Small Stream Tactics: Sight Fishing

Small Stream Tactics: Sight Fishing
Small Stream Tactics: Sight Fishing
One of the main reasons I love fishing small streams, you get to sight fish for 80-90% of the fish you are chasing.  But you have to be stealthy about how you approach them.  General rule, fish look up stream and you should move upstream as you fish.  This is a very general rule but holds true.  I would say most of my fishing is moving upstream, but I also fish walking back.  The trick in both directions is spotting the fish before they spot you.
My biggest advice on spotting fish is get yourself a good pair of polarized glasses.  It doesn?t have to be a $200 pair of glasses, just good.  By good I mean it should block light coming in behind the frames, color of the lenses don?t matter to much here in Colorado but the colors do block out certain lights you will need to find one that works best for you.  For me brown or vermillion lenses seem to make the fish stand out a little more so I stick to those colors.
The easiest way for me to spot fish is to position yourself so you can see into the water with the least amount of glare.  These angles are called viewing lanes.  It is sometimes easier to do on small streams because of their size and location glare is not always an issue.  The next step is to watch the stream for a second to see if you see movement.  It only takes a second to identify the stream bottom if anything moves you will notice it right away.  Next is to determine if that movement is a weed, trash, or a fish.  While I am scanning for movement I am also looking for shadows, fish produce shadows on the stream bed.  It makes it easier to identify if that fish looking rock is really a fish if you can see a separate shadow under it.  Lastly for me since I am colorblind I look for coloring that would give away the fish.  Most fish are dark on top to camouflage them with the bottom.  But you can notice certain things that give the fish away, the white tips on the fins of Brook Trout, the silver flash of a rainbow as it turns sideways to feed, the flash of a white mouth of a fish feeding.  All these things need to be scanned in the minute you are looking down your viewing lane. 
Once you?ve spotted your fish how do you approach? If fishing to a fish upstream of you keep a low profile and try to put something between you and the fish.  A trout?s blind spot is directly behind them, they have a 180 degree view with each eye to watch for predators.  So placing something like a rock or log between you and the fish helps in hiding you from already spooky fish. When casting try to place your fly close to but not on top the fish the line hitting the water has potential to scare the fish.  I recommend light tippet when fishing small streams because of this.

When fishing back downstream stealth is very important as you are easier to spot.  The fish will see movement and head to cover.  If you see a fish hit cover cast to the cover anyways, these fish may still try to take your fly food can be very limited in a small stream environment.  Try to stay at a higher angle while moving back down stream this may put you a little farther from the stream but will give you a better viewing angle and the farther away you are the harder you are for a trout to spot.  Once you spot a fish if possible stay at the higher angle and cast to it.  If that is not possible make slow movements and try to stay low to the ground, this may even mean you have to crawl up to the spot.  If there is cover that will allow you to cast position yourself behind it. 
I try to let out enough line to cast to the fish, with the goal to land the fly on top of it. However as I make the cast I will stop the line short hopefully dropping the fly a foot or so in front of the fish. This allows the slack on the water to drift the fly over the fish without any drag.  When fishing in this direction you will usually only get one or two shots before you spook the fish so try to make them count, even if it?s a bad cast let it drift by the fish before recasting as not to spook it.
While there could probably be a book written on just spotting fish and sight fishing in general I hope these little tips help you sight more fish.  Honing your sight fishing skills on small streams does translate over to the bigger rivers and you will notice your view lanes more and start seeing more fish.

Rick Schroeder
Owner Colorado Mountain

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