Trouts Journal

The Stealth Factor

Ivan Orsic / Sep 26, 2014

Thanks again to those who participated in this weeks "Let's Hear It" post on our Facebook page. The topic suggested was in reference to fishing Cheesman Canyon and the how best to approach the spooky fish that reside there. This is a great topic to discuss, and Cheesman Canyon is definitely a place where having a little stealth on your side can go a long ways. As we move into Fall and Winter, sight fishing is going to become a much bigger piece of the Colorado angling equation. While sight fishing can absolutely be effective year round, the lower flows we should see over the next several months will make for ideal conditions to target individual fish.

I spend a lot of time on the South Platte drainage both guiding and fun fishing. If I were to look back on the 10 biggest fish I've seen caught this year, I'd venture to say 8 out of the 10 were caught by stalking up on them and making a direct cast at that individual fish. Spending some time refining these skills will make you a much better angler without a doubt. So without further delay, here is how I approach sight fishing to spooky fish.

1. Approach from below- we're starting with a simple one here, but it's something that just can't be left out. Trout have both monocular and binocular vision. This means that they can see both straight ahead, as well as off to the side. The more you're able to approach a fish from directly below the better. If you happen to be walking down stream and know you'll be approaching a spot where fish could be visibly holding, don't be lazy and just walk down on top of them and start casting. Take the extra minute or two, make a wide circle around your target and re-approach from downstream.

2. Keep your feet dry- When I'm out looking for individual fish to target, I always do my best to keep my feet on dry ground. Even walking quietly through 6" of water as I work my way upstream seems to spook way more fish than if I'm on dry ground.

3. The terrain is your friend- this was actually mentioned in the Facebook post as well. When it comes to getting into casting position to target a fish you've spotted, nothing will help you more than staying concealed as you approach. In an ideal setting, if I'm approaching an area that I suspect is holding fish, I will always try to get a "birds eye" view from afar. This can be especially effective in a canyon setting such as Cheesman. While getting up high on a hillside, cliff, etc can certainly show yourself to the fish, I typically find that I'm far enough away it doesn't seem to matter much to them. If the fish does spook and darts for cover this isn't always a bad thing, as it can give you the opportunity to get into position to make a cast once the fish calms down and returns to its original feeding position. If you're up high, spot a fish, and it holds, use your elevation as an advantage to plan a route to get into casting position. This may mean backtracking, bushwacking through willows, etc. If you don't have a height advantage, using any and all available cover to conceal your approach should always be priority. Lastly, and I can't tell you how many fish this has put in the net for me, if you happen onto a fish you didn't see and he spooks KEEP MOVING! Do not stop and immediately try and make casts or wait for him to return. Fish- especially in Cheesman- see a lot of non-anglers as well. Whenever I run into the situation of spooking an unseen fish, I pretend to be a casual hiker and keep walking, sometimes quite a ways. The goal here is to act non-threatening. Once I know I've put some distance between me and the fish, I will seek higher ground or make a wide loop out away from the river, rest the fish for a few minutes and then reapproach from downstream.

4. Be prepared- If you spot an area you think should be holding spooky fish, when at all possible approach the river ready to cast. Often times you won't be making a long cast to these fish. With a little practice, you will be able to have ten or so feet of fly line, plus your leader/tippet/flies all out and "bundled" up in your hands so that when you approach the river you are able to start fishing immediately. Nothing can spook a fish faster than a fly rod waving around in the air while an angler attempts to unhook his flies, strip out enough line to make a cast, etc. Approach your intended target ready to make a cast as soon as you get in position.

5. Keep movements to a minimum- This is another big one for me personally. When I'm set up on a fish that I am specifically fishing to, I always make it a point to remain as calm as possible throughout the entire process. Avoiding any sudden movements should be a priority. Additionally, keep your feet quiet and avoid crunching gravel or shifting your weight back and forth. I know it can be exciting to cast at a big fish, but I can assure you it's much more exciting to have that fish in the net. When I'm trying to stay relaxed, I put great focus on "calmness" between the ears. Staying mentally cool will translate directly into your body language. Sight fishing is a discipline with oftentimes, little room for error. Adding extra emotion or motion to the process will never result in more fish being caught. Stay cool, calm and confident in your approach.

6. Use the sun to your advantage- I always try to have the sun in my face as I approach a fish I'm going to cast at. If this means going downstream, crossing the river and approaching from the other bank then so be it. This won't always be possible, but many times it will. The biggest problem with sightfishing with the sun at your back is you run the risk of throwing shadows acoss the water, and potentially the fish. Early and late in the day, when the sun is at lower angles, your shadow may be 10 or more feet long. Do yourself and the fish a favor and keep it off the water.

7. Know your angles- If you have to make a false cast in order to reach your target, don't do it over the fish. Make a false cast out to the side and then redirect the cast to your target when it's time to present your flies. Additionally, I always try to never present my flies at an angle greater than 45 degrees to the fish. Remember, fish can see out to the side, so making your cast from as much of a downstream angle as possible (without landing your line directly on top of the fish) should always be your goal .

8. Pay attention to your presentation- This is very simple, yet I see countless angler make this mistake. If you're sight fishing with a nymph rig. Make sure your flies, split shot and indicator land in a completely straight line upstream of the fish. This will ensure you're flies get down as quickly as possible, as well as help you know where your flies are. If you're flies land outside your indicator, there will be a "swing time" where your flies will both be sinking, as well as swinging around to get in line with your indicator. A situation such as this makes it much more difficult to present your flies directly to the fish. Most of the time a fish is not going to move very far- if at all- to eat your flies. Additionally, just because you are able to get in position to make a cast, doesn't guarantee that fish will stick around very long. You must make every cast count. This starts with perfect presentation.

9. Use yarn indicators!- I know thingamabobbers are what all the cool kids are using, however they also make a very loud splat when they land. I've never met a trout who preferred a plastic bubble smacking the water in front of them over yarn, which barely makes a ripple. Furthermore, yarn is WAY more sensative than other types of "bobbers". These spooky fish often strike with extreme subtleness and I can assure you a yarn indicator will help you detect those soft strikes much more efficiently. Leave your thingamabobbers for your larger, more aggressive rivers.

10. Short casts and a lot of weight- If you're casting to a particular fish, don't lead it by 20 feet when making your presentation. My general rule for leading a fish is equal to the water depth. If the fish is in two foot of water, I'll put my indicator two foot in front of its head on my presentation. Like I mentioned earlier, you never know how long a fish is going to stick around and waiting for your flies to drift 20 feet before it reaches the fish takes up valuable time. Plus it leaves a lot more room for error in regards to putting the flies right in front of the fish. When using a yarn indicator, you'd be shocked how close you can land your flies to a fish without it spooking. When making these short casts, use more weight than you think is necessary. Since you're casting close, you're flies won't have a lot of time to sink down. Get them down in a hurry and then cast again if you don't get a strike.

Sight fishing can be an absolute blast and one of the best ways in Colorado to land a true trophy. Hopefully these pointers help clarify a few hurtles or questions you may have been experiencing. As always, feel free to give us a shout or swing by the shop if you'd like to discuss this topic or any others in further detail!

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