When trout see you, it becomes next to impossible for you to catch them. In order to hide from them, you need to know
a little about how a trout sees the world outside the water. The first article in this issue, "How Trout See Flies" gets into
the subject of the trout's window of vision, and how they see things both under and outside the water. With a little
common sense and a little basic knowledge about how trout see objects and people outside the water, is all you need
to help you prevent them from seeing you.
To begin, trout don't see objects above the water, especially those at a distance, clearly. To make it simple, lets just
say they see things as a blur. They cannot see anything at a distance in detail. A person standing twenty feet from
them is just a blurred image. Now, for those who want to get picky, what I am about to say isn't exactly technically
correct, but I am not writing a scientific paper. I am describing how a trout sees someone trying to catch them. For all
practical purposes,what I'm about to write is accurate.
What trout will notice, much quicker than anything else, is the movement of an object above the water. They are used
to seeing blurred images of objects above the water that remain fairly still. Trees and boulders don't move around a
lot. Overhead predators pose a danger to them. Large birds and animals pose a danger to trout. When something
moves above the water, it gets their attention. The bottom line to this is that you should move as little as possible and
when you do move, move as slowly as possible. Of course, a major problem is that it is impossible to cast without
One important thing about what trout see above the water has to do with the distance the object is from them. To make
this simple, due to refraction of light, they don't see things above the water that are low to the horizon. The higher the
object, the easier it is for them to see it. For example, they could see an object ten feet above the water as far as
twenty feet away, but they would not see an object one foot about the water that is ten feet away. The lower you are to
the water, the closer you can get to trout without their seeing you. If you stand on top of the highest rock in the stream
and look around, chances are every trout within twenty or thirty feet of you will see you. Your movements climbing up
on the rock and back down will spook them. Stay low and slow, right the opposite of what you want to do if you are
flying an airplane.
Trout normally face in an upstream direction. Their bodies and fins are streamlined for them to remain in current
expending as little energy as possible. They would have a difficult time holding their position in current if they had their
tail pointed into the current.
Most all of their food comes to them in a downstream direction. Aquatic insects in a current seam are drifting
downstream. The trout face in an upstream direction looking for them. The bottom line to this is that you can get closer
to trout if you are downstream of them. If you fish in an upstream direction, they will not be able to see
you as easily as they would if you were fishing in a downstream direction. With few exceptions I will not go into here, in
most small fast water freestone streams, you should always fish in an upstream direction.
Trout don't see the same way us humans do. They have a much wider peripheral vision. In other words they can see
almost all the way around. Their binocular vision is not near as good as ours. That is part of the reason why they don't
see things at a distance above the water clearly and in great detail or resolution.
Sounds simple so far. However, just because you are approaching them from their back side doesn't mean you can
slip up on them and tap them on their shoulders. As I just mentioned, trout have a blind spot in their peripheral vision.
It is a small area directly behind them. When they are positioned in the moving water of the stream facing in an
upstream direction, that small blind area enables you to get fairly close to them, provided you approach them from
their rear. This must be done carefully and quietly. Approaching them from their front (the direction they are
looking) isn't as easy to do without being spotted.
Again, it is movement of objects at a distance that gets their attention quicker than anything. Another big factor in just
how well they can spot you has to do with your contrast with the surrounding background. For example, If you are
wearing a white shirt and white hat, you are not blending in very well with the typical background of a stream unless
snow is a foot deep. You want to blend in with the background in the same manner a deer or turkey hunter would need
to do. In fact, if the background is trees, the best clothing you could possible wear would be the best matching
camouflage outfits you could find to match the colors of the forest during the different seasons of the year. I am not
suggesting you should go so far as to wear a camouflage net over your head or that you should shade your eyes. I am
not even saying that camouflage clothing is necessary even though it would solve the problem very well. Trout will not
detect your presence near as well if you blend in with the background. Subdued shades of browns and greens usually
work best. You should avoid bright, flashy colors.
Another factor in how close you can approach trout is how well you can see them. If there is a lot of glare on the water,
and there almost always is, you should wear polarized glasses. There's no sense in stumbling over a trout directly in
front of you. If you do, it will go upstream and warn a trout's entire family and friends that a strange creature is coming.
Seriously, when trout suddenly shoot upstream, I believe it signals other fish that danger is approaching, or it at least
makes them aware something isn't normal. The least fish you can spook, the better off you are, even if you are not
trying to catch them.
