Written by: Matthew Calderaro
Catching big fish requires a fly angler to switch their mindset from fishing to hunting. If an angler can commit to this switch, the results can be fantastic and open a whole new world of angling excitement.
Most of us have a pattern to our fishing habits. We have some free time, we head to our spots, boot up, and jump in—fishing the same flies we know work and following the same routes that have produced results before. If you take the time and use a whole different approach, you will be surprised at what you can learn and see in your water. You might spot and hook the fish of your dreams. Here is a list of key points to make this happen.
PART I: FINDING FISH
Stop fishing and start Hunting.
Spend some time on your water at different times without a rod, only observing what is going on. When you take the rod out of your hands, your eyes and senses become the tools of concentration. You will see more and it is this commitment to observation that will give you a much better chance at spotting a big fish.
Record what is going on.
Once you commit to hunting fish, start to keep a record of conditions on your hunt. Pay attention to time of day, temperature, and climatic changes. Keep a journal. It is during these times that you will discover the magic of your waters, and you will start to note bugs and other things that will truly make you a better angler. Write your observations down!
Stay out of the water.
When you are scouting, try to stay out of the water and pick stakeout points where you can see large stretches of water. I carry a low-power monocular to give me a close perspective on spots I think can hold big fish, and I scan the waters carefully to see exactly what is going on and where.
Seek high vantage points.
If at all possible, find high vantage points for your hunt. I guide on the Soca River in Slovenia, and we have crystal clear waters, which makes spotting fish easy. Moving to high vantage points will allow you to see more, even when waters are tannic or not so clear, and this also gives you a better perspective of river structure.
When you spot a monster, relax!
Too many people spot a big fish and freak out. This is bad. Instead, take the time to observe the big fish and its habits. Where does it sit in the river? What is it eating? Does it have a movement pattern? This time of observation gives you a window into the mind of a big fish. Later you can search like areas at like times to seek other big fish!
Repeat, repeat, and repeat.
Your first hunt will always almost never produce the sighting of the monster. It is the patience to continue the hunt that will separate you from the pack, and every day on the water without a rod will produce information that will inevitably make you a more effective intelligent angler.
Part II: CATCHING THE BEAST
So you have spotted a monster….now what? Well, if you did the above, you will have a better understanding of what, where, and how to hunt this big fish. So here are a few points on how to seal the deal.
Get ready at home.
Always prep your gear at home with all the thoughts of what you need to do in your mind. Nothing is worse than being streamside and fumbling with equipment while the fish of your dreams is feeding. Nine times out of ten, this will produce a level of frustration and a failure that can make you break things.
Two rods are better than one.
Hunting fish is less of a fishing game, so having two rods ready to go with what may catch that dream fish is always better than switching setups on the water. When a big fish is in sight “buck fever” can set in, and it is much easier to grab a dry fly set up then re-rig a streamer setup to a dry setup.
Bring a friend.
Catching big fish is always better when someone is with you, and two eyes on the water are always better than one. Plus, having someone to take the money shot is worth its weight in gold.
Keep your eyes on the fish.
When you finally spot a monster after all your research, do not take your eyes off the fish. This is where a friend comes in handy, as well. Find the fish, make sure both people know where it is, and do not lose sight.
Slowly execute a plan.
The big fish is in site…..now relax and decide how you are going to approach this fish. Identify structure that will give you reference point for where this fish is when you can’t actually see it. I have watched big fish for an hour before I cast to them. This way, you understand their habits at the time, and this will form your plan of attack.
Set up a casting reference set point.
With two eyes on the fish, locate a spot near the fish that both you and the sight person can refer to for casting. (For example: “Five feet left of the white rock.”) If you have identified a white rock, all casting direction can refer to this set point.
Net the fish.
Bring a net and know how to use it. Pick a spot where landing the fish makes sense. Again, a partner on the water is a great thing, and when you’re done landing the fish, you have someone to snap the shot.
Catching big fish is no accident, and if you really take the time to do all the above, you might achieve the next level of fishing excitement. It takes time and patience to commit to the hunt for big fish, but this can also make you a better angler by tuning in to your waters.
Former Orvis rod designer Matt Calderaro operates Worldflyangler, an outfitting business on the Soca River in Slovenia.