Sight Fishing Tips

For those of you that regularly read my articles, you already know that I am most certainly a shallow water fisherman, and would much prefer to fish a row of docks, or series of lay downs, than fish deep structure in 20 feet of water. Along those lines, I also often times opt to use a technique that seems to appear more while flats fishing the Caribbean for bonefish, than it does bass fishing in a lake or river. What I'm talking about is sight fishing, and given the correct conditions, it can prove not only a very effective tactic for putting bass in the boat, and quite possibly one of the most fun and rewarding also. So with that said, basically what this is, is a primer for those of you that either have never tried such an approach before, or have but would like to know more about it. Of course many anglers could write entire books, let alone articles on sight fishing; however there are a few basic principles that can be considered ground rules, and can be expanded upon to make such sight fishing work for each individual angler.


Obviously in order to sight fish, one must first see the fish! Contrary to popular belief this is actually the hardest part of the entire equation, at least in my humble opinion. When one realizes what they are looking for it can only seem harder. You are essentially looking for a dark colored fish against a somewhat dark background. The human eye is basically very keen to motion however will not work as well when looking for a stationary object, for instance a bass sitting on a piece of cover. So the first rule of thumb is to put every optical advantage you can in your favor. The first of such advantages as many of you may have guessed are polarized sunglasses.

Polarized sunglasses help to cut the glare off the water and increase the area and depth that we can view with our human eyes. (For more info on polarized glasses you can refer to "Why Polarized", an article that I did specifically on these shades). Another very important thing these glasses do is to increase definition between shapes (polarization alone doesn't do this. One needs something more - lens tints in the yellow range is one way to accomplish better definition). This will give you aide in picking out shapes such as fish and bottom structure. A truly awesome pair of shades that I have only recently discovered but am absolutely thrilled with, go by the name of Spotters Shades, and are an import from Australia. The Spotters offer 10 lens types, but their "Penetrator" lenses in my opinion, give the sight fisherman a unique advantage because they accomplish all the things I mentioned above, but with one added advantage. They can do that in any light condition which as we will discuss later, plays a huge role in sight fishing. As I said, it's more than simply seeing into the water that makes for successful sight fishing, it's also being able to determine what it is that you are looking at and thus far, the Spotters have been the best at this, particularly in low light conditions.

- Water Clarity

When sight fishing, you will find that another important factor in this technique is water clarity. While gin clear water makes for challenging and exciting sight fishing, it's also important to remember clear water works two ways. Sure it's easier to find and see bass in such water, but it's also easier for bass to see you as well as your boat, and spook. Also, clear water will also give bass a far better look at your offering and give them more time to determine if they want to strike or not. So with that in mind, when searching for water in which to sight fish in, you may want to look for the following things. Lightly stained water, namely that which you can see the bottom and make out individual bottom features, but isn't clear to the point its like fishing in a swimming pool, is a good thing. This will allow you to approach and make casts without spooking the fish that you are trying to catch. Personally, when I look for water to do this in, I also like to look for areas near the shore that have a lot of overhanging trees which will cast shadows. Many times predators such as bass will use the shadow lines and differences in light to ambush prey. It basically goes along the lines of one way glass. Bass can see out into the light areas, however prey cannot see into the dark areas where the bass and other predatory fish are hiding. By running bait parallel to the shadow line, you stand the greatest chance of having a bass make a run at the bait, because chances are the fish will attack fast because it knows it's using an ambush tactic. The same applies in salt water when anglers target predatory fish on the flats.

- Lighting

Light is another very important factor to consider when sight fishing. Sun in my opinion is a good thing, but do not rule out overcast days as potential sight fishing days. While bright sunny days will offer you the best view into the water as well as the best chance of spotting fish, it also offers some draw backs. It will make your presence far more known to the bass. This, because getting back to the one way mirror example, bass will be looking up at you and can easily see your silhouette against a bright sky. However, one distinct advantage to sight fishing on sunny days is that there will be well defined shadow lines, which as I mentioned earlier may get you a few ambush strikes.

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Also, as far as time of day goes, I prefer early morning or late afternoon as the sun will be lower in the sky, which creates longer shadows as well as better visual clarity into the water when searching for bass. On another note, as far as this technique goes, overcast days can offer just as much in the way of sight fishing because of the lack of glare on the water. This will give you the added advantage of a sharper underwater picture and also will cut down on your above water silhouette which will lower the number of fish that you spook.

