All fishing is good fishing. But sight fishing—where you see the fish before you cast—is one of my favorite challenges. It doesn’t matter if I’m casting to trout in a river, or bass or pike in the shallows of a lake. If I can see the fish… make a perfect presentation… and “get bit,” well, I think that’s “top of the game.”
But seeing fish is not as easy as it sounds. Sure, sometimes they show themselves in clear water, like this cutthroat trout I saw in a mountain stream the other day. But most of the time, the telltales are subtle.
I once went fishing with a friend who had hawk eyes. He’d say, “There’s a fish there, by that rock… over there, against the bank, you see?” And I’d say, “NO! How in the heck can you see those fish?”
He then gave me the best piece of fish-spotting advice I have ever heard.
“The secret to spotting fish is knowing where to look,” he said. Yogi Berra couldn’t have said it any better himself. But the point was well taken. You see… fish like to be in certain areas—where currents converge, on drop-offs, around structure, and so forth.
When you are looking for fish, make a mental picture frame, and focus on “suspicious” areas. Move your picture frame, methodically from spot to spot, covering the water, one section at a time.
You want to remember that you’re looking for “pieces” or “signs” of a fish, and not the fish itself. It might be a bright glint in the water… a shadow that moves… a tiny wake on the water surface… a sudden flash… or even just a color contrast that doesn’t quite match the water and the bottom.
It also helps to learn to eliminate the distractions that are NOT fish. Waves, birds, shadows, weeds, etc. If you factor out the things you aren’t looking for, you can focus in on the fish you are looking for.
The most important lesson: Slow down and take your time. If you can see your target and make an accurate cast, your odds go up dramatically. Sight fishing will make you a better angler… and it’s a lot of fun.
Kirk Deeter is an editor-at-large with Field & Stream magazine, and the editor-in-chief of Angling Trade. He is the co-author of four books, most recently the Little Red Book of Fly Fishing.