Locating Stillwater Trout::Comfort Factors – By Phil Rowley

Fly fishers comfortable finding trout on moving water are often at a loss when it comes to stillwaters. At first glance lakes are flat and featureless. Figuring out where trout might be hiding seems daunting if not impossible. Believe it or not, lakes like rivers, are easy to read. As when fishing moving waters I use three main criteria to locate stillwater trout; comfort, protection and food.

Let’s look at two of the comfort factors I use to determine trout location, water temperature and barometric pressure. Comfort is perhaps the most important factor, for if a trout’s basic needs aren’t met it likely won’t feed. Water temperature is a critical comfort element. Trout are cold blooded and as such their metabolism is governed by the surrounding water temperature. A thermometer should accompany you whenever you are on the water. I attach a string to my thermometer so I can determine temperatures not only at the surface but down deep.

Get to know the temperature range of each species and use a thermometer to locate areas where they might be hanging out. Within their preferred temperature ranges trout and char have the required dissolved oxygen content to forage and digest their food quickly. Feeding fish are catchable fish!

Species Preferred Temperature Range
Rainbow Trout 50F-60F
Brown Trout 60F-70F
Cutthroat Trout 55F-65F
Brook Trout 52F-56F

Trout are cold blooded. There metabolisms are governed by water temperature. A fat rainbow such as this feeds often when water temperatures are to their liking.

As water temperature increases its ability to hold oxygen decreases. Trout become lethargic and reluctant to feed. In extreme cases waters become anoxic and blended with other factors such as algae die off create a condition known as summer kill. Trout caught in high temperature conditions have a difficult time recovering as there is not enough dissolved oxygen within the water to counter the lactic acid built up during the fight. In these conditions trout are best left alone.

Understanding the effect of water temperature helps guide your retrieve speeds. When temperatures are outside the preferred temperature range a slow pace is often required for success, particularly during cool conditions such as early spring and late fall. When fishing within the preferred temperature range use active retrieves appropriate to the natural pace of the food sources available.

Water temperature also has a critical effect on the trout’s food sources. When temperatures reach 50F the first serious hatches of the season begin. Chironomids emerge first followed by mayflies, damsels, caddis and dragon flies. No matter the lake this is the annual hatch progression.
During the daylight hours plants absorb energy from the sun through photosynthesis taking in carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen. This factor makes hanging around weed beds a worthwhile endeavor. Weed beds, are also the stillwater larder providing prime habitat for the myriad of food sources stillwater trout have to choose from and provide protective cover. I consider weed beds a prime lie as they contain all three elements I use to locate stillwater trout-comfort, protection and food.

Water temperature not only affects trout but insects too such as this emerging damsel.

Varying barometric pressure also affects trout behavior. A fluctuating barometer has a marked effect on trout behavior. As a cold front approaches trout often feed aggressively, but as the front passes and the temperature and barometric pressure drops conditions are typically tough. Brisk winds and blue skies often follow the passage of a cold front.

A trout’s swim bladder provides balance and stability. Many believe that the varying or rapidly dropping pressure negatively affects the swim bladder, putting trout off the bite. In many instances trout retreat to deep water until atmospheric conditions stabilize and trout once again strap on the feed bag. Consider moving off the shoals to the edges of drop offs to catch fish. Attractor techniques or hanging patterns in a near static manner is often the only way to coax fish in dour conditions.

Understanding the effect of water temperature and atmospheric pressure helps determine if trout will be deep or shallow and if they are feeding actively. Use this knowledge to choose the appropriate presentation technique and retrieve speed. Your success fly fishing stillwaters should increase.

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3 Responses to Locating Stillwater Trout::Comfort Factors – By Phil Rowley

  1. Rob Viala says:

    Great article Phil. Every still water fisherman should keep this information in mind everytime out on stillwater.


  2. lennie provenzano says:

    i’m new to fly fishing and belong to a local fishing club and were we stock a pond behind the club any suggestions regarding fishing the pond

    • rioproducts says:

      If you are fishing for trout, first look for any signs of rising fish. This is your easiest way to find them. If fish are rising, go to the shore that the wind is blowing on to and look closely in the water right at the edge of the shore and see what size and color the bugs are that the fish are feeding on, then put on something similar, use a floating line, and fish in the area that the rises are occurring.

      If fish are not rising, they are most likely feeding on either chironomids, leeches or damsels nymphs. Start off by fishing with one of these imitations, and if no joy, change to another after an hour or so, then to the next. If they are not feeding at all, fish a streamer on an intermediate line (like RIO’s Aqualux) and strip back at a moderate pace.

      Reading a water with no visible signs (like rising fish) is a little harder. A good place to start is a point or promontory that sticks out in the lake. In cold or hot conditions, fish the deepest part of the lake. Hopefully those tips will give you a bit more of a clue.

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