- Bottom Structure

Now when most bass fishermen think of sight fishing, a nice smooth gravel flat comes to mind, possibly one with a few beds on it. However, some of the most rewarding and exciting sight fishing to be had actually involves heavy cover! I can honestly say that some of the best sight fishing that I have ever done, has involved steering small finesse baits in and around lay downs, standing timber, rip rap piles, and boulders. For those of you that live in the north east, nearly every body of water in the region can offer this type of fishing to some extent. My personal favorite of these is the shallow stump field. In areas like this generally the water isn't gin clear, there is vegetation mixed in among the stumps, and the stumps themselves are almost always used as cover for bass. This gives the bass cover, as well as the angler a target and a reference point to cast at. Also cut always in the vegetation as well as any other bottom structure that offers suitable cover can be used as a casting reference also. Another point to be made is that fish will generally be more active in these types of areas, and often times will be more aggressive towards offerings you put in the water. So that said, do not overlook stump fields, large areas of lay downs or any other shallow water structure as a potential sight fishing spot. Once again in reference to the north east, often times shallow water littered with boulders makes a great smallmouth sight fishing setting that's idea for light finesse baits which we will get into later.

- Baits

As far as baits go for sight fishing, once again, I could probably fill an entire book on possible selections and various ways of presenting them. However in the interest of saving my fingers from typing, and your time which could otherwise be spent on the water, I'm going to outline a few of my favorites. The important thing to remember of course is that the best way to find what works for you is to actually try it. My go to bait however in many of these circumstances is the venerable tube bait. I will generally opt for lightly weighted tube bait either those of the three or four inch variety in a relative dark color. I feel that the dark color forces bass to get up close and personal to see just exactly what the bait is, rather than getting a good look at say brightly colored bait from a distance. Watermelon, motor oil, as well as camo baits work particularly well in these situations. The Exude 4" Fat Tube by Mister Twister in the Green/Orange color with a 1/16th ounce internal sinker, as well as in the Bluegill pattern both produced well last year in a variety of conditions. I rigged these on an X-point 1/0 XGAP hook, as they are lighter and will aide in slower sinking. Also, on an interesting note, those of you that have been swept up in the wacky worm craze can rest assured that all of your wacky baits, because of their slower falls work extremely well when sight fishing heavy cover such as the stump fields I mentioned above. If you can find a bit of open water between stumps or lay downs, you might consider throwing another bait by Mister Twister, the "Poc'It Fry" which does all the things the wacky worms from the "orient" do, and then some! The Black Neon, and Green/Orange flake I can tell you first hand have done wonders for me on many of the North East's top bass waters. Also, never rule out smaller trick worms, and many of the newer "creature" baits such as the Exude Baby B-A Hawg, and similar baits as potential options. Once again, when using a light presentation, any soft plastic can work, it just comes down to figuring out and trying. Just remember to keep everything towards the light side as we went over before, bass will be getting a very good look at what you throw at them.

- Tackle

Once again, the debate about tackle for this application could go on forever; however I go so far as to suggest you pick what you feel comfortable with. In the case of line, which I think in this instance is the most critical, lighter is better. I will generally go with six or eight pound test mono, preferably one with low stretch. I say this because if you are fishing stump fields and things of that nature you will want as much advantage as you can get without resorting to heavier line, which would increase the line signature of the bait. If I know the water I will be fishing will be "gin clear", such as the water we mentioned earlier, then I will resort to using fluorocarbon. Often times I feel that this makes quite a difference, and it has been used by saltwater flats fishermen for years. However if the water is stained, I will generally opt for the conventional monofilament in the clear variety. As far as rods and reels, light spinning tackle is really your only option here because of the fact that the baits will generally be small, and you will be making long casts to fish you can see, which means placement has to be precise. 5'8" to 6"0 medium action rods will generally be the weapon of choice for me as once again you want that ultra light feel, but will want some back bone in case push comes to shove in the heavy stuff.

- Miscellaneous

Finally, this is a style of fishing where details make all the difference. Clipping tag ends of knots off, hiding the hook eye and knot with the nose of the bait, and many other small minute details like that can make or break a tournament or fishing trip. This is the reason many anglers are rather hesitant to try this presentation. However, I can think of nothing more rewarding than spotting a fish, casting to it, and actually watching the fish take the bait. This is by far my favorite way of fishing, and a method that I am constantly refining and perfecting. Overall it comes down to patience, skill and experimenting. I will be adding a second part to this article in the near future, which is based around actual bass movement and when and where you can finesse fish, but for now, consider this an outline. Also, there are many articles already written that deal with the idea of finesse fishing freshwater, and will give you even more details on this fun and exciting way of fishing!

Catch ya' on the water!

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