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Sight Fishing in New Zealand

Published: 29th September 2020 | Author: Ronan Creane

Learning from scratch.

Like all the skills required to do well in New Zealand, learning to sight fish rivers comes with time and experience. When I arrived in New Zealand in 2002, I had mostly lake fishing experience with no sight fishing at all, so I had to learn from scratch.

I was on a budget and couldn’t afford a guide to help me off the mark but what I did have was time. Having worked as a gillie on local salmon and seatrout rivers for a number of years in Ireland, I had decent experience in reading rivers. Seams, eyes, runs and riffles held fish in Ireland as they did in New Zealand. Because I struggled to see any more than the most obvious trout in New Zealand rivers I simply blind fished everything that looked fishy. This was the beginning of the sight fishing learning curve.

After sight fishing a run, blind fishing can be productive as a prospecting tool.

Getting the ball rolling.

Blind fishing inadvertently started the sight fishing ball rolling. It made me focus my attention on the most likely parts of a pool, run or riffle to hold a trout. As time went on I started to see fish in this likely water because I was so focused on it. This lead me to the most important component of sight fishing – knowing where to look. Quite often the majority of a pool is unlikely to hold fish. With time and experience on the water this became more and more clear to me. I had to take care not to be complacent though. A trout could be anywhere!

To continue the learning curve I had to move slowly while sighting water. This caused me inner conflict at times because I knew I could quickly blind fish the water. However, if I was to get better at sighting I had to slow down and try to see the fish, even if it cost me a few fish by spooking them (which it did).

To learn more about sight fishing, check out our piece about targeting Grayling.

With lots of practice I ended up with more and more fish like this in the net.

For quite a while I would chop and change between sighting and blind fishing but as time went on, blind fishing took a back seat as my eyes became my primary weapon. Like any skill, you will become better and more efficient at sighting with time and experience. The more water you can sight fish in day the more fish you have a chance at catching. Therefore, being able to sight quickly and effectively is a huge advantage.

Here are a few other tips I’d like to share to help speed up your sight fishing learning curve:

Make sure you’re on the correct bank.

Depending on cloud cover, the position of the sun, the nature of the banks (cliffs, trees, mountains etc) one bank is usually better than the other to sight from. If you find yourself staring into impossible glare then try the other bank. 

A beautiful, clear stream that’s ideal for sight fishing in New Zealand.

Choose your river based on the weather forecast.

In general we all get excited on perfect blue sky days because these provide the best sighting conditions. This is generally true. However, a river with steep banks, cliffs, tree lined or gorgy will often sight fish better on a cloudy day with diffuse light. Full sun can throw very contrasting shadows across pools making sighting difficult or even impossible. Simply put: flat open valleys for bright sun and tight tree lined gorges for clouds.

Diffused light, perfect sight fishing conditions.

Work as a team.

If you’re fishing with your friend stay together rather than fishing separately. Having one person sighting and the other fishing makes it way easier. Just take turns.

Team work leads to fish like this. A 10lb brown caught on a size 16 nymph.

Elevate yourself when possible.

The higher you can get above the water the less glare there is and the easier trout are to see. Not so practical fishing alone but great for working as a team.

Want to learn more about New Zealand? Check out this piece by Alex Jardine.

An elevated position will help you better find fish while sight fishing in New Zealand.

Wear earthy tones – full on camo if you wish! 

Be stealthy.

No heavy footfalls when searching likely water. Always try to remain inconspicuous. Use cover where possible.

If in doubt, cast!

If you’re lucky you’ll see an obvious trout – but it’s usually a smudge, a shape, a movement, a fin. If in doubt, cast! Absolutely don’t throw a rock!

It’s not all rivers.

Lakes and still waters can also provide great sight fishing.

To learn tips from anglers around the world, check out other articles on our blog!

A brilliant stillwater brown caught by the author’s father.

Wear good polarised sunglasses.

Amber is my favourite colour for showing contrast.

Practice your casting before your trip.

A clumsy cast to a sighted trout will be the last one. Make the first cast count – it’s your best chance!

Ultimately sight fishing is something that takes time to learn. If you’re coming to New Zealand for an extended period then you can do as I did and learn it through trial and error. If you’re coming for a short trip then I recommend hiring a reputable guide. Sight fishing is such an integral part of New Zealand fishing that I encourage my clients to walk with me when practical “so that you can see what I see” rather than walking behind. I believe this gives a more complete experience. Feel free to get in touch with any questions.

To learn more about Ronan, check out his top fish from the last year!

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