In sport fishing, nothing is more exciting than sneaking up on a fish, making the cast and watching the predator chase its prey. In many ways, a kayak adds an advantage to sight fishing. The angler stands low, out of the fish’s line of sight, and nothing is quieter than a paddle and 12 feet of plastic. With this natural affinity, it only makes sense to experience the rush of sight fishing for yourself.
Turn Your Eye to Better Sight Fishing
Sight fishing is particularly popular for anglers targeting redfish in salty marshes and shallow bays. Kayak Angler contributor Evan Howard chases redfish in the Louisiana backwaters, looking for the telltale spot tail flagging just above the surface. “I make zero blind casts,” he laughs.
Howard rides the tides and wind, following the fish into the shallows. “I either beat productive areas waiting for fish to move through, or I go on the hunt looking for reds moving into the shallows,” he says.
For Howard, the most important skill for sight fishing is developing his hunter’s instinct, learning to identify the subtle and not-so-subtle cues giving away the fish. He chuckles, “On the way I cast to a lot of mullet schools and ran over a lot of redfish schools.” Here is what he learned in the process.
Expert Tips for Better Sight Fishing
1 Train Your Senses
Spotting the fish is the trickiest part about sight casting, especially when first starting out. The trick? Don’t look for fish. Instead, look for shadows, movement, lines, or anything that isn’t the same as the sandy bottom. Trust your peripheral vision. It may not be obvious at first, but wait to see what caught your eye—whether that be current, a hole or trough where fish might be moving through, or an actual fish.
To better spot fish, anglers stand in the kayak, or even perch on top of a seat or cooler. A higher perspective allows you to see through glare on the water to fish and structure below. Search the area by sweeping your eyes 180 degrees around the boat. Look just under the surface for any indication of activity. “A slight ripple or wake could indicate a fish swimming below.”
Sight fishermen have to use their ears, too. While looking ahead, listen for bait popping or the swirl of a fish tail just out of sight.
2 Invest in Fishing Sunglasses
A good pair of sunglasses is crucial to seeing fish. Without the right pair of shades, you really don’t stand a chance. Sunglasses aren’t all the same, so don’t waste your time with a lesser pair—go right for the best.
Costa Del Mar makes a wide variety of fishing sunglasses frames with polarized glass and plastic lenses designed for various water and lighting conditions, such as inshore and sight fishing. For example, their Rooster frames with green mirror 580G lenses let you see right through the glare and spot more fish. The green mirror tint works best for inshore waters and is leaps and bounds better than any other lens color. Get fishing-specific lenses and you’ll never go back to grey.
3 Pick the Right Pole or Paddle
Controlling the kayak is a challenge while standing and paddling. Howard stresses the importance of using the tide and wind to your advantage. It’s easier to ride the elements and make slight adjustments than try to fight Mother Nature.
Recently, Howard has switched over to using a push pole when standup fishing. “I can maintain silent contact with the bottom and control my drift,” he explains. When he wants to throw on the brakes, Howard can stick the pole in the mud. “Learning to use the push pole has improved my fly fishing exponentially,” he says.
Another handy option for standup fishing is a SUP paddle. A SUP paddle will give you more leverage and more control when battling big tides or wind and you’ll be faster if a school pops up farther away.
The Challenge SUP paddle from Aqua-Bound adjusts to work whether you are kneeling, standing or perching on a cooler. The carbon shaft and fiberglass blade are tough and light enough to use all day. The bent paddle blade is more efficient than a straight shaft and will help you cross channels more easily to move from flat to flat.
4 Stakeout Your Spot
Anchors have their place, but if you’re in skinny water then you need to switch to a stakeout pole. A stakeout pole will be faster at securing your boat than an anchor and when you see a fish you don’t want to get blown out of casting range.
You can stakeout through a scupper hole, but that will likely get in your way. Rig up your stakeout pole on a short leash of paracord (three to five feet in length) and keep it ready in a paddle holder or underneath your seat. When you see a fish you’ll be able to stab the pole into the sand and drift a few feet, which will give you time to pick up your rod and be ready to cast securely.
Sight fishing brings out the hunting instinct. | Feature photo: Josh Tidwell