SIGHT FISHING BASICS

In the opinion of many anglers (myself included), “sight-fishing” is the most exciting form of fishing ever devised. Seeing your prey before you make a cast and then watching its reactions to your bait, lure or fly lifts fishing to another level altogether, and really ratchets up the “hunting” aspects of our wonderful pastime… It’s also highly addictive!

Starlo with a lovely wild brown trout taken while "sight fishing" in a New Zealand stream. Sight fishing is possible even under heavy cloud cover.

Starlo with a lovely wild brown trout taken while “sight fishing” in a New Zealand stream. Sight fishing is possible even under relatively heavy cloud cover, especially if the water is reasonably clear.

Whether you prefer to use natural baits, lures or artificial flies, I believe that there’s simply no bigger thrill in the whole wide world of fishing than sneakily stalking your visible prey, carefully placing your offering in front of it and watching what happens next. I defy anyone not to hold their breath and tense every muscle in their body with delicious anticipation as that target fish closes in on the trap you’ve just set. It matters little whether it’s a beautiful, wild brown trout tailing in the margin of a shallow lake, a fat, blue-nosed bream mooching under an estuary snag, a lumpy golden trevally hunting across a tropical sand flat… or even a stinky old carp mooching through the shallow margins of an outback dam! Time seems to slow and stretch as the seconds tick agonisingly by. Will the fish eat, or will it spook away in alarm at the last moment?

Sight fishing in clear, "skinny" water is arguably angling's ultimate thrill.

Sight fishing in clear, “skinny” water is arguably angling’s ultimate thrill.

For better or worse, once you’ve tasted the sheer delights of sight fishing, “blind casting”, “prospecting” or “flogging the water” will always be a distant second best.

THREE KEYS TO SUCCESS

The three key ingredients for successful sight-fishing are a keen set of eyes, the ability to use them, and (in most scenarios) a pair of quality sunglasses with light-polarising lenses. These so-called “polaroids” greatly enhance your ability to spot fish by dramatically reducing reflected glare bouncing back from the surface of the water, allowing you to see what lies beneath much more easily. Trust me: it’s worth spending as much on your sunnies as you would on a new rod or reel, because they’re at least as important to the sight-fishing process as that shiny piece of tackle. As a bonus, good glasses will also protect your eyes from damaging UV rays, not to mention sharp twigs, flailing rod tips and fast moving sinkers, lures or flies.

Polarised sunglasases aren't only a boon when fly fishing. Lure and bait fishos can benefit, too.

Polarised sunglasases aren’t only a boon when fly fishing. Lure and bait fishos can benefit, too.

I’ve worn Mako Eyewear glasses for many years now, and I absolutely swear by them, but there are several other very good brands on the market, too. Have a look at what top guides and anglers on the pages of various magazines and websites wear. Then pick a high-profile maker with solid fishing credentials. Steer clear of service station cheapies and the chemist shop bargain bins! Expect to fork out at least a couple of hundred bucks for a decent set of fishing eyewear and then look after your glasses. (If you have a birthday coming up, why not start dropping a few hints?)

And speaking of hints, here are a few to improve YOUR sight-fishing:

PICKING POLAROIDS

Modern, polarised sunglasses come in a range of frame designs and lens tints, and typically feature either polycarbonate (plastic) or glass lenses. Polycarbonate lenses are lighter in weight and less expensive, but also scratch more easily. Glass is heavier, more expensive, but also harder wearing and generally of a higher optical quality, thereby providing a slightly clearer, crisper view.

Jo wears prescription polarised glasses. They're expensive, but worth it!

Jo wears prescription polarised glasses. They’re expensive, but worth it!

Many leading eyewear makers also offer polarised and tinted prescription lenses, and these are an absolute blessing for those of us whose eyesight isn’t as sharp as it once was. However, high quality prescription lenses aren’t cheap, so look after them!

In order to optimise your sight-fishing experiences, it’s extremely important to keep your polarising sunglasses free from smears, water droplets, fingerprints, fogging and scratches. Like any other item of premium fishing tackle, your sunglasses perform best when they’re well maintained. Wipe your lenses regularly using a clean microfiber lens cloth, lens cleaning tissues or alcohol swabs. Avoid wiping lenses with the corner of your shirt, your buff or an old towel! These garments are typically loaded with salt, dirt and detergent crystals that can badly degrade your lenses over time by creating a network of fine scratches and scuffs.

WORK THE ANGLES

Without polarised glasses…

… and WITH polarised glasses. Chalk and cheese!

Whenever you’re sight-fishing, always try to position yourself with the sun at your back, or at least off to one side or the other. It’s much harder to spot fish and fish-holding structure beneath the surface of the water when you’re looking directly into the sun.

Can you see this big trout?

Can you see this big trout? Its shadow and the shape of its fins give it away.

Also, bear in mind that the optimum light conditions for successful sight-fishing tend to occur when the sun is reasonably high in the sky: that’s typically between about 9 or 10AM and 3 or 4PM in most parts of Australia. Sight-fishing is certainly possible at other times of the day, but it won’t be as easy.

SILVER LININGS

Many anglers believe that bright sunlight and clear, blue skies are essential for effective sight-fishing. However, while these conditions are ideal, they don’t occur consistently.

It’s still possible to sight-fish under heavy cloud cover and in low light, you just need to work a little harder at it. Move more slowly and look intently for hints like movement and subtle flashes of colour from cruising fish. It can also help to vary your lens colour selection on duller days by choosing tints from the yellow, rose and brown ends of the spectrum, as well as opting for lenses that allow a higher level of light transmission.

SPOTTING CLUES

When sight fishing, don’t expect to always clearly see your target fish swimming happily about. Wild fish living in natural environments can be extremely hard to spot at first.

Experienced sight fishers become adept at identifying the tiniest clues that often signpost the presence of fish. Subtle movements, suspicious shapes or patterns, shadows, dull flashes, ripples and fin tips momentarily breaking the surface are all key indicators of the presence of fish. Often you’ll home in on just a part of the fish rather than the entire animal. This might be the light-coloured mouth of a trout, or a darker V-shape on the trailing edge of a bream’s tail. Learn to recognize these clues.

Don't expect to always see the entire fish clearly. Look for clues.

Don’t expect to always see the entire fish clearly. Look for clues. Can you make out the big trout here?

SHALLOW THINKING

Finally, remember that some of the finest sight-fishing opportunities encountered in both fresh and saltwater environments occur at extremely shallow depths, often hard up against the bank or shoreline.

Always work the shallows and edges first!

Always work the shallows and edges first!

Many anglers are surprised to learn that even large fish will swim in water barely deep enough to cover their backs, especially early and late in the day. So don’t be too quick to wade in! Always start by visually scanning the very shallowest margins first, before gradually turning your attentions to deeper water.

Remember these valuable tips and get out there and give sight-fishing a serious crack… I guarantee you’ll be hooked!

Sunnies also provide vital eye protection, both from the sun and physical injury.

Sunnies also provide vital eye protection, both from the sun and physical injury.