How To Fish Stillwaters

August 11th, 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

The Three-Fly Cast

By Marv Taylor, Garden City, ID

In an article in the British magazine, Stillwater Trout Angler, the author wrote a very interesting piece entitled, "Are You Sending Out The Right Signals?" The piece primarily emphasized sinking lines and the various types of retrieves (the British call them "pulls"). It was an excellent article. The only thing in the article I had problems with, was the author's extensive use of the three-fly cast. It is my impression that stillwater fly anglers in the British Isles rarely, if ever, fishs less than 3 flies at a time.

The inference was made in the article, that it was the "only" system to use in stillwater. With all due respect to the Brits, I'm not so sure. If simply catching lots of fish is the primary reason we fish the fly, then the 3-fly technique probably does work. But I feel we sacrifice a lot of the enjoyment of the sport when we spend the day "flinging" three flies into the wind.

I was first introduced to the 3-fly-cast about 30 years ago. The anglers who showed me the technique were very successful with it on the Idaho's South Fork of the Boise River. Now I will not deny an angler can catch fish using a 3-fly cast. I've seen it done. The problem I have with a leader loaded with more than one fly, is that it detracts from the enjoyment I find in just presenting my patterns to fish.

The only way I would consistently use three flies, would be if it were absolutely, unequivocally, without any doubt, the only productive technique. Which it is not. I have a friend who likens multiple flies as a kin to bait fishing. While I won't go quite that far...I am leaning in that direction.

The specific patterns used by the British in a typical three-fly cast will mean very little to fly fishermen on this side of the big pond. Some of the names mentioned in the article were Mallard and Claret, Black Buzzer, Tubing Buzzer, Diawl Bach and Ombudsman. Certainly not patterns found in most American fly tying books.

The pattern sequence, however, is something we can relate to. The top fly in a British three-fly cast, is usually some type of midge or chironomid emerger (called buzzers by the Brits). The second and third flies are often mayfly nymphs or caddis pupas that may or may not be hatching.

Another factor to consider when choosing three "compatible" patterns, is the density of the sinking line being used. When using a floating line, for instance, the three flies should mimic aquatic life forms that are commonly found near the surface; midge, mayfly, and caddisfly emergers.

On deep-sinking lines, on the other hand, the best results will be obtained using patterns that represent life forms that are usually found nearer the bottom; such as leeches, crayfish, scuds and sculpins. The patterns should be selected carefully. The various aquatic life forms move differently in the water. Some swim fast and erratically, others move slowly. One should be careful and try not to "mix" the actions. One would not normally match a rapidly swimming nymph pattern, for example, with a normally dead in the water snail fly.

Two patterns that have worked well together, for this writer, have been a damsel nymph and leech. Both swim fairly slowly, either just beneath the surface or near the bottom. Different leech patterns obviously work well together.

CONCLUSION: While I personally prefer to fish just one fly at a time in stillwater, I will on occasion use a dropper with a second compatible pattern. compliments to the Brits...I will never use a 3-fly cast in my lake and reservoir fishing.

I do often use two flies in stream fishing; and once every 10 or 15 years, I might even be persuaded to tie on a third fly. ~ 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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