The Sweet Sounds Of Silence

Stealthy Shallow Water Fishing – What you can do to make you skinny water escapades as successful as possible.
Reposted from an article in Florida Sport Fishing

Whether we’re poling flats only inches deep in the Florida Keys or the Bahamas for bonefish, working backwater mangroves in the Everglades for snook and juvie tarpon, or drifting across shallow grass beds in the Mosquito Lagoon for reds and trout, the one thing that will kill our fishing success faster than anything else is noise.

Worse than the wrong bait, worse than tackle too heavy for the conditions, even worse than backlashes and tangles, noise will bring our fishing success to a complete halt. When it comes to stealthy shallow water fishing, noise is an absolute no-no. For skinny water anglers, the sweet sound of silence is the golden rule.

Basically, anything which creates an unnatural sound in the water must be at least diminished and hopefully, completely eliminated. Game fish- especially big ones- are very responsive to unnatural noise- dropped gear hitting the bottom of the boat, noisy hulls that slap and slurp in a chop, trolling motors churning up the surface, and even push-poles carelessly handled. Any of these unnatural sounds will make the fish respond in a negative way. See that wake racing across the shallows away from us? That’s a big snook responding to an unfamiliar sound, and that’s one big snook we won’t get a shot at catching today!

Bite-killing noise comes from three main sources: the boat, the accessories in the boat, and the angler. In each case, there are things that can be done to improve our noise level and our overall fishing success.

The boat is vital to most shallow water fishing. It is the vehicle that gets us to the fish. However, it is also our fishing platform, and if the boat is a source of noise, it can really hurt our chances at catching quality fish. Generally speaking, any sharp lines, ridges, or protrusions on a boat hull are potential sources of noise. When a lifting strake or a chine comes out of the water in wave action, it makes an unfamiliar sound- not much- but an unfamiliar sound nonetheless. When the strake or chine re-enters the water, it makes another sound.

For an angler considering the purchase of a brand new shallow water skiff, hull shape is very important. Mark Fisher of Beavertail Skiffs, a premier shallow water boatbuilding company, says that the design of the hull makes a crucial difference in controlling noise. He says, “No-slap hulls are round and smooth at the bow. The first six feet of the hull should have no sharp edges to catch water and create unwanted noise.”

Aft of this crucial six-foot area, Fisher says that the boat hull can have features- strakes, chines, and so on- that improve performance and handling when under power. Also a factor to consider when looking at shallow water skiff design is exactly where the poling platform is mounted. A poling platform mounted off the aft end of the boat can make the skiff ride low in the stern, and this can not only create a noise problem, but it can also affect the draft of the vessel-another problem in itself. Any angler lucky enough to be considering a new shallow water craft has a lot of homework to do- there are many quality builders and many quality boats, but the most effective ones on the flats will surely be the quietest boats. It will take some research and a number of sea trials to determine the best option for your particular needs.

Those of us who aren’t in the market for a new boat can still take measures to diminish hull noise. Captain Mark Wright, who guides on the Mosquito Lagoon, recommends anglers experiment to see how placement of weight- this means the anglers- can affect the noise created by waves slapping against the hull. He says, “A weight shift can often cure hull slap. Position the angler to one side, and the hull may ride much quieter.”

Also, Captain Mark says that particular hull designs may be “slappy” when being poled into the wind, but may ride very quietly when poling downwind. Poling with the wind at your back is almost always easier on the guide anyway. Each shallow draft boat is different, and a little experimentation in weight placement and poling technique may provide very good results in lessening hull noise.

Most shallow water anglers have and use trolling motors from time to time-especially when fishing alone. Although these little electric pushers are effective, even the quiet ones make some noise, including a distinctive sonic boom when they are activated. When shallow water fish are especially spooky, the “hum” of a trolling motor may be too much noise, so a drift across the flat may be the only possibility. Special care must be taken to insure that the lower unit of the trolling motor doesn’t come out of the water while fishing. An angler should test the trolling motor to determine just how much water it requires to operate at its quietest- different trolling motors require different depths to work quietly. The noise of a cavitating trolling motor will kill the bite on a flat or bank quicker then you can say, “Oops!”

Inside the boat, accessories are a very important source of noise. Badly stored gear and tackle which fall out of storage bins, tools and equipment that are dropped, deck hardware that trips anglers and causes them to stumble or fall- either on deck or into the water- are all noise makers that can be controlled. Something as simple as deck cushioning can help control noise.

