The Joys of Still Water Fly Fishing

Mention fly fishing to most anglers and a picture comes to mind of a fly fisher standing knee deep in a sparking river while casting a fly line, or perhaps of a fly fisher sitting in a drift boat and working a fly rod while happily sliding downstream on a gentle current.  But this is only half of the story. The other half of the story unfolds on still water.

Little Spar Lake, Montana

Lake fly fishing has some great advantages over moving water fly fishing —

  • You don’t have to mend line to maintain a drag-free drift,
  • Flies can spend more time on or in the water, rather than flying above it (most fish can’t jump high enough to grab a fly whizzing by on false casts 8′ above the water). Flies that spend more time on or in the water than above it equal more fish on the end of the line,
  • The particular piece of water can be worked thoroughly, rather than rue the hole you just missed as you drifted by, and
  • You don’t have to be concerned about spring runoff. Most still water remains fishable throughout the season.

The one big disadvantage with still water fly fishing is that you have to provide the movement; there’s no river current to stimulate action when wanted. But neither is there a current to fight. Provide fish-enticing movement of wet flies and nymphs via stripping, hand twists, or a combination. Vary retrieve type and speed until you find the sweet spot.

A first look at a lake can be puzzling: Where are the fish? On a flowing water you have seams, back eddies, and pools to prospect for trout. But a lake can be a daunting; at least on the surface the water all looks the same. Don’t you believe it. Before you make a cast, study the shoreline topography. A gently-sloping shore usually indicates a gently-sloping bottom. A steep shoreline often means deep water offshore. Also note inlets as they float fresh food to trout, often offering the fish a virtual bug buffet. Of course, you’ll also want to watch for rising fish. One more tip: Research your choice of still water in advance of your adventure. Try You Tube, Google Earth, and if you’re considering Montana where I live check out Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks FishMT for info. Another good resource is Wilderness Adventures Press.

However, whether they live in flowing water or still water, all trout need the same things: Chow, cover, and comfort. Paying attention to these three will lead you to the fish. Here’s a quick summary of each:

Chow. Just like you and me, fish like to eat. But fish diets include things we’d rather not have for supper, such as bugs, minnows, worms, leeches and the like. You can learn a ton about the food in a lake by dredging an aquarium net along the shore especially in weedy areas and emptying the contents into a clear plastic bottle containing a few inches of lake water. Check out your “catch” and you’ll be ahead of the game when it comes to fly selection.

Cover. Fish have enemies, both the finny kind that swims under the surface and feathery kind that flies above it. They need shelter. This could take the form of a weed bed, a drop-off, or other underwater structure such as logs, boulders, and brush.

Comfort. Just like you and me, trout need certain conditions to be cozy. Water temperature is especially important; trout like their water at 50-60 degrees. Research the lake temp by lowering a stream thermometer down through the depths on a line marked at one-foot intervals to find the right level.

Now go do it, and tell us how you like fishing still water. Perhaps you have some tips to pass along? Maybe you’d like to say something about flowing water fly fishing?

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