Trout fishers are always talking about ‘reading the water’ – observing its surface to interpret what might be happening below so they can guess where fish might or might not be holding.
Reading the water
Reading the water is a vital part of river craft, especially for the fly-fisher who, to be successful, must factor in how the river flow affects the way his flies behave on or under the water. To a lesser degree it’s important for lake fishers as well.
But what about sea fishers? We’ve become increasingly reliant on electronics to map out underwater features and do our fish finding for us, but the ability to ‘read the water’ can still be extremely useful. You can tell an awful lot about tidal flow, water depth, underwater structure and the presence of fish from the sea surface.
Indicators of underwater structure and depth can include variations in water colour, ‘disturbed’ water – swirling currents, over-falls and upwellings – or areas where the sea state is different. Shallow sand and reef flats may be indicated by water that is calmer, by ripples and swirls, especially over rocky bars and reef flats where there is plenty of tidal flow, and by variations in water colour where the water is clear.
Identifying structure is important: structure provides fish with shelter, cover from which to ambush prey and an
abundance of food. Submerged vegetation, rock and reef can be indicated by dark patches in the water, even when the sea floor itself is not visible from the surface.
Knowing where the kelp beds and rocky outcrops lie is very helpful, whether lure fishing or using natural bait. Feeding stray-lined baits back over a patch of barren sand is less likely to prove successful than drifting baits back to an area of rock and kelp forest.
When so-called ‘wash fishing’ – casting soft plastics close to rock faces, cliffs and into the white water where ocean meets land – reading water movement as the swells collide with the coast can save a lot of lost tackle.
Water that lifts or swirls indicates the presence of submerged rock, reef or maybe a manmade structure. Such features can be great places to fish around, but if you want to avoid getting snagged you need to understand where the structure lies so that you don’t land the lure right on top of it.
The interaction between current/tidal flow and structure determines where fish gather to feed and where
ABOVE Fish moving and feeding just under the surface create ‘nervous’ water.
LEFT Whitewater always indicates structure above and sometimes also below the surface.BELOW LEFT Big game fish such as marlin like to feed where warm ocean currents interface with rich coastal water.