Tag Archives: fly fishing

To Tell the Truth

“Fingers Crossed” copyright 2020 Mike L. Raether

It’s called the game of One-Upmanship:

“I caught more fish than you.”

“So what? I caught the biggest fish.”

When I was writing The Flyfisher’s Guide to Northwest Montana’s Mountain Lakes the pressure was on to catch fish. I even prayed to catch fish. After all, I was supposed to be the expert: what if I didn’t catch any fish?

I was asked this question by a campground host at a drive-in campground while researching the book. I’d chosen this campground as it was central to a few lakes in the area that I wanted to investigate, lakes with short day hikes. The idea was to car-camp while doing a few day hikes to check things out. While chatting with the campground host, I shared why I was there. That’s when the question came: “What if you don’t catch anything?Of course, the question comes in different forms depending on the outdoor activity – 

“Did you get your buck?”

“How was your turkey hunt last season?”

“How many geocaches did you find over the weekend?”

So when I was asked by the campground host what I’d do if I didn’t catch any fish, I paused for a moment, looked at my shoes, and said, “I’ll tell the truth.” Not that I’m bragging. I’ve succumbed to the game of One-Upmanship more often than I like to admit. Maybe I should join a support group where everyone sits in a circle and bares their soul: “Hello, my name is Mike and I’m a One-Upmanship-Aholic. My confession is I didn’t get my buck last season.”

Related to the game of One-Upmanship is the game of Making Excuses such as –

“I woulda got that monster wall hanger if my hunting partner hadn’t bumped my arm just as I shot.”

“I woulda got my gobbler but the hens kept getting in the way.”

“I woulda found a ton of ’caches but my GPS broke.”

What makes us throw in our chips to play the games of One-Upmanship and Making Excuses? Why are we tempted to exaggerate, lie, or justify? Why can’t we just enjoy the experience of _________? (You fill in the blanks).

So I’ve made a decision. I’m gonna tell the truth. Even if it hurts. By the way, speaking of truth, I didn’t get my buck last season. Or my elk. Or my bear. Or my gobbler. Of course, I have good excuses . . .

Fly Fishing and Life

Fly Fishing Fun on the Clark Fork. Copyright 2020 Mike L. Raether

You can tell a lot about a person by watching them fly fish. Are they patient or easily frustrated? Are they observant or heedless? Do they check their knots after changing flies, or do they recklessly hope for the best? Taking a look at our fly fishing habits will help us know ourselves better, and in the balance we’ll become better fly fishers.  Let me illustrate.

A while ago I was fly fishing the mainstem of the St. Joe River in Idaho, one of the best artificial-lures-only, catch-and-release  waters flowing there. I was fishing with a friend. This friend is not the most patient person in the world and is never really satisfied with the way things are: he is centered on change, and the more change the better.

As I concentrated on the pocket water in front of me, I lost track of my friend. After a few minutes I turned and looked downstream to see how he was doing. The last I saw of him, he was fishing about 50 yards below me.  I was surprised to see that my friend was now 100 yards downstream. I stopped fishing and watched him for a couple of minutes. He would make a couple of fruitless casts, then move a few yards downstream and try again. Soon he was another 30 yards downstream, and the only time his rod bent over was under the strain of a forward cast.

So we have to ask ourselves: Do I thoroughly work a piece of water or do I hurriedly move on if there’s no apparent fishy interest? Patience will put more fish in the net than hopscotching down the river.

How about this one: Do I carefully observe what’s happening in, on, and above the water or do I just fish my favorite fly and hope the fish corporate? Careful observers learn a bit about the local bugs, and consequently hook more fish.

One more: Are my knots snug and tested, or am I not really expecting to wet the net anyway? I’ve noticed that the size and strength of a hooked fish is directly related to how well my tackle is maintained. Big fish just seem to instinctively know if a knot is weak or a drag is set too tight. If I’m good to my stuff, my stuff will be good to me. Paying attention to the details will boost my confidence, confident fishers work harder, and–you guessed it–catch more fish.

Best of all, if I learn patience, practice observance, and form good good habits, I’ll not only be better served on the water, but these qualities will translate to other areas of my life where patience, observation, and good habits are called for.

Don’t you just love win-win scenarios?

