As the sun dropped below the treeline, the water surface turned a dark gunmetal grey, and I lost track of my caddis. I fought the glare for a while, tilting my head, pushing my sunglasses up to my forehead and flipping them back down minutes later. I still couldn’t see my fly, and whatever daylight remained was fading quickly. Instinctively, I climbed aboard a midstream boulder . . .
It was our first trip to the First Fork of the Sinnemahoning in ten years. Dad and I were back at this Pennsylvania river, and we were awash in memories a decade old. The last time I’d touched this water I was as a teenage boy fighting the overwhelming size of the river and trying desperately not to go over the top of my rubber hip waders — all while casting Rooster Tails and live minnows up and across.
A decade later, this river now seemed smaller. I was stronger, taller and more experienced at navigating rocky rivers, full of the confidence that comes with chest waders and boot studs. But it was more than that, too. Being back among the same rocks and river bends from ten years ago, seeing that they hadn’t changed, but I had — realizing that I’d grown up — was the same sensation of revisited my elementary school as an adult. I felt powerful.
Climbing the boulder was easy, and it put me above the blackwater surface. From my perch, the angle shifted, and I could see the river again. I found my fly and noticed the dimpled rises of trout all around me. The first fish I targeted slashed aggressively, and I set the hook. Seconds later, the process repeated. Trout ate my caddis dry as though it was a perfect match — I’m certain it wasn’t. But in this unpressured freestone river, in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Northern Tier, who cares? The trout didn’t. So in that magic, last hour of spring daylight, I cast to and caught every riser I saw, until darkness finally sent us home.
Find the Angle
I remember that day and the moment of climbing the rock as the first time I truly recognized difficult light angles on the water and knew I could do something about them. Perhaps I should have figured it out long before twenty-three years of age. Regardless, I learned that I can alter the glare on a river’s surface; I can change how clearly I see into the depths and down to the riverbed by simply moving my feet and shifting the angle.
Another twenty years later, and finding those angles is intuitive. Without thinking much about it, I usually set myself up with the sun behind or to my side, avoiding the surface glare of direct light. As I fish upstream I might work left bank to right, moving perpendicular across the stream flow until I reach the right bank. Then I quickly wade left again, back to the left bank, to start over on the next line — like a classic Underwood typewriter printing out one sentence at a time.
I’ll gladly choose a secondary lie over a prime lie just to gain better light angles, because I hate fighting through any glare. There’s always a good angle and a bad one, even on cloudy days. I’ve learned that, in fishing, seeing is believing. And if I can’t see my fly, my sighter, or the depth and features of the water I’m casting to, I lose confidence.
In every daylight situation, there’s always a better side, a better angle to fish. When the sun sinks low in the valley, the water surface may take on that blackwater look I encountered with my Dad one evening on the First Fork. That gunmetal glare is harder to defeat by adjusting angles from side to side. But if you can get above the surface a little more, and stay close, you will regain some visibility of the situation before real darkness sets in.
No matter the conditions, consider the light angle and how it affects your fishing.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day
T R O U T B I T T E N