Posts Tagged ‘lake fly fishing


Stillwater Fly Fishing: Working the Drop

East Lake (Oregon) One of my all time favorite lakes. Carrying a lot of surface ice in this picture, but the memories and anticipation to work this lake again linger through the Winter.

Fly fishing has so many possibilities. One of my favorite is figuring out a lake, pond, reservoir. Your observation skills are required on a lake as much as they are standing knee deep in a stream. Presentation on a lake is as important as on a stream. 

I frequently see lake fly fishers in their pontoon, float tube, raft etc. moving along, line extended behind and rhythmically kicking, drifting or rowing with only the slightest consideration given to a retrieve or to their position. We all do this at times while searching/discovering a new body of water. But, I would suggest that if you are out over 50′ of water with no discernible hatch/feeding activity you would be better served to move in toward the shoreline and attempt to study the contours of the lake. This may show you the structure and feeding zones where fish congregate for safety and food.

The drop is that area that transitions from somewhat shallow waters of say 10′ downward to deeper water. This drop off is prime in searching for trout that move up on the shoal to feed and move back off the shoal for safety and food as well. At a minimum work parallel to this drop and present your fly up on the shoal if hatch/feeding activity is apparent or work the fly down into the drop off area and slightly deeper. 

Anchoring and fishing toward the drop (toward the shoreline) or up on the shoal can be productive. If you are not anchored, the wind or the torque of your casting can push you back out of the productive waters. This results in a lot of kicking or rowing to hold position and disturbances that may put the fish off the bite.

Sometimes the insect that is emerging, say Damsels or Gray Drakes, are actually moving toward shore to stage for their ‘hatch’. You would want to position yourself on the shore or in close to shore and cast out away from shore then slowly work your Damsel or swimming Mayfly pattern back toward shore to mimic the Damsels moving just below the surface toward the shoreline reeds, weeds and structure.

Here is a piece by Herman deGalat at HookFlyFishing that highlights several of these points on fishing the drop and the presentation.

East Lake after a successful day. SwittersB


Fly Fishing: Retrieves to Entice

As a beginning stillwater fly fisher, you might want to consider a few factors that I frequently access while out on the water. What, where and how? What insects or creatures are apparent or possible in the water? Where are the shoals, drop off’s, structures, cover that might harbor the trout while feeding or resting? And, how will I present my offering to suggest the insect/creature that the fish are likely to feed upon?

The above questions are constant parts of the stillwater puzzle. Now you can enjoy a lazy day (no big winds and waves) of kicking about and trolling a fly with no retrieves beyond that provided by your kicking fins. It is ok to do that, of course, it is your time to enjoy as you will.

But, I would suggest a few alternatives to the trolling/search technique. Whether you troll, anchor up or just drift/kick to stay in an area, pay attention to your retrieves of the fly and think about the actions you are imparting to the fly. What life suggesting movements are you trying to impart to the fly: darting, rising & diving, slowly inching along or hanging vertical from the surface.  

The Figure 8 Retrieve. I often use this with Callibaetis patterns or to slowly entice fish in the shallows. I cup the line in my hand, but unlike many, who keep all the line gathered in their hand, I drop the line to the apron every four or five grabs. A figure eight retrieve will draw the fly 3-5 inches each grab assuming you are not kicking as you retrieve (kicking will add distance and increased movement to the fly). At all times, I am alert to the take. The right hand will tighten, the right hand fingers will tuck the line to the rod handle. The left hand fingers will tighten and strip set, then the right hand will raise the rod to play the fish. (PP)

This does require you to do a little studying on the movements of stillwater food sources. How does a Chironomid emerge; a Caddis rise to the surface or dive to lay her eggs; a Mayfly act beneath the surface or trying to get to the surface; how do Damsels swim just beneath the surface toward shoreline structure; leeches pulse and wiggle in the shallows; how would a predatory Dragon fly nymph act…on an on. Study their movement. Then visualize this as you retrieve the fly line onto your apron: short/fast… long/slow… pull/pause,  wait, pull…figure eight/inching it along…long/fast.

