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Most fishermen believe there are Eleven Commandments - the usual ten, plus one that states, "Thou shalt not make noise while fishing."

This 11th Commandment is not to be found in any of the usual religious textbooks; it has been passed down, generation by generation, from one angler to another by word of mouth, and in more modern times by those who write about the sport of fishing. Fortunately, violations of the 11th do not result in eternal damnation. In fact, violators may sometimes catch more fish, a point that is nearly ignored in the pages of angling literature.

It sometimes pays to break the 11th Commandment and
ignore the fisherman's.......

Crappie are a perfect example. Quite often, when they refuse to cooperate, a little foot stomping on the bottom of the boat or pounding the water with an oar will stimulate them into hitting a lure or bait. The technique may draw a few angry stares from other puzzled fishermen, but it works.

I first read of the "make a racket for crappie" technique over 20 years ago in a column written by Bill Burton, outdoors editor for the Baltimore Evening and Sunday Sun newspapers. I laughed, recalled the 11th Commandment, and passed Burton off as a heretic. Ten years later, fishing for crappie with Chuck Edghill on one of Maryland's tidal rivers, I related Burton's heresy and we had a good laugh.

.......we laughed until tears
ran down our cheeks.

But the fish weren't cooperating, so I kicked the hull of the aluminum boat a few times. Like a couple of teenage girls at a pajama party, we laughed until tears ran down our cheeks. Unusual activity for a couple of avid fishermen, but Edghill caught a fat crappie on his next cast. Then I hooked one. For ten minutes those crappie jumped on our jigs quicker than a politician can grab a microphone. When the action slowed, we kicked and stomped on the boat some more. Same result - the crappie grabbed our lures as soon as they hit the water. Burton had the last laugh.

Recently I spoke with Burton and he still remembers writing the column I had read so many years earlier. "I was fishing with a fellow named Jim Wilson, a 'regular' on Maryland's Pocomoke River," Burton recalls. "I had heard about the technique from some old timers many years before that, and I happened to mention it to Wilson who replied that he used the technique himself, but only when the fish weren't biting - as was the case that day.

"Wilson proceeded to take an oar and thrash the water. I recall the paper had a cartoonist do a sketch that appeared with my column. Anyway, the technique worked. We caught bass and crappies after Wilson made a racket. What the heck, if the fish aren't biting what have you got to lose.

"We were only fishing in perhaps several feet of water. We would cast in an area and if there were no strikes Wilson beat the water and we'd usually catch a few. I'm not really sure why making noise would put fish in an eating mood. Maybe the commotion just prompts them to investigate. Tell you the truth, I haven't tried the technique since then."

So breaking the 11th can also turn bass into an eating mood. But what about trout, those majestic finned creatures that we tend to endow with above human intelligence. Surely, a misplaced step or even a loud voice will send them scurrying for cover. At least I had always thought that to be the case, until an expedition to Labrador for brook trout two years ago.

Coincidentally, Edghill was again along on the trip. For two days we caught and released so many two to four pound brook trout that Edghill was saying, "Back in the states any of these fish would be a trophy, but this is almost boring. Almost."

.......a good fish grabbed the fly,
not three feet from the engine prop.

At any rate, we decided to investigate some shallow shoal water for pike, as a change of pace. As the guide ran the outboard at low throttle through shallow, rock strewn water toward his favorite pike cove, I dropped a large yellow streamer over the side of the boat to straighten out a leader. Within seconds a good fish grabbed the fly, not three feet from the engine prop. It was a four pound brook trout!

On another occasion I was again fishing for brook trout on Gods River in Manitoba and the guide's technique was to hold the boat in the current, motor running, while I cast flies. The fish cooperated but I soon asked the guide to anchor the boat so the motor could be shut down. He complied, but strikes didn't come nearly as often with the engine off.

Granted, the last two instances were with fish in wilderness areas. But it seems to me that wilderness fish would be more apt to be frightened by the strange noise of an outboard engine than fish in busy lakes or rivers where running outboards are common during the season.

Certainly there are many instances when the slightest noise is going to spook fish, and it would be foolish to completely ignore the 11th Commandment. But there are times when a little foot stomping, oar banging, or a running engine may actually put fish in a striking mood. Blind obedience to the fisherman's Vow of Silence is not always the best policy.

Uploaded: 5/3/2004