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Sight Casting

03/20/08 – Sight casting to fish is something we get to do precious little of here in Maine.  Tannic Acid tinting our water is one reason, steep gradients and a broken, turbulent water surface is another common problem.  But one of the biggest problems is many of us just don’t know where to look or don’t look at all.

Many times I’ve watched people walk a path along the edge of a stream and observed them walking with their eyes glued to the path – never looking at the water.  I often see the same behavior when people walk the edge of a stream, sort of half-in and half-out of the water grabbing alders and stepping over rocks.  You can’t blame them, as a person has to watch their step when climbing over rocks and moving around holes. For years of my fishing I was that person. Path watching is a prime example of why a lot of people don’t see fish – they aren’t looking into the water.

Looking for fish is an art and there are techniques involved in most art forms that makes things easier.  One technique that is easy to learn and apply is the stalking method. My normal method of moving along a stream is to walk and pause.  When I pause I sweep the streambed with my eyes.  I look for shadows – long thin ones. I look for the movement of fish coming out from behind a rock to grab a drifting nymph before moving back to shelter.  And, I look at the trail or streamside picking my path to the next vantage point – then I look at the streambed again. It takes me longer to get from point A to point B moving that way but after I started doing it I saw more fish.

Another trick is to take advantage of the sun.  If the sun is behind you, ideally over your shoulder, you have better chance of spotting fish.  Unfortunately, you have a better chance of spooking them with your shadow as well.  But often when I stalk along the edges of a stream I walk the sun-side bank so I don’t have to deal with the glare of the sun like I would have to if I were on the other side.

Sun glare is your enemy when looking for fish and your best weapon against sun glare is a pair of polarized sunglasses.  I don’t like to wear sunglasses and you’ll seldom see me with a pair on – unless I’m fishing.  When I’m fishing it’s rare to see me without them. But the sun isn’t the only reason for sunglasses – eye protection is a good reason to wear them.  Anyone you see on the water without sunglasses is handicapped when it comes to seeing fish.

But looking into the water is only the first step.  Knowing where to look is the second thing. Current is the key to that. Look where the current isn’t.  Look in the obvious places like behind (or just in front of) a rock. Then probe the water looking for other places where a fish can be out of the direct flow of the current.  Maybe you’ll see a depression on the streambed that provides a sheltered spot.  Or maybe if you’ve been standing there long enough there will be a fish holding in the eddy created by your legs – it happens.

Another sheltered spot is a plunge pool below a slight drop or in the eddy of a pool.  Many pools have a back currents created on both sides of the stream right after the flow enters the pool – both eddies are worth looking at.  The edges of direct current flow are certainly key places to check and where I look first but I don’t stop there.  I look into the direct current spots after checking the sheltered places.

I know fish can’t hold indefinitely in direct current flow but if there’s enough feed coming down the stream, say during a pre-hatch drift, the fish will be right out there in the direct current feeding.  They may be a little harder to see as the current flow distorts the water but if you look for movement or a flash – not for a fish – you’ll pick them up if they are there.

So, while sight casting opportunities are limited here in Maine they do exist.  To take advantage of them you have to practice looking for fish – each time you fish.  Stop and take time to look into the water searching the stream bottom.  While you’re looking try to figure where the current isn’t and concentrate your search in such spots.  Think of spots where the fish ought to be and you might be surprised how many fish you’ve been walking past.