Spooked Fish


See the big trout in the header photo, exiting stage left? Yes, it spooked, though not on this occasion because of me. I’d sneaked into position to watch it nymphing. I was just going to film it, when it suddenly bolted. Thirty meters away 2 anglers were stomping towards me, oblivious to any of this and a trout they were not going to catch anytime soon.

Ten plus years ago I regularly ran lessons and events at a very clear stillwater that held a good number of resident brown trout. Some of these fish were substantial in size and very desirable to catch. During the main part of the day I hardly ever saw them. However I regularly saw them early morning. I could see them cruising the margins, hunting crayfish. So I could stalk select fish and lay an ambush. The problem was initially, I could not get near them. I had plenty of cover, moved slowly and carefully, yet they knew I was there, melting into the depths as I looked on. Eventually I realised the problem was my footwear. Being summer and moving around a lot on these lakes, I often wore walking boots. However recent weather had been very dry and the ground was hard, very hard. Despite moving slowly, the effect of boots and hard ground provided enough vibration for these wary browns to know trouble was around. My solution was to wear flat, soft soled outdoor training shoes. Approaching the fish repeatedly as before, I remained mostly undetected, at least giving chance to fish for them. Sometimes they obliged. Is this why they are called sneakers I wonder?

On two other waters I’ve fished on and off for 20 years, I’ve seen the effects of vibration regularly. One, is another series of small clear lakes, the other a big reservoir of several hundred acres. What they both have in common is a vehicle track running within fifty meters of shore for much of the perimeter. On many occasions in summer I’ve been waterside first thing, with not many (if any) other anglers around. Fish have been cruising, taking from the top, great sport. Then as a few cars start to arrive and people drive around the waters, these fish disappear. Time for home and breakfast!

While guiding rivers I often spot fish, point them out to a client, suggest a path to the fishing position and we move in. Sometimes the ground is rough and I feel the vibration of heavy footfall behind me. Nine times out of ten, the fish has gone!

large brown trout on dry mayfly
Ghosting around the water can help you catch dream fish!

What can we learn from all this? More fish than we would like to think (many more) are very aware of us without us knowing they are there. Some options to reduce fish spooking are: –

  • Fish when/where others are not.
  • Walk round waters whenever possible rather than drive.
  • Use footwear appropriate to conditions.
  • Take advantage of cover.
  • Blend into your environment.
  • Take your time. The amount seen is inversely proportional to your pace.
  • Only wade if you need to (remember noise travels even better in water).
  • Do everything you can to reduce noise when boat fishing.

Thanks for reading!