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Devon School of Fly Fishing Team blog

Sight Fishing by the Dude


   About a month before we were scheduled to depart to New Zealand, I had laser surgery to correct my short sightedness.  I had long wanted to escape the tyranny of glasses, but losing my only pair of prescription polarized sunglasses prior to the trip forced me into action.  After spending a small fortune on the surgery and two new pairs of shades, I was ready to sight fish those big New Zealand browns.
    Pete, who long ago had laser surgery and is used to spotting fish while guiding, was the first to spot a fish.  “See him?” he said.  I looked into the water but could only see rocks.  “Over there.  See the shadow over the rocks?” he said patiently while pointing to the fish.  I got behind him and followed his finger and saw more rocks.  I was starting to get annoyed with the laser surgeon for not being able to sight fish.  The consultation, surgery, aftercare appointments, the excitement of getting my new shades – all a waste of time and money!
    And so it went for the first day or two.  The only fish I saw were the ones that I had spooked out of their lies.  This was frustrating since one can walk a quarter mile, half mile or even longer between fish.  Blind casting into likely spots, which I am accustomed to, was more likely to put down fish than catch them.  Fortunately on the third day I was starting to spot fish and I improved as the trip went on.  Here’s some things I learned:
    One of the biggest advantages in spotting fish is height.  The higher above the water you are, the less reflection, refraction and distortion you experience.  The downside is that you expose yourself more to the fish so it’s important that you have good cover behind you.  Sections of many rivers, like the Eglinton outside Te Anau, flow through trees so it’s easy to stay hidden and even see into shadows without putting fish down. 
    Another advantage is knowing where to look for fish.  Big fish are used to having large areas to themselves, but most of the time they are in predictable spots:  at the tails of pools, in the shade, behind structure, where flow enters, etc.  I occassionally spooked fish that weren’t in these types of lies, but the alternative – thoroughly scanning large areas – wasn’t productive.
    Pete and I found that the most effective way to sight fish was to slowly walk upriver on opposite banks.  Sometimes the terrain wouldn’t allow this, but working as a team and seeing the river from different perspectives increased our chances of spotting fish.  We met an American guy who was fishing by himself who was struggling and we felt a little sorry for him. 
    Teamwork wasn’t just limited to sighting fish.  It also helped with fly selection, the right set up, landing fish, etc.  If you are going to New Zealand, go there with a fishing buddy.  You’ll sight more fish and have someone to share the experience with.
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