 

 

Good Medicine

Montana’s Clark Fork River in  winter copyright Mike Raether 2019

What’s a fisher to do? The chill of another Montana winter is upon us. The shortest day of the year, winter solstice, is just around the corner. The mountain lakes lie buried under deep blankets of snow, so hiking to stillwater is out. The nearby river is floating ice, but the ice on the lowland lakes isn’t yet thick enough for safe ice fishing. But I’ve got an itch to get outdoors, and I have to scratch that itch, even if there just isn’t much to do out there at the moment.

At this time of year, it’s easy for me to get frustrated, discouraged, or even depressed. But I found an answer, an answer that might work for you, too.

My solution for evaporating the winter gloom is found next to flowing water, even if that water is floating ice. I find a comfortable perch next to the river, but without fishing rod in hand. I’m not here to take; I’m here to receive. I’m here to let the sound of flowing water cleanse my mind.

And I think. I remember. I meditate. As Herman Melville wrote in his novel Moby Dick,  “…meditation and water are wedded forever.” I let memories flow through my mind as the river water flows on. I remember fish fought, caught, and released. I feast on the memories of laughing wildflowers, the warmth of summer past, the turning leaves of fall, and the chill of that first morning frost.

As I remember, I am refreshed. I am restored. I am healed.  Cares fade away and are replaced by memories of seasons past and fine times. The river flows, bringing peace. Water is life.

What about you? Do you remember the time… Think back. Replay the film. Get outside and you’ll feel better inside. It’s the best medicine.

Behold the Lowly Fly

Callibaetis Spinner copyright Mike L. Raether, 2019

As a fly fisher, I have a confession. I don’t tie my own flies. To some fly fishers this may seem blasphemous, but, there, I’ve said it. I’ve come out of the closet.

It’s not that I don’t want to learn to tie my own flies. It’s just that I have fumbly fingers. I have enough trouble managing an improved clinch knot, let alone even a humble San Juan Worm. Besides, I’m convinced that the fish aren’t as impressed with my $400 reel spooled with $100 line and attached to my $700 rod as they are with a well-tied munchie. Which brings up something I fail to understand: why do some fly fishers boast about having a $1,000 outfit, but kick about a $2 fly? When is comes right down to it, the fly is The Word. The Connection. The Doer of Business.

As a fly fisher, I have hundreds of flies even though I fall back on about the same dozen patterns. But like most fly fishers, I just can’t help adding to my collection. I rarely drive past a fly shop without stopping and checking the fly selection. I enjoy examining them, dreaming, supposing, hoping. If I don’t have a fly that fools fish, I might as well take up water polo.

So what makes a good fly? First off, it doesn’t need to be a dead ringer for the natural. There are flies such as the Royal Wulff that don’t imitate anything in the wild; they’re know as “attracter patterns” and sometimes outfish everything else. Then there are general patterns like the Hare’s Ear that imitate a broad range of nymphs and midge pupa. So again, what makes a good fly? Here we go –

  • Price. We all know the old saying, “You get what you pay for,” meaning that if you buy cheap, you’re gonna get cheap. Not always true when it comes to flies. It’s possible to pay $5 or more for incredibly perfect flies that are dead ringers for the naturals, but such flies are often better for framing than fly fishing. Flies don’t have to be pretty to work. Even the ugliest tie job can fool fish. Decently-tied flies are available on the Internet for less that $1 each. Price can be an indicator of quality, but not always.
  • Durability. Although they don’t have to be pretty, they do have to be tied well enough to withstand being whipped through the air, drug through water, and catch a few fish before they become bedraggled. If that little bit of fluff, fur, and feathers falls apart after a few casts and a fish or two, the money you paid for it would have been better living in your pocket.
  • Craftsmanship. Is the hook eye free of head cement? Sure, a fisher can use the pokie on the nipper to open the eye, but should you have to? Care in the application of head cement so it doesn’t clog the hook eye can be an indicator of quality and care on the part of the fly tier.  Is the dubbing tight and secure around the hook shank? If the fly features eyes, are they tied on straight and  well secured to the hook?

Well, there you have them: my three primary criteria for fly selection. What are yours? Do you have any tips for us? Leave us a comment to help us out!

