How To Fish Stillwaters

July 14th, 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. Stay tuned, you too can master stillwaters! ~ LadyFisher


By Marv Taylor, Garden City, ID

As I write this column I am camped at one of my favorite southern Idaho trout fisheries. After two days of battling windy conditions, I am diligently striving to write something interesting and pertinent, when in fact I can't think of a single worthwhile thing to say about my three days at Magic Reservoir.

I considered doing a piece on how to fish in windy conditions. I could describe how noted fly fishing guru Lefty Kreh teaches that wind is only a state of mind thing and shouldn't affect a really good fly caster.

To prove his point at an FFF conclave some years ago, Lefty false cast one time and drilled a 100-foot cast dead into a 30-mph wind at West Yellowstone. Yesterday I spent the entire day practicing Lefty's casting philosophy. I had two problems: First, although I try to ignore the wind as Lefty suggests, it still won't go away; And my line doesn't seem to understand it's not supposed to be affected.

And second, Lefty's a tad better caster with both arms in slings and a broken fly rod, than I am on my best day (I've watched him make his famous 60-foot barehanded cast). I would have trouble making Lefty's 100-foot West Yellowstone toss if I were casting off a high cliff with that 30-mph wind at my back.

Some experts maintain windy conditions actually improve fishing by stirring the water and washing tidbits to hungry fish. Trout, so the theory goes, know heavy water produces food and will often work the shoreline in anticipation. Nevada' Pyramid Lake is a good example of the "wind is better syndrome."

The first time I fished the big Lahontan cutthroat lake, my host told me at dinner the night before we were to fish it, to pray for wind. When I seemed shocked at his comment, he told me the fishing on the west side of the lake (where we were going to fish) was always better with a 20-mph wind in your face.

Now I do a few things well (polishing off 16-ounce T-bones comes immediately to mind); But casting a hi-D head into a 20-mph wind isn't one of them.

Having said that, I will admit I've had excellent fishing in heavy wind. I've also had good fishing when it has been flat calm, in rain, in snow, etc. etc. Given a choice, I'd almost always choose flat and calm. Wind might have been good for Ben Franklin and the Wright Brothers, but I can (mostly) do without it.

Fishing from a float tube does give the angler a decided advantage. If there is a breeze strong enough to cause problems, the tuber can (usually) position himself and cast either crosswind or downwind. While non-tubers will sometimes cite stories about tubes being dangerous in wind...mostly they are not. I've been blown across more than a few lakes in wind storms I couldn't paddle against. The biggest problem I've encountered was hitching a ride back to camp. (Most of the tubing fatalities that have occurred, have been when they've been used improperly in streams).

Wind can almost cause a grown man to cry, as it nearly did twenty-odd years ago at Henry's Lake. We arrived at the lake late one evening, just in time to see a fat 8-pound hybrid netted. The lucky angler gave me a copy of his hot fly, one he told me had already caught three other such fish and two dozen only slightly smaller.

I sat up until 1 a.m. dressing a dozen of the killer flies. Just as I was getting ready for bed, I heard a soft whine. In five minutes the wind was rocking our camper. Three days later, when the wind quit blowing, the relatively shallow lake was a chocolate brown. I don't remember catching a trout at Henry's on that trip until the fifth day of our six-day trip.

Wind can be fickle. As I look out the window of our camper, at the moment, the lake is almost flat. For the first time in two days, I can barely see a riffle. But, just let me get all rigged up, waders on, tube under my arm, ready to go, and poof, 30-mph winds.

But Magic Reservoir isn't Henry's Lake. At Henry's I become paranoid when the wind begins to blow. Today at Magic I had all the confidence of a Dale Carnegie honor graduate in positive thinking. I strung my fly rod, pulled on my waders, grabbed my float-tube, and headed for the lake. I immediately hooked a pair of 16-inch rainbows and felt certain I had the elements under control.

Here I was the only tuber on the lake and the fish were biting. I was fantasizing about 6-pound rainbows and browns, when I felt a stirring against the back of my neck. In five minutes the lake was a sea of whitecaps. In ten minutes the lake's surface was blowing sideways. If you tilted your head just right, it looked a lot like Niagra Falls.

So here I am in front of my trusty old Olympia, trying to write something interesting and pertinent about my trip to Magic. In the absence of that possibility, I guess I will turn to prognosticating the weather. I will guarantee that two days after I move my trailer to my next "fishing assignment," the weather will turn warm and windless at Magic.

And so it did. ~ Marv

About Marv

Marv Taylor's books, Float-Tubing The West, The Successful Angler's Journal, More Fragments of the Puzzle, (Volume I) and More Fragments of the Puzzle, (Volume II) are all available from Marv. You can reach Marv by email at or by phone: 208-322-5760.

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