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The Lure of Stillwater Fly Fishing

by Brian Chan

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The Western North America states and provinces are home to literally tens of thousands of superb trout lakes. Many of these waters are rich in nutrients which allow them to support an abundant and diverse aquatic invertebrate food base. Quality or trophy stillwater trout fisheries can be found throughout western North America. Sustaining a quality fishery means balancing the population of fish in relationship to abundance of food.

To many anglers, lakes appear as black holes as there are no current seams, defined channels or structured flow to identify where the fish are living. Deciding where and how to fish lakes is really no different that the approach to fishing moving waters.

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An aerial view of a shoal and drop off of a small trout lake. The trout will feed extensively over the light coloured marl bottom and the edge of the shoal drop-off where the shallow water transitions to the deep.

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An extensive shoal that extends right across a lake. The dark spots are mats of rooted submergent vegetation that is home to scuds, leeches, mayfly nymphs, damselfly and dragonfly nymphs. Chironomid larvae are found buried in the light coloured marl bottom areas of the shoal.

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The stillwater season begins just as the ice is leaving the lake. Trout will be in the very shallow areas of the shoal looking for scuds, leeches, chironomid larvae and damselfly nymphs

The trout have to seek out their food sources as there is no current to bring food to them. This means fishing relatively shallow water between a few feet to 25 feet in depth as this is the depth range that the majority of invertebrates such as midges or chironomids, mayflies, damselflies, dragonflies, caddisflies, scuds and leeches as well as forage fish are living.

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An early spring throat pump sample reveals zooplankton and damselfly nymphs are on the menu

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Chironomid or midge pupae are an extremely important food source of trout living in productive stillwaters. Chironomid emergences are intense, prolonged and diverse. The majority of chironomid emergences occur in water less than 25 feet in depth

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A very revealing throat pump as it shows many alive chironomid pupa. This informations helps us narrow down size and colour of pupal imitations

This prime real estate is known as the shoal or littoral area and is defined as that depth zone that sunlight energy can penetrate to the bottom and allow photosynthesis to occur. This results in aquatic green plant growth which forms the basic habitat for most of the major trout foods. Concentrate your fishing effort on the shoal or along the edges of the shoal as it drops off to the deep water zone of the lake.

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Trophy sized brook trout are a bonus on many stillwater fisheries.

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Chironomid emergences provide many opportunites for double headers as hatches are prolific and prolonged. These heavy emergences attract big fish to feed in often very shallow water. Floating lines and strike indicators are an excellent method to suspend chironomid pupa just off the lake bottom.

As with rivers and streams, understanding the life cycles, emergence timing and preferred habitat of the key aquatic insects, other invertebrates and forage fish that trout eat will determine where and how to fish a lake. Essential fly lines for stillwater success include floating, intermediate or hover and a couple of faster sinking lines such as a type 4 and type 7. These lines will allow you to imitate all the important trout food sources at any time of the year.

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Another quality triploided or non-reproductive rainbow trout. These fish direct all their energy to growth and can live much longer than diploid or reproductive fish.

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Numerous fisheries management agencies utilize triploided or non-reproductive strains of rainbow trout. This triploid Blackwater rainbow was in excess of 13 lbs