by George Poveromo

Five ways to see through the water to catch more fish.
By George Poveromo


See the fish before it sees the boat.
Photo: Val Atkinson

Scanning the surface for signs of fish is easy. Most anglers watch for birds, changes in water color, weedlines, busting bait and, obviously, feeding gamefish. But looking through the water is more challenging — and more helpful. Sight-casters know that failing to spot a fish until it's too close will spook it or make it too wary to catch.


Offshore anglers aren't immune, either. Those who are successful on the troll have refined spotting skills and tune into both the surface and deep into the water. Becoming more proficient at seeing subsurface activities will lead to more opportunities to catch fish. Here are five ways:


[1] Peer Pressure
Learning to see through the water's surface takes practice. Many anglers have a difficult time looking deep.
When searching for fish in the shallows, look toward the stretch of water you are approaching. Briefly scan its surface for the obvious signs, and then gaze beneath it. Focus on a piece of bottom — a rock pile, stretch of sand or a grass patch — whether it's prominent in clear water or a faint silhouette in turbid conditions. By focusing on this target, your vision will be pulled beneath the surface. Once the target comes into focus, maintain that same deep-oriented concentration and scan a broad area of bottom. Offshore trollers should first scan the spread of trolling baits. Then, focus on just one bait. When you have it in view, shift your focus from the bait to as deep as you can see beneath it. As you are doing this, the bait will blur — it is now a secondary, ÒbackgroundÓ image. Broaden your view and scan wide and deep beneath that bait. Do the same with each bait in the spread, then repeat the procedure. Once you develop the knack for looking at all the baits and through the water under them, you can scan the subsurface waters efficiently. With inshore topwater or swimming plugs, the angler should focus on the lure as it first hits the water, then look deep around the lure on the retrieve to catch a glimpse of the fish moving in for the take.

[2] Camo Ammo
By nature, fish blend in with their surroundings to conceal them from their prey and help them avoid predators, making them challenging to spot. Learn to distinguish a fish from its surroundings. Scanning the bottom, you can tell if anything is moving. Rocks, grasses and sand patches don't move suddenly, so shift your focus if you see something stir. The movement will be subtle — unless a fish is feeding aggressively, it will be stalking or hiding and its movements will reflect that.

Offshore, large billfish can blend in with the Gulf Stream and be difficult to see just ten feet beneath a trolled bait. And if the captain or crew isn't looking closely, the bluish-purplish hue of a sailfish or marlin may go unnoticed — until it strikes. Learn to see the slight contrast in fish colors, which appear as faint shadows. Anglers who can see pelagics stalking the spread will be ready for the bite and have ample time to modify their tactics to coax the fish into striking, if necessary.


[3] Taller the Better

Offshore anglers who look beneath the spread can improve their chances.
Photo: Richard Gibson
Your ability to see through the water is boosted as you get higher above the deck. Tall towers help anglers see gamefish entering the spread or feeding in the distance. Height gives spotters a better view of the surrounding water and to a greater depth. Poling platforms have long been used by shallow-water anglers to spot fish. And mini towers are increasing in popularity with bay guides. But simply standing on the gunwale should get you high enough to help. When I scout for dolphin, I often stand on the gunwale of my 28-foot center console, holding onto the T-top and facing back toward the baits, so I can spot fish in the spread or below it. Of course, I never do this when I'm out alone in my boat (which I don't recommend) or when it's rough. But when conditions allow, it does make a difference.


[4] Use the Light
To get the most out of seeing through the water, keep the sun to your back and use it to light up the area you're scanning while keeping glare to a minimum. The light illuminates features and fish over a wide swath of water and may help you spot the fish before it sees you.

I reduce glare further by sliding the brim of my hat or visor closer to my eyes. And when I'm really scrutinizing a stretch of bottom or water, I even cup my hands around the sides of my glasses.


[5] Hue View
Polarized sunglasses not only protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays, they also block glare and enhance contrast. They let you see beneath the surface, discern fish or water-color changes and reduce eyestrain.

As a basic rule, gray is considered the best lens color for offshore fishing because it cuts the glare in bright conditions, provides the best contrast and helps you to see much deeper into the water. For inshore fishing, a brown or amber lens provides higher acuity in green and brown coastal waters, inside bays and sounds and on the flats. I prefer wraparound-style glasses that block light from the sides, and glass lenses that offer excellent optical quality and don't scratch as easily as plastic or polycarbonate lenses.