Spotting Fish

For many thrill-seeking anglers, this one included, spotting fish before casting to them, lifts flyfishing excitement into new and dizzy heights. No doubt this has something to do with increasing the underlying tension of the whole event; seeing fish that you are trying to catch tends to affect one's knees, making them lose some of their normal manly strength and they start to wobble a little bit, often this is accompanied by the disconcerting shake of the right hand and in the case of a large fish; jaw lock or even an inability to move in any direction.

At first the novice angler may find these physical impediments disturbing, however fear not, for although one never fully becomes used to them, you will at least come to accept this state as some very important (although not fully understood) part of the flyfishing process. One thing you must try is to remain calm and tranquil while entering a Zenspotting *different* fish? state of mind. Failing this, take ten deep breaths… however we have overreached ourselves; first we must learn the tricks behind fish spotting.


So far in this section we have established rather a considerable amount of information; even I am surprised.

We have learned that Stealth is important if we are to discover the whereabouts of our quarry; we must tiptoe quietly around the banks, creeping along with great caution. Through understanding feeding behaviour and the flow, we also discovered the likely looking places where fish are to be found. This combination of stealth and knowing where to look is paramount when attempting to spot fish.

Good water clarity obviously helps and countries such as New Zealand really lend themselves to this sort of fishing, but with care you should be able to spot fish in almost any river.

Dress sense

The most important item for fish spotting is a good pair of Polaroid sunglasses. Polarising lenses cut through surface glare, enabling one to see beneath the water surface. I have used many different lens colours over the years; I have tried yellow, amber and tan but without doubt the best colour in my opinion is sandstone. dressed and ready to rumble

Polaroid lenses reduce reflected light in one direction only, so if you are facing the water at an unusual angle (sideways out of a tree for example) you may discover the polarising to be ineffective. There are two techniques to use under such circumstances: one is to rotate your head around and the other is to wiggle the glasses about your face.

A peaked hat is essential for fish spotting since it helps to stop light entering from above the glasses. By the same token wraparound funky style sunglasses are best.

Now that we are fully equipped it's time to start looking…

The Search

“To look without looking, to see with out seeing, to search without searching”

It's a bit like that.

When searching for fish the important thing to remember is not to actually look for the fish themselves. Most of the fish I spot start off as shadow. The shadow of a fish is always much easier to see. Fins and especially the pectorals or tail fin can give them away since these often contrast to the river background. Wild rainbow trout sometimes have white leading edges to the pectorals making them rather easy to spot – I have often wondered why this is so incidentally. Occasionally (and this is getting pretty far out now) feeding trout can be spotted when they open their mouth; the inside is white.

Every once in a while a nymphing trout will flash its flank, revealing itself. Surface, or near-surface, feeding fish are often the most obvious since they displace water with their feeding movements.

Fish habiting pools can be the easiest to see and also the hardest to catch. Fish in riffles and runs however are the complete opposite. No prizes for guessing why.

tussock countryWhen scanning a river I try not to concentrate on the bottom itself; studying each individual feature simply doesn't work to well. When you come to likely looking water, slow down, take your time and give the fish a chance to move and reveal itself.

Spotting with the sun on your side of the river is always better and often essential, however be careful not to spook fish with your personal shadow or that of your line when you come to make the cast. With practice you quickly go from “thinking it's a fish” to simply “knowing it is a fish”.

Remember that once you have spotted your target fish to immediately dip down out of sight. Now is the time to plan your attack...

Guess what's coming next week?

btw for some unknown reason this week's instalment was damn hard to write - Paul :-)


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