If wild trout see you, it will be very difficult for you to catch them.
The problem that many of those just getting started have with this is
they fail to understand much about how trout view objects outside of
the water. In order to effectively stay hidden from the trout, you need
to know a little about how a trout views the world outside the water.
It's also important to understand how they see objects beneath the
surface of the water, but for this article, I'm limiting the subject of
"how trout see", to the basics of how they see objects outside of the
In general, trout don't see objects above the water very clearly. This
is especially true of objects that are not close to them. To make it
simple, lets just say for the most part, objects they see out of the
water are blurred. They cannot see anything in detail that's a good
distance away. A person standing out of the water twenty feet from a
trout is for the most part, just a blurred image. Now for those who
want to get picky, I'll admit that what I'm about to write isn't exactly
technically correct, but I'm not writing a scientific paper. I'm
describing in layman terms how a trout views an angler trying to
What they will notice, much quicker than anything else, is the
movement of an object above the water. They are used to seeing
blurred images of objects above the water that remain fairly still.
Trees and boulders don't move around very much.
Overhead predators pose a danger to trout. Large birds and a
animals pose a danger. When something moves above the water, it
gets their attention. The bottom line to this is that you should move
as little as possible and when you do move, move as slowly as
possible. Of course, it's impossible to wade or cast without moving
and that's an integral part of the problem.
The other main point about what trout see above the water has to
do with the distance the object is from them. To make this simple,
due to refraction of light, they don't see things that are low (near the
horizon) above the water. The higher the object is above the water,
the easier it is for them to see it. For example, they can see an object
ten feet above the water as far as twenty feet away, but they cannot
see an object a foot above the water that's ten feet away. The lower
you are relative to the surface of the water, the closer you can get to
trout without them seeing you. If you stand on top of the highest
boulder in the stream and look around, chances are every trout
within twenty or thirty feet of you will see you. Your movements
climbing up on rocks will spook them. Stay low and move slowly.
Trout normally face in an upstream direction. Their bodies and fins
are streamlined such that they can remain in current expending as
little energy as possible. They couldn't hold their position in current if
they had their tail pointed towards the current. Most of their food
comes to them in a downstream direction. Aquatic insects caught up
in a current seam are always drifting downstream, and the trout face
in an upstream direction looking for them.
The bottom line to this is that you can get closer to the trout if you
are downstream of them. If you fish in an upstream direction, they
will not be able to see you nearly as well as they could if you were
fishing in a downstream direction. With few exceptions I won't go
into here, in small, fast water freestone streams, you should always
fish in an upstream direction. By that I mean, casting in an upstream
direction and progressing in an upstream direction.
Trout don't see object the same way humans do. They have a much
wider peripheral vision. In other words they can see almost all the
way around themselves. Their binocular vision isn't near as good as
ours. That's part of the reason they don't see things above the water a
good distance away very clearly, or with very much resolution.
Trout have a blind spot in their peripheral vision. It's a small area
directly behind them. When they are positioned in the moving water
of the stream facing in an upstream direction, that small blind area
offers some advantage over approaching them from the opposite
direction. It helps you to get closer to them than you would otherwise
be able to do. Getting close to them by approaching them from their
front side, or the direction they are looking, without being spotted is
almost impossible. Again, it's the movement of objects at a distance
that gets their attention quicker than anything.
Another big factor in just how well trout can spot you has to do with
how you contrast with the surrounding background. For example, If
you are wearing a white shirt and a white hat, you are not blending in
very well with the typical background of a stream. You want to blend
in with the background in the same manner a deer or turkey hunter
would need to blend in with the background. In fact, the best clothing
you could possible wear would be the best matching camouflage
outfit you could find to that matched the colors in the background of
the particular trout stream during the different seasons of the year.
I'm not suggesting you should go so far as to wear a camouflage net
over your head, or that you should shade your eyes with makeup. I'm
not saying that camouflage clothing is necessary, although it would
help solve the problem. I'm just contending that trout won't detect
your presence near as well if your clothing blends in with the
background. Subdued shades of browns and greens usually work
best. You should avoid bright, flashy colors that contrast with the
Another factor in how close you can approach trout is how well you
can see ahead. If there's a lot of glare on the water, and there usually
is, you should wear polarized glasses. You don't want to stumble over
a trout directly upstream in front of you. It will shoot upstream and
warn its entire family that an strange looking creature is coming their
way. Seriously, I believe that when trout suddenly shoot upstream, it
signals other fish that danger is approaching, or it at least makes
other trout aware something isn't normal. The least fish you can
spook, the better off you are.
I don't want to get into wading but when you can see everything in
the water ahead of you, you can approach trout making the least
amount of disturbance. I'm not suggesting you need to necessarily
see trout ahead of you. I'm referring to being able to clearly see the
bottom where your wading.
Another often overlooked problem is that trout don't have to see
you in order for them to detect your presence. They can hear you.
You can yell at your buddy and that won't bother them, but if you
move a rock on the bottom of the stream, it will spook them. If you
stumble along the bank, it will disturb them. They can hear the
sound through their lateral line. Again, I don't want to get technical.
Just be aware that you should walk softly, without disturbing things
on the bottom of the stream or if you are fishing from the bank, the
1. Keep a low profile. I don't mean crawl along the bank or even that
you need to stoop low when you are wading. Just be aware that the
higher you are above the surface of the water, the farther away the
trout can see you. Don't climb up on boulders and search the water
for the trout. Most likely, there are plenty ahead of you. You're just
making them aware of your presence.
2. Fish in an upstream direction. Whether you are wading or moving
along a bank, progress in an upstream direction, not downstream.
Cast in a general upstream direction, not downstream. You can get
closer to the trout and they won't see you as well as if you approached
them when they are facing you. There are a few exceptions to this we
won't go into here. this but not if your just getting started.
3. Dress to blend in with the surroundings. Don't wear flashy or
bright colored clothing.
4. Don't disturb the bottom of the stream or the ground along the
banks. Trout can hear you. Avoid moving or kicking rocks.
5. Wear polarized sunglasses. The better you can see what's ahead in
the water, the easier it is for you to prevent spooking the trout ahead.
If you loose your footing and step off into a deep hole you will spook
every trout in the creek.
August, 2019 Issue
Copyright 2020 James Marsh
Silver Creek Idaho