STEP SOFTLY FOR PANFISH
Gaston Savoir was fabulously rich from oil on his family's land. He married a beautiful young girl. Savoir was taken with the girl, but was uncomfortable that she only loved him for his money. One evening he asked her: "If I were disfigured, would you still love me?"
"Darling, I'll always love you," she said calmly, filing her nails.
"How about if I became crippled and couldn't hold you anymore?" he asked nervously.
"Don't worry, darling, I'll always love you," she told him, now buffing her nails.
"Well, what if the oil wells went dry and I lost my money?"
"Savoir, I'll always love you," she reassured him, "and I'd really miss you."
WELL KNOWN FACTS TO REMEMBER:
Most pan fish are voracious feeders and are not particularly selective as to what they try to eat. When food is abundant, particularly in warm weather months, a pan fish may consume up to thirty-five percent of its body weight each week. Their primary menu consists of insects and insect larvae, small crawfish, minnows, worms and caterpillars. Young pan fish feed on zooplankton (microscopic and almost-microscopic aquatic invertebrates), tiny water fleas and vegetation. They add larger invertebrates and insects as they grow. Unlike bass, pan fish are primarily sight feeders and feed during daylight hours, most frequently at dusk and dawn. They can be found at all levels in the water body, depending largely on temperature and location of prey. Larger pan fish generally follow a daily migratory pattern that brings them close to shore at night and under vegetation and into more open water during the day. Most of you know this already. If you didn't, you're welcome.
THE LATERAL LINE SYSTEM:
What you might have forgotten is the efficiency of the lateral line system (explained in detail for bassin http://www.flyanglersonline.com/articles/bobboese/2010/bobboese20100517.php) and how sensitive that receptor system is in the water environment. Amazingly, it has been noted [http://jeb.biologists.org/content/211/13/2105] that within a species there can be a 30 times difference in the sensitivity of the lateral line form individual to individual in a similar species (zebra fish). Moreover, fish may respond differently to varying frequencies of sound or vibration [http://jn.physiology.org/content/88/3/1252.full]. Consequently, predicting how a particular fish will react is difficult at best. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that changes in conditions of the water in which a pan fish is located are noted by the later line system at 50+ feet. Observations indicate vibrations outside of the water are noted from almost as far.
I do not possess a wealth of scientific equipment, but, there is a lake behind my house, 60' wide and 300 yards long. The lake is never deeper than 8' and has a variety of pan fish, especially bluegill. My house is elevated above the lake and the walk to the lake is about ten feet down and 60 feet to the lake, past a large pecan tree which sits 20 feet from the lake. The lake is bordered on my home's side by bulkhead. Every day I have the opportunity to fish and observe the reaction of pan fish in the lake when I approach. This is particularly evident when smaller (3") bluegills are plentiful because they are very aggressive in their search for food and stay relatively near the surface. Anything smaller than that is too stupid to know when to scatter. I also walk around the lake on occasion where the land is not as high above the water (being a golf course) and there is no bulkhead. New lessons are also learned from that topography. After 25 years of observations on this well-populated but controlled environment, I consider the following findings to have validity with respect to bluegill, green sunfish and cross breeds in shallow water near the edge of a pond.
l Bluegill can easily detect footfalls on the ground around the lake. (They feel you coming.)
l Detection of footfalls significantly precedes visual reception. (They feel you before they see you.)
l Tree root systems interfere with transfer of vibrations to the water. (They just do.)
l Footfalls tend to temporarily scatter pan fish. (Younger fish return in less than a minute, larger fish in a few minutes unless there is another factor at play. This means that larger fish scatter from the vibration and may remain scattered from subsequent visual observation.)
l Footfalls are noted more perpendicularly into the water than laterally. (Directly out from the footfalls there is a reaction that is not noted further down the lake bank. Unless they see you, casting parallel to the bank as little as fifteen feet away will find fish undisturbed by your footfalls.)
l Fish in the immediate vicinity of vegetation do not scatter as much or as far (and usually retreat toward the vegetation).
l Conversation has no effect on the fish. (Yelling across the lake makes no difference.)
l The presence of bass makes pan fish less skittish. (This is a strange phenomenon which starts with the fact that bass and pan fish can hold in the water next to each other for long periods without the pan fish getting eaten. The lessened skittishness may be caused by the pan fish believing that the bass will attack anything else big enough to eat the pan fish.)
l Smaller fish scattering will spook larger fish. Smaller fish will return first and may remain skittish.
l Larger fish use smaller fish as to confirm what their lateral line is telling them. (Nervous smaller fish put larger fish on alert even if the larger fish is having mixed vibration signals because of the movement of the smaller fish.)
l Soggy ground carries less vibration than dry ground.
l Dogs scatter pan fish but cats are stealthier, especially if Rover decides to go for a swim.
How far away can they detect you walking up? It depends on the slope and how heavy you walk. On the steeper slope it's about 20 feet or less. However, because anything on the slope is easier to see, visual observation plus vibration can increase that distance by half again. On the lower slope it's at least that, and walking along the fairway at 20-30 feet ripples show from fish scattering as I come even with them.
HOW TO BE STEALTHY: You don't have to crawl up to a water body, but there is a benefit to walking slowly and softly. If there is cover or vegetation at the water's edge, walk toward that. If there is a tree, walk near the trunk as you approach the water. Make your first cast over dry land to the target spot when you are still 30 feet from the shore. If you get a strike, the fish's movements in the water will camouflage your eventual approach. Drizzle makes a big difference. Fishing in a tolerable rainfall is a great time to walk right up to the water's edge where vibrations are everywhere and fish vision through the rippling water is distorted. Once you have reached the waterline, fish the shallows parallel to the bank at least 30 feet away from you.
Remember that if you aren't making a hundred false casts, the fish will eventually return to their previous location. If you are still, they will approach within a few feet until you take a step or make some sudden movement.
Gautreaux went on a camping trip with Clotille and his mother-in-law, Lucinda.
One evening, while still deep in the bayou backwoods, Clotille awoke to find Lucinda gone. She insisted they both had to go find her mother.
Gautreaux picked up his rifle, took a swig of whiskey, and started looking. In a clearing not far from the camp, they came upon a startling sight: Lucinda was backed up against a thick, impenetrable perfusion of cypress knees, with a large alligator thrashing its tail and snapping its jaws at her.
Clotille screamed, "What are we going to do?"
"Nothing," Gautreaux said. "The gator got himself into this mess. Let him get himself out of it!"