Spooky-ass fish

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

Does talking on the boat spook fish?

I enjoy conversation on the boat. I like spending time with my friends, shooting the shit and engaging in a little light-hearted ribbing. But does it affect the fishing? Banging down the cooler lid, shifting stuff around in the boat and walking in shoes are all things fish can hear. Their lateral lines are amazingly sensitive to any vibration in the water. Any sound that involves the hull of the boat is telegraphed directly into the water. Think of the hull as a loud speaker. But what about sounds in the air with no direct connection to the water? Do fish hear us talking?

I’ve heard a lot of opinions on this and many people believe that they do not. Personally I am sure they do. For one thing, when shooting underwater video my microphones pick up talking above the surface. I feel certain that a fish’s lateral line is more effective than a microphone inside an waterproof housing. This makes me sure fish can hear sounds in the air.

If that’s not enough to convince you, take this photograph as an example. My buddy Joel Dickey and I were staked out one day when this tarpon snuck up from behind us. I whistled and Joel looked back over his shoulder to see the fish right up his skirt. Before he could present the fly, I snapped this photo. At the sound of the camera shutter, the fish bolted. That’s one spooky-ass fish.

The odds of hooking that fish were low but I’m convinced the camera spooked it. At any rate, it doesn’t stop me from catching up with my friends when we’re on the boat. I want to catch fish as much as the next guy, but I draw a line. Fishing with friends is meant to be fun. Just be careful how you talk about the fish. They may be listening.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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13 thoughts on “Spooky-ass fish

  1. I think it’s kind of silly to think that any sound above the water can’t be heard by fish below the surface. Sound travels easily through water, and the vibrations you mention are definitely picked up by fish. I’d bet good money that if you were super quiet and let a school of bones (or any fish for that matter) get within several feet of you, or your boat, and then you yelled at them, they would scatter like cockroaches.
    This reminds me of when I was younger and my dad would tell me to be quiet or I’d scare all of the fish away. I still think it was just a rouse so he could get some peace and quiet, but there is some truth to it as well.

  2. That’s not the shutter, it is the size of your mate on the deck, with the movement of his head.
    I do believe loud noises spook fish, as I just know they do, but a camera shutter is not enough to scare that tarpon

    Good awareness post though!

  3. The only time I’ve noticed a reaction to speech is in the Blue Ridge Mountains fishing a blue line full of brookies that likely have never seen people.

    In the slow water, if you spoke loud, the group of brookies would react and dart all over the pool looking for cover, but minutes later they would stack up in the pool again as if nothing happened.

    I’ve never noticed it elsewhere. I have just put the rod down and observed a fish I deliberately put down by getting in its line of sight. Took about 10 to 20 minutes for it to return to its feeding lane.

  4. Hate to be a smart ass but, according to Snell’s Law the amount of sound that makes it from air to water is minimal. Except for a sound wave hitting the water at exactly 90 degrees, a sound wave is almost completely dampened. And at that optimal 90 degree entree point, it drops by 50%. Oh and this assumes a perfectly still environment – not a dynamic one like, say, the ocean.

    Physics is a bitch:


  5. From Wikipedia:
    “For many purposes the sea-air surface can be thought of as a perfect reflector. The impedance contrast is so great that little energy is able to cross this boundary…..”

  6. Louis, I suppose you were using SLR type of camera. It could be the slap of the mirror, not the sound that scared him off

  7. Just back from Ambergris, what I noticed is that there are two kinds of bonefish there. One type is use to boats running over them, making noise, usually deeper water bones not as susceptible to noise. The other are tailing bones, very spooky, will keep their distance from any kink of noise, even shadows of birds flying above. One important issue there is that the larger bones are tailers in skinny water. You Must maintain silence if you want to catch them, and there is very little wading available due to softness of the bottom. It frustrates me when I have noisy clients on board the boat, but that goes with the territory. I’d say as a rule, be silent in skinny water, use quiet trolling motors, or pole. Noise in deeper water probably not as important, mainly because the fish become more accustom to motor noise etc.

  8. Got a feeling there is to many variables in this conversation. I have no doubt sound is transmitted through the hull of a boat, especially aluminium boats. Heard them myself underwater, including talking.
    But the second part of this is what do these sounds do to fish behavior.
    Here in New Zealand and I know in other parts of the world banging a knife on a dive tank to attract predators, yellowtail kingfish, snapper, cuda, the list goes on, is a proven technique.
    Slapping the water from a boat pulls these same predators in too.
    South Pacific Islanders have been using coconut rattles to attract fish for eons.
    I have witnessed trout following a hooked trout that is dashing and splashing about, as is the angler.
    I think it is the effect of ‘strange’ sounds on fish behaviour that is the crux of this discussion. For me, and confining my comment to predator fish, any commotion sound and otherwise, will arouse more interest than fear.
    Wrote an article on this subject which may be of interest http://www.bishfish.co.nz/articles/salt/noise.htm

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