 

It’s Okay to Be Average

I’ve got a confession to make: I’ve not yet “arrived” as a fly caster. Although I can execute a pretty mean double haul and fling out a roll cast to a respectable distance, I still struggle tying a nail knot. And I’ve been known to slap down a size 22 dry with enough force to start a tsunami. I guess this pretty much makes me an average fly caster. 

The truth of is, whether in fly casting or life in general, most of us are a C or at best, B-average. There are a few Einsteins at one end of the spectrum and those with the intelligence of a floor lamp at the other end, but most of us are in the middle. Most of us are average. So is this messed up?

I vote no. It’s okay. Why do I say this? Because God chose mostly average people to populate His kingdom. As the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 1:26  “. . . consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble;” (NASU). Therefore I maintain that if average is good enough for God, it’s good enough for me.

Still, I dream . . . I dream of catching trout that average five pounds each on every cast, dropping a monster bull elk every season, nailing a 10-pound walleye, or bagging a gobbler with a 10” beard. But I usually settle for foot-long trout, 16” walleyes, and just about any old turkey. Why? Because I’m average, and it is in these things that average people find contentment.

And I have a great time being average. If I ever caught two five-pound trout in a row, I’d have to change my pants. If I managed to harvest a monster bull, I’d have to try for a bigger one next season. Same with a 10-pound walleye, or a crafty old gobbler. But because I’m average, I don’t have to worry about such things. Because I’m average, I’m off the hook. I’m not a slave to the pressure of extreme achievement. 

Of course, I want to be the best average person I can be, so I’ll work on my knot tying. And I’ll practice my fly presentation until I can float that 22 dry down to barely kiss the water’s surface.

My question is, if most of us are average, why do we pretend we’re not? In the fly fishing world it’s okay to idolize greats such as Steve Rajeff or Lefty Kreh. If we’re bow hunters, it’s okay to droll over the success of Fred Bear or Eva Shockey. If big ‘eyes put us in a trance, we might look up to a champion professional walleye fisherman like Tommy Skarlis. But such folks aren’t average, poor souls. And so I wonder if they ever reach contentment. There are plenty of stories of high achievers who committed suicide when their arrival at success really didn’t satisfy and they asked themselves, “Is this it? Is this all there is?”

My point: Most of us are average, and that’s just the way it is. So next time you blow a cast, tag a jake instead of a granddaddy tom, or settle for meat in the freezer instead of a wall ornament, remember that it’s okay to be average.

So what do you think? Is it okay to be average? What other advantages do average people have? Leave a comment and let us know!

Montana’s Boulder Lake Yields Fat Cutts

Great fishing prospects sometimes overshadow great fishing prospects. For example, to experience the exceptional fishing for westslope cutthroat trout in northwest Montana’s Upper Boulder Lake (aka Boulder Lake #1), you first have to ignore the Kootenai River’s tempting rainbows as you drive north from Libby, then refrain from rubbernecking the many enticing bays and inlets of Lake Koocanusa. But your rewards for staying the course are Boulder Lake’s high-mountains solitude and cooperative cutthroat that come at the modest price of an easy 2-mile backcountry hike.

Jeff Talbert nets a good one from Boulder Lake #1

I backpacked into Boulder Lake last September with my friend Jeff Talbert, right after a hard frost had made flying trout food scarce. After launching my backpack boat, I hooked, netted, and released fish after fish up to 16 inches long, using a size 12 Royal Wulff, my mountain lake dry fly of choice unless I catch a hatch. Talbert, new to the sport, had packed his new fly rod, and the fast fishing provided the perfect opportunity to get him hooked on fly fishing. I encouraged him to take a turn in the boat and fling a dry fly. He soon found himself attached to trout after trout. Another convert to fly fishing. For variety, we also tried subsurface fishing and enjoyed excellent results using Bigg’s Sheep Creek Specials and brown Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear Nymphs, both in size 12.

I encouraged Talbert to fish to his heart’s content. But I actually started feeling a little guilty about all the trout I’d caught, even though I’d released them. How many fish does a guy need to catch? With a mortality rate of close to 5 percent for trout caught and released, I figured I’d killed two trout. I once met a fly fisher at a mountain lake and asked him about the fishing. He said it was pretty good and smiled as he told me how many trout he’d caught. I asked if he’d kept any to eat. “No,” he said. “I made my peace with trout a long time ago.” So have I, I thought. I’m at peace with eating a couple from a lake so richly populated, and they are a treat, especially cooked over a campground grill.

