Riege: Shake Rattle and Roll for Summer Walleyes

Published 7:37 pm Wednesday, July 10, 2013

By Bob and Ginny Riege

In the summer when walleyes move off to offshore reefs and cruise mud flats they become scattered and if the water warms quickly they may become lethargic. Probably the most overlooked aspect of walleye fishing is the use of sound.

Sound travels at a rate of about one mile per second through water, which is five times faster than its speed through air. Fish have developed extremely acute hearing, especially on low frequency sounds.

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A moving school of bait fish sends out sound waves. The noise of a tackle box scraped along the deck of a boat is echoed through the water. Footsteps along the bank send vibration into the water. Some fish can hear the sound made by a worm wriggling into the bottom. Fish have become adept at detecting and reacting to these various sounds that signal food or danger.

Sounds reach the ears through the skin, flesh, and bone of the fish. In some species, there is an internal connection between the ear and the swim bladder. The swim bladder acts as a resonator and amplifier, which is particularly helpful in detecting very low or soft sounds.

Any species that has the connection between ear and swim bladder possesses sensitive hearing. One can speculate that fish that spend most of their lives in fast water do not have as acute hearing as those that live in a still water habitat.

Strong hearing capability is not limited to predators or gamefish. It is equally important for prey species to benefit from keen hearing as an escape mechanism. By detecting a predator, they can hide or get out of the way.

Fish have a second sound detecting system called the lateral line. No other vertebrate has this organ which responds to strong, low frequency vibrations in the water within a range of 20 to 30 feet. It is sometimes referred to as the sense of distant touch, because it is incredibly directional and accurate. With it, a fish can locate and strike a black lure on a moonless night in turbid water.

When a fish is injured or its normal swimming is impaired, it gives off distress vibrations. These are totally different sounds than those of a healthy creature or one swimming unencumbered. Predators recognize distress vibrations and hone in on them from considerable distances with a purpose. They know that a fish in trouble is an easy meal not requiring the expenditure of much energy. The predator seems to know exactly from where the sound is coming even though it is far away.

There is some evidence that chemical factors may be involved and help predators locate injured prey. Normark has used sound and rattles for years with it’s Rattlin Rapala and Fat Rap. The sound is what attracts the fish to keep them coming on an attack path straight towards the lure. Water conditions and specie of fish will determine what sounds you should try to imitate. If you are fishing for bass or northern pike a noisy lure is the answer. Likewise, if you are fishing in stained water then you want the walleye to be able to hear your bait. Rattling Rapalas, and the new Jointed Shad Raps are a good example of a noisy bait that will take a variety of fish under these conditions. If you are fishing in clear lake quiet baits that produce wobble and vibration are what you want to use.

The exception to the rule is in clear water lakes, or reservoirs where walleyes might be spooked by a rattling bait and move away from anything that is foreign in their environment. Light penetration and oxygen is deeper, therefore fish usually are found deeper and fish feed more toward morning and evening or even at night. Fish are more active on cloudy or windy days, because light is diffused and walleyes are less spooked by boats and surface noise. In clear water walleyes school more and usually roam to find food, but if the water is slow to warm, they might be a little lethargic.

Besides rattle, wobble and vibration don’t overlook color. Try to match bait already found in the environment. Use flash tape to highlight crankbaits to give that extra flash. Along with flash, you might want to change to a dramatic color. Chartreuse and the new Firetiger colors aren’t part of the environment but in stained water they are a visible target for fish. The type of terrain that you are fishing will determine color also. If you are fishing over sand maybe crawfish color, or next to a weed bed or drop off, a perch color will trigger fish.

Feeding within a lake, stream, or other body of water often becomes a chain reaction. Fish hear the sounds of other fish feeding and often begin to look for food themselves. The sounds of a tail thumping and splashing can have a positive effect on many fish at the same time.