Fly Fishing in Stillwaters - 10 Essential Tips for Greater Success (Part 2)

As promised, we are back for PART 2 of Fly Fishing in Stillwaters 10 Essential Tips for Greater Success.  The response last week was HUGE for this article, which has given us even more energy to bring you guys this kind of valuable content consistently.

If you missed PART 1, use the button below to read the article and get the full impact of the tips.

Now, let’s go into the final 5 tips.

6) Basic Fly Lines

Stillwater anglers should be prepared to present flies from the surface to depths of over 40 feet.  An understanding of individual insect order life cycles will dictate what depth zones may be fished when that particular food source is emerging or is readily available.

Floating fly lines cover the shoal zone, water between a couple of feet and 20 feet in depth, and are ideal for presenting floating, emerging, pupal and nymphal imitations.  A slow or intermediate sinking is a good line for fishing both the shallow and deeper parts of the shoal by simply varying the wait time before starting the retrieve.  This line allows slow presentation of pupal and nymphal patterns while ascending at a gradual angle towards the surface.  A fast or extra fast sinking (type 3 – type 7) line provides good coverage of the 20 to 40 foot depth range and are useful for fishing dragonfly nymphs, leeches and shrimp along the deeper edges of drop-offs or retrieving flies up the face of the drop-off.

A dry line with an indicator, floating in the water.

Various Islander Reels rigged up with different types of line.

7) Fly Selection

Brian Chan holding a maroon bead-headed leech

Do some homework to learn what insects and other food sources are in the stillwaters you will be fishing. Local fly shops, fly fishing clubs, fly fishing forums and regional fishing guide books are good sources for this information. The ideal fly box will have both generic imitations of food sources plus some refined patterns that more closely imitate the various life stages of insects found specifically in those waters.  There are many good commercially tied fly patterns covering all the important food sources of trout and char in lakes.  It is no longer a disadvantage to not being a fly tier.  Basic sub-surface patterns that should be in your stillwater fly box include leeches in black, maroon and dark green and with and without beadheads, dragonfly and damselfly nymphs in light and dark olive body colours, shrimp or scud patterns in light olive to dark olive, mayfly nymphs in dark brown to tan, caddis pupae in medium green to brown  body colours and finally a selection of chironomid pupa.  Must have chironomid pupal pattern colours include black, brown, green and maroon with abdominal ribbings of copper, red-copper, silver or gold wire.  Add a few dry flies such as Tom Thumbs to imitate the adult caddis, Parachute Adams for adult mayflies, and the Lady Mcconnell for imitating the adult chironomid.

8) Proper Boat Setup

A stable flat bottomed boat or pram is often the most effective way to fish the smaller trout lakes.  The biggest advantage to a hard bottomed craft is that one can stand up and look out over and into the water.  This is a particular advantage when fishing clear water lakes as individual fish or schools of fish can be spotted and observed as to feeding behaviour and movement patterns.  Pontoon boats are another good choice as the angler sits high enough  in these craft to see into the water.  Some pontoon boat manufacturers offer models with standing platforms.   Both boats and pontoon boats can be moved from area to area much faster than a float tube.  This can be critical when trying to locate specific insect emergences when fishing a larger water body.  Hatches can occur at one end or bay of a lake and be non-existent in another location.

Dale casting and sight-fishing from his Frog Boat.

Fish finder showing water temperature, structure and fish depths.

Another essential tool for the Stillwater fly fisher is a depth sounder or fish finder.  We need to know the depth we are fishing so that flies can be presented in the right depth zone.  Depth sounders are relatively inexpensive yet highly sensitive instruments.  Things to look for in a sounder include the transducer cone angle which should be at least 50 ° wide or wider.  This allows greater coverage of the bottom structure under the boat and thus increases the chance of marking fish.  Remember the majority of fly fishing done in productive lakes is in water less than about 8 meters in depth and often in less than 5 meters.  Consider the power source of the sounder as some units can go through smaller sized batteries at a very fast rate.  Many sounder units come wired to run off a large 12 volt battery such as the one used to power your electric motor.

 Fishing out of a boat can be noisy, particularly if it is made out of aluminium.  Reduce the chances of scaring fish by fitting outdoor carpeting over the floor of the boat.  Always keep in mind sound travels fast in water and trout have sensitive hearing systems.

9) Double Anchoring

When fishing out of a boat it is critical to have anchors out both bow and stern.  This is especially important if there are 2 people fishing out of the same craft.  Double anchoring prevents the boat from swinging back and forth when the wind is constantly changing direction.  A stationary boat allows the best control of fly lines and retrieves.  It is important to have as straight a line connection between the fly rod, fly line, leader and fly as possible so that even the softest bite can be detected.  Simple anchor control pulley systems make lifting, storing and re-setting anchors easy while at the same time requiring little movement within the boat.

Don Freschi and Brian Chan utilizing a dual-anchor system.

10) Learn about Preferred Food Sources

Don and Brian cruising on Sheridan Lake, scouting for fish.

Trout that become focused on a few dominant food sources in a lake can often become difficult to catch.  Small nutrient rich lakes often support immense chironomid and scud populations.  Anglers that have consistent success in these waters have learned the details of the life cycles and habitat preferences of these preferred food sources.  For instance, when chironomid pupae suspend just inches off the lake bottom, often for several days, as they complete the transition from the larval to pupal stage, there can be great fishing even though there is no sign of any emergence at the surface.

When searching out a new lake, slowly troll or drift and cast around the basin while getting a good look at shoals, drop-offs, weed beds and perhaps sunken islands.  Dragonfly nymphs and leeches are always good searching patterns.  Both invertebrates are common inhabitants of lakes and both are big food items.  Don’t be afraid to try flashy or bright patterns like bead headed woolly buggers and be prepared to vary speed and direction frequently when either trolling or retrieving a cast fly.


That brings this 2 part series to a close but more of this content and valuable information will continue to come through for weeks to come.

Happy Fishing, SFOTF.