Anglers often forget that a trout’s eyes are on the sides of its head and not pointing forward, like human eyes. Thus, the fish’s peripheral vision is far more effective than ours is. And yet, when we see a fish laid up or sipping in calm clear water, we always try to sneak in for that cast from the side. When we get just about close enough… poof, the fish darts away and we wonder why.
When fishing in calm water the most important tip is to keep a low profile. The number one factor that spooks fish is shadows, when they detect motion in their vicinity. I cast from my knees–and from the bank–as often as possible. I keep my boots as dry as possible, because even the smallest wakes and waves will put feeding trout down. I try to position my body so that my shadows (and the shadow of my fly rod) are not cast directly over the target. Never false cast directly over the target fish.
And when you present the fly from downstream, you want the leader to cover the fish, but not the fly line. Imagine your target is about two feet above the water surface, so you don’t drive a cast that splashes down with force–you want it to gently fall from the sky. The calmer the water, the more you must pause between casts. If the current is moving at a snail’s pace–maybe two feet per second–I might wait two minutes between casts. And I will probably change the dry fly pattern if I am reasonably sure the fish saw my bug the first time around. You will seldom beat a fish into submission by firing rapid casts.
Yes, I know. There are many moving parts to sight fishing in calm, clear water. And there’s nothing more frustrating than blowing up as all those thoughts pass through your mind at the moment of truth. So before you even cast, take a minute to pause. Watch the fish. And calmly make your plan, then visualize it all coming together.
Just be sure to do that behind the fish’s field of vision, and preferably while sitting down or kneeling.