If You’re Not Looking For Trout, You’re Missing Out

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Take equal time looking for trout and fly fishing. Photo Louis Cahill

One of the things I always stress to my clients is the importance of always keeping an eye out for trout on the water.

The first thing I do when I walk up to a prime piece of trout water, is take a minute or two to scan the water for dark shapes, shadows and subtle movements. I do it before I wet my fly or even my boots for that matter, because I know, if I can spot a trout, I’ll immediately double my chances at getting my rod bent. I also look for trout when I’m wading from one spot to the next. This is where many anglers mess up and get distracted by all the great looking water upstream of them, and then end up missing opportunities to spot and catch trout in transit. I used to spook a ton of trout myself moving from one fishing spot to the next. It still happens but not nearly as much because these days, when I’m on the move, I’m not in a hurry and I take plenty of time to look for trout as I wade.

You have to look for trout to spot them. They don’t shout, “hey, I’m over here”, or wave a white flag at you. It takes time to train your eyes and become proficient at spotting trout. They’re experts at camouflage and often hold out of sight to stay off the radar. If you’re trout eyes are lacking in talent, the only way you’re going to change that, is to start spending twice as much time looking for them when you’re out fly fishing. Don’t tell yourself it’s a waste of time because you’re not good at it. Make a pact with yourself to put more time doing it and push yourself to get better. I often boost my clients sight-fishing confidence by spotting a fish and then asking them to point it out to me. It usually takes a while, but when they finally do spot the fish, it shows them it’s not impossible and they can do it. Just remember that every time you spot a trout on your own, your skills improve. I’ve got a buddy that I is so good at spotting trout, he can walk up to a piece of water, and if there’s a trout around, he’ll have a bead on it in five to ten seconds. He’s also one of the most consistent trout fisherman I know. Seeing fish and catching fish, go hand and hand.

As much as I’ve gone on a tangent about always looking for trout, it’s impossible to spot every fish in a stream. The majority of us catch most of our fish blind casting, but it’s the really smart trout, where getting a visual on them really pays off. On water with lots of educated trout you can’t always afford to blind cast your flies or you’ll risk putting them down. The big the one’s often watch the small fish risk their lives for food and instead hold back and wait for food to enter their safety zone. To catch these trophies, you often have to spot them and make a well planned approach and accurate cast.

The last suggestion I’d like to give everyone trying to get better at spotting trout, is to not get down when you walk up to a hole that you know has fish in it and you fail to spot a single trout. Scan the areas where you can clearly see the bottom first. If you see no signs of life, no worries, because in the process of scanning for fish you’ve just eliminated a great deal of dead water. You now can focus your attention on drifting your flies through the areas where the bottom is blurry and the fish are probably holding anyways. It’s not always about spotting fish, half the battle is identifying where the fish aren’t holding, and not wasting your time drifting your flies there.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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8 thoughts on “If You’re Not Looking For Trout, You’re Missing Out

  1. Good post. For some reason, trout fishermen today do not seem concerned about spooking trout or they just don’t know that their bright clothing (red and white hat!!!), shiny objects, a rough entry to a pool, and shadows of you or your rod will spook fish; and a spooked fish will disturb other fish and render them uncatchable. Seeing where trout are before entering the water helps you plan a stealthy approach to a pool or a spotted fish, and so does stealthy behavior all around.

  2. Hey Kent,

    This post is in good timing because locating fish is something I’ve really been focusing on lately, then secondly once I’ve spotted fish try and determine if they’re feeding on something in particular. This leads me to my question, this past weekend I came up on pool that was on a DH that was holding quite a few trout. I waited a few minutes and saw some surface activity so I tied on an Adams that was probably a size 14 or 16. I had a follow then the fish turned and I tried few more drifts then nothing. Most of the fish stayed hunkered closer to the bottom so I switched to a woolly bugger and same thing, a few follows and turned. This happend with many different flies from dries nymphs and other colored buggers but I ended up having only one strike and missed the hook up. What should I have done in that scenario? Do you suppose the fish spotted me and it made them shy?

  3. timely post. I was out fishing with my 12 yr old daughter, and teaching her the ways of the stream. She was very eager to just run up and out in the creek. We talked alot about “observation”. by the end of the day she started to get it. Not only, scanning for trout, but understanding where they live, and whats going on on the surface, in the sky and in the water. We all forget- you work all week, and can’t wait to get out, and sometimes it means to just slow down, take it in and do a stealth bomber approach. great post.

  4. Maybe its just that I don’t fish in gin clear streams, or maybe I don’t have the right pair of $300 see-all-the-way-to-the-bottom sunglasses, or maybe I’m just not as good as seeing these extremely well disguised aquatic vertebrates as you, but I rarely see trout in the water (when they aren’t eating caddis on the surface…). And yes, I have tried. I have a hard time believing that seeing fish is very important at all in trout fishing, but then again, maybe I’m just wrong.

    • Adam,

      I agree you do not have to see trout to catch them. However, there are times it will allow you to catch certain trout that you may find much harder to catch otherwise.


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