Reading Stillwater – By Brian Chan

Lake fishing and be challenging because of the various habitat types or the transition zones from one habitat to another. RIO Pro Brian Chan discusses tips and techniques for effectively reading tricky stillwater.

Unraveling the mysteries of lake fishing is no different than that of rivers. As anglers we have to learn how to read the water. The ability to read water is almost a science in itself as it really involves understanding a bit of water chemistry including the seasonal distribution of oxygen and influences of water temperature and having a good understanding of trout food sources and where they live in the river or lake.

Stillwater Trout fishing Lakes with abundant shoal areas are capable of growing well conditioned trout.

Rivers and streams are broken down into habitat types that include pool, riffle, run and glide. Each of these habitats are physically different from each other and can be differentiated by the naked eye. The challenge in fishing stillwaters is that we cannot always see the various habitat types or the transition zones from one habitat to another. Lakes are broken down into shoal or shallow water zone, the drop-off zone and the deepwater zone. Shoals are the big grocery store of the lake. It is safe to say that at least 75% of the feeding of trout is done on the shoal or edges of the drop-off. The shoal zone is where the sunlight and thus photosynthesis penetrates to the bottom and allows green plant life to grow which in turn provides the habitat for trout food sources including aquatic invertebrates, insects and forage fish. The shoal zone typically reaches down to about 20 feet in depth. From here the drop-off is the transition zone to the deep water area of the lake.

The prime time to be fishing the shoal zone is during the early spring to early summer and then again in the fall months. In the spring the water is warming which induces the parade of aquatic insect emergence like midges, mayflies, damselflies, caddis flies and dragonflies. Cooler water temperatures and high oxygen levels allow the trout to thrive in this shallow water. Floating fly lines are the perfect choice to fish the shoal zone. One proven method is using the floating line in combination with sinking leaders. In this situation the leader should be at least 25% longer that the depth of water being fished. For example, if anchored in 12 feet then your leader should be about 16 feet in length. This will ensure you can present flies close to the bottom during the retrieve. Much of the subsurface feeding activity on the shoal occurs within a couple of feet of the bottom. The RIO Gold is a great line for fishing the long leader technique.

Island lk shoal - still water fly fishing An aerial view of a productive lake showing well defined shoal and deep-water zones. Note that all the anglers in the boats are fishing the shoal areas of the lake.

Another very popular and effective method for fishing the shoals is with floating lines and strike indicators. This allows the angler to suspend, wind drift or slowly retrieve flies at a very precise depth. This is an ideal method for presenting midge or chironomid larval and pupal patterns as well as many other trout food sources in stillwaters. Trout can often get very focused on the depth at which they will eat. For example, during a typical midge pupal emergence that is occurring in 15 feet of water, the trout may only want to eat the pupa in the 12 to 13 foot depth zone. If your pupal pattern is suspended above or below that depth range it will go unnoticed by many feeding fish. The RIO Indicator line was designed to cast strike indicators, which depending on their size and wind conditions can make for an awkward casting situation.

By mid-summer, however, water temperature in many trout lakes is warming, often to the point where daytime temperatures are too warm and corresponding lower oxygen levels prevent trout from foraging on much of the shoal zone or for any length of time. Fish move out to the deeper edges of the drop-off where the water is cooler and better oxygenated.

In the fall, the shoal zone again becomes prime trout feeding territory. Cooling water temperatures and increasing oxygen levels allow abundant and prolonged foraging by trout. The late season menu includes such preferred items as leeches, scuds, midge larvae and dragonfly nymphs. Water temperatures continue to drop as fall progresses. Trout respond by feeding in shallower and shallower water, which again make floating line presentations with or without indicators natural choices to consider.

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