Your Odds Go Way Up When You See The Fish

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Photo by louis Cahill

Photo by louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

Seeing fish equals catching fish.

More than casting. More than fly selection. More than any other skill, one thing separates highly effective anglers. The ability to see fish.

I don’t care if it’s tarpon or trout, bonefish or bass, seeing the fish is the best first step to catching the fish. For some species it’s absolutely crucial. Seeing the fish allows you to plan your presentation, observe the fish’s behavior and know with 100% certainty when it has eaten your fly. It’s the difference between winging it and applying real skill and technique. There is no substitute for this tactical advantage.

Far too many anglers start with the assumption they can not or will not see fish. And they don’t, either because they don’t have the confidence or because they don’t try. If you slow down, and take the time to look, you will find a world of possibilities opens up.

Reasons you should spend more time looking for fish

edit-7290-2-2•Spotting fish allows you to plan your presentation. Get in the right position, get your rig dialed in, figure out how far you need to lead the fish or how to get the best drift.

•Watching fish let’s you judge their behavior. You may gain valuable information on what a fish is eating or what may spook him. You may be able to vary your retrieve in a way that prompts an eat.

•Having eyes on the fish lets you make an accurate cast. Get right in a fish’s feeding lane or get the perfect lead. Have the fly where it needs to be when it needs to be there.

•Seeing the fish lets you pick your fish. There may be several fish in a run or in a school. If you can see them you can present you fly to the best fish.

Learning to see fish is a matter of training you eyes. Once you brain learns to recognize the visual cues, you’ll start seeing fish everywhere. But as long as you expect not to see fish or rely on your guide to find them for you, you’ll never get over the hump. Take the time to study the water. Spend time looking. Work at it. The rewards are big. You too can be one of those highly effective anglers.

Here are some links to articles that will help you learn more about finding fish.

choosing the right polarized sunglasses

6 sight fishing tips for shallow water trout

use high vantage points to improve your sight fishing

spotting big trout in all the wrong places

12 tips for spotting more bonefish

10 tips for spotting permit

11 tips for spotting tarpon


Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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6 thoughts on “Your Odds Go Way Up When You See The Fish

  1. The first time I ever fished a nymph was on the Manistee near the NF Canoe Camp. I spotted a little guy wedged in under a stump in the middle of the stream in about a foot of water.

    I tied on a hares ear, added a small shot. It took me about a dozen casts to get it right but when I got a drag free drift and presented at the right depth he nailed it. I probably learned more from that little fish than from all the previous years of reading books and web sites.

  2. One should always bear in mind the need to invalidate that other maxim, “If you can see the fish, the fish can see you.” Fortunately, that maxim is only partially true, and need not apply if one is stealthy. Practice never hurts, and practice in spotting fish is no burden because watching fish, especially feeding fish, is a pleasure in itself, even when not carrying a rod.

  3. Simple but highly effective article and particularly like the web links at the end to more in-depth and related information. The related link on spotting tarpon is one of my favourites, particularly to the “trout like” behaviour of tarpon sucking in air and expelling bubbles. If you’ve never seen this sight it’s pretty impressive and damn obvious where to go!

  4. Louis,
    Good piece, but there is another reason one should spend time looking for fish: It increases the fun exponentially…

    Compare sitting in Boca Grande pass with a crab dropped a hundred feet or so into fish the captain sees on sonar versus searching and finding fish a half mile away from the pass along the beach or in the backcountry and casting to them and retrieving to entice a take. Is there any comparison? Having done both, I know for me there is no real comparison in excitement and fun.

    As for trout, I mark a personal transition point in my trout fishing to an event on a trip to Alaska decades ago when, for the first time I located, approached, and cast to a rainbow in gin clear water and got her to eat. That success created an addiction to trout fishing that will last my lifetime.

  5. This is a great piece Louis. It may come across as a given to the experienced angler, but there are a lot of people who don’t realize you can see through water and actually will start seeing fish after a while. Seeing through the water, rather than looking AT the water, is one of the most important skills. It only comes with experience and by trying, but first of all new anglers must know they can do it.

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