Given the ease of the hike into Boulder Lake, I expected company. However, only one other fisher made the trek, and he didn’t stay long. It’s a good thing I didn’t run into him later, though, or he might have gotten a snootful of bear spray. Accidentally, of course. While poking along the shoreline, I saw where he’d cleaned his catch and left the guts lying on a fallen log. There are few better ways to attract bears to your camp than leaving fish guts lying around. Northwest Montana is grizzly country, so Talbert and I bagged our food and hung it at night. Maybe I’m just cranky, but I’d rather not have a furry midnight visitor in my camp.

Fly fishing from shore is challenging at Boulder Lake. The shoreline is brushy, which makes anything but a roll cast difficult. In addition, the lake is mesotrophic, which translates to a soft bottom and substantial weed growth far out into the lake. A two-handed 5-weight rod would be an asset here. A better option is to pack in some type of floating device. Once out on the lake in my backpack boat, I found my 3-weight to be ideal.

To reach Boulder Lake #1, follow State Route 37 north from Libby. Continue 54 miles, and cross the bridge spanning Lake Koocanusa. After crossing the bridge, turn north onto Yaak Valley–Libby Dam Road (named Forest Service Road 228 on the USDA Rexford and Fortine Ranger District map) and continue about 3 miles. Turn south on Forest Service Road 337 and drive about 11 miles, then continue about a mile on Forest Service Road 7183 to the trailhead on the right. Forest Service Road 7229 is gated at the trailhead, and is actually part of the trail.

Now: Go do it with a fly!

(This article appeared in the May/June, 2018 issue of Northwest Fly Fishing magazine. If you’re interested in learning more about mountain lake fishing in Montana, you might consider my new book, Flyfisher’s Guide to Northwest Montana’s Mountain Lakes. The book is also available from Wilderness Adventures Press, Amazon, and Google Play)

Do the Clark

The Big Hole. The Madison. The Gallatin. The Jefferson. The lower Clark Fork. Their names fall from a trout fisherman’s lips with awe and reverence. But wait – the lower Clark Fork? What’s THAT name doing in the company of this short list of the exalted “blue ribbon” trout streams of Montana? I’m glad you asked me that question!

Oh, yeah!

At first glance, the section of the lower Clark Fork from the about the town of Superior to the Ferry Landing boat launch about 12 miles downstream from St. Regis on MT 135 can be intimidating. The river is big and broad, draining as it does most of Western Montana. But when you take a closer look, you’ll notice the typical back eddies, seams, riffles, and pocket water that make trout fishermen drool. Combine these with trout that will stretch a tape from 12- to 18-inches on the average, and you have the stuff that legendary trout rivers are made of. 

But the trout here aren’t pushovers. A seam that looks promising may not host any fish, but the next seam might be alive with rises. This is what makes this section of the Clark Fork not only challenging, but downright fun. It’s more like hunting than fishing, as the fish tend to hang out in pods rather than swim more or less evenly distributed throughout the river. 

This portion of the Lower Clark Fork is a drift-boater’s dream, as there are no rapids to speak of. A little faster water, but no rapids. Shore access is good from about Mile Post 3 on Montana’s scenic Highway 135 most of the way to the Ferry Landing boat launch and even beyond. 

Best of all (I think) the lower Clark Fork is a river where flies out-fish hardware and bait many times over (see my post Do it on the Fly). Recommendation dries start with March Browns early in the season, Green Drakes, Blue Wing Olives, caddis, Adams, then hoppers (!), and finishing off the season with Mahogany Duns. If nothing’s happening on top, hang on an indicator and go below with nymphs such as the Prince and Pheasent Tail.

If you decide to give the lower Clark Fork a chance, you might want to stop by Joe Cantrell Outfitting for the latest fishing info or to schedule a guided float trip or shuttle. From the town of Superior on down, boat launches with concrete ramps include Big Eddy, Dry Creek, St. Regis, and Ferry Landing. For detailed info regarding these launches, log onto Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. If you’d rather try the area’s mountain lakes, you might be interested in my book, The Flyfisher’s Guide to Northwest Montana’s Mountain Lakes.

