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Stillwater Mysteries

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After years working in the fly shop, I often feel fly fisherman easily overlook or just don’t enjoy stillwater fishing. For some, maybe it’s the difficulty that can come along with it like having to make longer casts from the bank, not knowing which flies to throw, or where the hell the fish even are. These challenges are what fuel me to pursue more lakes, reservoirs, ponds, and even smaller beaver ponds. Don’t get me wrong, nothing beats standing in the endless flow of rivers and creeks listening to them sing their sweet song, but at times where the fish will be holding in rivers and creeks can seem a little too predictable. Stillwaters hold many secrets and countless mysteries that just keep me guessing and thus coming back. 

For those looking to get out of their comfort zone and pursue some open water, there are a few things within your control that you can get started with.

Help your positioning and cast

First, this is what really changed my game in finding fish in larger pieces of water... a good ole float tube. Float tubes are relatively inexpensive in comparison to most fishing “boats”, and allow you to cover much more water. Many of my favorite lakes to throw a tube in are surrounded by tree line, that allow little to no room for your back cast. Being just 10 feet out from the bank will open miles of room for a good back cast to send your fly offerings as far as you can. On the lucky days when the big W isn’t howling, tubes are great tools for stalking up on rising fish, for they make little to no noise. 

Have line options

My next piece of advice would be to have a few lines with different sink rates. Fly line technology has come a long way when it comes to lake fishing. From clear intermediate lines, floaters with integrated sink tips, and full sinks for getting down deep. Having a few different sinking lines at different sink rates can be the difference in catching fish or getting skunked. 

For the end of the line: flies

Now to some of the more intimidating aspects of stillwater fishing: bugs. When targeting trout, your fly choice can make or break. For subsurface flies be sure to have a selection of chironomids, scuds, damsels, water boatman, leeches, crayfish, and other small streamer patterns. One skill that took me spending countless hours on lakes was using slip indicators for fishing nymphs in the 10-20 ft range. Dialing in what depth fish are at and feeding can create for some special days.

For dries I would have some classic Parachute Adams in a variety of sizes, callibaetis, caddis, midges, and in my opinion the most important would be a good selection of terrestrials. Beetles, ants, and hoppers are huge food sources especially in the dead of summer. Also I love fishing foam flies for suspending nymphs below. 

One of the main reasons I am so pulled to stillwaters is the ability to beat the crowds that many of our rivers in the Rockies see during peak season. At least in Colorado, we are lucky enough to have the opportunity to fish endless amounts of reservoirs, lakes, and ponds that would take multiple lifetimes to fish them all. Whether you’re earning it by hiking into the high country, or spending all day in a pair of fins kicking around a giant reservoir. We are truly lucky to have access to so much partially in thanks to people like the crew at RepYourWater who give so much back into conservation. So do yourself a favor and break out of your river comfort zone, and explore the mystery that stillwaters offer...

Justin Moore

Comments on this post (1)

  • Jul 16, 2019

    Great article. You need a bigger net.
    I would encourage folks who are not confident about fishing stillwater to give it an honest effort. I was not sure about it, but after just a few trips I found myself catching good numbers and some larger sized fish. I am an older guy, and find the tube or pontoon less tiring than a day of boulder scrambling. While I still love to wade fish creeks and rivers, I find myself choosing to fish a favorite pond or two more often than going to the river.
    As to the number of flies needed- there is more storage in a floating craft than in your vest, so it is not too daunting. The 15 minute rule is a good one for me on lakes- if the fly you have on is not working, switch.

    — Tim Keller

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