All the combinations of retrieves are to entice a take. The fly has to look like a possible food item and then you have to keep it in the zone and make it look real by the retrieves you use.

Remember that trout are, almost always, horizontal or looking up feeders. Use a line that keeps the fly in the zone longest. Too heavy of a line or too heavy of a fly will take the fly deep and possibly past the feeding fish. 


Fly Fishing: Stillwater Random Thoughts

Green Butt Carey Special SwittersB

~When fishing a lake with an algae bloom, reduce or eliminate the number of knots in the over all leader. They collect scum. A one piece tapered leader or a uniform length of leader are suitable for descending down through the bloom to the feeding trout, just beneath.

~Indications of OCD: spending hours on a calm, still, smooth surfaced lake; sun high; hot, very hot. I have spent countless hours fishing such waters, picking up a small trout here and there. Short of doing recon on the contours, weed growth, identifying the drops, shelves and stumps there is little benefit to spending hour after hour out there. There are other activities back at camp and in the area that may better occupy that dead time on the water. 

~Are the fish refusing my fly? I have changed flies 6 times this past hour. Could it be the presentation/line selection and retrieve are not balanced to the flies or to the location you are fishing? As enjoyable as it is to use, the floating line cannot be your primary line on a lake if you intend to fish the depths. Research clear intermediates and faster sink rate lines for presentations beyond the shallows. Once the fish move off the shallows (sun rising, water calming, hatch ending) the waters just past the drop off should be explored with sinking lines.

~Presentation…the retrieves: it is nice to bob about out on a lake, kicking, rowing or drifting along in a day dreaming daze. Lost in thought and picking up the occasional fish. Again, considering the pattern you are using, what are you imitating and how is your presentation copying the real life movements of that food source: bait fish, leech, vertically ascending Chironomid pupa, emerging Callibaetis, diving egg laying Caddis, swimming Damsel headed for the reeds? If you are satisfied to kick along the edges of the drop then at least vary your retrieves to provoke a take.


Fly Fishing Lakes & The Wind (What if?)


Wind & More Wind

Lakes and the wind. A given element almost everyday at some point. You must plan for this. The picture above: Spring time. Cold. Winds kicked up. At this point, I had come into shore to take a break. In short order the wind kicked up big time. We considered heading back, but the fishing promised epic memories. We anchored. The wind blew harder and we moved even with heavy pyramid anchors.

We decided we had to try to row the long haul back to the rig…at least a half hour of steady, hard pulling. We pulled hard and gained nothing. We lost water, so to speak. Eventually, both of us, in excellent shape, could not beat the wind. We made for the far shore to wait out the wind.

The wind did not stop. There was not an access road near our shoreline and our rig was a good mile and a half away if we walked the shoreline. We were wearing booties, the type you wear with fins. We were seriously lucky by the shoreline configuration (rocks and shallows) and walked along into the cold wind, each pulling our pontoon boat with a twenty foot section of poly rope we had each always carried but never envisioned using in this way. Had we had a treacherous shoreline and deep drop off from the shoreline, we would have been stuck until the wind dissipated.

We were prepared clothing wise and booties wise (they had good soles). We made our way back after a very long (time wise) walk. Point being: plan for the wind blowing you to hell and not back. Ask yourself what is on the far side of that lake. What if you end up over there? Is there an access road over there? If you had to wait a long while for the wind to die down, do you have adequate clothing/shelter? It was an extreme exception to normal conditions. I had never not been able to row against big winds and waves. Met my match and now have a better sense to plan: what if?


Stillwater Fly Box: No Rhyme or Reason (Reorganize Now?)

You have been snow bound; or focused on Steelhead (for some of you that is your constant obsession); or otherwise involved. You have left that fly box from last October or your last visits to a lake setting aside while pursuing other endeavors. Use this time to prepare for your Spring opener by reorganizing your fly boxes, fly lines and leaders and organizing all that trout gear (this and that) so you won’t be out on the water and ask “Where did I put that damn (whatever you forgot)” My gear is currently focused on tippets no smaller than 10# test. I mention this because I have set voyage onto a lake and then discovered I had not considered leader and tippet materials smaller than 10# test.I have forgotten nippers, pliers, net, fins, waders (I know, I kn0w). I have forgotten just about everything. A primary reason was packing for others and myself. If you pack for someone else (kids, etc) then make sure you have two or more lists and teach the kids to assist and learn to pack for themselves over time).