Now go do the fly thing.

Flyfisher’s Guide to NW Montana’s Mountain Lakes

How about taking your fly rod on a hike into Montana’s  backcountry and catching wild mountain trout? Or maybe you’d prefer  reading about it while relaxing in your recliner? Maybe you want to both read up and plan that self-guided fly fishing trip into the remote mountainous areas of the Last, Best Place?

If you find yourself in one of the above groups, (or somewhere between) you might enjoy my new book, The Flyfisher’s Guide to Northwest Montana’s Mountain Lakes soon to be released in print by Wilderness Adventures Press. The first 40 or so pages contain valuable information for fly fishers from beginners to experts, including tackle info, backcountry navigation, guidance on how to rig up for backpacking, tips for camping in bear country, information about using goats as pack stock, and much more. The remainder of the book is dedicated to individual reports on some of the best mountain lakes of Northwest Montana, including driving directions, trail info, GPS coordinates, and best-in-class maps by Wilderness Adventures Press. You can sample it as an e-book online  at Amazon and Google Play, and purchase it there if you like. Or you can buy a signed print copy here.

The online samples will give you a peek at the first 40 or so pages, but I thought you also might want to see a sample lake report from the book. So with permission from the publisher, here ya go –

Trail Lake

GPS:  

Trailhead: 47.00634, -115.01147

Lake: 47.00603, -115.04137

Summary: Probably the best eastern brook mountain lake in Mineral County, Trail Lake covers about 12 fishy acres.

Location: 17 miles south-southwest of the town of Superior

Maps: USGS 7.5-minute quadrangle Illinois Peak (for reference only—trail to Trail Lake not shown on topo map). USDA Forest Service map Lolo National Forest, Superior Ranger District; DeLorme Montana Atlas and Gazetteer, page 52; Benchmark Montana Road and Recreation Atlas, page 61

Elevations:

Trailhead: 4,723 feet

Lake: 5,740 feet

Round-Trip Hike: 4.4 miles

Hike Difficulty: Moderate

Sometimes you just hit the jackpot, and the jackpot in this case was fat, feisty, eastern brook averaging 10 to 12 inches.

Knowing that mountain trout don’t usually get up early, I didn’t arrive at the trailhead and start my hike on a bright and lovely July morning until 11 a.m. The forecast was for light and variable winds and a sunny afternoon in the low 80s. Nice.

I took my time hiking in, enjoying my time on the trail just as much as the prospect of sampling a new lake. It was two p.m. by the time I arrived at Trail Lake, unpacked, and inflated my little boat. My hiking partner for the day had arrived at the lake before me and was already out on the lake fishing and catching fish. He kept hollering, “Got another one, Mike! Got another one! Hurry up and get out here!”

But I’m never in a hurry when I’m in the mountains. I want to savor every moment. So with my friend still hollering, “Got another one!” I found a comfortable perch on a log, shared a PBJ with my poodle, and had a cool drink.

After lunch, I rigged up double flies on my 3-weight with a size 16 green foam beetle and a size 14 Royal Wulff as the caboose. I walked my boat down to the lake shore and eased it into the lake. Just then a mayfly hatch exploded.

Suddenly there were mayflies everywhere: in the air, on the water, landing on my boat, my shirt, and my dog. I pulled out a fly box and searched for something to imitate the hatch. I found a size 16 Callibaetis (mayfly) spinner with a green thorax. The color wasn’t a match to the hatch, but the size was right on. Remembering that size is more important than color, I hurriedly clipped off the Royal Wulff, replaced it with the mayfly spinner, and shoved off.

My first two casts didn’t produce, but after that it was cheesecake. I had two takes in a row on the mayfly spinner, but I foul-hooked both fish. Thus began a lesson in flyfishing adaptability.

I removed the beetle, replaced it with the spinner for a one-fly setup, and settled my offering a few feet from shore. Trout were rising all around the fly, but they ignored the spinner. Try something different, I thought. I gave the fly line a little tug to sink the fly and started a slow, stripping retrieve. Fish on.

