We’ve all heard of the food chain. With all the life in the world that feeds on one another it's a common occurrence for a predator to become prey, sometimes unknowingly and in an instant. It’s no secret that a predator fish is vulnerable to being caught when it's on the hunt for food. If a fish is on the prowl in shallow water or near the surface it often gives audible and visual cues that warn you of it’s presence. Thus allowing you to get the jump on it before it knows your there.
Subtle cues from a distance. On a lake or larger river you may see nervous water, a patch of water that has a lot of small ripples when compared to the water around it. If this patch of nervous water moves around it's most likely a school of baitfish. You can bet where there’s bait there are predators. Also watch for birds repeatedly diving to the water. They are probably picking up baitfish. Again, larger fish will be nearby. You may also see disturbances on the waters surface. Bulges of water or wakes created when fish swim near the surface. Also pay attention for fish feeding on insects.
Strong cues from a distance. You might see fish jump or hear a splash as they thrash the waters surface. You may see baitfish jumping out of the water as they flee from being eaten. I’ve seen largemouth bass snatch dragon flies out of the air and land with a splash. The tail of a carp may break the surface and flag you when the fish tips down to vacuum a crayfish from the rocks. It’s pretty easy to figure out where you need to go.
Strong cues from a distance will be real strong cues up close. Seeing the fish is the best clue of all. Whether you see it in the water or jumping from the water you have it located. Sometimes when your close you see the sunlight flash off their reflective sides as they turn in the water of a lake or river. Splashing, swirling, waking, or bulging the surface are dead giveaways. Watching them bust a school of baitfish up close is quite exciting and sometimes unnerving.
Subtle clues up close. You may see a slight hump of water pushed up on the surface when the fish swims under it. A slight dimple or tinniest wake on the surface may give a fish away. I’ve watched large trout, bass, and northern pike swim through a patch of emergent vegetation in pursuit of food. You can tell where they are because the vegetation moves. They push aside or bump into it as they move through the heavy growth. Chances are they are trying to flush out prey. The chances are also good that you can get them to bite.
I’ve mentioned mostly large fish, but small fish are also predators. Crappies on a school of minnows, maybe trout or panfish feeding on insects. They all give away clues to their presence. If you cast around blindly, either knowing or not knowing there are fish in the area, you will do alright. By locating fish and using the element of surprise you will end up with more on your line. Focus your attention on what is going on around you and you’ll find fish on the feed. Just don’t forget to look over you shoulder once in a while if your not at the top of the food chain.