Shallow water skiffs are generally made of fiberglass, Kevlar, or some other lightweight material. These materials are great for producing a strong, lightweight hull, but are bad for controlling noise. Bare fiberglass magnifies sound into the water and to nearby fish. For a long time, carpet was used to cushion boat decks and help control noise. However, carpet compresses after it has been walked on, and then it doesn’t control sound much at all. Even carpet like Astro Turf and other synthetic materials compress, and the sound-deadened qualities diminish. Another unpleasant aspect of deck carpeting is that once bait- shrimp, alewives, sardines, whatever- have been stomped into the carpet, it is very difficult to clean. Carpet is a good idea, but it is not the best solution.

Many quality boat builders have discovered SeaDek- a closed cell, non-absorptive deck treatment which does a number of things to improve a boat and its stealthy fishing qualities. SeaDek comes in a number of colors and in a wide range of thickness and is a very good noise controlling part of many of the most effective new skiffs.

This deck treatment is fine for the anglers who can run out and buy a brand new boat, but how about those of us who have to make do with our old reliable skiff for a while longer? For the owner who can’t go out and buy a new flats skiff right now, most boats can be easily retrofitted with noise controlling hull treatments. Chuck Yates, of SeaDek, says that owners can buy stock size sheets and cut the product to fit the individual hull and deck shapes. Yates says, “The product will easily cut with a sharp razor knife and metal straight edge after marking with a water soluble marker.” He also advises, “Most anglers prefer to use the 5mm thick product rather than the 3mm- for better soundproofing.”
Yates also recommends shallow water anglers consider using the product to cushion not only the deck, but the gunnels of shallow water skiffs against randomly dropped rods, drink containers, tackle boxes, and other gear which are brought into fishing boats. For best sound control, Yates recommends covering the entire interior surface of the boat, including the push-pole platform.

Captain Mark Wright has a very low-cost aid to controlling deck noise. When he has kids, older folks, or anyone who can’t keep from banging things on the deck, he will put a large, thick beach towel under the “dropper’s” feet. This thick towel will help cushion the noise, and it’s easy to remove and clean after the trip is over. For almost every noise problem, there is a simple solution that will at the very least improve the situation.

Finally, the most important source of noise and the most important cure for fish-deterring noise is the angler.

Anticipating things on a boat which can cause noise is up to the angler and/or the guide. Deck cleats which could trip an angler causing a noisy fall or dropped gear can be modified. Poor poling technique which creates water noise or thumped poles against the hull can be corrected. Locker lids and other storage bin covers can be eased back into place rather than just dropped. These are simple solutions and easy to do in peaceful moments, but many times in the heat and excitement of a hot bite, they are ignored. One of the most effective noise controlling parts of the “human element” is simply being familiar with the layout of the boat. If the angler knows that two steps backward can be taken, but not three, then a noisy slip and fall can be prevented. Good shallow water fishing etiquette is quiet fishing etiquette.

Captain Mark Wright, who specializes in shallow water guiding, agrees that anglers are the biggest consideration in controlling boat noise. One thing that he will not tolerate in his boat is hard-soled shoes. He says that he has clients show up in all sorts of footwear, but those who come aboard with climbing boots or any other hard soled footwear are required to remove their shoes and fish barefoot. Captain Mark says that while any soft soled, non-scuffing shoe will work, he personally prefers Crocs- yes, he knows they look funny, but they do help control noise and are extremely comfortable.

Another very important point Captain Mark makes is the importance of controlling actual movement of the angler. He says that the lack of boat movement is “crucial in stealthy skinny water situations- the client can’t constantly shift his or her weight while casting- it sends out a signal to fish, and if the fish are spooky at all, they will bolt.”

He recommends that anglers get their feet in position early in the stalk and “swivel at the hips” instead of moving their feet with every cast. Even if an angler’s movement creates no actual noise, there will be vibrations, and the fish will detect these vibrations. Quiet is good- quiet and still is even better.

It almost goes without saying that the best noise-controlling factor is the angler’s casting abilities. In order to successfully fish in shallow water, an angler must be able to cast far and accurately- especially in fly-casting. The angler needs to be able to accurately place the fly 100 feet away from the boat in most conditions. Spinning gear users can usually manage the distance, but placement of the bait is important, too. Noise is noise, and the sound of a shrimp or crab crash landing on top of a nervous shallow water game fish will spook the fish as effectively as a storage compartment lid being slammed shut.

While controlling noise from whatever source- boat, equipment, or the angler- can be a hassle, the rewards for shallow water fishermen can be great. Correcting most noise problems probably takes more time and experimentation than money- for most noise causes there is usually a fairly simple and affordable solution. Whatever it takes, noise must be eliminated. For shallow water anglers, the sound of silence is the sweetest sound of all.

Additional images:

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