5 Tips for Targeting Spooky, Educated or Highly Pressured Fish

Large fish in the depths
Table of Contents

By: Jackie Holbrook 

It doesn’t matter what species of fish you’re targeting, landing a monster is an accomplishment. That’s because big fish grow big for a reason. They’re smart and spooky, which makes them hard to catch. To improve your odds of hooking and landing one of these highly-educated fish, you need to understand how they act, where to find them and how to avoid messing it up. 

Look Before You Fish 

Josh Nugent is the owner/guide at Out Fly Fishing in Calgary, Alberta. He says too many anglers throw their line in the water without even looking. Experience has taught him to slow down and look at the water before fishing. 

“Just keep observing and you’ll notice, holy smokes, there’s half a dozen fish in the run that at first glance had nothing in it,” Nugent said in the Anchored Outdoors’ Masterclass Targeting Spooking, Educated or Highly Pressured Fish. “If you waded straight into the water, you’d spook all those fish.” 

Nugent likes to find a high vantage point, like a bridge. He spends a few minutes analyzing the water and looking for fish. Look long enough and you should be able to pick up the movement of a fish or find their outline in the water. 

“We want to target the fish before they know that we’re there,” Nugent said. “A fish that knows you’re there will be much spookier and harder to catch.” 

Stay Hidden 

Many big game hunters won’t go hunting without wearing head-to-toe camouflage, that’s because they know their best shot at filling their tag is to remain undetected. Nugent says anglers could learn a little something about staying concealed. 

“Clothing matters. Brand names don’t, but colors do,” Nugent said. “You don’t have to wear a gilly suit… but wear something that has earth tones and matches the colors that you’re around.” 

If the fish can’t see you coming, they won’t have a reason to be spooked. Nugent says you don’t have to go full camo but anglers should wear colors that blend into their surroundings. He believes earth tones work the best. So while you might think that your favorite fishing hat brings you luck, it might actually bring you down.

“It’s amazing how often anglers will wear earth tones but then they’re wearing a bright red hat that you can see coming down the river,” Nugent said. “Bright the clothing may look great in photos, but you’ll spook more fish. If you want to catch more fish wear drab colors or colors that blend.” 

Regardless of what you’re wearing, try to stay out of their sight and stay away from the bank whenever possible. Always try to approach the fish from behind the tail and avoid entering into their line of vision. 

Know Where They Live 

If you’re not fishing where the fish are you’re wasting your time. Nugent says anglers need to understand where fish hang out—and why. Find the food, and you’ll likely find the fish. Look for eddies, seams and foam that can sweep up insects and various terrestrials. Nugent also says spooky fish will always want an escape route. 

“Fast water and deep water are both safe, so if they get spooked from feeding, they are going to want to retreat quickly to faster or deeper water, or both,” Nugent said. 

Pressured trout will often feed in skinny, shallow water. That’s because they can easily see predators coming. Ospreys and eagles can’t safely dive in and catch trout in 6-inches of water. 

“If fish are feeding at the surface in deeper water their silhouette will stand out for birds and anglers to see,” Nugent said. “Fish know this, and that’s why they slide into shallow skinny water where their camo blends in.” 

Fish the Tough Spots 

When a fish feels pressured, it moves into a low-pressure area. For anglers that means finding and effectively fishing water that most anglers can’t reach. Nugent says to look for places where most anglers walk by, or stretches of water that require a technical or tricky cast and drift. 

“If 95 out of 100 anglers can’t get a drag-free drift, I guarantee there will be a big fish,” Nugent said. 

Be Patient 

Nugent says if there’s one skill that anglers need to have to target spooky fish it’s patience. 

“Some of the best anglers that I know are the most patient anglers that I’ve ever met, they take their time, they don’t rush in and they watch first,” Nugent said. “If you want to catch the fish that others have spooked and weren’t able to fool, you are just going to have to be more patient than they were.” 

For more tips check out the Anchored Outdoors Masterclass “Targeting Spooky, Educated or Highly Pressured Fish.” 

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Anchored Outdoors

Anchored Outdoors is an ever-growing network of fly fishing experts who’ve been brought together by podcaster and fellow outdoorswoman, April Vokey.

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