How To Fish Stillwaters

March 15th, 2004

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

Float Tube Magic
Float Tube Fly Fishing Strategies, Part 3

By Patricia C. Pothier

Determining Water Depth And Temperature

You can determine the depth and bottom contour of the lake off shore and the water temperature at the same time. Kick your tube out about ten feet from shore to make your first sounding. You can use an old reel filled with 30 feet of line that is knoted every ten feet with a thermometer attached to the end. Lower the thermometer to the bottom (the line will go slack when it hits the bottom) and it there for two minutes. Then reel it back up counting the number of knots in the return to calculate the depth and read the temperature on the thermometer. The best water temperature for trout fishing is 55 - 65 degrees Fahrenheit. You sjpi;d also check the surface water temperature if you plan to search the shallows. Then move out to about 30 feet from shore and repeat the procedure. If your depth soundind is between 5 - 15 feet keep on the number two sinking line. If the water is deeper or if you want a fast sink, use the 3 or 4 line. And, if the temperature is within the trout feeding range, you know that you don't need to go deeper to find fish as the water is in their comfort zone. Through this kind of search you can also find that productive zone where the shallows drop off into deeper water.

Moving The Fly

In lake fishing, there aren't the same kind of currents to move the natural insects or your artificial flies as there are in stream fishing, so your retrieve (the way you bring in line that has been cast) and speed of kick are how you impart natural movement to your artifical fly. Although this section describes various speeds of retrieve to attract fish, it is generally thought that most anglers retrieve too quickly. So, even if you are impatient to get your line in for another, perhaps better cast, resist the temptation to go faster. A slow or super slow retrieve is often best in calm, clear water while a fast, erratic retrieve may be just the ticket on a windy, choppy day when trout are chasing insects stirred up by the wind. It is usually better, however, to err on the side of retrieving very slowly than too fast.

Cast and Retrieve

After the cast, let the line sink to the selected depth and then begin to retrieve the line. The sinking line will keep the fly at this depth for most of the retrieve.

To execute the retrieve, point your rod tip down the line and actually into the water, hold the rod in your dominant hand, allowing the line to slip under your index finger for control. Grasp the fly line between the thumb and forefinger of your retrieving hand and pull down and back. Then loosen your grasp on the line, letting it fall onto the stripping apron and move your hand back up the line to retrieve again. Line thus retrieved lies in coils in front of you on the stripping apron ready for your next cast.

With your rod still angled toward the bottom of the lake, retrieve your line until you see the leader. Sometimes fish will follow your fly right up to the surface before taking it.

Marvin Taylor (1979) describes several useful retrieves for lake fly fishing: standard, dead drift, super quick and hand twist.
  • Standard retrieve consists of three inch strips (or pulls) in grops of three with a three second pause and repeat. There are three seconds between each strip (pull -1, 2, 3; pull-, 1, 2,3,; pull-1, 2, 3; pause - 1, 2, 3). You can vary this method by making longer strips of 8, 15, or 24 inches with the same timing of pulls and pauses.

  • Dead drift is when you let the line sink to the appropriate depth and troll slowly.

  • Super quick is stripping as fast as possible from bottom to surface using various length strips. This can be paired with fast kicking at the same time for even more effect.

  • Hand twist is a very slow steady retrieve that is executed by grasping the fly line between the thumb and fore finger, pulling a few inches of line toward the palm, rotating the wrist and recoving even more line with the other three fingers.

Gary Borger in his excellent video, Stillwater Fly Fishing, demonstrates a variation of these retrieves that he calls the strip tease. While stripping in the slow standard mode, vibrates the rod by moving the rod tip three inches up and down and then side to side. This added movement simulated the often erratic motion of nymphs.

Brian Farrow (1994) adds another retrieve he calls the twitch-and-stop. After kicking, cast and let the line drop to the desired depth. Than instead of stripping just hold the line in your hand and manipulate it with the forefinger twitching and then pausing. With this technique your line and fly are in the water longer and you make less casts.

Gene Trump (1994) offers the turn retrieve. In the turn retrieve, you cast toward the shore, let your fly sink to the desired depth, then using your fins slowly turn your tube in a circular motion while holding your rod out. The turn allows for a smooth pulling of the fly that continues as long as you continue to rotate. This maneuver is particularly helpful in confined areas where trolling is not possible.

Another effective retrieve when fishing the bottom or into weed beds, is to lift the rod tip up to 10 o'clock position after the fly has settled, then let it drop back down by lowering your rod tip to the water. Be sure to recover any slack that may have formed in the line during this process. Slack in the line can lead to missed strikes due to the fact that you can't feel the fish take the fly. This technique can be repeated during the retrieve and is often very effective because it simulates the struggle of nymphs making their way toward the surface while still seeking the security of their previous home base. ~ PCP

More Strategies next time.

Credits: Excerpt from Float Tube Magic By Patricia C. Potheir, published by Frank Amato Publications. We appreciate use permission.

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