Twelve Years of Sight Fishing

For twelve consecutive seasons I did not cast a fly unless I saw a fish. This is what I learned, and what I use in all my fishing now.

Watch this video in full screen and you will see the big rainbow cruising in the slack water.

Why Only Sight Fishing?

Mainly it was choice. I am a hunter by nature, and wanted to hunt out the trout I fished to, rather than chance it by fishing blind. It was also based on mainly sight fishing and seeing many fish take a fly and reject it before I could react, so I felt that if I was fishing with an indicator I would miss even more takes. I also wanted to eliminate the possibility that I was fishing where there were no fish at all, so I could perfect my technique without wondering whether it was perfect or not.

Eliminate Guesswork

Fly fishing is a brutal, Darwinian pursuit. It is a zero sum game, where you either hook a fish or you do not. Sight fishing allows the angler to test theories, skill and technique without guessing. Blind fishing means accepting that many casts may not be to fish at all, which reduces the ability to learn from each cast.

Lessons from Never Fishing Blind

The first cast is sacrosanct

Most fish in New Zealand will take a fly that is presented at the correct depth and is the correct size if the first cast is perfect. Every subsequent cast reduces the chances of a fish taking.

This means adopting a strategy of trying to drift the fly into the fish’s mouth on the first cast.

Watch the Fish

Watch the fish closely, especially in fast water where the fish may not move far to take a small fly. Some fish will move a long way to a fly, and take aggressively. Others, especially if you drift a small nymph into their mouth, scarcely move at all and will reject the fly before you strike, and a long time before any indicator or line end stops.

Indicators Cost Fish

I largely refuse to fish with anyone with an indicator. They spend all their time watching their indicator, not the fish, and miss way too many takes. Indicators divert attention from the fish, rather than encouraging the angler to focus entirely on the fish and how it reacts to a fly.

The stalk in to a sighted fish is something I spend a lot of time thinking about. 

Gear Needs to be Perfectly Tuned

To be able to get the first cast to the fish first time it is crucial to have your rod, line and leader all perfected tuned. A line that is too light for a rod requires too many false casts. A leader that is too long will not turn properly.

I’ve dealt with leaders, lines and rods and tuning them elsewhere, but I want to emphasise if your gear does not allow you to cast perfectly first cast you need to stop and adjust it until it does.

I’ll often fish the evening rise with friends who can’t cast perfectly with their gear so I swap my gear with them and they immediately cast far more accurately. I then carefully check their leader length, and reduce it down to just under a rod length, and test it until I have it casting as well as my gear.


Fly patterns do not matter much. A simple fly the right size presented at the depth the fish is feeding at will take almost every fish you fish to. There is no need to carry hundreds of patterns or even hundreds of flies. Make sure you have a few dries for rising fish, and nymphs of a variety of weights so you can get down to the fish.

If fishing nymphs make sure your fly is small enough to represent likely food. In most New Zealand waters most of the time this means a #16 or a #14. A Hare & Copper in size 16 presented correctly will catch most fish I have fished to in New Zealand.

Control the Controllables

This means eliminate all the possible things that could go wrong before you cast. Make the right decisions about the following:

Clothing: I don’t like fishing with anyone who is not in camo

Movement: Move slowly and deliberately into position to cast.

Position: Get into a good position to make a cast

Check your gear: Knots and hook points before casting

Choose the right flies: Make sure your flies will get to the depth the fish is feeding as they do not often come up in the water for a nymph.

Minimise false casts: Strip all the line out you will need to cast before you start false casting. One or two false casts should be all that is necessary if you get your technique right.

Know how to cast accurately: Understand how your rod works and how you will get the fly to the fish first cast.

The Biggest Lesson – Use Your Brain

The most important fishing piece of fishing equipment is the fisherman’s own brain. Use it, starting with getting rid of your indicator so you cannot just walk into the river and make a cast in a likely spot. Look first. Look carefully. Find a fish. Plan how to get the fly to the fish first cast. Execute a perfect cast. Hook the fish.

If you do not, stop and think first before making your second cast. Each time you cast the fish has a chance of seeing your line or you move. Or something that makes it nervous or spook.