Sight Fishing in Shallow Water

by Justin Hoffman | July 2, 2014

sight fishing

Sight fishing, a tactic commonly used throughout the saltwater flats of the United States, has merit for Ontario anglers too. In this shallow-water game of cat and mouse, optics, equipment, and a refined technique will put the odds in your favour when you are on the water.

Sight fishing relies on the angler to first spot a fish, then cast toward it to entice a strike. In contrast to the general chuck and wind technique that sees multiple casts made per minute, sight fishing is more of a search and find strategic challenge that is both rewarding and fun.

The Target
Not all game fish are suitable for targeting with sight. Those that primarily reside in shallow water, such as largemouth and smallmouth bass, long nose gar, northern pike, crappie and bluegill, fit the bill.

Pro angler Rob Jackson has built a removable raised platform for his boat.

Pro angler Rob Jackson has built a removable raised platform for his boat.

Water and Weather Conditions
The ability to see into the water is a must for sight fishing. Clear water brings with it the best views, but this goes for both angler and fish.

Spotting fish can come easy, but angler movement, errant casts, and unnatural presentations can alert your target and cause them to flee.

Lightly stained water is my personal preference for sight fishing. This limits the likelihood of mistakes being noticed — likewise you or your boat — while still allowing the needed clarity to locate fish.

Weather conditions play an important role in your ability to spot fish. Sunny days are preferred for obvious reasons, with morning or evening slots getting the nod.

Midday light can be harsh and produce excessive glare, limiting your line of sight.

Don’t discount overcast days. Glare will be reduced and on clear water lakes, vision can still be excellent when fish are up in the skinny water.

The Gear
Polarized fishing glasses are a necessity for sight fishing. They cut down surface glare on the water, allowing an angler to increase the area and depth that can be seen with the human eye.

Experiment with lens colour for greatest results. Yellow tints maximize definition, which is important for picking out fish, especially when holding over dark-coloured bottom structure. Brown tint is also excellent choice.

Another important item to have is a foot-controlled electric bow-mount motor. These units allow you to quietly explore shallow water areas while standing up and actively scanning from the front of the boat.

Casting platforms also come in handy. The higher you are off the water, the greater the area you can visually inspect.

Pro angler Rob Jackson built a removable raised platform for his boat with the specific intent of seeing more fish. It’s a DIY project that’s worth considering.

Tactics and Technique
You’ve spotted a fish. Now what do you do?

Don’t toss your lure directly at the fish; this will often spook it.

Cast behind or to the side and bring your lure toward it. If the fish is on the move, cast in the direction it is swimming, about 5 to 10 feet ahead. A gentle underhand pitch or sidearm cast is the preferred technique in order to minimize splash.

Keep a low profile and minimize your body movements. It’s best to start a fair distance from the fish and slowly work closer with the electric motor on low.

If faced with extremely clear water and finicky fish, light tackle and line is the preferred choice. Clear water allows fish to inspect lures more closely, so keep your selection natural.

If bass is your intended target, downsize baits and plastics to a 2- to 3-inch finesse bait. Bass willingness to favour small, snack-sized offerings is well documented.

If chasing pike or long nose gar, drop from a 5-inch bait to a 3- or 4-inch size. It’s a small adjustment in profile that makes for a more natural and snack sized approach. But, keep line strength high to prevent break offs from these powerful predators.

Give sight fishing a try this season. The hide-and-seek nature of this technique is highly addictive and guaranteed to put your stalking and casting skills to the ultimate test.

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