FISH ALL DEPTHS
There is a divergence of opinion on how many lines
a stillwater fly fisherman needs in his day-to-day
fishing. I remember a conversation on a T.V. outdoors
show, when two nationally known fly fishermen were
having a slow day catching trout at Wyoming's Monster
Lake and decided to enlighten the audience on the subject
of fly lines. During a very short discussion they agreed
that all they really needed to fish stillwater was a
floater and an Intermediate (super slow sinker).
Those two lines might have been enough for the (pay-to-play)
lake they were fishing at the time the cameras were rolling,
but not for many of the lakes I regularly fish. I would love,
for instance, to compete with those two experts on Idaho's
Henry's Lake with the family farm at stake. If they used
only floating and Intermediate lines, it would be no contest.
The most successful stillwater fly fishermen, in my
opinion, are always prepared to fish different depths
in the water column. Unless I'm fishing an extremely
shallow lake or pond, I carry several different sink-rate
lines in the pockets of my PFDs. In order of importance
I carry the following assortment: A Type I slow sinker;
A Type III hi-density, extra fast sinker; an Intermediate;
a Type II fast sinker; a Type IV super fast, hi-density
sinker; and a Type VI Super deep, hi-density sinker.
My least used line in stillwater is a floater.
While I don't use the super-sinkers on every trip, they
have saved the day for me on a number of occasions. An
example occurred on Montana's Hidden Lake (near West
Yellowstone) some years ago. My partner was fishing a
Type III fast-sinking line and found it just didn't get
deep enough (he didn't own any faster sinking lines). My
Type VI super sinker took a dozen trout before my partner
put on a lead-head jig and finally got deep enough to catch
fish. The key wasn't the pattern or the retrieve; the fish
were 30 feet down and just wouldn't come up for a fly.
While some will argue that my partner could have let his
Type III line sink long enough to reach where the fish
were holding, it has been my experience that most
stillwater fly fishermen do not have that kind of patience.
There is also the advantage of making more casts per minute
with a super sinker. All things being equal, the more times
you run your fly through good holding water, the more apt
you are to have a fish eat your fly.
BE INNOVATIVE IN YOUR PRESENTATION
It takes a fairly high degree of concentration to consistently
present our flies to fish correctly. I can't count the times
I've been fishing a fly on a slow day without remembering just
which pattern I had on after a few casts. While I may have
caught a few fish on some of these occasions, they were mostly
"flukes." While I may have moved my pattern properly, it
was probably just blind luck.
This happens more with some aquatic trout forms than others.
From the time the caddisfly hatches, until it lays its eggs
as an adult, the caddis is a bundle of inconsistencies: It
may, or may not, live in a shell it builds with sticks or
stones; It may, or may not, emerge faster than a speeding
bullet; And it may, or may not, lay its eggs on the surface
(some species dive to the bottom to deposit their eggs).
While current-day fly fishers are becoming more and more
aware of the caddisfly's importance in our sport, many are
catching caddis-eating trout by accident: A dead-drift of
an adult mayfly pattern, that suddenly goes wrong, may be
just the motion that trout expect from a caddisfly. We catch
a fish and believe we have selected the correct pattern for
the mayfly species that is hatching. We keep making attempts
to float our dry fly correctly, keep making mistakes, and
keep catching fish. The final judge of our technique as
fly fishermen lies, obviously, with the fish.
As important as the study of entomology, and the dressing
of fly patterns may be, presentation of the fly will always
be more important that what the fly actually is. Quite often
I see nymph and wet fly fishermen so hung up on a favorite
retrieve, that they forget that not all aquatic trout forms
move in the same manner. While they often use these pet
retrieves on every pattern they fish, it won't always work.
Leeches require one type retrieve; dragonfly nymphs another;
scuds still another.
While it may inflate our egos to think we know exactly
what's going on down under at any given moment, we rarely do.
Often we are just making educated guesses. PFD fly fishermen
fall into two major categories in their "searching" strategies.
There are those who are good at reading a lake for the
high-percentage water. They stop and spend most of their
time casting to specific locations they believe to be "fishy."
They spend time working out any pattern and presentation
problems they might run into.
A second group spends most of their time trolling around a
lake, perhaps picking up a fish here and there. They rarely
focus on potential hot spots and are what I refer to as
"mud on the wall" anglers. They are willing to troll a
mile to catch two or three fish. They certainly don't
spend much time fishing 95-percent water and working out
Now there is nothing wrong with trolling from a PFD from
time to time; especially when you don't have any idea where
the fish are. I use the "long retrieve" method now and then
myself; usually getting from point A to point B. Sometimes
it is the only way to locate fish when you don't have a
fish-finder on your PFD, or a prior history at a particular
I will acknowledge up front that there are anglers who can't
physically handle the fly rod well enough to sit still and
make long casts to potential hot spots. But for the most
part, trolling from a PFD can be a waste of time on many
trout lakes. While the troller might hit a fish here and
there, on a typical lake the troller is often spending
much of his time moving his flies through he 5-percent
water he should be avoiding.
Even when the troller has his PFD in 95-percent water,
he may still be making a huge mistake. Most of the PFD
trollers I see tend to make their casts directly behind
their float tubes or kick boats. In so doing they are
usually trolling their flies through an area they have
just riled up with their water craft and fins. Early
in my float tubing career, I believed my tube and fins
did not disturb trout. I've changed my mind over the
years. PFDs may not disturb the small, juvenile fish,
but I guarantee they will usually cause larger, trophy
fish to have second thoughts about accepting our flies.
When an angler finds what might be a hot spot, he should
sit off to one side and broadcast his casts in a fan-like
pattern. Using the clock, for example, he should make one
cast to 10 o'clock, the next to 2 o'clock. Then he should
come back to 11 o'clock, then to 1 o'clock, etc. The
immediate area of a missed take should be rested for
a couple of minutes. It has been my experience that
my first cast to a prime spot (perhaps identified on
a previous trip), or one that just looks fishy, is
often the cast that attracts a dominant trout. The
more casts and angler makes to a specific area, the
less apt he is to fool mature fish. ~ Marv
Float-Tubing The West, shown
in this article, along with 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
firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: 208-322-5760.