How Walleyes React to Noisy Baits

Walleye pro Ted Takasaki by Walleye pro Ted Takasaki...

Do you remember the days when your dad told you to be quiet whenever he took you fishing because you will spook the fish? Well, forget that noise. Dad was only half right. True, there are actions and sound that can spook fish. Their instincts warn them of danger when they hear an anchor banging on the bottom of a boat, the pounding of footsteps on shore, a rock tossed carelessly into the water or even the vibrations created by the approach of your boat. The fish react to survive and quickly dart for deeper water, away from the boat, or to nearby cover.

Off Shore Planer BoardWhen fish are spooky, smart anglers have learned to adapt by using tools that help spread their lines and dive deeper. Offshore Tackle has developed tools that help you do exactly that. Its in-line planer boards will take your lures/bait out to the side, away from the boat. Add Lil’ Guppy snap weights and your lures dive deeper. This combination will get you to where the fish are.

It’s important to note that some sounds can attract gamefish. Some sounds work like magnets to draw largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleyes and even muskies to your bait and help them zero in for a quick meal. Under certain conditions, learning to make sound work for you means the difference between fish or no fish. Yet few anglers consider its value. Here, then, some sound advice.

How fish hear

Try to envision the watery world that fish inhabit, in order to realize how important hearing is to them. Go swimming in a lake and experience the darkness which surrounds you as you dive deeper. Depending on water clarity and cloud cover, sunlight can penetrate only so far during the day.  At night, the sole illumination is the soft glow of moonlight, and that only happens during a portion of each month.  Even during the full moon, water turbidity often limits moonbeams to the upper portions of the water column.

The problem for fish is that they rely heavily on their sight to feed and this ability decreases dramatically when the water muddies.  Since this situation may occur for days at a time, it's obvious why evolution favored species that developed keen ‘hearing.’  A fish starves if deprived of nourishment long enough.

Fish can ‘hear’ in three different ways.  First, they have ears called otoliths.  Their otoliths are located in much the same place as human ears, one on each side of the head.  But, they differ greatly from humans in that they do not have openings to the body's surface.  Instead, sound waves travel through the skin and flesh of the fish's head to the otoliths.  Hearing done in this manner is directional just like ours.

Secondly, scientists have discovered a link between the swim bladder and their ears.  Covered by an elastic membrane, the swim bladder vibrates like a drum head or a microphone to amplify even the faintest signals that reach it.

Third, fish also have sense organs called lateral lines.  These are channels that begin on either side of their heads.  These channels merge as a thicker horizontal line extending down each side of their bodies.  They can be easily seen on some types of fish.  The lateral lines’ purpose is to pick up close sounds and pinpoint their origin.  Lateral lines are the ones that fish depend on most to detect noise or vibration created by nearby schools of baitfish or other tasty morsels, like a crayfish or worm.

Monster Eye TakasakiIn combination, the otoliths, the swim bladder and the lateral lines give fish the ability to detect even slight displacements of water as far away as several body lengths.  They can sense when a nightcrawler wiggles, a leech swims, or a wounded minnow struggles.  Like us, fish can measure whether sound is getting louder or softer, so they know if prey is coming closer or going away.  Individual, smaller fish may have a stealth advantage over bigger fish.  Little fish disturb less water as they swim so they make less noise/vibration.  But, the racket caused by schools of baitfish is cumulative.  Studies have revealed that individuals of some species know when a meal is close.  This is because they can identify the noise that others of their kind make as they feed.

Silence: Not Always Golden

So how does all this noise apply to fishing? The general rule is this: the darker the water, the deeper the water, or the more aggressive the fish, the more you can rely upon sound, an angler, to attract those fish. We have talked to scuba divers who have clicked rocks together on the bottom only to find fish swimming in close to investigate.  Our theory is that these fish are approaching the source of the sound in order to feed on the perpetrator.

Testing and experience on the water have discovered several ways to add sound to a variety of live bait presentations and lures.

For example, spinners of all kinds use sound as well as flash as their primary attributes. Whether attached to spinnerbaits for bass, inline spinners for northerns, muskies and trout, or spinner rigs for walleyes, a turning blade transmits vibrations to call fish close like a dinner bell and to help them locate the bait in murky water.  Colorado blades are best when visibility is poor.  Their shape broadcasts more noise than the slimmer willow leaf style, which is better suited for occasions when water is clear.  Hatchet or chopper style blades were designed to be noisy even at slower speeds.

Rattle chambers, such as rattling beads or tubes, can be added to some live-bait presentations. For rigging, try adding one colored rattling bead in front of the hook for walleyes and smallmouth.  Exchange standard pencil weights for a slip sinker that has rattles built in, or use it as the sinker for the dropper line of a three-way rig, or in front of a Carolina Rig for bass.

Try using sound while jigging as well.  Bass fishermen have the option of buying jigs with built-in sound chambers. When water is dirty, they flip one into heavy shoreline brush.  They shake it, then pause, and shake it again, repeating the process several times to allow largemouth bass to hone in on it.  They can also insert commercially made rattle tubes into soft plastic baits like worms or lizards for the same reason.

Walleye anglers can use similar tactics. Muddy water forced Tom Keenan to add rattles to his 1/8-ounce yellow glow jigs during a big tournament on his home waters of Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin. He flipped them into pockets and along edges of cane beds.  But, as noted before, sometimes sound turns fish off.  Walleyes wouldn’t bite for Keenan after the water cleared on Day Three… until he took off the rattles. He ended up winning the event.

There’s a wide variety of crankbaits on the market that have built-in rattles.  These noisy lures will often work for almost every species of gamefish, from largemouth to smallies and walleyes.  We would prefer to pick out a crank with rattles vs. no rattles to start with.  Keep changing up until you find out what the fish want.

Rattles and spinner blades may not sound like much to you.  But to gamefish, there are days when they sound like music to their ears, swim bladder, and lateral lines.

Walleyes, like other gamefish, can detect sound and vibration through a combination of ears, swim bladder, and lateral line sensitivity. Some ‘sounds’ spook fish, while others attract them. By following Ted’s ideas, you can avoid making the wrong sounds while producing the right ones.

By Ted Takasaki and Scott Richardson for Pros4- 1Source