How to Effectively Spot Fish (An Angler’s Guide)

A helpful technique to help you see more fish and how to effectively spot fish the next time you are on the water.

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In this article, we’re talking about how to effectively spot fish. One of the best things about fly fishing is sight fishing to a particular target. You spot a fish and plan the approach, and if everything is executed well enough the fish eats the fly. This is what fly fishing is all about.

But the starting point in this entire chain of events is that you need to be able to spot a fish. I spend a lot of time with clients and friends on the water and very often realize that they can’t spot a fish that I can clearly see. It’s not that my eyesight is better than theirs, but they either don’t have the correct fish spotting gear or they don’t know what to look for.

And this is what this article is about, to get the correct gear in place and to show you what to look for in order for you to spot fish more effectively. So, let’s dive in.

Polarized Sunglasses

Most importantly, you need a pair of polarized sunglasses. Normal sunglasses will, unfortunately, not make the cut here. Polarized sunglasses filter out light rays from specific polar planes. So in other words, they remove glare and add more contrast and, so doing, make it easier to spot fish.

There are hundreds and thousands of sunglasses brands out there, and you need to decide what works for you in terms of budget, what frame suits you best, and the lens material and finish you’d want.

Hat or Cap

To improve the effect of the polarized sunglasses, it makes a massive difference to keep your eyes in the shade. Apart from protecting your neck and face from the sun, a cap or hat provides shelter for your eyes that help you spot fish easier.

If you’re fishing on a highly reflective body of water, like say a white sand flat, it helps to have a cap or hat that has a dark underside. I’ve found that caps with a white underside reflect light back into your eyes, especially if you’re fishing on a highly reflective bottom.

You’ll find that many of the decent fly fishing specific caps have a dark underside, regardless of the cap’s color and this is the reason why.


Sometimes the sun or even the reflection off the water comes in at such an angle that the cap doesn’t do a great job of keeping direct light out of your eyes. This is especially true if the sunglasses’ frame doesn’t wrap around your face.

saltwater fly fishing maldives

In this case, I always have a buff around my neck and when I struggle to see, I pull the buff over my face so that it covers the sides of my sunglasses.

I know that this sounds absurd, but it really does make a difference when the sun is low or the water throws a lot of reflection in your face.

Watch the 10 Tips To Help You Spot Fish Video

YouTube video

Tips to Help You Spot Fish Easier

Now that we have the correct gear so that we can effectively spot fish, we now have to move our attention to the fish and water they live in. Obviously, it all depends on the specific species of fish and the scenario, but these tips should help you out regardless of where you’re fishing.

Get a Bird’s Eye View

The higher you are the better angle you have to see into the water and the easier it is to see a fish. But, remember, if it’s easy for you to see a fish, it’s easy for them to spot you too.

So, if you’re going to try and spot fish from a high ground, make sure to stay out of sight. Use bank side cover and wear clothes that blend in with the environment.

Be Patient

Remember, fish don’t have corporate jobs and have a fast-paced lifestyle like so many of us do, and if they’re unaware of your presence they are very relaxed and take things easy. So, if you get to a pool, run or sand flat, and don’t see fish off the bat, take your time and be patient.

An angler fly fishing for trout while sitting on the rock

If you keep your eyes in the areas where fish are likely to hold, they will show themselves with time.


Wind creates ripples on the water’s surface which makes it incredibly hard to spot fish. Be aware of this. What I do when I am scouting a pool or flat to see if I can spot fish is that I only move or change position when the breeze is blowing.

If there’s a pause in the breeze and the water’s surface starts to settle, I make the most of this opportunity and focus on trying to spot fish.

Obviously, when there’s a constant howling wind, like what Nick experienced on Jurassic Lake, there’s no pause or gap, so site fishing becomes less probable, except if the fish are huge.

Currents and Swirls

Fish holding in fast or broken water is really hard to spot. The current swirls and bubbles disguise them so well.

If you spend time looking at a run like this for long enough, you’ll notice that every now and then there’s a clear window that appears and that window drifts down the stream and allows you to see a lot more than usual.

Make use of these windows and spend time looking for them, and you’ll spot a lot more fish.


One of the things that always blows my mind is how well trout blend into a stream. You can catch a decent 15-inch fish, and upon releasing it, it vanishes when it dips a foot under the surface.

Now unless you’re fishing in gin clear or calm water, there’s not a massive chance that you’ll spot the fish in a river. This is especially true in deeper and faster water and for smaller fish.

One thing that the trout cannot hide, though, is their shadow. So what you need to practice is spotting trout-shaped shadows and see if they move up, down, or to the sides.


I hope that you found this article helpful and that it will up your fish spotting game. There’s no replacement for time on the water, but take these thoughts and recommendations out on the water with you and practice them, and I’m 100% sure you’ll spot more fish and, as a result, get to sight fish more.

If you have any comments, questions, or other tips that will help to spot fish, please leave them in the comments section down below!

Until next time!

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Pierre is a fly fishing guide and professional photographer who has guided and hosted trips for top fly fishing outfitters. Since being introduced to fly fishing over 21 years ago, he has travelled, fished and guided across the globe. He has extensive knowledge on specific gear and tackle selection for various salt- and freshwater species. Some of his writing work includes blogposts for Alphonse Fishing Company and African Waters.

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