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Sighthunting for Fish

If you can see them, this is how you catch them.

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These bluegills are clearly visible on their beds and would make for an exciting day of sightfishing.

The old fishing adage I grew up with of “If you can see the fish, you can’t catch the fish” followed me most of my fishing life until I found myself on a lake in Minnesota watching gigantic, black blobs swim back and forth through the water. My fishing partner and I made repeated casts toward these blobs, knowing they were smallmouth bass, only to have them ignore every offering we made. Until we picked up our fly rods.

For the next six hours, we had one of our most memorable days on the water, complete with lunkers we got to the boat and other stumps that we never could talk into hitting. But the best part was that for each fish, we got to watch the entire show, start to finish.

Since that day, I have been in love with sightfishing for any number of species.

Here are a few tips to increase your own sightfishing success:

First, sunny, windless days are a great time to go for species like crappie, bluegill and smallmouth bass. The shine from above and the glassy surface allows you to see into the water. With this ability to see, however, also comes the ability of the fish to see you.

Get used to making long casts toward potentially wary fish, and make sure you wear nondescript, earth-colored clothing to keep yourself camouflaged. Some anglers will also wear fish masks. When I’m fly-fishing for carp, I make sure I have plenty of insect repellent as well, because I’ll frequently crawl to a creek edge in search of these extremely cautious fish.

Another thing to consider is what you should be looking for. Fish is the easiest answer to this question, yet you’re not always looking for fish. Pay attention if a strand of grass or a reed moves in the water. Then make your cast as accurate as possible. Personally, I’ve found I can do that best with fly tackle, and I can also minimize the amount of splash I have when my offering hits the surface when using
a bug or fly attached to something as small as a four-pound leader.

Last, understand that sightfishing is not a numbers game. Some days you’re hunting for one fish. There have been days when I didn’t come close to casting.

Whether you cast or not, using sightfishing as a legitimate strategy can be fruitful and is definitely exciting. Out of my most memorable fishing trips from last year, sightfishing had a part in each of them. The heart just seems to beat a little bit faster when you can see the fish you’re trying to catch. ■

Written by Jeff Kurrus

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Published by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission since 1926, NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to an engaging mix of outstanding photography and informative writing, highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parks, wildlife, history and people.

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