Thumb through a Cabela’s catalog and you will notice a striking difference between anglers and hunters. Hunters use scent-blocking camouflaged clothing. Anglers clothe themselves in brilliant colors and apply odiferous substances to their lures. Hunters disguise their boats to blend in with cattails. Fishing boats disperse a disco ball series of flashes.
Maybe the angler’s inattention to stealth comes from an inability to see fish flee. The hunter knows that any unnatural sight, sound or movement will cause the incoming geese to turn away.
Whatever the reason, I am relieved whenever I find out that one of my kayak fishing students is also a hunter. It means I will not have to point out the fish-spooking blunders most anglers commit without knowing.
Under-the-radar angling begins with a solid understanding of the many ways fish can detect a threat. Two books have changed the way I fish. Thomas Sholseth’s How Fish Work and Keith A. Jones’ Knowing Bass both taught me how fish use their predatory senses to avoid being preyed upon.
Sight is merely a confirmation sense. By the time a fish sees you, it has both heard and felt your approach. Sound travels about 4.5 times faster in water than in air. A fish’s inner ear and swim bladder pick up subtle noises such as that of laying pliers down in your foot well, or a paddle stroke.
Fish detect movement through their lateral lines. Think of changing a flat tire on the side of a busy highway when a tractor trailer blasts past. You feel it even though your back is turned. The fish can feel you, the tractor-trailer, at twice your normal casting distance.
If you have a sloppy catch, slapping the water and yanking on your blade right away, you will scare the fish by causing cavitation, a noisy churning of air and water behind the blade. A clean and quiet catch requires that you pause for a split second once you have inserted the full length of the paddle blade into the water. When you are certain that you will not be dragging a mixture of air and water behind the blade, proceed with the power phase of the stroke.
Starting your stroke smoothly avoids sending air-raid-like noises announcing your arrival. You will also save a lot of energy, because the most efficient stroke is one where the blade is firmly planted in the water before you start pulling.
Cleaning up the stroke is just the beginning of enhancing your stealth. Assess the signals you’re sending in terms of the fish’s senses, not yours. Do fish taste your sunscreen, tobacco, or bug spray when they suck in your soft-plastic? Did you drift, instead of paddling, to within casting range? Read up on the topic, learn from our hunting counterparts, and remember, “good catches lead to good catches.”