noise than aluminum boats, so having a glass boat helps.  If you have an aluminum (like me) take extra care not to step hard in the boat or kick things against the sides of the boat.  Even the noise of opening and shutting a tackle box can be transmitted through the boat if the tackle box is sitting on the deck.  Ask yourself, how often have I snapped my tackle box shut loudly, then turned around and made a cast and caught a fish? I find that this seldom happens.

There are several other noises a boat can make.  The one that really drives me nuts is the noise of water slapping against the hull of the boat.  It's human nature to tune out repetitive noise like this, but the next time you're out in your boat, turn up into the wind and listen to the noise your boat makes.  Some boats are louder than others, but I've never heard a boat that doesn't make some kind of noise when pointed into chop.  

At some point in the history of bass fishing, someone decided that all bass sit with their noses pointed into the wind so we should all fish upwind so we reel the lures toward the fish.  This quite frankly is a load of bull. Current in most lakes is so minimal that I seriously doubt it affects the direction that bass face.  Where there is significant current it certainly affects bass position, but bass do not sit in current like trout.  A bass doesn't wait behind a boulder for an insect to come by over the top of the boulder.  It sits behind a boulder and waits for anything to come from any direction so it can go eat it ASAP.  So my point is that when there is chop on the water, you have a choice between making boat noise and fishing in a way that makes your lure swim down wind (and MAYBE down current) OR you can fish down wind or drift down wind and make no boat noise.  To me the answer to this question is incredibly obvious, take the quiet approach!

Another boat "noise" you might not be conscious of can happen if you move suddenly up and down in the boat (like stepping down off the front deck etc).  On a heavy boat, the boat may not move much.  On a small boat, the boat might bounce up and down an inch or two in the water. On a calm day, you'll see the ripples going out away from the boat. Some people when they cast have a tendency to bounce up and down and send out these little 'shock waves'.  I've noticed that if it's calm and the boat is sending out these ripples, I don't get bit.  I really think that the fish can feel this disturbance and they know something is wrong when it happens.  If you're going down a bank casting and every time you cast you send out a 'shock wave' you're killing your odds of getting a good fish.  Learning to use your legs to dampen any movement from casting is worth your time and will help with your stealth approach on the water.

Fish Finders: If you've ever turned on your graph with the transducer out of the water, you'll notice a clicking noise on most graphs. Fiberglass boats seem to absorb this noise pretty well but aluminum boats can really reflect this sound.  On very calm days on certain conditions I can hear my graph clicking away.  If I can hear something that is under water from above the water, it's definitely audible below water.  I see a lot of people who fish with their graphs on at all times, in many cases with two graphs on.  If you're one of these guys, ask yourself from time to time if the graph is really doing anything for you while you are fishing.  My litmus test is, "Will I cast somewhere else based on what I see on the graph."  If the answer to that question is no, then I turn off the graph! I probably fish with the graph off 50% of the time because it is simply not necessary.  When you know a spot from previous graphing, the only benefit of having the graph on is to run right over the top of the spot to see if there are fish there.  What is the point of that if you have confidence in the spot?  If you just have to know if there is anything there, fish the spot first, then turn the graph on and meter it as you leave. 

Bilge and Aerator Pumps:  In tournament situations it's necessary to run your aerator to keep your fish alive.  That's a bummer for the tourney fishermen!  Aerators and bilge pumps definitely make noise under water and if I was fishing tight to cover or in calm conditions, I'd try to only run my aerator/bilge when I wasn't fishing or was sitting in deeper water.  To me, an aerator is like a little beacon to the fish that says, "I'm here I'm here, I'm right here."  Turning it off when possible is a good call.

Talking:  How well fish can hear you talking under water is debatable. If you go underwater in a pool, and there's people talking on the edge of the pool, they're harder to hear than above water, but you can still hear them.  Even if you're being quiet as a mouse with the boat, if you're talking loudly you very well may be sending a signal to the fish that something is out of the ordinary.  I can't ever remember talking loudly with someone and getting a bite at the same time, but I'm not a loud talker in general so it's hard for me to gauge exactly.  Talking quietly is probably a good idea and since most fishing boats aren't more than 20 feet long, it's not like it's necessary anyway :)

Walking:  Guys who flyfish for wild trout know that when they approach a stream they shouldn't step hard on the ground and cause any vibration because it spooks the trout.  Fishing from the shore for bass is a great way to sneak up on them, especially at night, but if you tromp down to the water, don't expect much.  At night bass will sit very tight to the shore sometimes and any kind of noise on an otherwise quiet night will alert them that something is amiss. Walk softly and carry a big bait would be an appropriate comment for bank fishing.

The last thing to mention is background noise.  The most obvious source of background noise is wind.  On windy days, you can simply get away with more noise.  Busy weekend days with lots of motors running around and boat wakes hitting the shore can equate into background noise as well.  If the fish are used to a lot of background noise, this may actually play to your advantage because even if you make a little noise, you'll just blend in with all the background noise.  I sometimes contemplate if the theory that big fish bite in bad weather has as much to do with the fact that it masks the presence of the fishermen as it does with the bad weather itself.  Fishing in my kickboat and float tube has shown me that big bass do bite in calm conditions, you have to be stealthy about it.

Hopefully these tips will help you to become more aware of noise sources when fishing and put some extra fish in the boat for you.  If you're after big fish and not having much success, pay attention to how much noise you are making while you fish and make a concerted effort to be more stealthy.  If you want to catch all the small ones and leave the big ones for the sneaky guys, that's ok too :)

Copyright © Robert Belloni 1997-2012. All Rights Reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without express written consent.
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