The Powers of Observation

There is an old saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”  I’ve found it to be true in the majority of instances, but when it comes to the affects of the winter on our fisheries that adage sometimes falls short.  When trees or rocks fall in to a river there is a change, or when storms pound the coast the erosion has to go somewhere, there is a change.  So on your first of many seasonal outings it makes sense to proceed with caution.  Rely on your electronics for sure, but keep your eyes wide open as well.

Scouting your terrain reveals a lot of things that your electronics might miss.  I’ve always found it to be particularly helpful to look at Mother Nature, for her clues at the surface reveal a lot of what lurks below.  As odd as it sounds, this boat was submerged just under the water until a few anglers hauled it up on shore.

Up here in New England we see a tremendous number of seals such as this Horsehead seal.  This species can weigh a few hundred pounds and can be around ten feet long when outstretched.  Because of their size they need to stay in water deep enough to run down baitfish like herring or menhaden or gamefish like striped bass and bluefish.  By looking at where the seal is swimming I know that there is deep water and by looking at the chop I know that it gets deeper when it rolls over the bar.  When I take a range compared to land I know that the flat wasn’t there last year.  It must be new sand deposited by erosion. Right now the boating and fishing is safe, but as the tide drops that seal will bail into the deeper water. The fish will be there waiting in the deepwater, and the baitfish drifting over the edge is delivered to them like room service.

Rock walls such as this one are easy to spot on lower water marks, but when the tide is high, they are covered.  If you can mark these areas that run fowl at low tide you won’t run into them at high tide.

In a perfect year, nuances that come from winter storms are taken into account and marked by those who manage the body of water.  A Red Hooter Buoy 8 marks a new shoal.  It’s super helpful to all boats, and particularly those that draft more than a foot of water.

Heavy run off from rain has taken away part of this bank, and new rocks fell into the stream.  That’s not a bad thing because it creates structure and good holding water for the trout as well as the smallmouth and rock bass. Just watch out if you’re stepping on ‘em.  They might be a little wobbly!

This season, keep your eyes pealed for some of the changes that occurred in the winter such as:

  1. Rocks that have fallen into the water due to erosion.
  2. Trees that have fallen into the water from storms.
  3. Wildlife like manatees, seals, or sharks that have entered the ecosystem.
  4. Boats that may have drifted away and sunk.
  5. Any debris floating in the water like branches, buoys, or logs.

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Tom Keer

Tom Keer

Tom Keer is an award-winning writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  He is a columnist for the Upland Almanac, a Contributing Writer for Covey Rise magazine, a Contributing Editor for both Fly Rod and Reel and Fly Fish America, and a blogger for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program.  Keer writes regularly for over a dozen outdoor magazines on topics related to fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor pursuits.  When they are not fishing, Keer and his family hunt upland birds over their three English setters.  His first book, a Fly Fishers Guide to the New England Coast was released in January 2011.  Visit him at or at