Do Loud Noises and Talking Scare Fish

I can still remember the scornful looks from fellow anglers as I tromped down the dock along side my uncle many years ago, all while talking a million miles an hour about the fish I was going to catch.  My uncle, sensing slight distain from the gentlemen next to us, stooped down and told me to “be quiet or you’ll scare all the fish away.”  I was stealthy the rest of that morning.

At one point or another, we have all been told to be quiet while fishing so we don’t spook the fish.  Most of us take it to heart and remain reasonably quiet on the water, even as adults.  

But is being “quiet” really helping you catch fish or is it just your buddy’s excuse for getting you to stop talking.  As my fishing experience grows and new science becomes available, I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

So, do loud noises and talking affect your fishing success?  Yes and no.  Sounds above water, such as loud talking or music, do not penetrate water very well and rarely scare fish.  However, sounds that transmit vibrations directly through water, like dropping pliers on the bottom of a boat, stomping on a dock or a running boat motor, can temporarily spook nearby fish.

There are good reasons to be quiet while fishing. Let’s take a closer look at what noises you should avoid and how it will affect the number of fish you pull into the boat.

Talking is not so bad

If you’ve spent anytime swimming on a crowded beach filled with laughter and screaming kids, then I’m sure you’ve noticed that all the sounds get muffled once you dive beneath the surface.

That’s because the difference in density between air and water acts as a barrier that bounces sound back into the air instead of penetrating the water.  

Most freshwater fish, like bass and trout, can hear sounds underwater using lateral lines, which are sensory organs that contain pressure sensing pores on their skin.  They also have internal ears called otoliths that conduct sound through bone.  Some fish even sense sound vibrations through their swim bladders.

Even with specialized hearing, shouting and talking is not sufficiently loud enough to scare fish nearby.  The underwater environment is a noisy place and most noise from above the surface gets overpowered and goes unnoticed.  

Most anglers would agree that general talking and occasional “whoops” of fish catching excitement won’t diminish your fishing success.   

What about music

Similar to talking or shouting, a radio playing music on the surface is not such a big deal.  In fact, it probably will annoy other fishermen before it bothers the fish.

On more than one occasion, a friend and I have hammered smallmouth bass all day long while playing music with the volume cranked.  We even had fish slam our baits right at the boat.

The only exception that I think matters is playing music with heavy bass in a boat.  That would send stronger vibrations into the water which could drive fish away.  I have not tested this but it might be good to avoid this scenario when chasing more wary fish on calm water.

Don’t disturb the water

So, sound above water is not such a big deal but once you break the surface of the water, all bets are off.  Dropping an anchor with a splash, wading in a river and even walking too hard on a dock creates vibrations easily sensed by fish.  

Sound travels through water almost 5 times faster than air so any noise that goes through water is much more intense to fish.  

Once feeding fish are spooked by nearby splashing or strong vibrations, they may temporarily go into flight mode and the bite shuts off.  In my experience, it won’t take long for fish to return to normal feeding behavior.    

In fact, sometimes a splashing commotion actually gets other fish riled up.  This is common when a hooked fish struggles and draws in other fish looking to cash in on the apparent feeding frenzy.

It’s hard to say what will scare fish or trigger a sudden feeding binge but it’s always better to avoid disturbing the water directly.

Exercise stealth in your boat

The hull of a boat is not very thick which means any vibrations caused by the anglers inside it are readily transmitted into the water.  This is not such a problem on larger boats with flooring or double hulls but aluminum boats and kayaks are a different story.

Drop a pair of pliers in an aluminum boat on a calm, quiet morning and it may as well have been a gun shot.  It probably startled the fish and it certainly startled your fishing partner.  

Once again, most sharp vibrations only put fish on edge for a short time but when it occurs at the wrong moment it could cost you a trophy fish and you’d never know it.

Make the effort to “sound proof” your boat.  Keep pliers on a lanyard, lay a piece of outdoor carpet down as cushion and just avoid situations that result in banging on the boat in general.

Hey, stuff happens so don’t sweat it.  There is always more than one fish in the lake.

Avoiding excessive boat motor noise

One of the most invasive noises on a lake is the sound of a boat motor prop chewing through water.  It’s often believed that fish on highly pressured lakes get used to the boat traffic.  There is also reason to believe that it does hamper the bite.

Anglers certainly can’t kick everyone off the water but you can help yourself out by using some common sense when motoring around to your favorite fishing spots.

  • Use an electric trolling motor to reposition your boat for casting, especially in shallow water.  Electric motors are also great for reducing noise vibrations when trolling.
  • Don’t go full speed into your fishing spot.  Throttle down before reaching your spot and quietly idle into position. 
  • Make sure your motor is firmly attached to the boat.  Excess vibration from an improperly mounted motor not only spooks fish, it also gets tiring to listen to.  Rubber transom pads help with this.

Can fish hear sonar from a fish finder 

Sonar from a fish finder works by sending sound waves into the water and reading the return from fish and objects below.  Like other types of novel sounds in the water, it seems reasonable that sonar would scare fish too.

However, anglers prove this theory wrong all over the country.  Countless fish are caught using fish finders.  Everyone from professional bass fishermen to walleye fishing guides use sonar to locate fish and they catch them too.

Fish might be able to detect the sonar but with all the other noise clutter in the water it does not seem to bother them.  The only time sonar may affect fishing is when it’s used in shallow water on otherwise quiet lakes.  

Final thoughts

It’s pretty tough to avoid making noise while fishing.  In most cases, noise won’t bother fish but putting a little effort into a more stealthy approach to fishing won’t hurt.  Besides, if nothing else, your fellow anglers might enjoy some peace on the water.