I’m at the age where I need reading glasses. My eyesight isn’t what it once was. But I am a better sight fisherman now than I ever have been. I’m better at seeing fish 20 yards away than I was 20 years ago. And the reason is simple: Sight fishing isn’t a matter of how sharp your eyesight is; it’s all about knowing where to look, and how to look.
Whether you’re scanning a clear saltwater flat like this for bonefish, or looking through darker water for bass, carp, or trout, you want to keep these six things in mind.
1. Have the sun in the right place. You’re sight fishing prowess decreases at least 50 percent when you look into the sun versus having the sun at your back. That said, you don’t want the sun directly behind you so that your shadow falls right over the zone you’re looking into. Have the sun off your shoulder as much as possible.
2. Don’t scan the whole flat at once. I use the analogy that you should imagine looking though a screen door. (I might change that now to a “garage door.”) Make a 10×10-foot template. Mentally cast that template over a certain piece of water. Look through your door until you either eliminate the possibilities, or find something good. After about 10 seconds or so of looking through your door, move it, drop it over another piece of water, and start over.
3. Look hardest where the fish will more likely be. It’s not rocket science. Fish like to hang on drop-offs, in depressions, on current seams and bubble lines. Spend more time and energy on those places than anywhere else. The real secret to sight fishing is knowing where to look in the first place.
4. Learn to eliminate those things that are NOT fish. Figure out what the weeds undulating in the water look like and act like, and learn to dismiss them. Same for rocks and shadows. The less you are distracted by non-targets, the more time you can spend finding real targets. Granted, this is probably the hardest thing to do when sight fishing.
5. Understand that you aren’t looking for whole fish… you are looking for small signs of fish. A tail. A wake. Nervous water. A color that’s a little different than the rest of the bottom. Imagine a star-filled night sky, and you want to find the planet that shines just a little brighter, or is just a little different in color than everything else. Find the “planet” in the water, and you’ve found your fish.
6. Lastly, stop yourself once in a while. It’s hard to detect motion in the water when you are moving yourself. Every minute or so, be sure to stop, be still, and survey the situation with a little bit wider field of vision. Trust your peripheral vision. Often that little wiggle or dart you catch with the corner of your eye is the telltale you need to dial in.