Sight fishing is the best of both worlds
Last updated 4/25/2023 at 5:37pm
The famous line from the movie “The wizard of Oz” where Dorothy tells her dog Toto “we’re not in Kansas anymore” came to mind as my small skiff settled out over a bright white endless Caribbean flat covered with air clear water. The whole sight was far and away different from my normal upper coast water where clarity is measured in inches rather than feet. From the poling platform I could see a school bonefish milling about in the shallow water in search of small crabs and shrimp, it was classic as they showed their tails and easily gave away their location. It was a no brainer, a gimme, as easy as you could ever expect from one of the most wary fish that swims. All of the good vibes that came from the initial sighting were soon dashed as one awkward move led to another awkward cast which led to two anglers shaking their heads wondering “how did we miss that one?”
Scenes like this play out over and over every day as anglers who enjoy seeing their fish before they cast to them make mistakes that just leave you wondering why am I doing this and not soaking dead shrimp someplace else. The frustration factor for the sight fisherman is high and more often than not outweighs the success ratio, but on the day it all happens just right there is no better feeling. If I had to put it all in perspective I get as much or more enjoyment out of “coaching” an angler to a fish as I do catching one myself. I never thought in a million years I could be in a boat all day long, never pick up a rod, and call the trip a success. I routinely never cast on sight fishing trips because I get such a kick out of watching clients, especially those who have never tried this style of fishing. Hunters have the illness “buck fever” where at the moment of truth when it’s time to make the shot an uncontrollable shaking comes over the hunter and often causes them to miss. Well I have seen “redfish fever” have the same effect on fishermen. You can take an accomplished caster and make them look like they have never held a fishing rod before when they see a big redfish well within range. Fly casters will wrap fly line around themselves, the boat, and anything else in the immediate vicinity thanks to the excitement of the moment. It get’s crazy sometimes, I guess that’s why we like it.
Perhaps the most important piece of this sight fishing puzzle is the ability to see well and that can be enhanced with quality glasses. Without a good pair of polarized glasses you are basically fishing blind. There are a ton of good glasses out there and they range in all types, styles, and price ranges. I wear Bajio and I can honestly say they are worth every penny. The key to good glasses is to pay as much as you can afford because the quality of glass used in each pair gets better as you go up in price. One very valuable lesson is to not pinch pennies on polarized glasses, I promise you there is a difference and you can tell it at the end of the day.
Another valuable lesson learned the hard way is to keep you movement in the boat to a minimum. Remember if you can see the fish they can see you as well. Fly fishermen need to keep false casts to a minimum while conventional anglers need to stay away from sudden moves as their outline is silhouetted against the sky. One technique that we borrowed from the freshwater anglers is flipping and pitching, the rod stays low and the movement needed to accomplish the cast is minimal. Spinning gear is a great option for this technique, the ease of casting light lures makes the spinning gear ideal in spite what any crusty old Texas saltwater veteran says.
Now in keeping with lessons learned it’s a good idea to talk with your partner about how you will read the water, make sure your version is the same as theirs. One thing I normally try to do is to get a feel for how well the anglers in my boat judge distance, let’s just say it varies greatly form person to person. I will often pick out an object in the water and ask the client “how far is that?” so I can get a fell for their ability. Some folks want you to tell them in feet while others want yards. Fly fishermen seem to like feet while conventional anglers prefer yards. Also get a common point on the boat where everyone uses as 12 o’clock, this will be the position from which all of the instructions start. When my son Hunter was small I actually would take chalk and write the numbers on the bow of the boat, I would call out “redfish at 2 o’clock going right to left” and Hunter would look down at the numbers, adjust himself accordingly, and make his cast. Incidentally we would also practice this at home as I would walk around in the yard pretending to be a fish while Hunter would cast at me. It was really funny when I would stop and stand on one foot pretending to be a tailing fish, my neighbors thought I was out of my mind but it worked wonders as Hunter understood from that point on how to properly cast to these fish. To this day I would rather have him on the bow of my boat than anybody, forgive me but I’m partial like that.
By learning some of the in’s and out’s of sight fishing from someone who has made plenty of mistakes hopefully your learning curve is better than mine when I started. Understanding how these fish react to different factors, reading their body language, and putting yourself into position to catch them are all pieces of the puzzle that we strive to put together. A puzzle that produces both heartache and euphoria in equal amounts. Sight fishing is not for everyone but for those who have been on both the good and bad side you know how addicting it can be. I for one can’t get enough and will keep trying as long as the big fisherman upstairs continues to bless me with the opportunities.
Good luck on the water and enjoy every minute.