Sound AdviceSound Advice
Speak easy, walk softly, and troll at a constant pace
By John Neporadny, Jr.
Shhhhh! You'd expect to hear that from someone sitting next to you at a movie theater, but not necessarily from your tournament partner. Well, if you're making too much noise in the boat, you might get an earful.
Some anglers believe talking and other manmade noises have little effect on a bass and its feeding habits, but some of the top pros on the Wal-Mart FLW Tour think otherwise. "Fishermen need to condition themselves to be stealthy all the time," says pro Randy Blaukat, a three-time Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship qualifier from Lamar, Mo.
Camouflage helps hunters stalk their prey, but bass anglers have no such luxury in a boat. "We don't sneak up on the fish," Blaukat says. "If a bass can find and eat a little minnow in muddy water they can probably sense a 20-foot bass boat moving 50 feet from them. That situation is just like a lake that has alligators in it. A bass knows alligators are there, but they still have to feed. It's the same with bass boats all over the lake. Those fish know that there is something in the environment that is foreign, and the only thing you can do is be quiet enough to where they will still strike."
How stealthy an angler needs to be depends on the situation. "Being quiet is critical as far as approaching fish, especially depending on the technique you are using," Blaukat says. He believes eliminating noise is most critical in short-range presentations such as pitching and flipping.
The environment also determines how fish will react to human sounds. "You always hear the story about how the fish were really biting during the week and then they turn off during the weekend," Blaukat says. "My theory is the fish get conditioned to noise such as increased boat activity or trolling motor sounds, then become dormant or inactive in the same way as if a bad cold front came through. The boats and all the external sounds are comparable to adverse weather conditions that create less than opportunistic feeding time for bass."
The Missouri angler gives an example of how bass react negatively to unnatural noises. "I can work through a stretch of water on a Wednesday or Thursday prior to a weekend tournament and catch five or 10 fish out of one area," he says. "Then I'll go back there on the weekend with increased recreational boat traffic and two of us in my boat making twice the noise, and I'll get half the bites under the same weather conditions. So when I have that-and all the other variables are consistent-the only other thing it can be is the noise."
On some bodies of water, however, bass become conditioned to human activity and boat traffic. Blaukat suggests bass on heavily pressured fisheries such as Lake of the Ozarks and Grand Lake of the Cherokees bite better than those on remote waters like Lake Champlain during periods of increased boat traffic and other recreational activities. "I've caught fish on Grand Lake when people were swimming around docks and making noise," Blaukat claims.
Weather and water conditions also play a key role in how bass react to sounds. "When you've got wind or current, noise isn't that big of a factor," says Rick Morris, a Virginia Beach, Va., angler who has competed on the Wal-Mart FLW Tour since 1996. "The fish feel a little more comfortable when there is wind and current. I guess it is sort of a noise blanket. When it is dead still, no cloud cover and no current, then I feel noise is a big factor, especially when fishing the bank."
Bass seem to be more sensitive to sound in clear water, even when the fish are deep. Blaukat has noticed bass in the deep waters of gin-clear Bulls Shoals and Table Rock lakes being adversely affected by trolling motor noises and boat traffic. The veteran tournament angler believes bass are least bothered by unnatural sounds when hiding in shallow heavy cover with murky water. Blaukat claims he has caught fish in these situations from fallen trees when his trolling motor was running within only 2 feet of the cover.
While working a spot, Lillegard tries three or four different lures to determine the mood of the fish. He opts for spinnerbaits and crankbaits to trigger reaction strikes from aggressive bass or he picks jigs and tubes for lethargic bass. Soft plastic and floating jerkbaits are other lures Lillegard selects for saturating an area.
When fishing off-colored water, Mount Airy, Md., angler Frank Ippoliti seldom worries about making noises, but he becomes more cautious when sight fishing. In this shallow, clear-water situation, the Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship qualifier avoids wearing bright-colored clothing and remains quiet to prevent spooking any skittish nesting fish.
