Sight fishing can be the most exciting type of fishing and at the same time the most frustrating. Nothing gets the heart beating & knees knocking like when you roll up on that fish of a lifetime. Then only to have her eye-ball the bait from an inch away and then swim off time after time. Or worse, have it suck in your bait and spit it out before you have a chance to react, and then watch her swim away and never return.

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  • But if every thing goes right and you hook, fight, and land her, there is no better feeling than when you hold her in your hands, take a deep breath and say ” I got you!” That’s why I enjoy sight fishing so much. It’s a rush of emotions, with highs and lows; sometimes within seconds you experience both. So here are some tips to hopefully help you experience more of the highs than lows of sight fishing.

    Just finding the fish can be the hardest part. So training your eyes is very important. Sight fishing, like anything takes practice. Here are a few things to look for:

    • Tail and Fin movements
    • The white rings around a fishes eyes when it looks down or away
    • Black tips on the tail of a male bass
    • The lateral line or belly line of the larger female bass
    • The underside (aka white walls) of the fish
    • Shadows below the fish sometimes are easier to see than the fish itself


    In order to see the fish below the surface you need the right equipment. Namely a good pair of polarized glasses. The best advice I can give you, is spend the few extra dollars on a good pair. Most companies make several different styles and lens types but just look at the high-end pairs. They are usually the most expensive but are well worth it in the long run.  Cheap glasses are just not worth it. The color of lenses always seems to be a hot topic; I keep it simple, yellow lenses for low light and gray for bright conditions. My favorites are Kaenon Glasses.

    Rods & Line

    As far as set-ups go I bring at least five rods with me most of the time, this allows me to rig several different baits. If you were to look in my boat in springtime you would find the following.

    • Rig 1 – Graphite USA rod 7′ heavy with 15lb maxima line
    • Rig 2 – Graphite USA rod 7’11” heavy with 20lb maxima line
    • Rig 3 – Graphite USA rod 6’6″ med-heavy with 10lb maxima line
    • Rig 4 – United spinning rod  7″ med-light with 5lb maxima line and a drop shot rig
    • Rig 5 – United spinning rod 7″ medium with 8lb maxima line


    Every body has their favorite spawn baits; these are my go to baits and combos that allow me to start heavy and down size if I need to do so. Not all the fish will bite the heavy stuff and sometimes you may have to drop all the way down to 5lb test and a drop shot rig, and to be honest the chances of landing a trophy bass on light line isn’t that great, but I’d rather at least have that chance than to never hook her at all.

    • White Pro-line Jig
    • Kamakazee Minnr
    • Small Swimbait (Kamakazee Treat)
    • Drop Shot (baitfish imitation)
    • Gitzit

    Reading A Fish

    Getting a fish to eat is sometimes an almost impossible task. Sometimes they won’t eat at all.

    This is when learning to read the fish comes into play, seeing how she reacts to different baits, her movements in and around the nest. how she’s relating to the male, and the position she takes  when you cast on her. These are things that you learn by doing, not taught to you, because all fish act differently during the spawn.

    Here are some tips I can give to help you get the fish to bite; first is boat position, this is very important part of the process, whether you hook and land the fish or not. I try not to block the fish’s deep-water access. Giving her a clear path to deep water gives her that secure feeling, so if possible I like fishing the nest up hill if I can. This is why a lot of times, (if I am not in a tournament)  I will fish it from shore if possible. If not I will position my boat parallel to the shore. Then I scan the fish’s environment for any obstacles she may use to break me off on. This way I can counter-act her moves after I hook her. I can decide if I want to take her deep or keep her shallow, or position the boat between her and the obstacle. Also I check the hook, knot, line, and drag, and if by myself, where my net is, and make sure it is easy to get too.  I go through all of these things before I even make my first cast. Being prepared is very important, most big fish are lost due to lack of preparation, and angler error.

    Getting the fish to bite

    How to make the fish bite? Sometimes it’s as easy as just throwing the bait in, shaking it once and she eats it. I call that a “give me fish” but as you know most are not that easy, some you may have to work for. Sometimes for hours and days depending on the size of the fish and how much patience you have or if you are willing to invest the time with no guarantee you will catch her. That’s why I will make my first cast right at her, and see how she reacts, if she spooks off immediately and does a big wide circle that takes her awhile to return, I know I am going to be there for awhile. If she does a small tight circle and returns quickly back to the nest, I know its probably only going to take a few more casts.

    Now it’s time to find the sweet spot, and what I mean by this, is where in or around the nest is the spot that I need to put my bait that will drive that fish crazy. To the point where she can’t handle it being there and will attack it. Sometimes it’s a spot that isn’t even in the nest. A lot of time I have caught the fish several feet away from it. Once I have found the sweet spot, I will keep the bait there and shake it violently until she noses down on it, right then I give it two hard pops to make it jump up off the bottom about 6 to 8 inches, this will, a lot of the time, trigger a reflex bite. Getting the bait up in the fish’s eyes makes it a lot easy for her to eat it.

    That’s why I think a drop shot rig is a great rig for sight fishing, you can keep it in one spot for a longer time and off the bottom and in the fish’s face. Sometimes it takes a lot more to get her to bite, like bumping the fish with the bait several times to get her attention or make her mad to finally get her to bite. Sometimes just swimming the bait slowly thought the nest will trigger her. Or the most common triggering factor is getting the male to bite, once he starts hitting the bait that usually gets the female fired up.

    So that leads me into the age-old question, should you catch the male first and get him out of the nest so the female will then bite? I have been told this for years that this is the thing to do. But I disagree big time! I have seen too many times when you remove or hook the male, the female will leave never to return. And why should she, the male is the most important reason why she’s there in the first place. The only time will I hook the male is if I feel I have done every thing I could to get her to bite, and the male simply will not let the female in the nest or near the bait without pushing her away, or hitting the bait the second it gets near her, and carries it off every time. Only then will I hook him, and hope the next cast she eats it, because each cast after that and as time goes by the chances of her biting becomes slim, until she shows no interest and finally leaves for good. Not all spawning fish are catchable especially the lunker females. They are very aware of there surroundings and simply don’t feel comfortable shallow. That’s why catching a trophy during spring can be challenging & rewarding when it happens.

    So the next time you try sight fishing, remember to think through everything from boat position, to baits, to fighting and landing the fish before you just start making casts.  Sight fishing can sometimes be frustrating but also extremely exciting and rewarding when you finally catch that lunker fish of a lifetime.

    About Author

    John Kerr

    John Kerr is one of the premier trophy bass anglers in the world. He is also one of the most successful tournament bass anglers to ever fish in San Diego, and the only angler from San Diego to win the prestigious US Open.


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    Rob Magargal

    There are for sure!!