"He's huge, cast now, cast now" was all I heard from my buddy who had scrambled up the rocks as my look out. "You're not allowed to talk about size until he's hooked," I mouthed back as this monster bull trout swam doggedly past my misplaced fly. I couldn't see him; but my look out could.
Video: from a glass pool from a Bull trout trip with April Vokey, myself, Brandon Frew & Jeremy Koreski
Sight fishing for anything with fins, from small trout to big trout, from on the salt flats to high alpine lakes is a rush of intoxicating endorphins. It is most likely the reason why we have never put a fly rod down since our first catch. To deceive a fish, a living, breathing being, with an unnatural fly is quite a wonderfully surreptitious thing. It’s sneaky, stealthy and furtive. Sight fishing, if mother nature permits, is an effective way of targeting fish. It not only allows you a moment to read the seams and currents, which allows calculated precision, but it also allows you to target bigger fish within the pool. Although, that being said, just because you can see a bull trout deceptively dogging-down in a hole, it does not mean he will take your perfectly stripped streamer that is cruising within inches of his villainous jowls.
Whether it is small clear tributaries or fish bowl pools, sight fishing for bull trout is a walloping rush. They are aggressive, greedy, bullheaded, carnivorous and at times, cannibalistic. Sometimes they will chase your fly stripping past their strike zone, sometimes they will take the fly on the drop, sometimes on the lift, sometimes it doesn't matter what you have brought as your arsenal, they wont even give you a second thought. Having the opportunity to sight fish for bulls can be uncommon, as typically they hold in the cold clean watered deep tailouts and pools.
1. Can you see them? They can see you.
How many of us as kids tried talking to our friends under water; or swam with our eyes open to try to sense our below surface surroundings? We could probably see the rays of light refracting the banks through the water, and hear bubbly mummers from our friends, but our human senses aren't able to hone in on the sharpness necessary for underwater awareness. Fish are naturally programmed to key into alarming sights, sounds, shadows and movements. Their eyes are situated on the sides of their heads and they have a greater peripheral than humans and therefore can detect large shadows or movement. Their eyes, which are convex and almost spherical focus refractive light rays into true image formation. This is why fish eye lens' are able to take those sharp underwater shots. If you can see them, chances are then that they can see you; particularly on calm days when the water is flat and slow. Approach the water slowly and quietly and allow yourself time to really assess the water's currents, seams and obstructions.
2. Slow Down. Don't Miss your Shot Due to Impatience or Excitement
Slow everything down. Allow yourself to watch your target. Bull trout tend to ambush your fly, lurking and waiting for something to come within in vicinity of their strike zone. Watch the water, look for seams, anticipate how the current will pull your fly and look for that window. With feeding trout, you can often track them surfacing, every so often taking flies from the surface, and while bull trout can take dries, particularly a well-skated mouse pattern, they don't seem to follow that slurping surface pattern. Spend a moment before you cast to anticipate where your fly will land, and how you want to present it. Watch for water obstructions and structure and how that will change the current pulling your fly. Often times when fishing for bull trout, there seems to be multiple fish in the pool, so watching for cruising fish and cast accordingly.
3. Spot and Stalk & Buddy Up
One thing I've really come to love while guiding is watching people catch fish and helping set them up to catch a fish. It's a joint effort between two anglers, two friends or client and guide that simply adds to the shared excitement. Bull trout are naturally camouflaged, with dark earth toned or slate grey backs, so spotting at water level can be difficult, even with polarized lenses. Find high ground, and if you're out with a mate, split the pools up, have them spot one pool and you spot the next or vice versa. Finding a bit of elevation, will allow them to call your shots accurately, which will provide the angler with intel on how far to cast, when to strip, how much sink time is necessary and to line up your fly into the strike zone. Sometimes finding high ground doesn't always work though, so try having your mate cross at an appropriate point further down in the section to see what it's like on the other side of the pool. Depending on where the sun is, it could be better for spotting.
Don't mind the high pitched voice there
4. When All Fails, Stir the Pot-- stir the pool up.
Sometimes when pools aren't fishing well, but you know there are bulls sitting below, try targeting a grayling or even a white fish to stir it up. I've had multiple bull trout come out of seemingly nowhere when I've had grayling on the line all fighting for whatever I threw out there. They're aggressive so stir the pool up with a little action.
5. Hesitant? Fish it anways, could be a bull trout.
Bulls have great coloration for camouflage so don't forget to blind cast through runs. Most of the time they're not coming to you unfortunately, you have to find them. We can't always see past underwater structure, so swing your fly past those big boulders, underwater shelves and slots, what's to loose.
6. Invest in a pair of Polarized glasses
We hear this all the time how polarized lenses are a must but I was always one of those people who never wore sunglasses ever- I hated them, I thought they were too much money for something that would eventually break or scratch and the first pair of "expensive" glasses that were over my standard $15 dollars, I lost while carrying my dog across the river. I wasn't even convinced with my budget friendly 'polarized' glasses I found online. I wish I had convinced myself many years earlier just how important and game changing good polarized glasses really are.
I believe that some humans possess a hunters gene. A gene that finds thrill in the chase, thrill in the stalk, thrill of the sneak and the thrill of the catch that fulfills that chasm in our wild souls. This gene is amplified with sight fishing where everything is based on what mother nature wills us and our own acute precision. Will sight fishing for bull trout be available every time?- certainly not, but those times we can see them just makes it that much more special.