Beginner Guide

How to See Trout – Fly Fisherman

Trout which can be simple to identify are sometimes the toughest to catch. In shallow, gradual, or glassy water they could see you too, and their senses are on excessive alert. Coaching your eyes to see extra obscure and hidden trout is the most effective pathway to catching extra of them. (Josh Hutchins picture)

This text was initially titled ” Spot Trout” within the 2021 Fly Fishing Made Straightforward particular publication of Fly Fisherman journal.

We had barely gotten out of the automobile when Jennifer pointed to the river and stated: “There, a fish simply rose! There. One other one. See it?”

How might I not? While you spend a great a part of your life strolling riverbanks and lakeshores, staring into waters each shifting and nonetheless in the hunt for feeding fish, when even at evening while you shut your eyes you see the afterburn of river currents replaying in opposition to the backs of your eyelids, the sight of rising trout attracts your imaginative and prescient like crimson flashing neons.

And these fish, porpoising to intercept tiny Blue-winged Olives on Colorado’s Fryingpan River, have been certainly flashing crimson, their camouflage cued off the brick-red basalt rocks that framed the river and studded its backside.

“There’s one other fish simply out from the place you might be, 4 ft out, 2 o’clock, not rising however nymphing,” I stated. “And one other one 3 ft above it, too. See them?”

She checked out me first to examine if this was some type of a sensible joke. It wasn’t, and she or he studied the river extra intently.

“Ah, sure, now I see them,” she stated, and her face lit up with a smile. Since we’ve put our lives and our fishing collectively, commuting between Colorado and New Zealand following the seasons of trout, Jennifer has simply transformed to the concept generally simply discovering and seeing a feeding fish is as rewarding as catching it. And I, after some 30 years of fly fishing in New Zealand—half of that guiding—have discovered nice enjoyment of transplanting Kiwi angling strategies to the American West and seeing simply how effectively they labored right here. This was very true with the artwork of sighting fish.

New Zealand has an unsurpassed status for sight fishing: recognizing the fish earlier than it sees you and sneaking into place to make that all-important first solid. Each anglers and guides in New Zealand should develop into specialists at recognizing trout, out of necessity and by selection. It’s a necessity, because you wouldn’t simply blind-fish a blue-ribbon water which will maintain one massive fish each few hundred yards. And it’s a selection, as a result of this sort of interplay with the fish is very visible, intimate, and electrifying, maybe probably the most pure and satisfying solution to interact with the trout.

But most anglers new to this model of fishing, or unaccustomed to the readability of water that makes it potential, continuously battle to see all however the obvious fish. And, while you level out to them one of many hard-to-see, completely camouflaged trout, they suppose you’re enjoying a prank on them. And needless to say the simpler the fish are to see, the tougher they’re to catch, not simply because they’ll see you as effectively, however as a result of the easy-spotting water—glassy and gradual—makes a stealthy presentation robust if not unattainable. Ideally, then, you need to begin recognizing these hard-to-see trout—they’re extra more likely to be deceived, as a result of the damaged floor that hides them additionally disguises any casting fake pas, drag, and strategy errors.

Typically, particularly when visibility is lower than ideally suited, discovering feeding fish might appear to be an virtually supernatural capability. However there’s a methodology to the magic, and techniques to comply with, and also you definitely don’t want an osprey’s eyes to seek out trout and create sufficient alternatives for a great day’s fishing. So let’s see if we will demystify the artwork of recognizing trout.

The place to look

Earlier than you even begin recognizing fish, attempting to x-ray the water and prepared the trout to seem, it is advisable know the place to look. In any other case it’s possible you’ll find yourself straining your eyes by a variety of lifeless water, dropping focus and enthusiasm, then spooking the fish while you lastly get to the place they have been feeding all alongside. Trout aren’t distributed evenly in a river. They like sure options and locations, and figuring out this prime trout actual property is the primary talent to study. One of the best ways to try this is to start a river with the eyes of a paddler.

How to See Trout
In ideally suited trout-spotting situations you’d have a transparent blue sky, the solar at a excessive elevation, no wind, and a backdrop of timber or a cliffside to cut back glare. You’ll even have a neater time recognizing trout in case you achieve some elevation so that you’re wanting down into the water. Scrambling up onto a rocky outcrop, a excessive financial institution, or perhaps a tree, might make it easier to discover what you’re searching for. (Josh Hutchins picture)

Discover how the river runs, the way it turns backward and forward, how the surface nook is at all times the deeper one, how there may be often a definite staircase profile to the movement—pool, riffle, pool—and the way the present velocity varies each alongside and throughout the river. These velocity variations are the important thing options for a trout hunter. What you’re searching for are present traces and shears—locations the place quick and gradual water meet.

