I’ve learned that sometimes, in order to know more about catching fish, it’s worth taking a little time to actually “be the fish.” And so I’ve been known to scuba dive or snorkel with trout, bass, walleyes, pike, and other species. This has led to some interesting “Going Deep” stories for Field & Stream magazine, but to tell you the truth, the real value has been that it’s made me a better angler.
So what lessons can be learned by literally swimming with the fishes?
First off, you’d be surprised by just how close one can get to fish without throwing them off their normal behaviors. Why is that? Well, my guess is that most fish aren’t used to sharing space with a human-sized, bubble-blowing blob. Most trout or bass, for example, don’t register a fear response, because they simply don’t know what you are. On many occasions I have been able to settle into a river within arms-reach of feeding trout, and they didn’t care in the least.
What did spook fish? Shadows overhead. Particularly bird shadows. If a heron flies over a trout run in a river, or above shallow spawning areas on a bass lake, the fish immediately scatter for cover. That’s true for pike and other species as well. So that should factor into your strategy as you fish. Figure out where the sun is first, then minimize the shadows you and your line make over the target.
Fear factor number two is noise. I can dive deep among fish, but as soon as I bump an air tank against a rock, they split. So watch the clunking and bumping if you fish from a boat (especially one with an aluminum hull), and be mindful not to shuffle your feet too much if you wade.
Another interesting lesson learned under the surface is that most anglers miss more strikes than they realize. Trout, bass, and other species can inhale a fly or bait with lightning speed, but they can eject it just as fast. When in doubt, set the hook. Hook sets are free.
And if you wonder how long it takes for fish to get back in rhythm after a boat glides over their heads, the answer is usually seconds or minutes, not hours. So even though you might be upset when a canoe drifts over the trout run you’re working, or even when a water skier carves a turn close to the bass flat you’re fishing, don’t worry. Give the boaters a break. They haven’t messed things up nearly as much as you worry they might have.
If you’re on your game, and know what the fish are eating (which is always the most important factor), you’ll still catch plenty.
Kirk Deeter is an editor-at-large for Field & Stream, and the editor of Trout Unlimited’s TROUT magazine. His latest book is The Little Red Book of Fly Fishing.