How To Fish Stillwaters

August 23rd, 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

Dragonflies, Part 2

By Philip Rowley


The climbing nymphs from this family are amongst the most aggressive predators found in stillwaters. Adults are commonly referred to as "darners." These fierce nymphs answer only to each other, predaceous water beetle larvae, giant water beetles and trout in the productive lakes of western North America. This family is widespread with over 38 known species across the continent.

It is easy to distinguish these nymphs by their long hourglass shaped bodies, large heads and compound eyes. The long stocky legs provide lethal stability in their never-ending quest for food. Boldly stalking amongst the weed growth, rocks and bottom debris, darner nymphs grow to an appreciable size during their 3-to 4-year life cycle. Specimens three inches long are common. The first time I saw one of these large patrolling nymphs in the shallows, I mistook it for a crayfish. Their active lifestyle and large size make for an active metabolism eclipsed only by my two sons. Neatly camouflaged in shades of green, brown and olive, it is amazing how close these cunning predators can creep within their intended victim. A swift extension of their under-slung jaw or a short spurt and their hapless prey have no idea what hit them. Only after molting does the nymph's character change. Immediately after a recent instar the nymph is a brilliant lime green dusted with subtle purple flecks. Their huge, black eyes and neon body makes them an obvious standout. Sensing this vulnerability the nymph becomes shy and reclusive until its new skin has hardened and returned to the color of the surrounding environment.

A resting Aeshnidae adult

In early summer the mature nymphs migrate along the bottom and crawl out of the water to emerge. Owing to their increased vulnerability the majority of species within this family tend to hatch under the cover of darkness. Those adults surviving the rigors of emergence carry on where they left off as nymphs, scouring the skies in search of mosquitoes, Chironomids and other food sources. The adults from this family are gigantic, many the size of small birds, wingspans of 5 inches or more coupled with a 4-inch body are not unheard of. The brilliant blue-green adults live from 4 to 6 weeks. Late August and early September sees the culmination of mating. Then adults continue their bold flights until the first frosts of the season put a close on their lives.


The spider-like nymphs from this family are not nearly as bold as their climbing cousins. With over 90 species across North America, this family is the most widespread amongst the dragonfly clan. The sprawling nymphs from this family live in lakes, ponds, ditches and sloughs. In the clear water lakes of British Columbia and the western United States, populations of these nymphs are dense. Favorite haunts include chara weeds and semi-submerged within the marl substrate. A coating of fine hairs adorns the body of this squat nymph. These act as a magnet for debris helping to camouflage this efficient feeder. Common body colors include, green, olive and shades of brown. The external disguise this nymph carts around often obscures its true colors. At maturity the nymphs seldom exceed 1 1/2 inches. Not bold stalkers, nymphs from this family prefer to lie in ambush, waiting for their dinner to come to them. Hence their nickname "sprawlers." When an unsuspecting scud, mayfly nymph or other menu item bumbles into range, the nymph waits patiently. Withholding its attack until the last moment, the spoon-shaped labium explodes outwards engulfing their prey. Up close, the facial appearance of these sprawlers resembles that of a medieval knight. The shy nature of this nymph tends to mask its presence in many lakes. Staying out of the limelight most of the time, the only opportunity trout have to dine on these nymphs is during their hatch migrations. Nonetheless trout always respond well to a pattern crawled along the bottom. Although complete with the jet-propulsion system of all dragonfly families, sprawler nymphs prefer to take their time going about their business. Only when alarmed does this nymph take flight with its front pair of legs held out front as stabilizers while the rear pair trail back along the body.

After 2 to 3 years the nymph crawls ashore to transform into the adult. The brilliantly colored adults are visible from a distance. Libellulidae adults differ from their Aeshnidae cousins not only in color but size too. Adults seldom exceed 3 inches. The distinct black wing patches are another trait of this family. Long-distance flights are not as common with this family as most adults mate and live out their lives, never straying from their home waters. ~ PR

More on dragonflies for lakes 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.

Previous Lake Fishing Columns

If you would like to comment on this or any other article please feel free to post your views on the FAOL Bulletin Board!

[ HOME ]

[ Search ] [ Contact FAOL ] [ Media Kit ] © Notice