Trout are prime predators, and they don’t needlessly exert themselves. Their most well-liked feeding spots are locations the place they’ll relaxation in slower water whereas feeding from a sooner present. Brown trout are infamous for this, usually parking in completely slack water with simply their noses edging into the present. Rainbows are inclined to favor sooner flows, however they nonetheless adhere to the identical ideas and conduct. That’s the reason you not often discover trout feeding in robust, featureless present. It takes an excessive amount of of their vitality simply to remain in a single place.

So search for any options and disturbances within the river movement: corners and financial institution protrusions, rocks and timber, present traces and seams. You’ll quickly see and understand that, due to the methods the river flows, how swimming pools funnel into riffles and switch left and proper, the present traces are locations the place a lot of the meals will get concentrated. These are the feed traces, and the sides of these are the place you’ll discover probably the most fish.

After all, the river is a fancy, three-dimensional surroundings, though, wanting down from above, we understand it in solely two dimensions. The options we see on the floor—cushions and lee spots, break up currents and eddies, pockets of turbulence and calm—additionally happen within the vertical aircraft. And the trout are more likely to make the most of these as a result of the water’s depth additionally affords shelter and camouflage.

So pay specific consideration to modifications in depth—drop-offs, lips, channels, and seams—as a result of they’re trout scorching spots. Even a single rock is sufficient to create a holding place for a fish, so let your eyes journey down the sting of a feed line, from a rock to rock, and see if any of these rocks have tails.

After you’ll be able to determine the assorted edges of currents, each on the floor and alongside the underside, you start to stack them up as a result of the trout like to maximise their feeding alternatives. Principally they want two issues: meals and shelter. Meals comes down the present traces, shelter is present in depth, and beneath overhanging vegetation, often each.

Understanding this, placing all of the habitat clues collectively, you’re effectively in your means in growing your “fish mind,” which is a necessary attribute for a trout hunter. You ask your self, “If I used to be a fish, the place would I be on this piece of water?” Then you definitely look there. With time and observe, you develop a capability to learn water as if the trout hideouts have been mapped out for you. That is additionally one of the crucial satisfying features of sight fishing: determining the place the fish might be, then discovering them there.

What to Look For

Forgive me for stating the apparent, however in shifting water, trout at all times face into the present (to feed and to breathe) and they’re streamlined into it, so any form at an odd angle to the movement is unlikely to be a fish. Until it swims off while you strategy, which generally occurs too.

One summer time day in western New Zealand, my pal Jamie and I have been watching a log that nearly barred the river, and a large department that protruded upstream from the log, just under the floor. The department appeared virtually too thick and lengthy to be a trout, however the gentle was horrible, with drizzly overcast and metallic glare, so we couldn’t inform for certain. We have been down on our knees, peering by clumps of tall grass, and the cicadas have been too loud for us to listen to ourselves suppose.

How to See Trout
Form, orientation, shadows, and colours are are clues that you could be be a fish, however motion will verify when you have got noticed a trout. Feeding fish transfer backward and forward and up and down within the present. In the event you don’t look ahead to motion, it’s possible you’ll waste your time casting at weeds, sticks, or logs on the underside. (Dave and Amelia Jensen picture)

“Have a solid,” Jamie provided.

“Naw, it’s not a fish,” I stated, and stood up.

The “department” swam off at velocity. It was simply a double-digit trophy.

When doubtful, at all times solid, however concern not, as you develop into an adept on the trout-spotting sport, you’ll be spooking a variety of fish, too. This can be a good factor, as a result of alongside the way in which, you’ll be able to study not solely the place they’re and how one can strategy them but additionally what they appear to be. Reality is, with these tough-to-spot trout, you not often see the entire fish clearly. You see hints, visible clues that what you’re may simply presumably be a fish.

Form and orientation are main clues, as are shadows and shade, however what you actually need to see is motion. Feeding fish transfer quite a bit. Typically, to take an insect near the underside, the fish will briefly flip side-on and also you’ll see a silvery flash from its flank. Blink and also you’ll miss it, so spend time watching any possible candidate intently, searching for indicators of exercise. You’ll nonetheless find yourself casting to sticks, rocks, or fish which can be resting and won’t eat it doesn’t matter what you throw at them. It’s all a part of the sport.

Weeds will be particularly misleading. Typically they examine all of the bins—they’re in the precise spot, they’ve the precise form and shade, solid the precise shadow, and sure, present a variety of motion. However just like the nonmoving fish, they don’t eat, both. It might take you a lot of casts and fly modifications to determine this out.

One of many key expertise for profitable sight fishing is the power to decelerate to the tempo of water. There’s additionally a opposite college of thought on this, suggesting that you need to go quick and canopy as a lot water as you’ll be able to. However in case you do that you simply’ll see solely the apparent fish, and also you’ll spook a lot of the trout within the river and received’t even know that you’ve got.


