Getting Started in Stillwater Fly Fishing: Part I

Fall stillwater fly fishing with aspens at peak colors. Not a bad backdrop when catching tiger trout, splake, and brook trout.

Fall stillwater fly fishing with aspens at peak colors. Not a bad backdrop when catching tiger trout, splake, and brook trout.

by Garrison Berthold

Whether you're just starting, or consider yourself a seasoned pro, stillwater fishing is an incredibly rewarding experience for any angler.

I began my fly fishing experience on stillwater. At first, I was casting into the distance and hoping for results.

With time and practice, I learned there are a few critical things to watch for when hitting the lakes and ponds.

I never begin a fishing trip without the proper gear. One of the essential items I’ve purchased and keep with me always is my Smith ChromaPop polarized sunglasses. 

Sunglasses are not something you have to overspend on, but they are a must, and you do get what you pay for. These glasses give me a tremendous advantage. Polarized lenses allow for high visibility in the water enabling you to see beneath the surface with ease. 

Spotting fish is an art in itself and I highly recommend reading XXXXXX

More beautiful scenery as you strip wooley buggers, leeches, damsel nymphs etc. on high mountain stillwater

More beautiful scenery as you strip wooley buggers, leeches, damsel nymphs etc. on high mountain stillwater

Depending on if you will be using a dry fly or throwing something subsurface you need to make sure you have the appropriate weight rod and line. For stillwater, I prefer a 5 or 6 weight rod that has some backbone and can sling line.  

The next most important thing is to find the drop-off or slope of the body of water where you are.

Drop-offs are where you will find the most abundant supply of vegetation and other food sources for the fish. Birds are also a great way to indicate where the fish are hiding so pay attention to them!

Once you have found a drop-off location, you want to focus on what the fish are eating. A great way to gather this information is a netting survey. An aquarium net is almost like a cheesecloth that you fit over your fishing net. Some people refer to them as a seine. After you’ve installed the seine over your net, dredge it in the water to collect an aquatic insect sampling.  You then pull the net up, and thorough inspection, you will find larva, pupa, eggs, etc. that are in the water.

Local fly shops typically carry aquarium nets to aid you in this. They can come attached to your fly net as well for ease of use and control.

Once you’ve inspected your sample and feel you have a comprehensive survey of the water and its structure, you now have a better understanding of what the fish are eating, where they are at and you look to your fly box.  Begin by matching the size, color and type of fly you’ll be using.

Okay, you've decided on the proper fly, and you have found the slope of the body of water you’re working with, you're ready!

Various semi-seal leeches ready for high mountain lake stillwater fly fishing

Various semi-seal leeches ready for high mountain lake stillwater fly fishing

Don't hesitate to throw multiple bugs on one rig. Inline set-ups with a bugger or leech are great. A nymph behind a bugger can also provide fantastic results. Pupae under an emerger is another tactic.

Giving your fly the proper action can be a game changer. Once you've made your cast, pause and give your fly enough time to sink to the proper depth. Begin by pulling your fly line in toward you in a natural, rhythmic motion. This is known as "stripping" and is a great way to attract the fish and keep control of the line to fly connection so you can feel the most subtle takes.

With most stillwater set-ups, you will want to use a bubble or hit indicator on your line. Calculating the correct distance from your fly is crucial and will affect the depth of your fly. As you work the action of your fly, be sure to watch for any sudden movements in your hit indicator. When fish bite your fly, you'll notice your hit indicator could move side to side or straight below the surface. When this happens, it's time to set the hook. Do this by lifting your rod in an upward position to tighten the line between and the fish.

Following these basic steps will help you develop good habits when fishing stillwater and produce more fish with each adventure you go on.

Effective Stillwater Fly Fishing: An Analytical Approach to Help You Catch More Fish by Michael Gorman is an excellent resource to get you started off with a bang.

Tight Lines!


Thanks for reading. Please subscribe to receive regular posts and share with all your fishy friends!