Trout Sight Fishing

By Larry Dunbar

“If you can see them you can’t catch them.” Sage advice from decades ago, when my father was teaching me to fish with a hand-me-down bamboo fly rod. This advice left me confused on my first of many visits to Central Washington’s Rocky Ford Creek. I went with my friend and master angler Clarence Hein to do some trout sight fishing. Trout sight fishing was totally at odds with what I had always believed about catching trout.

Trout site fishingRocky Ford Creek is a small creek slowly rolling through the high desert in Grant County. It’s lined with cattails on both sides and mostly very clear, with about 3 miles fishable, Rocky Ford is the Northwest‘s premiere trout sight fishing spot. The fishery is catch and release, barbless hook, fly fishing only. No wading. A Washington State Parks discovery pass is required for vehicles. The terrain is hardcore desert with tough scrubby low growing plants and lots of rocks ranging in size from basketballs to Volkswagens.

trout site fishingRecently, I was able to visit Rocky Ford again. I stopped as always at the Desert Fly Angler, in Ephrata, to chat with owner Darc Knobel. He is in tune with all of the fishing opportunities in the Columbia Basin.  From the fly selection he recommended, I picked up a couple of white leeches and Rocky Ford Creek Egg patterns.

It was surprising to find only a few people on the river, but I suppose the March winds on a cold and rainy Tuesday morning probably explains that. Weekends can be crowded, but should have less pressure after the Washington State lake fishing season opens April 1st.

The rivers is a few miles from the shop.  I rigged a fast action 6 wt. fly rod with a monofilament sinking fly line and fished the white leech with a nine foot leader.  The morning blustery winds made it impossible to see into the water. So much for trout sight fishing.

I fished the leech by stripping it at varies speed and hooked a nice trout after only a couple of casts. The fish are hard to hook, it is best to set the hook by stripping, raising the rod just doesn’t seem to work.

Trout sight fishing is an education

By midmorning the sun came out. The temperature came up 10 or 15 degrees near 60. The trout sight fishing was on. Watching fish react to that fly was an education. I stripped it past the fish, twitched it in front of them. Let it stop and float past them. I’m all the while, watching the fish. Sometimes they would approach it and ignore it. Sometimes they would approach it and get spooked. Sometimes they would sit a watch it. Finally a big one darted after the leech. I was talking to myself. Saying “wait… wait… wait…” BAM I missed him. Too soon I suppose. It may be the education gained from trout sight fishing is mostly for the trout. Here they say all the big fish all have PhDs.

Dad is gone now. I miss him a lot. He taught me how to fish and taught me what is important in life. He was hardly ever wrong, but he never had the opportunity to trout sight fish in Patagonia,or New Zealand, or even Rocky Ford Creek.

Your father ever teach you sight fishing? Was his advise always right?You teaching your kids to sight fish? Leave a comment.

Desert Fly Angler is at 1656 Basin Street. You can reach Darc at


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2 thoughts on “Trout Sight Fishing”

  1. My husband’s mother’s family lived on a cattle ranch in Walden, CO. His mother and his grandmother were both excellent fishermen. His mother taught him to fish in the creek that flowed through the ranch and she told him, “If you can see them, they can see you and they won’t bite.” That was their family fishing mantra. I grew up with the same belief about staying out of sight of the fish. When I became an adult, a friend taught me to fly fish, he said, “Most of the fun is in watching the fish follow your fly. When they strike, you can set the hook. Just don’t let your shadow fall on the water.” I spent many happy times on the rivers of Utah and Wyoming, watching fish take my fly and catching quite a few too!

    1. Great story BJ. I guess all kids learn that lesson “if you can’t see them you can’t catch them” at the same time they are learning how much fun it is to catch fish on top. Whatever you were taught fishing is a great way to build bonds and lifelong memories. Thanks for the comment. Larry Dunbar

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