Sight fishing is one of the most exciting ways to fish inshore, whether it is a school of redfish feeding on a grassflat, a snook roaming a shoreline, or a laid up tarpon in the back-country. To be successful at sight fishing, you must see the fish. Obvious, right? But to the untrained eye, this can be difficult and very frustrating.
I once took a buddy of mine fishing who was relatively new to the sport. He had heard about how great sight fishing a redfish was, and that’s what he wanted to do. I must have poled miles that day, with not one fish caught. Albeit we didn’t see huge numbers, but I would get responses such as, “I don’t see it,” or, “Where?” when I would point out a fish from the poling platform. It was a humbling and learning experience for both of us.
Here are six things you can do to help see the fish better, when the opportunity arises.
When you are trying to see fish, a good pair of sunglasses is essential. Polarized lenses minimize glare reflecting off the surface of the water, allowing you to see deeper into the water. Dozens of manufacturers offer good polarized lenses in a wide range of frame styles. I prefer wide frames which block peripheral light coming in through the sides. This light can be distracting, almost blinding at times. The Smith Frontman, Costa Blackfin and Maui Jim Canoe are some examples of frames that block light coming in through the side of the glasses. Note: Pair up your glasses with a hat that has a dark under brim. The dark under brim further reduces glare off the water, helping you see deeper and distinguish fish better.
Height is huge when it comes to sight fishing. Not only does it help you see farther out, but it enables you to see deeper into the water column. This can help tremendously in situations such as scanning potholes for big seatrout.
There are a few different ways to elevate yourself on the water. Casting platforms are one of them. Nowadays it’s somewhat rare to see a technical poling skiff without a casting platform mounted on the bow. These platforms typically range from 14 to 24 inches in height. Today’s new super coolers are another viable option. These rigid, roto-molded coolers can easily support the weight of a person and can double-task as a cooler or dry storage. Often times these are used for a seat in front of the console, then moved to the bow or stern when at the fishing spot.
Captain Ed Zyak, of Jensen Beach, has his own way of getting the upper hand on the fish. He has a collapsible grab bar on top of his center console, on his 24-foot bay boat. With his electronics flush mounted into the dash of the console, he has a stable platform on top of his console and is able to hold on to the grab bar when necessary. He then controls his Minn Kota i-Pilot trolling motor from its remote, while being able to scan for fish.
CAST FIRST, ASK QUESTIONS LATER
If you see something and can’t decipher what it is, there is at least one way to find out: Cast! I was recently poling my buddy down a shoreline. For 300 yards or so all we saw were large mul-let milling around. I spotted a school of fish 20 yards in front of the boat, brushing them off as just more mullet. Come to find out, we rolled right up on 15 redfish, only to have them blow out and disappear. If we would have just cast at these fish, the outcome may have been different.
The majority of sight fishing on coastal waters involves the assessment of shadows, small wakes or glimpses of color. Opportunities of seeing a whole fish and making the “perfect” cast don’t happen all the time. You have to play the cards you’re dealt. For example: Broken branch-es in the water often look like big snook sunning. It can be hard to tell what is a fish and what is not. Snook are notorious for sitting still, waiting to ambush prey. If you’re in doubt, try looking at your subject from a different angle, by crouching down or moving the boat quietly. Make out which way it seems to be facing and make the cast.
I caught my biggest snook on fly this way. Poling down a bank, I noticed a dark spot amongst grass patches that just looked out of place. I staked the boat and then noticed what appeared to be yellow tips of a fish’s tail. I cast four feet in front of it, slowly stripped, and a big snook charged and inhaled the fly.
TIMING WITH THE SUN
There’s no rush getting on the water before daybreak when wanting to sight fish. You need at least a little bit of sunlight to see into the water. Most days when I am strictly sight fishing, I won’t get on the water till 8 a.m. or so. I will plan on where I am fishing, according to where the sun is in the sky. If it is on the rise, I will fish an area that allows the sun to be to my back. This eliminates the bad glare that you get when facing into the sun. (This applies to when the sun is dropping as well.) Usually, between 10:30 and 11 a.m. the sun is high enough that I won’t have to worry about the glare. Optimal time for best light to see fish is between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. More afternoons than not during the summer time, Florida is met with clouds and thunderstorms. This can obviously put a damper on sight fishing, so try taking advan-tage of the late morning sun for best success.
READ THE FLAT
So you have just poled up onto a flat you have never fished be-fore. It looks good, but you don’t know where to start. Don’t jump the gun and push across it as if you’re trying to win a race. Take your time. Most of the time, when I get up onto a flat, I will stake out the boat and scan the area. I will look for depressions, potholes, channels or cuts in the flat and any signs of life. It’s the same process of evaluation, whether I’ve fished the spot hundreds of times or not at all. Many times I have done this, and was able to point out a fish, that I would’ve blown out if I didn’t scan the area. Not only will you see fish when doing this, you will often notice things such as the tide flowing over a bar on the flat. This is a good spot to look for fish that are staging into the current. Remember that fish will be in different spots on the flat at different stages of the tide. A good way to get a general gist of an area you would like to fish beforehand is Google Maps.
FIND CLEAR WATER
Clear water is a very important component when trying to see fish. Tide and wind are the major factors when finding the clear water. If you have a week of sustained winds out of one direction, chances are the leeward side of the area you are fishing will have cleaner water than the windward side. The more fetch the wind has (bigger waters such as Tampa Bay, especially) the bigger the chop will be, causing the water to be more turbid. Also, the leeward bank usually protects the first 20 or so yards off the bank, keeping it glass calm. Glassy conditions are much easier to see fish in than in a wind chop.
Tide is also major when finding clear water. The majority of the time, I find an incoming will be cleaner than an outgoing tide. I often refer to the Florida Sportsman Fishing Planner for tide predictions in my area. I will know the moon phase and range of the tide that given day. If I notice a correlation in tide and water clarity in an area, I will make a mental note of it for future fishing trips.
During the summer, Florida tends to get a lot of rain. This is great for our lawns and gardens, but not good for coastal water clarity. Storm runoff from surrounding areas into an estuary can be detrimental to water clarity. Ecological problems such as the persistent algae bloom in the Mosquito Lagoon, in east central Florida, also play a huge role in water quality. You may be rewarded by spending the time looking for clean water. But if that’s not an option, you’ll have to re-ally be on your game. When I am faced with tough conditions due to runoff or algae, I will fish shallower than usual. I will also be on the lookout for signs of fish in the form of water texture—such as waking or tailing fish. FS
First Published Florida Sportsman Inshore Special May 2016