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An Angler's Journal: Stealth Pays

August 22, 2006

By King Montgomery

Sometimes we all benefit from reviewing some fishing basics. Often, the difference between catching and not catching fish stems from remembering fundamentals or focusing on subtle particulars that are missed or forgotten. This week's reminder is of several basics: we must be able to see into the water, we should not be seen by fish, and we need to remember that sound spooks fish.

Fish can see too. And, according to scientists, they see very well. When we fish together, I want you to wear a bright colored shirt or jacket of red, yellow, green, orange or blue. You'll probably scare the hell out of the fish, but you'll look great in the photographs I take. Welcome to the magazine/newspaper world where art editors just love bright colors.

Except when modeling for photos, however, it's important for anglers to blend into the background. Although the warmwater fishes are probably not as spooky as their trout cousins, they can be very alert in low clear water, particularly smallmouth bass. I wear dark khaki, light blue and lately, camouflage clothes.

Camouflage patterns blend you into the sky, rocky banks, or bushes and trees, depending on which color you have on. Whether you choose camouflage clothes or "regular" wear, try to dress as inconspicuously as possible. Also, remain in the shade of trees or bushes if you are wading, particularly on a trout stream.

We need to see too. Subdued colors keep the fish from seeing you, but you'll want to see as much as possible of them and their surroundings to improve your chances. Although we seldom sight-fish for warmwater species like trout and saltwater flats fishers often do, you should still keep your eyes peeled.

At spawning time, I look for the honeycomb beds of the bluegills and other sunfishes. I consider most gamefishes on their redds to be off-limits and don't cast to them, but the sunfishes are a different story since they tend to overpopulate anyway, and they are great in the frying or broiling pan. But unless you can see the beds, you will probably blind cast a lot, wear yourself out and, worst of all, miss high percentage fish catching spots.

In these and most other fishing conditions, a pair of good polarized sunglasses is a must. The glasses cut glare, open up an underwater world, and allow you to see the bluegill beds, the submerged stump where the eight-pound bass lays up, the sunken tree where the crappie roam, the patch of turtle grass with a bonefish hovering over it, or the current seam where the big brown waits for food.

Yes, fish can hear too. I do a lot of fishing for black basses, sunfishes, and pickerel from a flat-bottom aluminum johnboat powered with an electric trolling motor. Stomping around and dropping things in a floating metal shell is like lobbing depth charges into the water. Every fish in casting distance (and beyond) is alerted to your presence, and probably heads for the next county as you approach. Sound travels very well through water -- at least four times better, I'm told -- enabling fish to hear and feel the sound of your approach. So be quiet.

To dampen sounds in the boat, I placed styrofoam panels on the floor between the support ribs. I then screwed on three-eighths of an inch of plywood that had gray indoor/outdoor carpeting glued to it. In addition to quieting the boat, the floor is friendlier to fly lines, and the carpeting is easily cleaned with a vacuum cleaner or garden hose.

So, on your next trip, try out these tips to improve your chances for fishing success: be quiet, be inconspicuous, and maximize your ability to see into the water. Don't forget, however domesticated we have become, on fishing trips we are the predator. Stealth, camouflage, silence and keen eyesight will give us the edge we need when trying to capture our prey.

King Montgomery is so stealthy we've never seen him, except in a fuzzy photograph now and then. He occasionally can be spotted, if you look real hard, on the water fishing near someone wearing bright colors.

Issue 1.18: August 24, 2006