March 26, 2021
Cullen was born and raised in Florida, and his father introduced him to inshore fishing at the young age of ten. There have been a lot of tight lines since then, but one constant has been Cullen’s drive to progress as an angler. He’s constantly honing his craft, and his passion for fishing drove him to start his own guide service. High Tailin’ is one of the premier fly and light tackle guide services in Northeast Florida, taking advantage of St. Augustine's incredible fishery.
Some of Cullen's favorite guided trips take place in secluded shallow water where his clients are able to sight fish for redfish on the fly (and light spinning tackle). We're lucky that he's taken the time to write this article to help you become a better angler and make sure you take advantage of your next incredible sight fishing opportunity.
As an angler progresses in skills, they also progress in their mindset. Nothing tests both as much as the discipline and practice of sight fishing, since it requires accuracy and mindful reading of the fish in a variety of conditions. You can target any number of fish species sight fishing, from redfish to trout to snook. Let’s face it, there is no better feeling than a successful pursuit of a fish or school of fish that takes precise action to get that fish to eat your presentation. When fly fishing here in Northeast Florida, I would estimate 90% of the fish caught are strictly from sight fishing. Here, I would like to discuss five key tips to becoming a better sight fisherman, as the subtle differences in your approach and presentation can make all of the difference. Whether you're sight fishing redfish or another species, fly fishing or using light tackle, these same tenets hold true.
In so many instances, we are trying to get to that next fish. When the water is very shallow or dirty with less visibility, it is imperative to slow down as the fish are relying more on feel than sight at that point. There are so many times that we are trying to get to the next point or simply working an area too fast and run up on fish just sitting. Slowing down the boat or the approach gives you just that much more time to identify the opportunity, evaluate the angle, and execute the presentation. Every moment seeing that fish is a moment they could see or feel you.
As a guide, I’m often seeing the fish first and directing your vision towards the fish, but it’s difficult for the angler to hone in on the fish quickly. Even if the angler sees the fish first, the same goes for the guide. One tip that helps often is to also point the rod in the direction and distance that the spotted fish is in. Instead of your eyes scanning a wider area, the rod tip now acts as a scope to hone in on the fish. If you're eventually pointing right at the fish and still don’t see it, broaden your eyes out and start to look for any difference in the area you’re pointing in until you see any subtle points of differentiation like a shadow, wake, or boil. Polarized sunglasses will also help!
When sight fishing, you often need to use your position to your advantage. As a guide, I’m most often on the back of the boat, but higher while my angler is on the front, but lower. Since the angler is on the front, I often recommend that they scan shorter in a closer radius while the guide scans further. Having both sets of eyes in one area limits the opportunity to spot fish. The angler up front has a much better chance of identifying a close fish and making a presentation if they keep scanning close. In darker water or windier conditions, fish can often pop up close and the angler up front has a better chance of identifying and executing that opportunity.
Some of the best eats and sight fishing success come from playing out a safer presentation. Often these fish are shallow and on alert, so every part of the approach and presentation requires some distance. When approaching a fish, it’s best to take a moment to see its path and where the fish is going. Is it swimming a straight line or an edge or swimming erratically in search of food? This will help lay out your plan of presentation, and as you approach, you will understand where you need to make your placement. If the fish has a path, it’s healthy to really lead that fish instead of landing too close and spooking the fish. Make your cast and let it sit until it’s in a closing distance to make the bait move. Remember, the fish is looking for its meal, so make the fish think it found it and made it react. As for overshooting, this refers more towards a situation where the fish would be crossing by you. If so, overshoot the distance on your cast in case that fish starts to slide away, then at least your is further out. If the fish stays on its path or slides in closer, you can reel or strip in fast to get your bait to the best spot to intercept the fish.
In the moments of identifying the fish to making a presentation, there should be a lot of communication, especially if fishing with a new person or guide. Just letting the other person know where and what the fish are doing, to how the boat is approaching, and eventually to the cast, there should be a lot of communication through the process. Also, feel free to speak up, especially in windy or louder situations. The fish do not have ears, so you may talk to each other. If you can break away from looking at the fish, turn your head to directly speak to your guide instead of talking away. Another great way of communication lies in hand gestures. Pointing or holding your hand up can communicate a number of things from kicking the bow over to stopping or back up. Never underestimate the power of good communication between an angler and guide.
I hope these five concise tips help in your next endeavors of sight fishing. Identification, approach, and presentation are all aspects that we can all always execute better in any situation.