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Fish Quietly

The true music of nature is silence

One evening several years ago, when the Chesapeake had experienced a generous influx of gray trout (weakfish), I found a school outside the mouth of a small tributary south of the Magothy. It was just after dark, the tide was falling and the fish were positioned a long cast from the inlet to intercept the baitfish, shrimp and small crabs being carried out by the tidal current.

Throwing a black Clouser minnow on an eight-weight rod with floating line, I was letting the weighted fly sink and swing across the current along the channel cut. On every third or fourth cast, just as the line straightened below me, a fish would gently take the fly and I would set the hook. 

They were nice fish up to 23 inches. The fish fights were often extended, uncertain affairs as seatrout are known for their delicate mouth structure. Avoiding putting too much strain on them was a perfect application for the long and supple fly rod.

Anchored close and off one side of the inlet, I was fishing out of a small 14-foot aluminum skiff that I had modified with flush fore and aft deck areas suitable for fly casting. It was a handy little boat with one drawback: Its thin metal hull could be noisy.

I was very careful moving about, and if I did make a noise, I would wait long minutes before resuming any activity. It was a lovely, calm night, and the waters were extremely flat.

During that particular evening, it was so quiet I could make out the distant croaking that the seatrout — members of the drum family — often make underwater when feeding in schools.

Bringing a particularly heavy specimen on board, I rapped it between the eyes with the weighty end of an aluminum flashlight. It quivered and stiffened. Assured it was sufficiently stunned, I slid it into the ice in my cooler.

Giving the night a few minutes to settle, I once again took my place on the stern casting deck. I had just missed a strike on my last cast when a violent thumping and rattling broke out from amidships. Apparently my seatrout had regained consciousness.

The sound in the still of that evening was loud and raucous, and despite the fact that I waited a number of minutes before resuming my casting, the bite was over and done. The school of fish had fled the area and did not return that night.

The lesson of that evening often comes into mind as I’m fishing. Fish have acute hearing and depend on it to keep them safe. Sound beneath the waves travels five times faster than it does above. Being a thousand times denser than air, water is also an ideal medium for propagation. Sound travels farther, much farther, underwater than above. And fish hear it all clearly.

The Chesapeake’s excellent angling makes it easy to forget that noise discipline is an important factor in fishing success. Sure, some anglers catch fish with their engines running, rock and roll blasting and themselves exuberant. But the smarter, bigger fish have most likely already vacated the area. That’s a fact to keep in mind.