How To Fish Stillwaters

March 24th, 2003

Stillwaters, lakes, ponds and reservoirs are the most underutilized fisheries in the North America. Why? Because the average fly fisher doesn't know how to fish them, or where to start. Marv Taylor has a wealth of experience in this area and volunteered to write a weekly column to take the mystery out of fishing stillwaters. Stay tuned, you too can master stillwaters! ~ LadyFisher

Why I Love to Fish Stillwater
By Marv Taylor, Garden City, ID

Several years ago I was shopping for tying materials in a McCall, Idaho fly shop, when I met a fisherman from New Jersey who was spending a week in the area. He owned a time-share contract that allowed him to travel to various areas which had condominiums in his program.

He asked me where the "famous" blue-ribbon streams were located around McCall? When I told him western Idaho was noted more for lake fishing than for stream fishing, he seemed surprised. "I was informed by officials of the time-share company," he told me, "that I could fish some really great trout streams in the area. They mentioned Silver Creek and the Henry's Fork. I'm not really interested in spending time fishing lakes. Too boring."

When I told the New Jersey angler how many hours it would take to reach those two blue-ribbon trout streams (5 hours to Silver Creek, 9 hours to the Henry's Fork of the Snake), he seemed a little confused.

"But they are in Idaho, aren't they?"

I gave him a quick geography lesson. I explained to him that border to border in Idaho covers a lot more territory than border to border in New Jersey.

Since I spend the bulk of my time fishing lakes and reservoirs, I couldn't resist the challenge. I arranged to meet the angler at one of the local trout lakes that evening. I loaned him a float tube, waders, fins, and all of the other equipment he needed, and gave him a quick stillwater fly fishing lesson.

While the fishing wasn't red hot, my new friend hooked and landed eight rainbow trout, including a couple that pushed 3-pounds. When we finished the evenings fishing, the New Jersey angler shook my hand, enthusiastically telling me he'd just had one of the best evenings of trout fishing of his entire life. He said he had a new opinion of trout fishing in lakes.

The next winter he called me from New Jersey and asked me where he could find the best float tube fishing in Idaho and Montana. The guy was really hooked on float tube fly fishing.

For years I've tried to explain my passion for fishing stillwater. I've written hundreds of newspaper columns, and seven books, trying to explain why I spend so much time casting my flies from a float tube, in water my friend from New Jersey once called "boring."

For those who haven't read my material, I'll run through my reasoning process one more time.

The number one reason most of us fish lakes, is that the fish are usually larger. Although I do occasionally fish streams that yield trophy sized trout, the fish I catch in my favorite float tube lakes usually average much larger (often two or three times larger). I've fished lakes in northern Montana where the rainbows and browns average more than four pounds, eight-pound trout are taken daily, and every now and then a 12- or 15-pounder shows up. Bob Sheedy writes about such sized trout in his home waters of Manitoba.

There are few trout streams in the world that will compete with the lakes in western Manitoba and on Montana's Blackfeet Indian Reservation when it comes to producing trophy rainbow and brown trout in that size range. Idaho's legendary Henry's Lake has been popular with trophy trout fishermen for 5 or 6 decades. Nearby Island Park Reservoir turned out 24- to 32-inch rainbows last year and should do the same this season.

Another reason many of us like to fish lakes, is that most other fly fishermen seem to prefer moving water over stillwater (as my friend from New Jersey did at one time). If everyone who fly fishes were as devoted to fishing lakes as some of us are, there wouldn't be elbow room on any of the open-to-the-public-without-a-fee trophy trout lakes.

Another major advantage of fishing lakes from a float tube is the low cost of the equipment. With the advent of the float tube, lake and reservoir fly fishermen who prefer not to invest in expensive boats, can find quality sport without going to the bank for help.

I sold my trolling boat about the time I began float tubing - more than 35 years ago. Since then I've float tubed hundreds of trout, bluegill and bass lakes, in most of the intermountain area, as well as the Pacific Northwest. With some rare exceptions, I seldom miss my old powerboat.

Fishing in trout lakes and reservoirs can often be more challenging than in moving water. Although hardcore stream fishing enthusiasts may disagree with my opinions, I find it is usually easier to figure out what stream fish are dining on, than what is happening 10 or 20 feet below a lake's surface.

While experienced lake fishermen can read stillwater almost as well as good stream fishermen can read moving water, there are certainly fewer sign posts to guide them.

Although moving water advocates will usually argue that stream trout fight harder than their lake cousins, I respectfully disagree. While a fish in moving water must often fight swift currents as well as the rod, a big fish hooked in stillwater struggles only against the angler.

A final advantage of fishing lakes (particularly from a float tube) involves the physical condition of the angler (or more precisely - the age). As the years go by, and I find wading a difficult trout stream more demanding, I find tremendous enjoyment in launching my float tube and spending time on my favorite lake or reservoir. I expect to be doing so when Willard Scott celebrates my 100th birthday.

Given a choice between my finest day on a great trout stream, or my best day on a favorite lake, and I'll nearly always choose the lake. ~ Marv

About Marv

You can reach Marv by email at or by phone: 208-322-5760. More on Marv next week!

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