Swedish version

  Sight Fishing Large Stillwaters
By Steve Yeomans, UK Fly Fishing Guide

  Sight fishing in the context of fly fishing for trout, is the art of locating, observing and casting to a sighted fish to induce a take. The sheer thrill of sight fishing is in its visual and emotional impact. From the moment a trout is seen, the adrenalin starts to pump and nerves twitch. The situation may require a quick cast from the angler or a more considered approach. Nerves need to be controlled or a poor cast is the likely outcome, the angler able to keep cool will be most successful. Then more excitement as the “will the fish take” moment nears, the timing of the strike and then the fight and landing of a good trout. This is the attraction of sight fishing!

  In the UK we tend to associate stillwater sight fishing or stalking with the pursuit of double figure trout in small stillwaters, using heavily weighted bugs. While this is great fun it is by no means the whole story. The enjoyment derived from sight fishing is in the very visual nature of the technique. Yes it allows the angler to select big fish, but equally the method can be used to present the fly to any fish you see. Either way the excitement of seeing everything from start to finish is what provides the pleasure.

  One possible reason why larger lakes here are not fished in this way is down to perception. Many anglers assume that because a body of water is relatively large and much of the underwater scene is obscured from view, sight fishing is not possible. This is not the case, as many trout will actively feed close to the bank, sometimes in surprisingly shallow water providing they are not disturbed. By adapting the small water stalking technique, much larger lakes can be sight fished if they have one crucial characteristic!

  Lakes to Sight Fish

  Of course the crucial factor is water clarity. Providing a lake’s water is clear and fish attracting features exist in marginal areas, any lake is suitable to sight fish. Key features where you can expect to spot trout are along marginal shelves, gravel and sand bars, at lake inlets and outlets, plateaux, weed beds and around overhanging cover. All of these features are found around most lakes, within thirty feet of the bank side. As long as you make a careful approach to the water many trout can be seen patrolling and feeding in the margins.

  Approaching the Water

  With trout cruising in marginal areas, a slow stealthy approach to the water is the name of the game. Stay well back from the water’s edge, walking slowly and scanning the water for signs of feeding trout. The ability to remain unnoticed while you observe the patrol route of a trout and judge likely food items against fly selection is vital. At times you may not see any trout during your tour of the lake. When this happens select a spot where a feature such as a marginal shelf can be viewed for some distance. Once in position spend several minutes watching, it never ceases to amaze me how often a trout is spotted in this way that would otherwise have been walked past.

  Fly Selection

  Fly selection can be relatively sparse, with a mixture of unweighted, lightly weighted and heavily weighted nymphs and lures, plus a small selection of dry flies. Whichever patterns you take to the water, make sure they represent the key food items for the trout at that time of year. Some general flies to include would be hares ear and pheasant tail nymphs, parachute Adams and F fly dries, plus a lure pattern imitative of larger prey species in your local lakes. These maybe small fish of one species or more, crayfish or leeches.


  Once a trout has been sighted you have some quick decisions to make! The first question bearing in mind the fly attached to your leader is “shall I make a quick cast to this fish or take time to study its feeding?” Providing I have a fly attached that I feel confident is appropriate for the situation and the trout is not likely to be spooked by casting, I opt for the “quick cast”. I do this because although a trout will often return, following a patrol route (especially browns) you can never be completely sure. I figure that it’s better to have the chance of a take and cast immediately. If the trout does not take, the option still exists to wait for it to return and try an alternative presentation.

  If on the other hand a trout is too close to risk a cast, try to keep it in view. Establish it’s patrol route and make use of the extra time to ascertain what food items the fish seems to be taking and how best to present your fly.

  Methods to induce a visible trout to take are presenting the fly on the drop, on the lift and static. If the quick cast is opted for with a nymph then the aim will be to present the fly on the drop, landing the fly ahead of the fish. If the fish refuses allow the fish to pass, letting the fly settle on the lake bed. Once the trout returns pull the fly up and across it, stimulating the chase and take.

  When a surface feeding fish is spotted it is often worth taking time to select an appropriate fly then cast out and wait for the trout to return and find your imitation. This is perhaps the most exciting tactic of all, the fly in the surface film and the trout slowly approaching, glancing up it spots the seemingly helpless insect then moves up to slowly engulf the fly. Only now as it turns down is the angler’s strike made, followed by the rush as a quality trout heads out fast for deeper water.

  You may catch less fish than anglers fishing blind some days, other times sighting your fish will be the difference between a blank and catching. Either way nothing can match the sheer thrill of the method and I for one prefer to fish in this way whenever possible. Try it, I guarantee it will completely change your approach to fly fishing!

By Steve Yeomans 2007 ©

  Steve Yeomans operates Midlands Flyfishing in England, providing a range of guided sight fishing trips to lakes and chalkstreams for anglers from the UK and abroad.



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