Paul has asked me if i would write something about spotting fish here in
NZ... so, here goes!! Firstly, always carry a walkie talkie. These are amazing for improving viz
(visibility). You can talk to people about what you see... if there is
nobody with you it can make you feel like action man and will impress the
fish. How to write about something that is very hard to teach even on the river
may be a challenge... so if I start talking piffle blame Paul. (I always
do... no matter what)
It always amazes me that others don't see fish as clearly as I do. Much in the same way that Paul can cast... I can spot fish. I do believe some natural aptitude or 'eye' is on my side... when I went duck shooting with Dad as a kid I would always see the ducks in the sky way before the others did. But... that aside, here are a few ideas/pointers that serve here in NZ... not just on spotting, but also some important river technique.
Always carry a walkie talkie.
Be aware NZ rivers are different... back country rivers involve big hikes. The fish will be few, and they will be separated by distances. Big fish like space... they are territorial... so most often its one fish per pool or run. Yes sometimes there will be two... but rule of thumb is ONE. Rivers have good real estate in the same way cities and towns do... once you know what is most desirable to a fish.. it's easy to focus there and see them. Look at the best real estate first.
If the pool or run does hold two fish... the biggest fish will usually be at the head of the pool.. he gets the food first... first in, best fed!! I spot my fish... fish to it... then walk on to the next holding run or pool. We cover big distances here. You won't catch much if you don't cover the distances.. so put in some time to your fitness before your NZ trip.... not only do we walk a long way to find fish... but we then have to walk back to the truck... if its been a 10km walk up fishing..... then its the same back. Fortunately there are often tracks above the river, so the walk out 'may' be easier. Use your walkie talkie on the walk out, you might be able to flag down a passing helicopter.
Look WAY ahead all the time... always endeavour to see the fish as early as possible, there is less chance of spooking a good fish if you are well behind it. Mind your footfalls.. kicked rocks and tumbling stones cause vibrations that travel. Personally I rarely if ever look at my feet, my eyes are always on the water..... I 'high step' a lot.. a bit like a prancing horse might.... I am less likely to trip this way and hurt myself.. and less likely to kick free a rock or stone that will spook a fish. Natural Viz.. one side of the riverbank will always have the best Viz. The sun behind you is usually the side with the best viz.
Height.... an ally and foe. Height gives great viz ... I grab height whenever I can. But.. stay off the skyline...
Sunshine!! My best friend for spotting fish.... sun opens a huge viz window... I reckon Morcombe and Wise must've been fishermen with their show closing themesong....
Back to height, it serves... but it also is a trap. The higher you are, the further ahead you must look. Conversely, the higher you are the further back you must be from the fish... there is a little thing called refraction.... I think it was invented by Galileo or George Michael or someone.
Basically it means that the deeper the water the more the fish sees. Deep water fish see everything in front of them, everything to the side, and a lot of what is going on behind them (I reckon my girlfriend must have been a deep water fish in another life)... if I am on a high bank I know I have to be looking 40-50 metres ahead... anything below me is buggared. If the fish is spooked...if it has seen you... move on. You are now wasting your time... our fish will not take once they have 'made' you.
One cast... often that all you get. Get it right first time... you will kick yourself if you choke on a presentation to a fish over 8 pound. Do your practice before you get here, you want to get it right... you will not get a lot of shots, so make the most of the ones you get. OK.. so the cast is perfect.. but the fish doesn't take. One more shot... then change fly. If a waiter brought you something you don't want to eat in a restaurant and you sent it back because you did not want to eat that... would you eat it just because he brought it back a second or third time?
Third time I would leave the restaurant...so will the fish.
Back to sunshine.. it also makes shadows... a shadow cast over water will spook fish... so either lose weight so you are too thin to cast a shadow.. or be aware of what your shadow is doing.
When you see a fish, use the walkie talkie.
You get to know where a fish will lie... you can read all the books you want... there is benefit in the theory, but days on the water is what is needed. Behind big boulders and in front of them... always a chance for a fish here... so look. White or pale rocks... perhaps the fish see their food easier from these due to colour contrast... whatever it is, the fish like them. In a river with few white or pale rocks they are a great place to start. Tucked in just off the current line... watch for the lazy brown working the current eddy.
Study pools before you walk up to them... is there a back current? If so, the fish in the eye of the pool will be looking at you... you have to read this well in advance and get above the fish to not be seen.
Wear camo gear.. yes I am serious. It breaks up the hard lines of contour of your body (in my case the soft lines of contour). Always wear a cap with a beak/brim... shadow over your eyes gives greater viz.
Invest good money in good polaroids. Amber/orange lens are best for rivers in my opinion... blue and grey lens for saltwater.
Get good at walking and looking... practice looking ahead... practice high stepping so you can focus on the river and forget about your feet.
Try the 'hedged bet' presentation. A dry fly off a short drop at the top.. a nymph 4-5 feet below. The fish may rise to the dry.. or will hit the nymph. I do most of my fishing with this technique... on the rare occasion that I am flicking a blind cast, usually as I walk up to the next run/pool, I often hit a fish in harder flow that I haven't seen (yes, I too miss seeing all the fish.. but don't tell Paul, he thinks I am the Mahatma Ghandi of the fish spotting world).
Wear felt boots. There's a lot of development in boot technology... I spent over $400 on some 'new technology' 3 weeks ago damn near broke my neck as the sprigs skate off boulders. FELT for rivers and rocks... it slips less than anything else. It's bloody treacherous stuff on grass though... so be aware of that in the walk out... hills and high summer grass are the perfect formula for a bruised bum on the walk home in felts. Sprigs in boots are for football and rugby. (Go the All Blacks!!)
Use the walkie talkie to tell the man at the tackle shop where he can put his sprigs.
Carry your rod with the tip pointing backwards... Paul doesn't believe me... but I have seen fish spooked by the rodtip... it's 9 foot in front of you...so like Dolly Parton there are points that arrive before you do. Rod flash.. blue skies and sunshine make a perfect formula for rod flash... have you ever used a mirror to bounce some sun in someone's eye? Dull your rod down... a very light sandpaper will take out the flash effect. I would love Sage to make a non-shiny rod. It may not look as pretty... but its not going to flash the fish either!
I look for the slightly off 'shadow' in the river. It rarely looks like a fish.. it's often a hazy grey shape... movement is a dead give-away. Watch for movement... it's easy to spot if you look for it.
Speak loudly and suddenly into the walkie talkie as Paul is on his presentation stroke. This more than anything improves my catch rate over Paul's.
Hopefully Paul will have lifted a photo for this as well and included it... this is a very obvious fish.. it's not always this easy.. but gives an idea of what to look for. Grey shadowy smudge, looks kinda rock like but moves. (Hell... I had school teachers describe me like that in my report cards).
Ok.. it;s now past midnight, and I need to recharge the walkie talkies before hitting the hay. Have a look at my website for a few other tips/pointers... there are many in with the photo gallery... kinda whets the appetite I trust!!
Do you read me, over?
Dean Harrison (Deano)
Fly Fishing Legend