The term “stillwater” is used to describe flyfishing for trout in ponds, lakes and reservoirs. Stillwater trout fishing is much different than fly fishing in rivers. This is because lakes and reservoirs have few specific habitats anglers can target and fish have time to inspect a fly before they strike.
In lentic systems, trout are not like walleye or bass, as these two predators can almost always be found near schooling bait fish. Instead, feeding trout primarily seek areas where insects are concentrated. Unlike flyfishing in streams where most anglers prefer flies floating on the water’s surface, successful stillwater anglers learn how to target fish in the depths.
Stillwater fly anglers use two approaches to entice trout to take a sunken fly; they either keep it moving or let it remain relatively stationary in the water column. Both situations mimic an insect moving to the surface to hatch or searching for food and safety. Imparting movement to the fly is brought about by casting, letting the fly sink, and then hand retrieving the line or slowly trolling it behind your boat or float tube.
Fishing flies in a stationary location is done by casting a floating line and letting the fly hang beneath a strike indicator. This method provides some movement to the fly as the strike indicator is affected by the wind and waves on the lake’s surface.
When retrieving or trolling a fly, its depth will be determined by the type of sinking line, how much line is out and how fast it is retrieved. Sinking lines can either be a sink tip, intermediate, or full sink. These lines are classified by how many inches per second their distal end sinks. Generally, a line that descends between 3 and 6 inches per second will be best for most stillwater situations. Depending upon how they are fished, a line with these sink rates can easily get a fly down 5 to 15 feet.
The primary factor influencing success with a strike indicator is its size. The best will be the smallest indicator that keeps the fly from sinking but can still be tracked on the water’s surface.Indicators that are just big enough to keep your flies afloat offer little resistance when a fish takes the fly, so they will be less likely to spit it out before you set the hook.
Anglers also need to be aware of how heavy their fly is. Trolled flies that have no added weight travel at the same depth of the line while heavier flies travel below the line. Slight differences in fly weights alter the depth you’re fishing by a couple feet. This minor change can be important if you are trying to keep a fly just off the bottom. In contrast, heavier flies let you use bigger strike indicators. If you tie your own flies, you can change their weight by using glass, brass or tungsten beads and by how much weight you add to the hook. Serious stillwater anglers often carry the same fly pattern in a variety of weights so they can be fished at different depths under different conditions.
All lake anglers should carry flies that imitate chironomids, scuds and damselflies. While I’m prone to overkill, I head to stillwaters with multiple patterns and colors for each of these common insects. Additionally, it is important to carry a variety of attractor patterns such as woolly buggers, pheasant tails and hare’s ears. It is surprising how often a fly that imitates no natural bug, say a hot pink freshwater shrimp pattern, will catch trout that are not interested in more natural looking flies. To increase the likelihood of finding the right fly, in lakes where it is legal, your terminal gear should have multiple flies. If you aren’t catching fish, keep changing flies until you find one that works.
For those of you who aren’t fly anglers, it is still possible to have stillwater success with a spinning rod by casting jigs or lures that imitate minnows. Small jigs (1/16 oz and lighter) are mistaken for damselflies, dragonflies and leaches while plugs and spoons occasionally entice big trout to strike, even when they are primarily engulfing macroinvertebrates.
Cache Valley and areas surrounding it have numerous lakes that offer good stillwater fisheries. For those of you who wish to explore more remote systems, there are many good trout lakes to be found in Utah’s High Uintas Wilderness Area and Wyoming’s Wind River Range. If the opposite situation seems more intriguing, fishing Strawberry Reservoir in Utah or Fontanelle Reservoir in Wyoming are all about big systems with big fish. Regardless of where you go, being consistently successful in stillwater systems can be one of the toughest tasks for an ardent angler to achieve.