When it’s windy, lake polaroiders often use the faces of waves as a window to see through into trout world. It’s a great technique; likely pioneered by the late John Philbrick (see Jim’s column way back in our free-to-download issue 3) and a mainstay of wade polaroiding, particularly in Tasmania.
But on lakes in the Snowys, Victoria and even in Tasmania on occasion, by necessity I often find myself polaroiding in light wind conditions from the bank; or very close to it. This works a lot better if you keep in mind a few handy tricks to see in when you don’t have the advantage of the ‘window in the waves’.
An oldy but a goody! Any elevation improves visibility as refraction is progressively reduced, to the point that if you look straight down onto the water from above, it is gone altogether. One reason we’re so often haunted by those ‘bridge fish’, is we can actually see them in the first place!
Mostly, there isn’t a bridge on a lake to look straight down from, but there are often steep banks, protruding boulders or even trees to climb to improve the view. While I haven’t done the maths, there seems to be an almost exponential increase in the amount of refraction-free water you can see into for each unit of height gained.
There are two possible catches. First, does the elevation make you equally obvious to the trout; or can you stay out of sight by having elevation and cover? And second, if you see a trout, can you practically get your fly in front of it while it’s still in view? For example, if you’re up a tree, probably not! … unless you are taking turns with a partner who you can guide onto the fish.
So, if you’re fishing on your own, elevation is mostly about a compromise between being high enough to see more trout, while also being inconspicuous and within practical range for a quick cast.
Perhaps the biggest enemy of lake polaroiding is reflected white cloud and it’s at its worst in calm conditions. The best thing you can do is position yourself so you’re looking towards the largest area of blue sky. I even do this if it means having the sun slightly in front rather than the ideal of behind: no point having perfect sun if you’re looking straight into impenetrable glare.
A huge advantage for lake polaroiding, especially in light wind conditions, is using a reflected dark backdrop like forest, a mountain, a dark-coloured cliff or bank, a dark cloud mass like a thundercloud; even a single dark tree.
If close enough to your position and starting very close to the water’s edge (or the horizon), these features can create an amazing window into the lake. It’s quite counterintuitive to use dark for to see better, but it works beautifully, as the pictures below show. Even without any direct sunshine, a decent dark backdrop can still be used to see trout subsurface.
Trout angle and substrate
Trout aren’t designed to be seen; something to keep in mind whichever tactics you’re using to spot them. Part of the trick is to train your eye to look for ‘something suspicious’: movement, shape and colour/ shade. With the latter though, recognise that how a trout ‘looks’ will depend on what’s beneath it, and the fish’s aspect relative to the sun. A single trout in a single area can go from a dark shape, to a grey shape, to virtually glowing – all depending on its orientation. The trick is to have your eye prepared to lock in on each of the possibilities, rather than, say, just looking for dark shapes.
By the way, lakebeds with lots of trout-sized objects, particularly rocky lakebeds, are hard work because your eye is confused by all that visual ‘noise’. Blotchy weed-beds are a similar issue. So if you can, look for shores with a reasonably even substrate, be that sand, silt, fine gravel, a weed ‘carpet’, or flooded grass.