Is your Boat Scaring Fish?

It’s hard enough to catch fish without having a boat issue that can scare the fish away. Spooking fish is actually a far more common problem than many people realize, and people often don’t even think about the factors that cause it.

Electric trolling motors, for example, aren’t always as silent as we think. Nor are our own voices – yelling is probably the most common way anglers shut down a good bite. But there are some other, more insidious ways that the fish become alerted to our presence. In fact, your own boat could be turning the fish off, if you have one of these problems:

black drum fishing

Fish like this black drum, which may be encountered in shallow water, can be spooked in a number of ways you might not expect.

1. A two-stroke outboard, running at idle in neutral. When in gear and moving slowly a two-stroke doesn’t make much more noise than a four-stroke or even that of an electric, because most of the sound it creates comes as a result of prop-whine. In neutral, however, the lack of back-pressure causes a ton of clanking and banging. You can hear the difference in pitch wih your own ears, but when measuring underwater sound levels (which I’ve done with several different model outboards, stern drives, and inboards) the  difference is dramatic. In fact, an idling two-stroke in neutral makes more than twice the sound level of one in gear, and nearly three times as much as an electric.

2. Electrical leakage could be chasing away fish. We’ve all heard that fish can sense some level of electrical charges in the water, and some species can sense it better than others. But have you ever wondered if your boat is sending out a charge that the fish don’t like? Something as innocuous as a cruddy electrical connection in the bilge can “leak” electricity into the water, and chase fish away from your boat.

3. Even your boat’s fishfinder can be scaring some types of fish. Yes, your fishfinder. That “ping” can be sensed by fish, and they may not like it. You don’t believe this is true? I’m not surprised – all of the fishfinder manufacturers and techs will tell you the fish can’t hear a thing. Don’t believe it. I’ve launched a boat in a massive 500,000 aquarium (the national aquarium in Baltimore) and watched through a window three stories below, as fish changed their path depending on whether or not the fishfinder was active.

I know, some of these things are hard to believe. But they go a long way to explaining why some guys seem to have all the luck, and others just can’t seem to score. The research behind these assertions is solid (you can read the details – and how to fix these problems if you have them - in the feature article “Spooked“) and I think about it each and every time I hit the water with rods on the boat. If you want to catch more fish, you will, too.

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