How To Fish Stillwaters

May 5th, 2003

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. Marv Taylor has a wealth of experience in this area and volunteered to write a weekly column to take the mystery out of fishing stillwaters. Stay tuned, you too can master stillwaters! ~ LadyFisher

Best Time of Day To Fish

By Marv Taylor, Garden City, ID

My father taught me that good anglers rise early and are on the water at first light. Shoot.... most of the time Dad and I were fishing "before" it got light. Dad had a lot of his angling rules written in stone. This "early on the water" mandate was etched in granite you couldn't penetrate with a diamond-tipped drill.

I remember a trip when we had hiked nearly a mile down into a deep canyon to a central Idaho river, using flashlights to keep from breaking our fool necks. I think we both had badly skinned knees by the time we reached the river.

We started fishing just as it began to break day. During the first hour neither of us had so much as a bump. My father suggested we build a fire and warm up. We were drinking a cup of coffee from our thermos, when Dad made an insightful observation: "The fish, he told me, "will begin to bite when the sun hits the water."

I did a double-take. "If that's the case, I laughed, trying without success to control my shivering, "why did we leave camp in the middle of the night, so we could be here early enough to fish in the dark?"

I didn't get an answer. But then I didn't really need one. My father loved fishing so much, he believed wasting fishing time was sinful. Dad's 11th commandment was: "The time to go fishing is today, because if you wait until tomorrow, they'll tell you that you should have been there yesterday... and that's today."


This "fish early and fish late, and spend the balance of the time lounging around camp" philosophy may work at times, but on many of the lakes and streams I fish, just the opposite is true.

A good example is Idaho's South Fork of the Boise River below Anderson Ranch Dam. While the evening fishing - particularly the last hour of daylight, when a local caddis hatch is on- can often be very productive on this blue-ribbon trout stream, the South Fork is definitely a midday stream for fly fishermen. Bait fishing on the bottom used to take lots of fish during the early morning hours; but this stretch of the river is now managed for fly and single hook lure. With rare exceptions, veteran fly fishermen fish the South Fork between noon and 5 p.m. Almost all of the major hatches come off during that time frame.

Another midday body of water is Horse Thief Reservoir, my favorite central Idaho trout lake. When I begin fishing this popular fishery, usually at about 11 am, the bait fishermen and trollers will be coming to camp for lunch (telling everybody the fish had quit biting). Most will remain off the lake until they've finished their evening meal.

The midday insect hatches during June, July and August - primarily midges, mayflies, damselflies and a mid-summer red ant- will begin moving between noon and 3 p.m. Not only will the fish be more actively chasing the emerging aquatic and terrestial insects, but those anglers who have remained on the lake during midday will have less competition from bait fishermen and trollers on this beautiful little 600 acre reservoir. Depending on the time of year, fly fishermen and trollers should fish the lake between 11 am and 4 pm; Bait fishermen either begin at first light with bait, or (if they are smart), sleep in and join the fly rodders, using bobbers to keep their baits higher in the water column.

Let's understand why trout move up or down in the water column in a lake or stream when they are in a feeding mood. Early in the day, aquatic life forms will be working near the bottom, feeding on whatever their various species concentrates on. Some will be predating on smaller aquatic insects, others feed on vegetable matter. If the fish are working the bottom for these food forms and see a big nightcrawler lying there - they will probably eat it.

Lakes that have populations of trout that feed heavily on leeches, will have some good early morning (first hour or two of daylight) fishing. Idaho's Henry's Lake is an example of a great leech lake. If it were legal to fish the Big H at night, most of the fly fishermen would sleep days and fish nights (fishing at night has not been allowed at Henry's for almost 20 years. But rumors have it the Idaho Department of Fish and Game is considering removing this night-time restriction).

Henry's Lake is the exception that makes the rule. While the trout in the Big H will certainly intercept emerging aquatic insects between the bottom of the lake and its surface, other than during a damsel hatch, the angler must work his fly along the bottom, right on top of the weed beds.

Where we fish our baits is usually far more important than the nature of the bait. But, even more critical, is "when" we should fish our baits. An angler who regularly fishes a particular body of water, should keep records telling him when he caught his fish (and when others have also been successful). Unless just smelling the roses is enough, the angler should try and fish a body of water when his records tell him he should have his best chances for success.

If I were a mathematician (my accountant says I really wouldn't qualify), I would write the success formula as follows: WHEN + where + how = SUCCESS. The when portion of the equation is without a doubt the most important. It doesn't do much good to fish your flies during times when, for what-ever the reason, the fish are down in the weeds taking a nap. ~ Marv

About Marv

Marv Taylor's books, Float-Tubing The West, 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 or by phone: 208-322-5760.

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