A checklist is in order beyond rod, reel and reorganized fly boxes. Even spare spools of various fly lines can be forgotten, with only the last line you used on your reel taken along. Now you are stuck with that floating line you used in the Fall while trying to reach fish holding 20′ deep off the drop. Remember a checklist now, and in advance of a trip, not the night before, lay your hands on those items and put them in the gear bags you always take before a stillwater outing.


Stillwater’s Puzzle (When Kicking About With A Bugger Isn’t Enough)

I have to be taking a break to kick or row about searching with a pulled Woolly Bugger or wet fly in the surface. I am more comfortable focusing upon a drop off a shoal or back bay and intently working a pattern to induce a hit. When times are slow, the full range of why’s, where’s and how’s come into mind. I try to stay there mentally to learn. I try to avoid the maybe’s and could’s because at that point…if I fall into that mode of thought, I am not a thinking fisher anymore and might as well kick about aimlessly trolling a some undulating marabou concoction.


So, this past outing called for some tactical calculations and in the process I mentally noted all the factors stillwater fly fishers consider while trying to seduce some little rocket (or some bigger slob) to our creations. The presentation? To slow, to fast? How long a strip or should I use a finger roll? Is the clear Intermediate down far enough? Let’s see, this is about 10 feet of water and at an inch a second that would take……..  When I got hits, I noted how far into the retrieve I was and possibly how deep or how far up the fly had been retrieved? What do I see going on about me? Hatches, pre-emergence signs in the surface film. What do I see rising for those emerging chironomids? All I see are small fish. Is it worth the effort to throw a floating line at predominantly small fish in the hopes for something bigger? Or, should I keep digging deeper in the water column for that memorable cruiser?

The fly? Alway foremost in most of our considerations. Color, weighted or unweighted? What should I imitate or should it be suggestive or provoking? Old standby’s aren’t working. How can a Little Fort Leech fail? But, it is failing. So is basic green! What? A few fish on The Calico Bugger. A few fish on a nymph. No consistency. Finally, the obvious intrudes. Dragon flies everywhere, all day. I cannot remember the names. Are they the longer nymph or the shorter stouter nymph. I fish both. The Kaufmann’s Dragon works great and I couple this with a Hale Bopp Leech (Derek Fergus) and a pattern emerges…the Brownish Hale Bopp with a reddish orange marabou tail starts being the ticket. It stayed consistent for  several days.

Hale Bopp Stillwater Pattern (Notice Trout Teeth v. Finger) ~ SwittersB

Hale Bopp Stillwater Pattern (Notice Trout Teeth v. Finger) ~ SwittersB

Wind, moon, temperature, barometer, retrieves, location, structure, hatches, light… all bounced around in my head like a popcorn popper. Much easier to bob along pulling a Bugger and catching your four fish. But, not my usual intent…admittedly I’m too intense to just do that…despite my best intentions, I do care how many I catch. I do care how big they are. I do care about results. I don’t share that with anyone near me. I just think it. And, when I become too consumed with the puzzle, I do sit back and take some photo’s or just pull that bugger about while I smoke my briar.

Last Light~SwittersB

Last Light~SwittersB

I have remarked before how much I savor those final fifteen minutes or so when I turn and face into the fading light. The backs of porpoising fish are sometimes visible. Splats, dimples and glumps are discernible all about you, but most enjoyable straight ahead looking into that semi glowing funnel of light…last light.

Tony's Last Light Version of Bliss~SwittersB

Tony's Last Light Version of Bliss~SwittersB

Tony’s version of last light solitude is always turned toward the shore line and the weeds and reeds hoping for that wallowing cruiser. He endures the little ones in the nursery looking for mama.

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