Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #20 — Find the Best Light Angles, and See What You’re Fishing

by | Dec 10, 2017 | 0 comments

As the sun dropped below the tree line, 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 boots — 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 that 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.

Photo by Chris Kehres

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.

READ: Troutbitten | High Light — Low Light

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.

Photo by Austin Dando

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.


** Donate ** If you enjoy this article, please consider a donation. Your support is what keeps this Troutbitten project funded. Scroll below to find the Donate Button. And thank you.


Enjoy the day
Domenick Swentosky

Share This Article . . .

Since 2014 and 700+ articles deep
Troutbitten is a free resource for all anglers.
Your support is greatly appreciated.

– Explore These Post Tags –

Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

More from this Category

Podcast — Ep. 9: Breaking Down Streamer Presentations

Podcast — Ep. 9: Breaking Down Streamer Presentations

Make that fly swim. Give life to the streamer. Convince the trout that they’re looking at a living, swimming creature.

That’s what this podcast conversation is about. How do we move the fly with the line hand and the rod tip, with strips, jigs, twitches and more? We talk about head position, depth, speed and holding vs crossing currents and seams. We touch on natural looks vs attractive ones. Should we make it easy for them or make them chase?

Podcast — Ep. 8: How Many Trout? Expectations, the Liars and Reality

Podcast — Ep. 8: How Many Trout? Expectations, the Liars and Reality

We’re out there to catch trout. That’s what brings us to the water. But how many do we catch? And really, how many should we catch? What are the expectations? And how can we know that we’re fishing well?

Counting is a way to gauge our success, not just against how well we did last time out, but how well we are doing compared to what is possible. What’s the bar? What’s the ceiling? How many trout could be caught if we had everything just right — the best fly and the perfect drift . . .

Don’t Guess — Set the Hook and Set Hard

Don’t Guess — Set the Hook and Set Hard

Here’s what I see: Too much guessing. Too much assuming that it’s not a trout rather than assuming that it is. So don’t guess. Set the hook. And set it hard.

If you’re trying to get long drifts, change that. If you’re trying to guess what’s a rock and what’s a trout, change that. If you’re trying to lift the nymph off a rock, and then you realize it was fish — bump buh-bump and gone — change that. I suggest a fundamental shift in your approach . . .

False Casting is a Waste of Time

False Casting is a Waste of Time

There are no flying fish in Montana, not in Pennsylvania, and not anywhere. Norman Maclean’s line in A River Runs Through It sums this up:

“One reason Paul caught more fish than anyone else was that he had his flies in the water more than anyone else. “Brother,” he would say, “there are no flying fish in Montana. Out here, you can’t catch fish with your flies in the air.”

And yet, anglers everywhere love the false cast. I daresay most fly fishers spend more time setting up their fly for the next drift than actually drifting it — exactly Paul’s point.

The most effective anglers are the most efficient. So they spend double, triple or a lot more time with their fly FISHING the water instead of casting in the air above it. And inevitably, these anglers catch more trout — a lot more trout . . .

What do you think?

Be part of the Troutbitten community of ideas.
Be helpful. And be nice.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Articles

Recent Posts

Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

Pin It on Pinterest