It helps if you can see what's ahead. I don't want to get into wading yet, but when you can see everything in the water
ahead of you, you can wade making the least amount of disturbance.
Trout do not have to see you in order for them to detect your presence. They can hear you. You can yell at your
buddy and that won't bother them. If you move a rock on the bottom of the stream, it will. If you stumble along the
bank, it will disturb them. They can hear the sound you through their lateral line. Again, I don't want to get technical.
This is not the place to discuss how fish hear in detail. Just be aware that you should walk softly, without disturbing
things on the bottom of the stream or the ground near the banks.
Lets summarize what I have said so far about hiding from the trout:
1. Keep a low profile. I don't mean crawl along the bank or even that you need to stoop low when you are wading. Just
be aware that the higher you are, the farther away trout can see you. Don't climb up on boulders and search the water
for the trout. They are there. You are just warning them that you are there.
2. Fish in an upstream direction. Whether you are wading or moving along a bank, progress in an upstream direction,
not downstream. Cast in a general upstream direction, not downstream. You can get closer to the trout and they won't
see you as well as if you approached them when they are facing you.
3. Dress to blend in with the surroundings. Don't wear flashy or bright colored clothing.
4. Don't disturb the bottom of the stream or the ground along the banks. Trout can hear you. Avoid moving or kicking
5. Wear polarized sunglasses. The better you can see what is ahead in the water, the easier it is for you to prevent
spooking the trout ahead. If you loose your footing and step off into a deep hole you will spook every trout in the creek.
A Worthwhile Practical Experience:
If you really want to learn a lot about what spooks trout, and how well they can see and hear you, do right the opposite
of what you should do. See how many trout you can spook. Spring creeks are perfect places to do this. It is easier for
you to see the trout and easier for the trout to see you. You can see the reaction of the trout, whereas in freestone
streams, trout can flee without you ever seeing them. We have experimented with this several times and I believe we
have picked up a few things we would not have otherwise learned.
The first thing I noticed was that when I was about 40 feet away in full view of a trout, yet not noticed by the trout to the
point it would flee, I could wave my arms without spooking the trout. Waving my arms and fly rod didn't seem to make
any difference in the reaction of the trout. I would be well within its line of vision standing on a bank, not below it. If I
started walking to my left or right, the same trout would shoot under the grass to hide. I think that was because they
could not see my arms well enough for the movement to get their attention but when my body moved, they could see
what was going on. That's only a guess. There's no real proof of that theory, of course. I tried the same experiment on
several trout and the results were always the same. The movement of my body had a different reaction than the
movement of just my arms.
If I stayed low on the ground and slowly stood up within about twenty feet of a trout, I could get by doing so most of the
time without spooking the trout. However, when I would do the arm waving deal, they would all take off every time. That
told me that it was next to impossible to cast to a trout that close too me without spooking it if it was looking in my
direction. It also told me that if you move very slowly the trout didn't spook as much as they do when you make sudden
I could do the exact same thing, approaching a trout from its rear, and pull it off without the spooking the trout. The
effects of the blind spot to their rear became very obvious.
I have tried moving up on trout in spring creeks about every way I could think off. I have been working on a DVD on fly
fishing spring creeks now for about six years. That was the reason I was spooking trout rather than trying to catch
them. I attempted to show, on camera, the different reactions from the trout for various scenarios. It didn't turn out very
easy to do, by the way. Some of the things I discovered fooled me, but in most cases I was able to guess what would
happen. That makes me think common sense goes a long way in approaching trout.
I have kicked rocks just to see the reaction of the trout. I have stomped the ground with my feet. I have yelled as loud
as I can yell and done a number of sound test on trout in spring creeks. That did fool me. They can hear much better
than I thought they could. You can drop a rock on another rock in the stream and send every trout in sight fleeing. Try
that from one of the high banks along a stream and watch the reaction.
Spring creeks taught me a lot
about approaching trout. You
must be able to do so
successfully or you are not going
to catch any trout. Blind casting
is a waste of time in spring creeks
unless you are fishing a riffle
section of the stream. I love fishing
spring creeks because it does
teach you a lot about the reactions
of trout and a lot about being able
to fool and catch them. Spring
creeks are perfect places to learn
how trout react to movements and
sound. You can clearly see what
spooks trout and what you cannot
get away with. You must stalk trout
to catch them. You do not blind
cast because you can see
everything in the water. In this scene
on your right, I was moving closer
and closer to a large trout casting
all the time with the camera looking
over my shoulder.
