S&M – A method for spotting trout

Having the ability to spot fish will become important, if not vital to the level of success you will achieve when fly fishing rivers in New Zealand, particularly in the South Island.
Our waters are famous for big fish, but not surprisingly there are not masses of them, nor are they easy to catch. You need to prepare yourself for possibly the toughest fishing you will encounter anywhere and in addition to having a decent cast, being able to spot your target before they spot and understanding how to align yourself to make the cast will be the difference between success and failure.

The S&M method (not what your thinking) is something I came up with a few years ago and use to spot fish on any water I fish. Most of these points have been discussed before on their individual merit but I find a methodical system gives a clearer sequence to follow for those just starting out or when fish are not in plain sight. In some instances the actual sequence in which each point ins observed may change depending on the particular conditions faced, but generally I follow these upcoming steps: S-S-S&M

S = Structure

Trout have an efficient mindset, some say lazy, particularly browns. So when it comes to where a trout is situated in the river there are a those spots that are favoured by the fish more than others and these can become very predictable.
It is therefore essential to begin your spotting endeavour not in  search of a fish itself, but looking for those likely places in the river where they will sit or feed.
Trout will generally look for a break in the main flow or a slack current in which to shelter whilst picking out food as it passes, this may be in front, behind  or to the side of obstacles such as boulders, trees, cut banks or just the softer edge current at the eye or tail of a pool.
It is important to also recognise where the likely source of food will be coming from. When feeding a fish may venture out (or up!) from this structure before returning and may remain here for a considerable length of time unless disturbed. Take the time to step back, watch and observe the trouts behaviour and its feeding pattern. This will then go a long way to helping you decide how your approach and method. When little or no current exists, trout will happily cruise in search of food. Back waters are a great example of this and can sometimes hold many fish at once, especially if the main river becomes dirty.
You can read many articles out there the lines and circles pointing where fish ‘should’ sit, however we are in the business of hunting and stalking trout, not just fishing likely areas. Once you have identified the structure that looks to be a good home for a fish, approach with caution and move about to get the best view through the glare which may require you to cross the river. A fish may not be immediately apparent if the water surface is obscured, however this is when our next point comes in – Shade.

2 Fish holding behind the structure of a large boulder

S = Shade (shimmer/smudge/shadow)

Once you have found where the fish ‘should’ sit, now its time to decipher if a fish is actually there or not, the quickest indication is usually a shade/smudge or shadow.
Brown and Rainbow trout can be very different in this aspect and the signs they give away. Also different water/riverbed types can provide varieties of contrast and even the colour of the fish itself. In my experience a trout will never be 100% camouflage into its surroundings (or I haven’t seen one that is!), so your always looking for something that doesn’t look ‘quite right’,
Because a trout has unique colour and body characteristics compared to its surroundings there will be some irregularities to hone your sense on. Sometimes all you will see is a smudge, just a small irregularity in the water that doesnt look quite right.

The colour giving away this fish in the lake

S = Shape
The shape of a trout is unlike anything else in a river, although at times rocks and sticks can be very (very!) close. Analysing shape is the best way to be sure wether a shade you have spotted is actually a fish or just a fishy looking rock (these are more common species). It is good to understand the average size and proportion of the fish you are targeting as this will allow you to recognise if a shape you see is too long and skinny, short and fat, or a mix of either. Sometimes you will be faced with something that goes against the norm, this can happen when you have mix of currents, poor lighting/glare or you just cant believe how big it is! Most of those ‘fishy’ looking rocks/stick/weed in a river will give themselves away if you look closely enough, and if your really not sure it may be worth showing out a ‘hail mary’ cast.

The defined torpedo shape giving away this trout

M = Movement
Most information on spotting I have come across puts this first however unless movement is clearly obvious, I look for it last or remain aware of it during the other steps. This is because movement can be too subtle to pickup at first glance, especially with brown trout and it will not be noticed until you have zoned in on the target. Movement can come in many different forms and you need to keep an eye out for Trout that may move up, down, sideways and all around to intercept food, or in some cases actually chasing it down. It is also import to watch for surface disturbance, a telltale sign of fish feeding on, or just below the surface. Depending on your angle, actually seeing a fish on close to the surface can prove difficult. In faster currents, after recognising shade, movement is what will give a fish away, especially if it is hard to make out it its exact shape.

A brown ranging wide to feed at the tail of a pool

I believe the key to successfully spotting fish and getting more chance in a day is the ability to work out what is not a fish as efficiently as possible so you can move onto the next, I have found that these steps allow me to do this quickly without too much thought.
This system works well for me, but all eyes are different so when you are out on a river be open to trying different methods and experimenting to see what suits you.
Just remember the name of the game – See it before it sees you!

One Comment on “S&M – A method for spotting trout

  1. Hello
    Very good news..but you have the best place in the world …new zealand …for practice the sight fishing…


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