by Nial Logan
Many believe that sight casting or polaroiding as it is more commonly called, is the ultimate in fly fishing. The sheer excitement of spotting fish before casting to them is hard to equal. Once experienced, blind casting into a body of water and hoping that some fish will commit suicide will have little attraction for most anglers.
Maybe it’s a resurgence of our primeval hunting instincts or the anticipation of the coming event that gets the adrenalin running. Seeing the fish tends to make the mouth dry and the palms of the casting hand sweaty. At this point, the novice anglers tend to find that this temporary state causes them to forget all those casting and fishing techniques they have tried so hard to master. Disturbing as this may seem, it doesn’t matter what level of experience, everybody can affected. This state is why we all enjoy sight casting.
Irrelevant of whether you are stalking a wily trout in a small mountain stream, a spooky giant herring in a foot of water off some remote Cape York beach or a nearly invisible bonefish in some tropical paradise, the same techniques will apply. The first thing to be aware of is that fish in shallow water are very wary of predators and will spook at the slightest opportunity. It is a matter of spotting the fish before they see you.
Due to design of its eyes and their positioning on the head, a fish’s ability to see objects with both eyes is limited to a narrow field in front of it. The refraction of light at the water surface has two effects on the fish’s ability to see out of the water. Objects above the water appear to be higher up than they really are. Secondly, they are seen in an inverted cone shaped field with the apex at the fish and at an angle of approximately 97 degrees. Outside this angle, the fish simply gets a blurred and distorted image and reflections of the underwater world. This explains the belief that there is a “dead angle” near the surface preventing the fish seeing a fisherman who is low on the shore or water.
A thorough understanding of where the fish are likely to be and of their feeding behaviour is a basic essential that allows the identification of likely places where fish are to be found. This is particularly applicable in saltwater where their location is directly related to the stage of the tide. Good water clarity obviously helps in this sort of fishing. However with practice you should be able to spot fish in most situations.
Polaroid lenses are used because of their effectiveness in reducing reflected surface glare and this enables you to see beneath the water surface. There are many different manufacturers offering a huge variety of styles and lens colours. This is definitely an area where the little extra you pay for quality is well worth it. Many believe that, from an optical point of view, glass lenses are best however the newer polycarbonate lenses now available have nearly the same properties. Colour seems to be a matter of personal choice. As a rough guideline, in low light situations the lighter “amber” type colours seem to be best while “smoke” or “reflective” colours are best for bright middle of the day use. Glasses that fit close to your face and wraparound the sides prevent light entering and reducing their effectiveness.
Spotting with the sun behind or directly above you is usually preferable to give the best spotting conditions. With the sun shining directly into your eyes or if you are facing the water at an unusual angle (sideways out of a boat for example) you may discover that it is very difficult to observe below the water surface. To overcome this, change your location so that the sun angle is more favourable. Another piece of equipment that is necessary is a cap or hat to assist to reduce light entering from above the glasses.
For those who have had some military service the words shape, shine, shadow, silhouette, spacing and movement will rekindle the content of those long forgotten camouflage lessons. Basically these words reflect the situations that indicate or betray the presence of our quarry. Probably the most important “pointers” we utilise when spotting fish are shape, shine, shadow and movement.
When searching for fish, the important thing to remember is not to actually look for the fish themselves. Most fish are first spotted because of shadow as it is usually much easier to see than the fish itself. This is particularly applicable with some of the saltwater fish that are so well adapted to their environment that the shadow is the only thing you will see until they are at very close range. Fins are also a give-away, especially the pectorals or tail fin that often contrast to the bottom background and they are the portions of the fish’s anatomy that are moving. Every once in a while a feeding fish will flash its flank, revealing itself. Surface, or near-surface feeding fish are often obvious by the water they displace with their feeding movements. In saltwater, this may or may not include baitfish breaking the surface in order to escape.
When polaroiding, concentrate on looking through the water as opposed to at it. Focus on looking at the bottom itself and scan from side to side working in bands starting at a close range and gradually moving out. Many find it difficult to spot if there are waves. In this case, the trick is to change your search pattern and use the waves as a type of magnifying glass and look through the face of the wave as it moves toward you. There are two other techniques that are useful in certain circumstances. Try moving your head up and down or side to side or glasses about your face to change your viewing perspective slightly.
Take your time and give the fish a chance to move and reveal itself. Remember shape, shadow, shine and movement are the best indicators. Once you have spotted the fish, remember that it may be able to see you, so take yourself out of its sight angle. Be careful not to spook the fish with sudden movement, your shadow or that of your flyline when you make the cast.
With practice you will quickly go from making a cast to that rock or shadow you think maybe a fish to “knowing it is a fish”.