Binoculars photo

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I’ve been spending a lot of time lately sitting high on the banks looking through binoculars at the river surface and watching trout eat. Many years ago, legendary guide Rusty Vorous taught me this trick while we were fishing the spring creeks in Montana’s Paradise Valley. His theory was simple: If you take the time to watch the river through field glasses, you get a better idea of what bugs are hatching, and what trout are really sipping, long before you’re standing knee-deep in an area where every cast matters, and every wasted motion spooks fish. That’s especially important at this time of year, when waters are low and clear, and the trout have been through months of “education.”


The late Charlie Meyers, with whom I wrote “The Little Red Book of Fly Fishing” was also a fan of this approach. In fact, he made it tip #163 on page 145 of the book.

Think about it. If you spend a little time outside of the area where shadows and noises matter, so as to dial right in on what the fish are eating… a subtle sip will tell you mayflies… a ripple and fin (but no head) might suggest emergers… an up-shot splash might indicate a caddis chase… a “follow and gulp” says terrestrial… you’ll at least have more than a hunch what to tie on before you ever get your boots wet, or unfurl that first false cast.

I believe that the odds of hooking up diminish significantly with every cast, and every fly change. Far better to be “dialed” and make a first cast count than to play guessing games, especially in clear water. Like any angler, I get excited when I see rising fish, and want to jump right into the action. But I have learned that the bull-charge approach is seldom as productive as taking some time to get a clearer picture, and making that first cast a haymaker.

Binoculars will help you do just that. Trust me. Try it, and you’ll see what I mean.