Our Man In Canada
April 27th, 1998

Are You A Stomper?

Noisy and careless wading scares fish
Adapted from The Essential Guide to Fly-Fishing
by Clive Schaupmeyer

How many fish do we scare while wading? For sure, we can never answer that, but my guess is it's more than we like to believe. If you are new to fly-fishing, take time to observe other fly anglers wading. If you were a wary trout would you tolerate the crash, splashing and grinding of some stomping fly angler?

Trout brains may be small, but they must be acutely in tune with their environment. They evolved that way by natural selection (Darwinism) because critters that can't sense food and predators are not long for this world.

Fish, like all other animals basically live to do three things: make babies, eat and keep from being eaten. So they are always alert to threats to their safety. It's sort of ironic when you think of it, eh? We are trying to satisfy one need of a fish (feed it) while at the very same time we run the risk of scaring it. Clearly, a trout will figure some stumbling, rock-bashing neoprene monster is more likely a predator - and therefore threat - than a sex counselor or food bearer.

Game fish see and hear very well. They "hear" with sensors along their lateral line and with earlike organs in the skull. The ear structure in the head obviously has no external opening, but nonetheless picks up sound vibrations in the water. Fish can apparently hear aquatic insects and other food critters in the water. Sort of makes you wonder how grad students figured that out. (I can see how a fish can hear a great big fluttering grasshopper or salmonfly. But really: can they hear the midge pupae snoring?)

Of most significance to anglers is the ability of fish to hear sound make by clumsy wading and stomping along the banks of quiet streams. Years ago my brother and our youngest son, Mike, fly-fished a small, sluggish brown trout stream. (It was Mike's first fly-fishing trip and he "dun good," landing three or four small browns that afternoon.) The banks were made of spongy peat and you could feel the earth vibrate slightly under foot. The slow, meandering water made no sound to mask bank moises. Brown trout rose every now and then up and down the creek. It soon became obvious that we had to walk gingerly along the banks. One slight stomp on the ground put feeling fish down for 50 feet in either direction because the vibrations traveled through the springy ground and through the water. It took several minutes before they started feeding again.

In addition to bank vibrations, wading anglers create two other types of noise when wading: splashy water noise and grinding, kicking, stumbling rock and gravel noise. Obviously you will be aware of the surface water noise, like that shown in the photo-or at least you should be. But, alas, as obvious as splashing should be to a wading angler, I cannot believe the amount of splashing and waves that many anglers create when wading otherwise quiet water as they approach fish that might have been there - past tense. And try as I might, I sometimes catch myself making waves and likely scaring fish.

Perhaps less obvious is the noise feet make as they grind along the bottom. This grinding noise travels well through water and if you can feel your feet grinding the stones, you can bet trout for some distance around can hear it oo. Take it easy. Go slowly. Be quiet.

Take the time to watch someone else wade and imagine you are a fish near the wading angler. Would you put up with the noise created by the person you are watching? If the wader is quiet, be quiet like him or her. If the angler is noisy - and you wouldn't tolerate the noise if you were a fish - then learn from what you see.

If you are sneaking up on a few rising trout, chances are they will still be there if you take your time to approach quietly. And if you rush there . . .(To get there before what? Before they stop rising? Before someone else?) Well . . .they will be gone anyway, because you will have scared them.

This week's closing thought is credited to Albert Einstein: "Only two things are infinite, the Universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." - CS

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Copyright ©1998 Clive Schaupmeyer

Clive Schaupmeyer is an outdoor writer and photographer. He is the author of The Essential Guide to Fly-Fishing, a 288-page book for novice and intermediate fly anglers. His photo of a boy fishing was judged the best outdoor picture of 1996 published by a member of the Outdoor Writers of Canada. He fly-fishes for trout in Alberta's foothill and mountain streams and for pike near his home in Brooks, Alberta.
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