This is the last month that the streams and rivers south of Campbell River remain open (areas 1-1 to 1-6, closed July 15-August 31), making it the ideal opportunity to spend these final June days stalking trout & steelhead on the gin clear streams of Vancouver Island, before moving to the lakes to sight fish the shallows for smallmouth bass. Few things match the rush of stalking a fish you can see with an ultra-light rod on waters that are removed enough from civilization to stay pristine. It’s a combination of patience, presentation, and position that is both technical and challenging. It’s the closest to bone fishing on you can get on Vancouver Island, and the fish are there or they are not – there is no denying what you can indisputably see in front of you.
What is sight-fishing? Simply put, it is spotting fish in the water and casting a fly toward it to try and entice a response. When spotting fish, look through the water, watching for fish as well as shadows on the bottom movement and inconsistencies that give away a fish’s camouflage. Since water is a very reflective surface, polarized sunglasses give you an advantage by reducing reflection and glare, reducing eye strain, and enhancing clarity of vision and contrast for seeing into water (not to mention acting as eye protection against errant hooks). Lens color matters – grey for bright days and deep waters; amber for overcast days, shallows and grassy bottoms; purple/rose to heighten visual acuity when sight fishing, especially at dawn/dusk and on sandy bottoms; yellow for snow/fog and green to heighten visual acuity when sight fishing, especially on bright days.
Avoid wearing bright or fluorescent colours (especially red, yellow and orange), which can help alert a fish to your presence and scare them off – trout can see colour up to 12 feet away. Once you’ve spotted the fish, the stealth is key to the approach – tread lightly, slowly & quietly and stay shallow (if in the water at all). Be aware of shadows – think of yourself like a sundial, with sunset and sunrise casting the longest shadows. Try to shrink your profile by crouching and strategic positioning to avoid looking like a predator. Aim to position yourself behind the fish if possible so that they don’t see you or your shadow. If in a watercraft, avoid motors and row or paddle instead. If you can see the fish, they can see you too.
A fly rod is the rod of choice as fish in these translucent waters tend to spook easily, with a splashy plunk of a lure scattering a pool. Even your fly line creates a shadow, so using a floating fly line and long (12-15ft), lightweight leaders are a must. In my opinion, under these conditions, fluorocarbon is worth the cost due to its sinking and light refraction properties, meaning it will drop faster and is harder to see for leader-shy fish. An advantage to tying your own flies is being able to weight the fly to fish the desired depth by lead wrapping the hook and/or using glass, brass or tungsten beads, depending on how heavy you want it to be.
Making long casts are essential to remaining out of a fish’s line of sight. Accuracy and precision in presentation are equally as important and the fly needs to land softly and delicately. Cast past the fish, landing the fly far enough ahead that it is drifting smoothly when the fly reaches the fish and watch the fish’s reaction – whether it’s to ignore the offering, chase and burn or fish on. If nothing happens, be patient, look for the fish and try again – nothing is hidden by the water or the current, so your cast needs to be just right. Clear water trout can quite discerning about colour and size of the fly as well – the details are just that important and one hook size down can make all the difference in your success. When you see the fish take the hook, resist the urge to set the hook at first sight and wait until you feel it. If you spook the fish and see them swim off, resist the urge to continue flogging the water and instead “rest the pool” to give them time to calm & return.
The quantity caught might not be quite as high with this type of fishing but after almost 25 years angling, I have caught more than my fair share of fish. These days it’s more about the adventure, bushwhacking into the back country to find a scenic spot no one else knows (or so it feels) with crystal clear waters fishing alongside black bears, Roosevelt elk, deer, birds, otter and other wildlife. Sight is one of the more tangible senses, and what we see is dependent on what we are looking for. Seeing is believing when a legendary size trout rises through the water toward your fly, exploding downstream in a feat of beauty and strength, an epic battle that leaves your heart pounding and your blood racing.