How To Fish Stillwaters
October 10th, 2005

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. Stay tuned, you too can master stillwaters! ~ LadyFisher

The Slough Pig

By Gary LaFontaine

Publishers Note: By request, this one is for Mark.

One of my regular partners for the valley stillwaters, Joel Hart, and I developed one solution for the problem of deep-cruising fish. We chipped in together and bought an old aluminum John boat. Then we welded an 8-foot stepladder to the boat's floor.

That stepladder is our observation deck. One of us stands near the top rung and searches for trout while the other rows slowly across the pond or lake. When the spotter sees a fish, the man on the oars picks up the fly rod and casts where he is told to cast.

Pity the fisherman who misses a cruiser. Joel screams, "I said twenty-five feet at four o'clock. Four o'clock. Not one-thirty, you moron."

"My watch is slow."

He moans and hits his head against the ladder, "I'm getting me a new partner."

Those deep-cruising fish can be chumps. No angler at water level can ever see them. The trout feel safe in eight to twelve feet of water. Food is not quite as plentiful among the patchy weeds of the deeper areas in our local ponds, and the browns actually seem less selective than the rainbows.

The virtue of this method is obvious: no blind flogging. Once we see a fish and observe his path, the path he will follow time after time, we usually hook him. Our best catches occur during the middle of the day under bright sun with flat, calm water—not what most fly fishermen would call the magic hours. The downside is that our boat, dubbed the "Slough Pig," is not the most seaworthy of crafts.

I recorded one of our adventures in my August 4 log entry: The Major is so fond of Chester that not only can I come out anytime, but I can bring along any fishing buddy. This has made me a lot more popular in my hometown. I'm thinking of running for political office.

Joel and I launched the "Slough Pig" and we started circling the pond looking for cruisers. There are only browns here, and to my knowledge it hasn't been stocked in fifteen years, enough fish spawning successfully in a spring feeder to replenish the water. The pond was not crystal clear, the growth of weed and algae making a few sections impossible for spotting, but at the far end against the one steep bank we saw shapes crossing the light sand bottom.

The Major came down and sat on his bench. He called for Chester and threw sticks out on the pond, but as much as Chester loves to fetch, he loves to fish more and he ignored the fuss. He perched up on the front of the boat and stared down into the water as hard as Joel stared down from his position on the ladder. Whether or not he could see the trout I don't know, but when Joel began huffing, choking, and hyperventilating, before finally blurting something about a whale, Chester leaned out to see better. I stood up to see better and spotted the big brown feeding about twenty-five feet out to my left (he was bigger than the seven trout that we'd already caught that morning, bigger than the fourteen-pounder I'd caught on the Settling Ponds, and even bigger than the brown that had followed my streamer all the way to the boat in New Zealand, a fish that had the guide hoarsely whispering a weight in kilos that translated to more than sixteen pounds).

I made a cast so perfect that not even Joel could yell about it. The fly landed far enough ahead of the trout to sink just in front of the big boy's face. I gave the Bristle Leech a small twitch and the fish started accelerating. Watching him come like that, I just naturally went into that hunched up, forward lean as I got ready to set the hook. Chester also leaned out a little further, and up there on the ladder, screaming Joel leaned way out, and I'm not sure if I first heard or felt the cold wash on my feet, but I looked down at water coming in over the side of the tilted boat.

Chester jumped clear, but I ignored him. Joel held on as the boat floundered, ready to go down with the ship, but I ignored him. I've never been so steady in a crisis; my heart colder than a politician's—and I just kept waiting for that trout to reach and suck in the fly. I was falling, pitching headlong, when he took the Bristle Leech, but I kept my focus. I tried with every muscle to set the hook, twisting in the air to push the rod back. There was no force to the set, and I knew it, stripping in line and yanking repeatedly even when I was in the water, hoping he still had the hook in his mouth.

Chester abandoned us, swimming up on the shore and running over to the Major. We grabbed the sides of the Slough Pig, now turned over, with the ladder pointing straight down, and tried to kick with it over to the shallows, but it sank completely. Joel snatched the rope before it sank and swam with it to shore.

The Major was laughing so hard he was down on the bench, rocking in a fetal position, and all he could say as we sloshed up was, "You boys are worth the price of admission." But we didn't care about the Major; and for the moment we didn't care about the boat or the tackle on the pond bottom. All we could talk about was the size of that brown trout.

"The Three Stooges go fishing," the Major added, and only Chester had enough pride to look insulted. Joel and I just shrugged.

In all our years of fish-spotting in ponds and lakes, we've never failed to catch a particular trout once we knew about him. The story about going out day after day to the same spot to fool a huge trout in a stream or river is a fly fishing truism—it's possible and with enough persistence it's almost inevitable if that trout doesn't migrate or die. The same obsession with one fish is just as possible in a pond or lake. Maybe success is even more inevitable because a trout in stillwater will never move far from his home area. A trout in a pond or lake is a creature of habit, and the food-rich environment of the limestone ponds in our valley makes any fish stay-at-home lazy. ~ GL

Credits: This article is an excerpt from the late Gary LaFontaine's Fly Fishing the Mountain Lakes, Greycliff.

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