Our Man In Canada
December 14th, 1998

Wet-fly techniques in lakes

By Clive Schaupmeyer

Adapted from "The Essential Guide to Fly-Fishing" by the author

The wet flies used on lakes imitate a host of insects and other critters that are moving all the time. Some nymphs take rest breaks and hold suspended from time to time, and of course stillwater aquatic insects and other animals stay still when attached to vegetation. But generally, they are a mobile lot and therefore most of the time when we fly-fish below the surface in stillwater we retrieve the flies to imitate moving aquatic critters. Most of the time.

 Assuming you know what fly to use there are two things you will vary while fishing with wet flies in lakes: the depth the fly travels and the retrieve.


Use a floating line, perhaps with split shot, or a sinking line that takes your fly down to where the fish are. After casting let the fly sink down for varying lengths of time or "countdowns" until you start hooking fish. If you've been told the fish are near the bottom, or you suspect they are, count how long it takes for the fly to snag on the bottom weeds. Then on subsequent casts start retrieving a second or two sooner so your fly travels just above the weeds.

Three things need to be varied in the retrieve: the speed of each strip, the distance the fly travels each time and the interval between strips. That's a lot of combinations and these can be further embellished with twitches of the rod tip or small twitches with your rod-hand finger. If you are not sure what retrieve method to use, start with something simple and change from there. As mentioned in last week's article I've had the most success retrieving wet flies in short 4- to 6-inch strips at about 1- to 2-second intervals. This retrieve has worked with marabou damselfly imitations, Black Minks, leeches, Wooly Buggers and pike flies. And I've caught trout, pike, bass and panfish with this retrieve. Sure other methods work, but this is a good place to start if you don't have different information.

If this retrieve doesn't work, try some variations if there are no other anglers around to ask or imitate. Try bringing the fly in slowly using short, steady pulls on the line. Then try stripping faster and increase the length of each strip. Perhaps let the fly sit or sink for a few seconds between strips. Scuds are reported to shoot ahead and then suspend for a few seconds to imitate the action of the natural bugs. It's worth a try although the scuds I've watched in an aquarium and in local ponds never seem to stop moving. If there are caddisflies emerging, try stripping a sparkle caddis pupa fast to simulate a speeding adult heading for the surface. Damselflies swim by undulating their bodies sideways in a willowy manner like gators. Leeches swim fairly fast by undulating their bodies up and down. Try to simulate the action of the naturals with your retrieve.

Ken Pond Fishing

If you're nymph fishing and trout start rising, don't change to a dry fly right away, especially if you've had some luck with the nymph you have on. If you can figure out which direction a riser is moving, cast 10 or so feet ahead of the rise and retrieve the same as before—assuming that worked. If the trout is not locked onto some food type on the surface, it may eat your wet fly even though it was taking dry flies at the moment. Naturally, this works better with a floating line than a sinking line.

In addition to keeping the fly moving by casting and retrieving, you also can troll a fly or troll and retrieve. These are good ways to cover the water. If you hook a fish, make mental note of where you hooked it, especially if the wind blows you some distance while landing the fish. Then go back and fish the same area again. The fish you caught could have been a random cruiser, but you may have found a popular hangout.

You can also drift fish. Start wherever you want the breeze to take you and cast and retrieve as you drift along. Again, if you pick up a fish or two, paddle back to the active area and try it again. If you catch more fish on the second pass, change your tactic from drifting to staying in one spot.

Most of the time you will keep your wet flies moving in lakes by stripping in line or trolling. But wet flies like midge pupae can be cast and allowed to sink with no retrieve.

This cast-sit-and-wait method is simple. A small pupa or other wet fly is tied to a long leader (on a floating line), cast out, and left to sink and then sit for several minutes. The line is watched closely and any tugs on the line are responded to by lifting up the rod and tightening the line.

I fished this way in a high lake years ago near Kamloops, British Columbia, where the method is popular. I never did catch any of the large Kamloops rainbows in that lake, but then again neither did any of the three or four locals on the water who seemed to know what they were doing. Since then, still fishing like this has worked for me a few times in ponds. However, I've used a small strike indicator to keep the nymph just above the lake or pond bottom. The floating indicator is also handy to detect strikes.

The most excitement that day came from shore, when a bear wandered through a shoreline cattle camp. There was lots of shouting and dog barking. That evening, while loading the boat on the top of my station wagon parked in a dark, bushy isolated trail it occurred to me that I didn't know where the bear had gone.

Closing message: Merry Christmas to fly anglers everywhere. Special greetings to FAOL chat room friends from all over the world! Always respect the fish you love so dearly. Dispatch them quickly or release them with no harm. Be well in 1999. Cheers from Alberta, Canada. ~ Clive Schaupmeyer

Our Man In Canada Archives

Bio on Our Man In Canada

Clive Schaupmeyer is an outdoor writer and photographer. He is the author of The Essential Guide to Fly-Fishing, a 288-page book for novice and intermediate fly anglers. His photo of a boy fishing was judged the best outdoor picture of 1996 published by a member of the Outdoor Writers of Canada. He fly-fishes for trout in Alberta's foothill and mountain streams and for pike near his home in Brooks, Alberta. For information on where to find, or how to get a copy of Clive's book, Click here!

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