I don’t think anything in fly fishing is as exciting or interesting to me as actually seeing a fish, making the cast, and hooking up. Sight fishing is top of the game.
As such, I’m on record for saying if I forget my waders at home, I’ll tough it out and wet-wade, but if I leave my polarized glasses at home, I’ll go back and get them. I’ll trade 20 blind hook-ups for one sight fishing encounter. Yeah… I’m the weirdo who will sit on the bank and watch a fish for an hour, figuring out how to catch it.
People I fish with often ask, “How did you see that fish?”
This might sound like a Yogi Berra-ism, but my answer is always the same: “The secret to spotting fish is knowing where to look.”
When I’m looking for fish–doesn’t matter if it’s in the river or on the flats–I’m looking specifically for areas I know fish will like… like structure, depth changes, current lines, and so on. Then I make a mental “window,” literally the size of a house window, maybe 3 feet by 4 feet, and I project that window on the water. Say I’m fishing for trout… I’ll find a seam, and put that window at the back of the run, and leave it there long enough to stare through it and watch for inconsistencies… shadows, color changes, glints, motions. Tiny little telltales will reveal the fish; seldom do they pop out all at once. If i don’t see anything unusual, I pick up the mental window, and drop it back on the water a few feet away.
Divide and conquer…eliminate before you locate. It’s like playing “Where’s Waldo” all day long.
The coolest fish spotting experience I ever had was on Steamboat Creek in Oregon with Frank Moore and Tyler Palmerton. We weren’t fishing, just looking. It was winter, and the sun was low in the sky. Eventually, however, the rays filtered through the trees just right and lit up a pool. I had thought the dark patches along the rocks in the creek were blotches of algae or some vegetation… but the sunlight revealed red sashes… those shapes were actually big, wild steelhead, and they had been stacked at the edge of the pool all along. This is the shot I took… can you see the fish? How many do you think are there?