The third in a series of entries about the senses striped bass use to find their prey, here’s a look at how we can trigger more strikes by understanding how stripers hear and feel. It’s no secret that fish can be either attracted or repelled by sound. One of the biggest mistakes I see from rookie Chesapeake Bay fishermen is making too much noise. Every hunter knows the importance of stealth. When I was a kid, my dad taught me to walk lightly in the woods and to avoid stepping on sticks or limbs that might crack.  He also showed me how to control a cough or sneeze and advised me to regulate my breathing in order to be more stealthy.  Later, I sat through U. S. Army basic training and NCO academy classes stressing the importance of noise discipline in combat. Avoiding excessive noise when you’re fishing seems like common sense, but I’m always amazed when I see a boatload of fishermen roar up on a fishing spot, laughing and shouting with radio blaring and engine running.

Obviously, stripers can be put off by noise, but they can be attracted by the sounds they’ve learned to associate with food.  To a casual observer, it might seem like a quiet world beneath the water, but it’s really a noisy environment: Drumfish drum, croakers croak, baitfish bolt, crustaceans click, even crawling crabs contribute to the convoluted cacophony of sound. Striped bass hear low-pitched subaquatic sounds better than humans.  They have an auditory range that starts on the low end at 15 sound waves per second (Hz) and tops out on the high side at about 15,000 Hz.  Humans can’t hear sounds much lower than 20 Hz, but we can usually hear high pitched sounds better than rockfish.  The angler’s challenge is to amplify the sounds that trigger strikes, while masking the ones that send fish packing.

Along with their other senses, striped bass rely on sound and vibration to sense danger and locate their prey. They have internal ears inside their skulls located slightly behind and below their eyes. Their ears are filled with fluid, and contain small sensory hairs.  The fluid passing over the hairs gives the fish a sense of balance and alerts them to the direction from which sound is coming.  There are also chambers in their ears (otoliths) that vibrate with noise. Taken together, these systems inside the head provide stripers with the ability to hear rather well, but it doesn’t stop there.

Like most fish, striped bass also have a sensory organ called a lateral line that helps them hear and feel. Nerves inside the lateral line sense the waves created by sound or vibration. Since the nerves are located all along the fish’s body, they can sense the direction from which the sound waves originate. It also helps fish feel current, and sense displacement in the water around them. It’s one of the super powers that make fish far superior to humans in an underwater environment.

Sound waves travel though air at 1087 feet-per-second (fps). Since water molecules are more densely packed, undersea sound waves travel almost five times faster (4717 fps). Low, boomy bass sounds have long wave lengths so they travel for farther distances than high treble tones. Since fish hear low pitches better anyway, their ability to detect low sounds may be above and beyond our ability to humanly comprehend.

Here’s a good source to read more about how fish hear: There’s also a good article by Larry Bozka in this month’s Tide Magazine. It’s called Sound Principles – Even a rudimentary understanding of how unbelievably adept fish are at sensing sound and vibration can help a fisherman better understand a great many things.

To catch bigger, smarter fish – or fish that aren’t actively feeding – better anglers incorporate everything they know about sound into their fishing, especially the concept of stealth. Nothing alerts big stripers to the presence of fishermen like a running engine. When approaching a good fishing spot, it’s best to circle wide and kill the engine well before you drift over the place where you think the fish might be. Talk softly, and step lightly in the boat while you’re fishing.  Be careful not to drop items on the floor, ease the motor into gear, and close hatches cautiously. Some fishermen are so careful about noise that they won’t even turn on their sonar units when they know they’re over fish since it’s been proven that fish can detect the pings.

It’s a good practice to incorporate sound and vibration triggers into your fishing lures. I put a lot of action into my jigs in order to displace water and create the kind of ruckus fish will swim toward. Sound triggers are also important for topwater and shallow-water fishing (like on the Susquehanna Flats) when the goal is to call fish in from long distances.  Since low pitches travel better through water, I look for lures with a very deep rattle.  Some lure makers even make stock plugs labeled with low-pitch rattles.

Understanding how fish hear is extremely important to successful fishing.  Anglers often get caught up in decisions about fishing outfits, lure brands, electronics, etc. and we forget the most basic principles.  By maintaining good noise discipline and incorporating sounds that trigger strikes into our lure presentations we can significantly improve our chances for successful fishing days.

Last week brought some interesting jigging as more and more stripers migrate toward the spawning grounds.  Reports of spawning fish in the rivers are rolling in as water temperatures push into the low 60s in the headwaters.  The warm water discharge bite has been spotty, but there are some big fish being caught by anglers motivated enough to figure them out.  I’ve heard a few reports of shallow fish in Eastern Bay and in some of the Western Shore rivers, but I haven’t tried them yet. Expect fish at the Susquehanna Flats this week. In the main stem of the Bay, water temperatures have stabilized top to bottom in the high 50-degree range, so stripers can be at almost any depth. The white perch run is winding down on the Eastern Shore, but still going strong on the west side and in the Upper Bay rivers.

All the fish pictured in this report were caught and released pre-sunrise last week on hotrodded 10-inch BKDs including these three nice stripers that came over the rail at the same time.  We hooked all three almost simultaneously.  My red eye reduction process didn’t turn out so well, so I went with red eye enhancement!  There was a fourth angler on the boat who didn’t hook up.  I won’t say who it was but photo credit goes to Rich Jenkins.

