How to spot fish in Idaho waters


When I teach my monthly fishing lessons, I often get questions about the pollsters.

My response: “God gave us two. Use them on every trip!

Now electronics are useful, especially for trolling, ice fishing, and crappie school hunting. But for my money, no man-made tool is as good at finding fish as your eyes. Here are some tips for using your fish finders properly:

Sight fishing

This one is obvious, but it’s super fun and effective. With a trained eye and polarized sunglasses (a must!), It’s amazing how much action you can see underwater.

Spring and summer are prime seasons for sight bass and bluegill, which often inhabit the shallow waters of local lakes, reservoirs, and ponds. I’ve learned to spot the dark side line of an underground largemouth bass, and every time I do it gives me confidence. Not only will I be able to make targeted throws at specific bass, but I also like knowing that there are fish nearby, which is half the battle.

Sight fishing doesn’t stop at bass. Trout can often be seen in ponds and rafts. Look for their fins – cutthroat fins are orange or pink, while both brook trout and brook trout have white tips. The farther away the fins, the bigger the fish! Mountain lakes are a great place to catch trout on sight – and you might even encounter infuriating, adrenaline-charged Tiger Muskellunge!

Many fly fishermen look for big carp on the Snake River, and this is also a great strategy for fishing for saltwater flats and reefs. Try it and you will get hooked!

Eyes under water

Even though I don’t see any fish around, I am constantly on the lookout for underground activity. When using a mobile lure like a spinner, crankbait, or streamer, watch it approach when you complete your retrieval. Fish often crush a lure right at your feet, and if you see them coming, you can keep the bait in the water for that crucial extra half second. On a recent trip to Walcott Lake I saw a huge smallmouth bass swirling on my bait which allowed me to continue with a slower recovery and catch this fish. I even saw trout following my jig to the surface while fishing on the ice. With a quick dip from the tip of the rod, the lure tumbles through the hole and (usually) is eaten.

Big fish aren’t the only ones to be sought after. On a recent bass trip, I noticed large clouds of bluegill minnows moving around an otherwise indescribable area. We probably wouldn’t have stopped if I hadn’t seen these baitfish, but using our insider knowledge, we pulled a dozen bigmouths out of this place.

Surface scan

Watching the action unfold underwater is great fun, but it’s not always possible. Sometimes poor water clarity, fast current, and weather conditions (especially wind) obscure our view. Other times the fish are too deep to be seen. But that doesn’t mean they’re not there.

Experienced anglers learn to spot good habitat for their target species. Trout seek refuge from the current behind rocks or under embankments. Bass are attracted to a leafy or rocky blanket that they can use to ambush their prey. Bluegill and perch cling to seagrass beds while hiding from predators. These are all clues that our fish finders can help us refine.

There are others as well. The hatching of insects and the rise of fish is almost always a good sign. Flocks of diving birds like loons and cormorants often signal schools of fish below. Skimming gulls and pelicans is a sign that baitfish are being hunted from below. So keep your fish finders open and alert. With practice, I promise they will help you catch more fish. Tight lines!

Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing in Idaho waters since he was a teenager. Share your fish stories, adventures and questions with him on [email protected], or visit for the latest local fishing reports and upcoming course offers.

Sign up for the Panfish School!

My next Tight Lines 208 fishing course is scheduled for Thursday August 19th at the Hilton Garden Inn Boise Spectrum. Panfish School will focus on the best lures, locations and strategies for catching bluegill, crappie and perch year round in Idaho waters. Get all the details and register at

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