This is Silver Creek Idaho,
one of our favorite streams.
We have fished this beautiful
creek several times and we
have learned a lot about trout
doing so. You rarely catch a
trout you don't first see. If the
wind is not blowing hard, you
will be looking at the trout you
are casting to every time.
Knowing what spooks trout,
what you can get away with
and what you can not get
away with, goes a long way in
being able to catch them.
We learned that the surface
of the water makes a huge
difference in what the trout
can and cannot see above
the water. If it is smooth without
ripples, you are seen by
the trout much farther away
than you are seen when the
surface of the water is
disturbed by current or wind.
That is another reason you can get closer to the trout in riffles and runs than you can in the smooth water of a pool or
pockets along banks and behind boulders.
Fish holding in deeper water will spook much quicker than those holding just under the surface. I think this is to do with
their window of vision, but it could also be a result of what the trout are concentrating on. When they are only inches
deep feeding in current, they are looking for tiny insects. You would think they would be keenly aware of what was
around them since they are in an exposed position, but they don't spook as easily as they do when they are holding in
water a couple of feet deep. When they are holding inches under the water, they don't see insects in the water until
they are within inches from their nose. This is due to their small window of vision.
Hiding From the Trout - Wading
Wading can help you catch more trout in the small streams in some cases, but before I discuss when and where it can
help you, let me give you a fair warning. Wading can also prevent you from catching trout. It is an easy and fast way to
spook trout. The trout can see you under the water and above the water. They can hear your boots scrape the bottom
or move some sand and gravel. If you are in calmer water such as a pool, your wake can spook trout. Never wade
unless it is necessary for you to get into position to make a presentation to areas of the water you think are holding
trout. If you can reach those areas and get a good drift from the bank, by all means do so. Every time you wade you
are taking chances on spooking some trout that you may have been able to catch from the bank.
The problem with everything I have said so far is that it is often and very common that you will not be able to present
your fly to areas of the stream that are likely holding trout without wading. One thing that makes it almost impossible to
cast from the bank is the heavy growth of trees and bushes along the banks of the stream. They can keep you from
casting along the banks of a stream in many cases.
Now don't take this wrong. Just because there are some trees along the bank doesn't mean you can't cast from the
bank. You can make all kinds of creative cast if you try to learn to make them. If it is possible, be certain to fish the
water near the banks before you get into the water to wade. About the biggest mistake you can make is just to walk up
to a stream, wade out into the center, and start casting. You are likely to spook some trout near the bank right where
you entered the stream. Always take you time. Stop and look at the water from a short distance away from the bank.
Figure out your best approach to get to the likely holding and feeding areas you intend to fish.
I don't like to write anything about wading, without it containing some points about wading safety. I am not the best
person in the world to give out this tip, but I will anyway. When wading, never cast at the same time you are taking
steps. You can't concentrate on doing both things at the same time, and you will eventually end up making some bad
presentations, or tripping, stumbling, or even falling. Stop casting and look at the water where you are wading. I am
often guilty of making this mistake. I catch myself doing it and stop, only to forget and do it again. I have also
busted my you-know-what, a few times, casting at the same time I was taking steps wading.
Wading can be dangerous. Never wade when you question the water depth or speed. Use the knee deep rule. Don't
wade water over knee deep. Stop casting when you change positions, and look at the bottom ahead. Move slowly.
There's no need to rush.
Everyone has to get used to wading the water. The more you wade, the easier it is to do. It also takes some leg
muscles if you do very much of it. Climbing up and down, and over rocks, gives your legs a good workout. The water
resistance in the current, and weight of the waders and boots, will tire you out until you get used to it. Never wade
when you are tired. That's a huge mistake.
Wear a wading belt tight around your waist. If you fall in the water, it will run down into your waders filling them with
pounds of water. Try standing up with your waders full of water. The wading belt will keep your legs and waste from
filling up with water. Far too manyl anglers have died from making mistakes while wading. Many of them were below
dams in tailwaters that vary with discharges from the dam, but accident happen in other types of streams. I got off
course with safety, but it is very important.
Hiding From Trout
by James Marsh
October, 2017 Issue
Copyright 2017 James Marsh
Silver Creek Idaho
Big Springs Creek,