I landed and released the fish and figuring the fly was too slimed up to float, I decided to send it back to work. But after I double-hauled the line back out, the darn bug dried out and floated. No takers. Once again I tugged the line to sink the fly and repeated the slow retrieve. Bam. Fish on.

Okay, you idiots, I thought, you want it wet, I’ll give it to you wet. I retrieved the fly and clipped off the white spinner wings which were drying out and causing the fly to float. I sealed the deal by dousing the fly in sinkum.

I sent the fly back on the job with a smug smile. This time it sank. I repeated the retrieve. This time no fish. Another cast. No fish. Hmmm. I retrieved the line.

I sat in the boat thinking for a moment as a gentle breeze nudged me along the shore. What had I learned so far?

1. They want it wet.
2. They want the white.

I had one of those “light-bulb-over-the-head” moments.

I clipped off the mutilated fly and tied on another identical to the first. After a good soak in sinkum, I sent the fly on mission. Bam. Fish. Bam. Fish. Bam. Fish. And so it went as long as the mayfly hatch lasted. Ahh…. Sometimes you just hit the jackpot.

Getting There

From Interstate 90 at the town of Superior, take Exit 47, travel east on FR 250, which is also named Diamond Match Road and later becomes Trout Creek Road. Continue about 17 miles from Superior to FR 7813 and turn right (north). At 1.9 miles, turn south (left) on FR 388. Follow FR 388 about 1 mile to the trailhead for Trail 256. The trailhead is not signed, but it starts just before you cross the bridge over the North Fork of Trout Creek.

Caution: That last mile on FR 388 is kind of nasty. You won’t need four-wheel drive, but forget it if you’re driving a Corvette.

The Hike

For the most part, the trail follows the course of an old mining road. In fact, as I started the hike I asked myself, What’s a nice trail like you doing in a place like this? The trail ascended gradually until it crossed the North Fork of Trout Creek and then the switchbacks began. When I came to the switchbacks I asked myself, What’s a nice fisherman like you doing on a trail like this? However, the switchbacks marked the final ascent and only climbed about 0.25 mile to the lake.

Camping

There are a few very nice but primitive campsites at the lake.

Please Pass the Fly

Fly fishers, I’ve seen the enemy, and he’s not an anti-conservation whacko or the member of a radical environmental group. The enemy of fly fishing is us.

Royal Coachman copyright Mike L. Raether, 2018

According to the 2015 Special Report on Fishing, although fly fishing is less popular than either freshwater or saltwater fishing, it’s normally the first choice among beginners. Nevertheless, fly fishing is gradually losing participants.

Why?

The number one cause is a lack of mentorship.

Almost half of all fly fishers are 45 years of age or older, and the majority of fishers (more than 65%) choose to go fishing with a fellow adult. Only about 7% bother with taking someone fishing under the age of 18. Very sad, in my opinion.

It’s when we’re young that many new things are tried and many stay with us. If you liked riding a bicycle, swimming, or hiking as a kid, you probably still enjoy such things (I love riding a bike, even though I fall off a lot. One time I ran over my wife who’d just fallen off her bike in front of me). The 2015 Special Fishing Report I mentioned above notes, “An early introduction to fishing is critical to participation later in life. More than 85 percent of current participants started as children ages 12 and younger. Participants associate fishing with positive memories, such as being immersed in nature and spending time with friends and family.” Of those who tried fishing as kids, over 85% are still fishing today.

So in the interest of preserving our tribe, consider the following –

  • Take a ride on the mentor train. Take a young person fly fishing. And don’t overlook the ladies – almost half of all those who embrace fishing are female.
  • Make sure they have good equipment. How would you like trying to fly fish with a utility-pole rod and house wire fly line?
  • Take ‘em someplace where they can catch fish. The number one attraction for first-time fishers is catching fish. The number one detraction for first-time fishers is not catching fish.

So – go pass the fly. You might even have more fun teaching someone else to fly fish than fly fishing yourself. And as a bonus, once he or she gets the hang of it, you no longer have fishy-smelling hands.

Perhaps you have some tips to pass along? Maybe you have some advice or an experience you’d like to share? Please do. You can comment by clicking “leave a comment” under the title of this post, send me an e-mail, or even subscribe to my blog.

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?

You can comment by clicking “leave a comment” under the title of this post, send me an e-mail, or even subscribe to my blog.