How To Fish Stillwaters

August 30th, 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 3:
Thoughts on Pattern Design

By Philip Rowley

Stillwater fly tiers can imitate many aspects of dragon nymphs with their prominent eyes, stout legs and their distinct shapes. I have tried many patterns from exact woven body replicas to simple dubbed Carey Special designs. The best dragon designs are a blend of suggestive features and materials placed in an imitative format.

The obvious feature for any pattern is size. Dragon nymphs are a healthy mouthful. Hook sizes range from 10 2XL through 4 6XL. If I had to choose one size it would be a number 6. Keep in mind the time of the year as the mature nymphs that hatch in the early summer will be the largest. Once the big boys hatch, the smaller immature nymphs dominate the scene. For fall fishing size 8 or 10 3XL meets my needs.

I am not a fan of weighted dragonfly nymphs. Weighted patterns dredge up too much weed and debris to be consistently effective. I prefer the other end of the spectrum, floating or buoyant patterns. I let my fly line carry the fly into the depths. The fly line lies on the bottom or amongst the weeds while I trundle the pattern along imitating a dragon nymph on the prowl or slinking from one ambush spot to another.

The two types of dragonfly nymphs have very distinct looks. The sprawler nymphs are squat and spider like, while the climbing nymphs have an hourglass shape. Despite their size, it is easy to overdo these shape guidelines. For instance, a mature darner nymph is typically 2 1/2 inches in length but is only about 3/8 of an inch wide. Fly tiers should remember to keep their proportions honest. Along with their unique bodies, dragon nymphs have large heads, menacing compound eyes and long, stout legs. My favorite body material is dubbing. Dragon nymphs have translucent bodies and nothing beats dubbing for imitating translucence. Seal's fur is an original favorite but it is not always available. Fortunately there are many fine synthetics that make excellent substitutes. For added highlights, spin a length of Crystal Chenille within the dubbing loop. To imitate sprawler nymphs I combine a body of spun deer hair with an overbody of Furry Foam. I use buoyant materials to imitate the plodding sprawlers to help float the pattern above the weeds and debris. This merger of foam and deer lets me creep my offering along the bottom. Aftershaft feathers are another popular material for sprawler nymphs. Their soft flowing fibers mimic the fuzzy look of the sprawlers.

Let local vegetation guide color selection. Both families are masters of camouflage, especially sprawlers. Popular color combinations include shades of brown, green and olive. Mottled and variegated color schemes are common. As a rule the clearer the lake, the lighter the nymphs. This is true of most aquatic invertebrates. In darker algae or tannin-stained waters, darker browns and olives will be prevalent. One color to keep in mind is bright green. Dragon nymphs progress through a series or molts or instars as they mature. Immediately after a molt, the nymph is a vivid lime green. They stick out like a sore thumb. Until their coloration I returns to a more natural hue, these nymphs are in constant peril from foraging trout. Trout relish these fresh nymphs like smallmouth and bonefish cherish soft crayfish and crabs.

There are many interesting materials that can be used to imitate the eyes. Trimmed peacock herl pheasant tail is an excellent starting point. Commercially or homemade monoeyes are popular too. My current favorite is foam as trimmed foam eyes assist in providing floatation and at the same time offer a realistic look. It is a concept borrowed from an English pattern called the Booby. The Booby uses large foam eyes not so much for imitation but rather to suspend the pattern above the weed tops. This buoyant pattern crept along the bottom is quite deadly. Actually the Booby has become so effective that it has spawned controversy, with a number of stillwaters throughout the British Isles enforcing Booby bans.

Leg materials need to be supple but stiff. This seems to be an oxymoron of sorts. But when creeping and crawling the pattern along the bottom, the legs have to move independently, suggesting the stalking motion of the nymph. When stripped, the legs should fold along the body, imitating a nymph fleeing for cover or darting after prey. For years, tiers used pheasant tail and hen pheasant tail fibers. In British Columbia, knotted legs are popular. After studying many of the bass patterns out there I have added both rubber and silicone legs to my designs. These legs jiggle and dance with the slightest motion, yet will tuck naturally along the sides during brisk retrieves. ~ PR

Publisher's Note: For more information on the 'booby fly' see: Mini Hammnerhead Booby Nymph.

More on food opportunities for trout in 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.

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