See it again for the first time

There is truly something special about getting intimate with a stretch of water, learning everything you can about the water until it becomes a part of you. It is an opportunity usually reserved for someone’s ‘home water,’ the place they spend all their time if they live on a river and get to grow up fishing it day in and day out. For fishing guides, the lure of the job is often the ability to explore and to fish many different rivers and beats. Many guides view fishing the same beat every day as boring and a negative aspect. However, there are a few guides who take the opportunity to fish a beat every day for weeks at a time to break down every aspect of the water and come to appreciate what that water has to offer.

The most interesting part of fishing is not trying to catch every fish that swims, rather to understand every detail that lies within the section. It is amazing to stare at a piece of water every day for weeks and then to try to step back and see it with fresh eyes. Remember those Magic Eye posters from the 80’s? You had to almost go cross-eyed to see the image. Some people never could see the dinosaur hidden deep in the middle of it. Others could pick it up right away. Still others had to work at it to find the mystery. Rediscovering the water means that you need to be like the third group; if the details aren’t readily apparent, you have to keep trying.

The first key to discovering the hidden secrets of a section of water is to look at the river as a whole. This helps to identify stand-out features. A slow meandering river that finally hits a fast rapid is going to get a fish’s attention pretty quickly.  Follow the most likely path a fish would take to move comfortably through the water. Keep in mind that they don’t like to spend time in water so shallow that their backs will poke out; they will avoid the low depths if they can. Also, they would prefer not to plow through the middle of a wave train unless absolutely necessary. Usually there they seek a soft edge to ride, a calm seam to slide, which offers the angler a common formula to be applied. Basically they want to conserve energy and avoid risk. 

A shallow bar feature will surely make a fish pause for a moment to assess the situation. After the adrenaline rush of crossing an uncomfortably shallow gravel bar, a fish is going to be looking for a spot to relax. Just like most of us after a stressful event, when we just want to sit down and chill for a moment, the fish needs a place to catch its breath, so to speak. Looking for the new mysteries in a beat you have fished many times starts with guessing where a fish would naturally swim. There are many beautiful slots and riffles that catch our angler eyes, but upon review, they have no real entrance for a fish. Unfortunately, this wasted swing water becomes a sucker run.

There are so many hidden gems in a river; those who want to really look in detail will discover more than they imagined. Some of these discoveries are water-level-dependent of course, but the real angler enjoys the search for productive water as much as the reward. The next time you are on your favorite stretch of water, do yourself a favor and spend the day fishing little bits and pieces that you have rarely, if ever, explored. Hooking that fish in a sneaky spot you found that everyone else overlooked is so much more rewarding than catching yet another one out of that famous photographed run that is hammered day in and day out.  



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