Train Your Eyes For Spotting Fish: Watch Longer After The Release

I’m wrapping up a great week of do-it-yourself bonefishing on Long Island in the Bahamas. (More on that to come.) What makes bonefishing especially interesting and alluring is that it is all about spotting fish, and I believe that sight fishing is top of the game.

It’s where fishing meets hunting in my mind. If you see your quarry before you make the cast, and then put the fly in the money zone, that’s as good as it gets, regardless of how big the fish you catch really is. (At least that’s my opinion–I’ll trade 10 fish caught “blind” for one laid-up target in skinny water.)

Of course, the key to all of that happening is actually being able to see fish. And that’s an acquired talent that really only comes with experience, whether you’re fishing for bones, redfish, and even carp or trout in freshwater (this photo is a cutthroat trout in a clear creek, and a fairly obvious target).

There are some hints you can use to help you–look for nervous water, look for motion and odd “disturbances” in the flow or against the backdrop, and so on. Of course, knowing where fish will likely be is the real key. The trick to spotting fish is knowing where to look.

But I picked up a really great tip from Long Island guide Markk Cartwright. He suggests that to train your eyes for spotting fish, whenever you or the people you’re fishing with lands a fish and releases it, you should keep your eyes on that fish until it swims completely out of sight.

Thinking about that, I realize the bad habit that I have of unhooking fish, giving them a gentle nudge and a short glimpse to ensure they’re swimming upright, but then immediately turning my attention back out to what happens next.

But we should probably watch those fish longer, just to be extra sure they are okay. And by doing so, Markk says, we actually train the gaze in a way that helps us ID fish better against the mottled camouflage of a river or a flat before.

And that makes perfect sense to me, in a slap my forehead kind of way. I’m planning on doing more fish watching after I let them go from now on.