Since some sounds have such a negative effect on bass, the top pros take certain precautions to limit their noise. Blaukat and Morris run their trolling motors at a constant speed to prevent spooking fish. "It's not necessarily the frequency of the trolling motor itself that spooks fish but it's the constant on and off that has more of an effect on them," Blaukat warns. "If the trolling motor is on and I'm going in a straight line, I haven't noticed it being that bad of a deal."
Morris runs his trolling motor at a constant pace because he believes it makes noise whenever it starts. "Any trolling motor bracket tends to get loose after a while and it will creak or bang every time you step on that button," he says. Ippoliti keys on active fish in the shallows so he never frets about trolling motor sounds as he runs down a bank.
Other equipment also tends to emit unnatural noises that can turn off fish. All three anglers usually shut off their electronics when fishing shallow, especially in clear water. Morris recommends turning off any equipment that vibrates through the hull of the boat, such as humming electronic flashers.
Muffling the rumble of an outboard motor is impossible, so the pros have to try other alternatives to prevent disturbing bass. "Those fish can hear that thing coming forever. It doesn't make any difference if you shut down 500 yards or 30 yards from a cove those fish are going to hear that outboard," Blaukat says.
The Missouri angler believes, however, that bass have grown accustomed to human activity and the sound of engines. "Throughout the years outboard motors have become a part of the fish's environment," Blaukat theorizes. "There is probably no lake in the United States that doesn't get outboard motor noise." So the only precaution Blaukat takes is to keep his prop wash away from the area he plans on fishing.
If he's fishing a remote, confined area, Morris will shut down well in advance and idle up to the spot. In open areas he runs 50 to 60 yards past a spot and then turns his boat into the same direction he intends to fish. This prevents his wake from disturbing the area. "If you turn anywhere near your spot by the time you set up to fish it you are in your own wake, and it is a big wake because you have turned the boat." He suggests such precautions are unnecessary when fishing areas exposed to heavy boat traffic.
While competing in a Wal-Mart FLW Tour event on Lake St. Clair, Ippoliti noticed the sound of outboard motors actually had a positive effect on smallmouth bass. "A lot of times it seemed like when someone turned on an outboard they started biting," he recalls.
Even a noisy reel can produce a disturbing tone to bass. Morris recalls using a grinding bait-cast reel that apparently turned off fish. "I couldn't catch anything on it, so I lost my confidence and stopped using it except for top-water fishing," Morris says. "I feel like if you have a bad grinding reel it transmits down the line, especially if cranking something through the water." He also thinks the noise of braided lines rubbing against rod guides repels bass.
A clumsy, boisterous partner can have some impact on the fish, too. Blaukat admits he "can't stand be to be in the boat with someone who doesn't think the fish hears them."
Stealth is extremely important to Blaukat. "I try to keep talking to a minimum and my movements real fluid without a lot of jerky motions in the boat," he says. "I also try to keep my trolling motor on the quietest possible speed that I can."
Conversing in areas buzzing with heavy boat traffic and other commotion becomes less of an issue to Morris. "I don't think talking is that big of a deal unless you are in an enclosed area with high banks that might cause it to echo and bounce around," he says.
The Virginia pro does expect his partner to keep noise to a minimum though. "Dropping, clanking and banging is definitely a no-no in the boat," Morris says. "If my partner does make noise like that I will definitely say something to him." Morris helps his partners minimize noise by storing their tackle to give them ample room and prevent them from constantly bumping into stuff.
When sight fishing, Ippoliti also minimizes talking and movements. Since he needs to watch his lure at all times, Ippoliti believes talking becomes a distraction then. "That fish can suck in your bait any time and spit it out faster than you can react, so if you are talking chances are you're not going to get it," he warns.
After spotting a bedding fish, Ippoliti positions his boat within casting distance of the nest and drops an anchor. "Of course the fish sees the boat and knows that I'm there," says Ippoliti, who remains quiet until the bass moves back onto its nest.
Maybe silence is golden - or at least worth a check - in today's world of competitive bass fishing.
Content provided by Bass Fishing Magazine, the official publication of FLW Outdoors
Copyright John Neporadny, Jr. All Rights Reserved
Grow your fishing skills and improve your angling effectiveness.
Subscribe to the free weekly BassResource newsletter.