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More On Noise And How It Affects Fishing - Part 2

The subject of noise and its influence on fishing is one that has fascinated me for many years.

The day was one of those that arrive regularly in the Taupo area, central North Island, NZ. Clear blue skies providing no shade from the sun. I was planting some trees on a knoll overlooking the Hinemaiaia River mouth. Between planting each tree I paused to drip sweat, straighten my aching back, and watch a couple of blokes fishing the rip (the current that pushes into the lake from the river). Over the next two hours these blokes persisted without a fish to reward their patience.

I really did not expect to see them catch fish. Convention has it that fishing in the middle of a clear bright day is not the optimum time to catch fish.

Then I noticed one of the boats that used the river mouth to launch returning. The boat cruised up the rip, between the anglers, and on into the river mouth proper.

Almost immediately after the boat past between the anglers one of the them hooked up in the still foaming propeller wash. As he walked back out to land his fish the other angler hooked up. Fish landed, both wandered back into the water and cast again. On the first or second cast one of the pair hooked up again and landed the fish.

By now the lake and rip had returned to its pre-boat pristine sparkling state. Over the next half to three quarters of an hour the two caught no more fish. They left and soon after so did I.

This incident is not, in my fishing experience, isolated.

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I have written before about the noise Ed the Lad used to make in our tiny 'tinny' (Kiwi speak for an aluminium dinghy) when we arrived at our fishing spot. The anchor chain rattling over the combing started the cacophony. The dropped knives, tackle boxes, fish bins, berley pot and more, added to the sonic overload in the surrounding water. Then, and too often to postulate coincidence, Ed would fire a bait out into this noise and immediately hook up.

Those who have fished with Mark Kitteridge (writer and devout fisherman) will know that it would take moving at the speed of light to get a bait into the water before him. As soon as the anchor leaves on its journey to the bottom, Mark's bait is wafting down. Too often for those with delicate egos, Mark immediately hooks up.

Those requiring proof of a fish's attraction to noise should drop a stone into a fish pond. The fish will immediately bolt for cover, and then almost immediately return to investigate the disturbance.

Try throwing a sinker into the ball of fish in a berley (ground bait) trail and watch the fish bolt into the depths, only to return in an even more frenzied state, almost at once.

Hook up a fish in a berley trail and watch the frantic dashing and ducking of the hooked fish propel the others into a frenzy, slashing at anything in the water.

There is also growing evidence that fish can be 'trained' using sound. In Japan there is an experiment going on right now that may produce a new slant on fish farming.

Newly hatched fish are fed from an automatic feeder at irregular intervals, but before the feed is released a rhythmic sound is emitted from near the feed station. At a certain stage the fish are released into the open sea, but the automatic feeding stations with the dinner call sound continue providing food. Once the fish reach marketable size the fish are called, not to lunch, but to a waiting net.

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This technique may have its origins in the Pacific Islands where in several places they regularly 'call' in fish, especially sharks, by using a 'rattle' of hard dried-coconut shells in the water.

Yellowtail Kingfish

Lures that contain 'rattles' have been around for donkey's years and work. Banging a knife on a tank to attract kingis is an old divers trick.

Despite much evidence that many fish, especially predator fish, are attracted by certain noises most anglers prefer to keep things as quiet as possible when fishing.

My view is that this has more to do with our own human make-up than any rational notion of what may or may not attract or repel fish.

Most successful fishing requires intense concentration. It does not matter if it is tactile concentration, waiting to feel a bite on a bait, or visual concentration watching a float, indicator or dry fly.

This concentration requirement exists even in styles of fishing where there is little contact with the rod or line, such as when trolling. The most successful game skippers are those whose concentration is riveted on picking up the often very subtle changes in the ocean or sky that may indicate water that may hold their quarry.

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To consistently catch more fish requires blocking out extraneous elements. 'Focus' is the current buzz word for this. So it is perhaps not surprising that noise is a problem for anglers.

For most humans noise, especially sudden loud noise is a cause for alarm, and certainly a concentration breaker. But loud noise is a relative term.

Toss a small pebble into the water near a fly fisherman, and watch his head swivel at neck breaking speed. Even above the rumble of diesel engines and waves slapping on the side of the boat watch a big-game fishing skipper's reaction to a lure dropped onto the cockpit floor. Drop a small sinker onto the floor of a tinny and watch the concentrating angler at the back of the boat start in alarm.

Don't subscribe to this concentration theory? Then try this. For many fishermen, fishing is a prime source of relaxation. A bit of quiet time on the river, lake or sea. Loud noises do nothing to soothe shattered nerves.

But do the fish below give a fat rats-razoo about all this racket? Probably not a jot.

Fish are from Aquarius, Man is from Mars. Our worlds are totally different. Because of this some noises that seems inconsequential above the water become very important under the water.

Many fishermen will have experienced the sudden cessation of good fishing for no apparent reason, until a school of dolphins appears to our view. Chances are the fish have 'felt' the wash of the dolphins sonar system long before we spot their nemesis.

These relatively low range sonic signals may be the reason that fishing with tight mono line is sometimes ineffective. Tight monofilament 'strums' at low resonance levels in a current. Maybe it approximates the dolphin signals. Using mono as down-rigger cable is regarded as a no-no for this reason (although I cannot see any reason why thin metal cable will not produce 'strumming').

Many game skippers try to keep as much of the leader to game lures out of the water as possible, more especially when fishing for tuna. The reason given for this is that tuna can be spooked by seeing the line.

I have no proof, but I think they are right, but for the wrong reason.

It will take some convincing to persuade me that fish have enough nous to join line and lure together as a unit. I believe it is probable that short line lengths to close-in lures can strum, or produce low resonant 'noise'. My theory seems to receive some backing from the fact that many tuna are caught on lures trailed well back behind the boat, where if anything the line is in plainer view. There is little strumming from long line lengths.

To add even further backing to my hypotheses I have observed that when close-in lures are pulled down with rubber bands the strike rate increases. The rubber bands seem to dampen the strumming, whereas metal or clothes peg clips add a further shortening element, much like the bridges on a guitar.

Low resonance noise seems to spell danger to fish. It is the noise produced by sonar producing predators such as dolphin, and the noise produced by the movements of large predators such as sharks and marlin.

Fishing with very heavy sinkers or jigs in a strong current can also produce strumming. This may be why using very long leaders to get the bait away from the main line have become the standard when fishing this way. The further the bait is away from the strumming main line the better.

There is another theory that the very regular, relatively low level signals produced by sounders may deter fish. For this reason many good fishermen turn off the sounder once they are at anchor.

So the theory is growing that low, regular rhythmic noise is a greater fish deterrent than harsh staccato noise. Just about the exact opposite to human reaction to noise.

It may well be that sudden sharp sounds beat out a message that a fish is in trouble, and a fish in trouble signals food to other fish. But regular rhythmic sounds spell trouble for the fish that feels it.

Maybe the fishermen who dislike music being played on the boat while fishing have got a point.


fish illustration by Bish


Article written by Tony Bishop


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