Your eyes are basically spherical lenses whose shapes are managed by a number of pairs of tiny muscle groups. Good imaginative and prescient isn’t the matter of their energy however precision, coordination, and steadiness. So, when searching for fish, keep away from staring exhausting into the water. That is counterproductive, as it can fatigue your eyes, lock out your peripheral imaginative and prescient (which is nice at choosing out motion), and will even provide you with a headache.

Eyes work greatest when they’re frequently shifting, so allow them to journey evenly over the water and thru it, exploring it as if it have been an enormous portray. Relaxed, completely happy eyes will see greater than these attempting to bore a gap by the water.

Excellent recognizing situations would have clear blue sky, robust overhead solar, little or no wind, a great excessive backdrop of timber, cliffs, or distant mountains, and maybe some further elevation to look down from. However in fact, ideally suited situations are uncommon. More often than not we’ve to cope with the prevailing situations and have methods to work round them.

Flat, overcast gentle places an opaque sheen on the river’s floor. Wind could make it look as if it’s frozen, lack of backdrop causes glare, and in all these situations you’ll find your self squinting, staring, tilting your head backward and forward, and customarily seeing quite a bit fewer fish. A well-timed hatch can usually save a day like that, however in any other case it is advisable benefit from the sighting alternatives that you simply do have. So go extra slowly—the fish can see you a lot better in overcast situations as a result of there’s a lot much less distinction between beneath and above, and they don’t seem to be wanting into the solar. Keep in mind, it is a scenario of 1 prime predator hunting one other, so, with the percentages favoring the trout, you actually need to carry your sport simply to remain in it.

Search any elevation you could find, any backdrop to look in opposition to, even in case you’re wanting down the river. If you end up shifting slowly and stealthily, as a hunter ought to, it’s not unusual to see a fish downstream of your place, backtrack quietly, and nonetheless get a chance to solid to it. It’s in robust gentle situations that having best-quality glasses turns into crucial. Skimp on different gear when you could, however in case you’re critical about sight fishing, you want the most effective polarized glasses you’ll be able to afford.

How to See Trout
This illustration exhibits Costa Blackfin Professional frames with a 580 blue mirrored polarized lens on one facet, and Dawn Silver Mirror lens on the opposite. It’s for illustrative functions solely. Costa doesn’t promote frames with mismatched lenses.

My pal Dean Bell has been thought of the most effective—if not the most effective—trout guides in New Zealand. Although such accolades are extremely subjective, one certain factor I can let you know about him is that he’s acquired the most effective eyes of anybody I’ve ever fished with.

“My polarized glasses are an important piece of fishing gear I personal,” he says, “and when your status as a information is on the road daily, you can not afford to make use of something however the most effective. This permits me to seek out trout most anglers merely stroll previous. I particularly favor the Smith’s low-light Ignitor lenses, which transmit 32% of the incoming whereas nonetheless polarizing it. Sort of makes an overcast day sunny once more.”

The primary time I used the Ignitors on a darkish, overcast day, I keep in mind pondering to myself, “Man, I can see! I can see once more!” Costa Dawn Silver Mirror 580P lenses are an alternative choice for cloudy days, they usually have a 25% gentle transmission price. Common fishing lenses generally have a 12% or 14% gentle transmission price, which is ideal for brilliant, sunny days.As you’re parting together with your hard-earned money, needless to say you aren’t shopping for simply one other gadget, however probably the most important device in your fishing equipment.

In the long run—while you’ve put in loads of riverside mileage, spooked sufficient fish and realized from that, when you’ll be able to learn the water and select its clues—seeing trout turns into virtually a sixth sense. You’ll be able to’t even clarify how or why, however you recognize that the form you’re is a fish, even when your companions suspect you’re hallucinating. Typically, you’ll nonetheless solid to rocks and sticks, and weeds particularly, although much less and fewer continuously. There’s a specific softness and fluid grace to the form of trout, which different river options shouldn’t have, and also you study to acknowledge it. It’ll draw your eyes in as if by magic.

How are you aware you’re there? While you begin doubting your self, when what your thoughts dismissed as “not a fish” swims off at velocity simply as you’re taking one other step. So, when doubtful, at all times solid. Some rocks and weeds I’ve seen have been identified to even come up and take a dry fly, and put up a great battle afterwards.

After you’ve realized to identify trout, you’ll be able to apply your fish-finding expertise to different species and environments, together with salt water. The visible clues could also be barely completely different—the colours, shapes, and patterns of motion—however the ideas are the identical, and so is the fun.

Be forewarned although: Fly fishing at this stage is addictive in its depth. It refines each expertise and expectations, and the way in which you need to interact with the fish. It’s like growing a style for costly single malts—after you have got, it’s now not satisfying to return to a budget stuff.

Derek Grzelewski is a former skilled fly-fishing information and the founding father of Wanaka Flyfishing Academy. He’s the creator of three books about fly fishing in New Zealand: The Trout Bohemia, The Trout Goals, and The Trout Diaries.

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