I just got back from a six-week stint of flats-fishing down in the Florida Keys. Those who know about that type of fishing are aware that it’s a “visual thing” where anglers pole their boats around the shallow flats looking for fish and when the quarry is sighted the boat is moved to a position where the angler can “hopefully” pull off an effective cast and hook the fish.
When I first got started in flats-fishing, it didn’t take too many failed encounters to realize how easily a fish can be spooked by the wrong approach and how challenging it can sometimes be to go from spotting one to actually hooking it. Having the opportunity to see the way in which fish react to a boat, and the efforts directed upon them by the anglers aboard, has been an invaluable lesson that can be drawn upon to help catch fish anywhere, including our home waters of Delmarva.
After witnessing a multitude of reactions from many different species under various situations, it has become obvious that every fish has its own tolerance level and will allow a boat only so close before it decides it has had “enough” and decides to get the heck out of there. Just how much a fish will put up with depends both on the species, as well as the individual fish.
Down south, it’s not uncommon to encounter either bonefish or permit up on the flats, the problem is seeing them before they see you and then getting close enough to make a cast count for something because those two species are notorious for fleeing from the slightest hint that a boat might be near.
Other fish such as barracuda, sharks and snapper will often allow a boat to get very close to them before taking flight. Then there are the tarpon, jacks, redfish and a few others might go either way.
But just because a certain species is known to be easily spooked — or not easily spooked, doesn’t mean that all the members of its family will react in similar fashion when a boat is near. Just as sharks are sometimes known to literally bang up against a boat to get at a chum bag hanging off the side, other times, at the first sight of the boat they pull a quick 180 and zip out of the area at warp speed. Same type of shark, similar conditions, totally different reaction — go figure! And this in not unique to sharks, I’ve had bonefish in a foot of water swim almost right under the boat just a I’ve seen barracuda 100-yards away take off when someone thumps the butt of a rod on the deck.
So if any fish has at least the “potential” of being scared off by the presence of a boat it would stand to reason that anglers should be able to increase their chances of success if they employ stealthy tactics to whatever type of fishing they do, no matter where they do it, and that includes right here on the good old Delmarva Peninsula. Know also that stealth can be just as advantageous to anglers fishing for flounder in six-feet of water as it can to those vying for billfish or tuna in 600-feet.
Adding stealth to a fishing routine starts with the knowledge that sound travels far underwater and that fish have evolved to be very alert to sound because it can indicate both the location of food just as they can be a tip-off to the presence of danger. Anglers should also know that different boats transmit sounds into the water differently. Drop a soda can on the deck of a wooden boat and the sound is not likely to be noticed by as many fish as if it’s dropped into the bottom of an aluminum Jon-boat. The sound transmission of fiberglass is probably somewhere in-between that of wood and metal.
Engine noise is something else to consider when trying to slip in on unsuspecting fish. While some fish might grow rather immune to the sound of boat motors, many times I’ve seen them flee from an area at the start of an engine or when another boat cruises past. Whenever possible anglers should shut off their engine and drift up to their fishing spot rather than come in under power and risk spooking away all the fish.
Whatever type of craft you’re in, always strive to keep the banging and clanging to a bare minimum. Anglers should particularly keep that in mind when they set their anchors which should be readied before getting close to the fish and then quietly slipped into the water and lowered to the bottom.