How To Fish Stillwaters

June 28th, 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


By Philip Rowley

Scuds or freshwater shrimp are cousins to aquatic sow bugs, crayfish and shrimp. Only Chironomids are more important in the trout's diet. Scuds are also available in rivers, streams and spring creeks. In stillwaters they can form over 20% of the trout's food intake during the open-water season. In the early spring and fall scuds are a preferred food item. Rich in protein, scuds enable trout to quickly pack on the weight. Growth rates of over a pound and a half within a single season are not uncommon. Any body of water containing scuds guarantees a good population of fat, healthy trout.

In the photo shown above, is a cluster of feeding scuds. Notice the orange marsupium on the upper scud.

Scuds have a distinct armadillo appearance, due to their segmented exoskeleton. Scuds carry their seven pairs of legs and gills beneath their body. The front two pairs grasp food while the rear legs are an efficient form of locomotion. Scuds are capable of quick bursts of speed. More often, they move and crawl along the bottom in a very random and erratic fashion. It is not uncommon to see scuds upside down or falling through the water in a series of acrobatic motions. Slow, varied retrieves work best.

Scuds have no emergence of any kind. They begin life as a scud and end life as a scud. Scuds mate in a piggyback fashion with the female on top. Prolific breeders, one pair of scuds under ideal conditions can produce up to seven broods per year with up to 20,000 offspring. In these plague-like numbers it is easy to see why scuds are such an important food source for trout. Some productive lakes contain densities of over 10,000 scuds per square yard. Omnivorous, opportunistic feeders, scuds feed upon carrion, weeds and other aquatic invertebrates. I have seen them eat water boatmen and attack caddis larvae and damselfly nymphs in "piranha-like" fashion.

The two main species of scuds fly fishers and tiers need to consider are Gammarus and Hyalella. Hyalella are the most widespread. Gammarus need high concentrations of calcium to develop and maintain their exoskeletons. Waters containing high concentrations of calcium are clear and have dense mats of chara weed and marl shoals. Algae lakes are also productive and harbor large scud populations. I have seen Hyalella present in high alpine lakes, coastal sloughs and backwaters of large rivers. The only distinguishing factor between the two species is size. Hyalella seldom exceed 1/8 of an inch in length, while Gammarus can reach 5/8 of an inch or larger. Trout feed on both species but from my observations show a preference for the smaller Hyalella, especially in the fall. ~ PR

More on Scuds from Phil Rowley's excellent book, Fly Patterns for Stillwaters next time.

Credits: Excerpt from Fly Patterns for Stillwaters By Philip Rowley, published by Frank Amato Publications. We appreciate use permission.

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