Posted Tuesday, March 27th, 2012 at 4:40 pm
Filed Under Category: Fishing Reports
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Responses to “Strike Triggers Part 3 – Sound & Feel”

  1. Bill M says:

    Enjoyed! Thanks! Love the pics.

    Bill M

  2. Jerry Meyer says:

    My dad says it doesn’t matter because fish are deaf.

  3. Uncle Roy says:

    Some of the biggest rockfish I’ve ever seen. Amazing on a plastic jig. There is no doubt your methods work, but I haven’t got it yet.

  4. RiverCat09 says:

    Nice re-enforcing read! I finally broke Norm of the habit of playing music while we jig, and we definitely have done better. Last season kind of sucked, but we pulled a few rabbits out of our hats during some tough bites. Thanks for posting!


  5. Daniel says:

    Wow, Rich! Great photo! Really nice of you to put the bug down and let those guys catch some fish of their own!

  6. jumbo1 says:

    This all makes perfect when I see “experienced” anglers approaching fishing area with motor running..going into the strike zone to retrieve “stuck” .25 jigheads..casting in the wrong direction..making lot’s of noise (Doors slamming etc)..these are all factors that prevent them from catching quality fish..So many light tackle anglers miss out on fantastic fishing because of many of the things listed in your report..

    Usually if these things occur I just move somewhere else if possible.
    It really baffles me for any angler to think if they run their motor directly over the fishing spot..than cast to it, as if the fish are still there..

    I would also like to thank Rich for not catching a fish..someone had to take the pic..

  7. Roger T says:

    Nice fish,Who is the redneck alien ?hehe

  8. rich says:

    Daniel, I try to be a team player. Truth be told, your dad and Mike hooked up first and then Jamie and I are there looking at each other, trying to catch a fish, both saying a little prayer under our breath,then Jamie hooks up and I knew I was the camera guy. They haven’t rubbed it in too much, yet. I am surprised Shawn didn’t put my name in CAPITAL LETTERS.

    • Shawn says:

      laughing my &&& off right now.

      For the record, I wouldn’t give Rich a hard time except he’s been so hot this spring. I heard of people running 28 miles to get him off a hot bite.

      • Daniel*t says:

        28 miles ain’t sh*t in the front of the judge. Managed to drink 2 Yeunglings without bustin my teeth out…possibly the best part of the trip was listening to Rich chuckle when he hooked up on the first drop after that run, only to realize he had a dogfish. Wait, maybe the best part was on the way back; I’m thinking, “when will I be dry, ever?” while the 3 of you are sittin there grinning ear to ear, livin’ it up. I thought I was hardcore about fish.

  9. Jerry Meyer says:

    Hey jumbo1 how would you like to be the guy who paid 100 bucks to catch three baby rockfish.

  10. tacklemake says:

    Who is the guy with the red eyes,is he someone we know?Maybe he is an alien from another planet…………woody

  11. Jeff McNair says:

    Thank you for more good info. Stealth ideas apply to any kind of fishing but its obvious most people don’t understand. I’m looking forward to the next in this series.

  12. Jim Boyersmith says:

    Great post Shawn! So much of that seems common sense but so many disregard the stealth tactics. I fished the CCNP this Am and found 4 other boats motoring right into the discharge and we had only one small to show for it. I should have moved on when I saw all that racket!

  13. Daniel says:

    Next article; if you do run you’re radio, you should at least play good music while you’re ruining the fishing for everybody else. Remember that guy who rolled up on those breakers we were on blasting “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”? I mean, there’s SO much wrong with that.

  14. Alex says:

    Aside from the great info in this post, it has provided me with yet another excuse as to why I don’t hammer the huge stripers like you do when I’m staring into a beer at the end of a long day. Nice fish and great info. I stopped playing tunes on my boat and drifting to my fishing spots and I bet it’s raised my catch rate 100%.

  15. Daine Lawson says:

    I have got to learn how to jig for stripers that big.Hanging 12 or so rods with 28oz sinkers and umbrella rigs gets old FAST.Give me some tips guy’s ,I would love to put my planer boards up for sale!

  16. Joseph says:

    Hey Daine, where do you usually fish?

  17. Doug M says:

    Hey Shawn I haven’t seen any recent post I sure hope everythings ok

  18. Shawn says:

    It is, I suck. I’m fishing but fighting a writer’s block right now, mostly a result of too much work time and not enough play. I’ll be back very soon and thanks for asking!

    • Joe Fish says:

      Shawn, I was hoping “writer’s block” meant catchin’ too many fish to write about it! I’m planning to put in some hours near and around the Bay Bridge this Monday and Tuesday. Hope to catch some fish and spot old “Thunder Road” out there. All work and no play…
      Also, in response to your previous post about fishing at Fletcher’s Boathouse, that has been real good lately. Caught white perch, shad, a catfish, and a rockfish last time out with son and father. On the way home, helped a kayaker pull in a 40 lb + catfish. That was a battle. The fella’s arms were so tired he could hardly paddle home.

  19. Steve S. says:

    Shawn what has happened to you it’s been a month with no reports. Get out there and catch a few please, as I am unable to do it myself ( work and kids). I have to do my fishing via your reports.

  20. jumbo1 says:

    Won’t be long he will be writing reports…we fished thurs (He’s still got it) and hopefully he can get out again this weekend…stay tuned folks..

  21. Capt Jimmy Tilghman says:

    Dinosaurs are asking for a report…
    And be careful what you say to people about others, it may come back to bite you in the ass.

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