Sounds and vibrations: What do fish hear?

Every angler has either heard or said, "be quiet or you will scare the fish." It's true that certain noises spook and scatter fish, while others can turn a normally docile swimmer into an eating machine.

Fish feel movement, water pressure changes and vibrations through a system of lateral lines that run the length of their bodies. Depending on its size, a fish will react differently to the same sound. A small fish might flee, a large one might attack, and a really big one might completely ignore the sound.

Fish are frightened when startled but are also curious. If a fish senses a noise from a distance, a suspicious one might be tempted to take a closer look and even eat the bait. In some lakes, anglers constantly run a small gasoline outboard engine while live-bait fishing. They believe that the sound of the motor will call fish to the boat, and that once attracted, they can be easily enticed to strike.

Another sound-producing technique, and one gaining popularity with Lake Norman fishermen, is known as thumping. The vibrations produced by tapping a long-handled object on the bottom of the boat is thought to attract fish. Every boat has a paddle or other object that can be used to thump.

Thumping should be attempted only after all conventional methods of luring fish have been tried. The technique is best reserved for deep water, because fish in the shallows are leery of noise. Experienced thumpers have developed a certain cadence, with just the right amount of thump to attract fish.

Live baits emit a vibration that signals it is in danger. The unique distress call is viewed as a feeding opportunity by predators. Lure manufacturers try to duplicate these wounded-prey vibrations with lures that pop, rattle, vibrate and clatter. As with anything manmade, some items work better than others.

Lures with concaved faces produce a popping noise when jerked across the water. Poppers are particularly effective when fish are feeding near the surface. They are effective throughout the year for bream, bass and stripers.

Buzz and spinner baits with revolving blades create vibrations when they move through the water. Buzz baits are usually used on the surface, while spinners are fished at all depths. Vibrating lures are extremely effective in low light and muddy water situations.

Many types of bait are made with rattles. Some vibrate, while others pop or spin. Rattles can be inserted into a variety of soft plastic baits. Add a rattle to a plastic worm and watch your catch rate improve.

Upcoming Events

Free Safe Boating Class: "How to Navigate Lake Norman Day or Night" will be held 6:30-8 p.m. Sept. 14 at North Point Water sports, 112 Doolie Road, Mooresville. Topics for discussion will include "Understanding Lake Norman's Channel Marker and Buoy System," "Identifying and Learning How to Avoid the Ten Most Dangerous Spots," and "Interpreting Lake Maps." Details: 704-617-6812 or email

Boater Safety

The Lake Norman Sail & Power Squadron will conduct Boater Safety Training at 8 a.m. Sept. 24 at the Duke Energy Environmental Center in Huntersville. The cost is $45. Advance registration required. For information, visit: or call Bob Yannacci at 704-660-5568.

Tips from Gus

Low water levels have exposed many shoals, rocks, stump fields and other likely places to fish when the water levels rise. Mark the spots on your GPS, and return to catch fish when the water level rises again.

Hot Spots of the Week

Cooling water temperatures have bass and white perch hitting throughout the day. Bass are surface feeding upriver around the islands and on shallow river/creek points at the lower end of the lake. White perch fishing is excellent, while crappie fishing is improving each day as water temperatures drop. For those trolling down-riggers or drift-fishing live baits, you might find a few stripers in the deep water near channel marker 3.

The surface water temperature varies by location, but is mainly in the mid-80s in open waters not affected by power generation. The water level is about 4.9 feet below full pond on Lake Norman and 2.9 feet below full on Mountain Island Lake.