How To Fish Stillwaters
June 6th, 2005

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

Equipment for Stillwater Tactics

By Gary LaFontaine

MY DOG, Chester, rode on the back of my kick boat. My brother Jay was in an identical kick boat, an inflated blue oval with a hole in the middle, and the two of us used fins and oars to race across the lake. We started casting against the cliffs of the far shore and soon Jay hooked a fat, 13-inch cutthroat. My faithful dog seemed a bit upset as he watched Jay play the fish, but he stayed firmly planted on my kick boat. It was a touching display of his confidence in me. I didn't get a strike on my first few casts, but Jay soon hooked another nice cutthroat. My boy Chester stood up and paced a bit on the back platform of the kick boat, but then he sat down and stared at me. It was a touching display of his devotion to the one who cared for and loved him. My next few casts were ignored by the fish, but Jay quickly hooked a third big cutthroat. I heard a splash and turned around to see Chester swimming over to my brother's kick boat. It was a disgusting display of a "catch-fish-or-cut-bait" mentality that grips overly competitive fishing dogs.

With the kick boats that day on Big Creek Lake we caught trout that ran between 12 and 15 inches. There were plenty of other people camping on the lake, even though it was a steep, eleven-mile climb from the trailhead to the lake, but not a single one of them had a flotation device to reach the far shore. A troop of thirty-two Boy Scouts, a horse packer with six clients, and twenty-one other backpackers were all fishing and keeping trout for a camp meal, but the cutthroats they were catching along the accessible shoreline only ran between 8 and 11 inches.

On any trip into the high country, even with pack animals lugging part of the load, every ounce of equipment has to be justified. An inflatable kick boat, in its carrying case and with fins, boots, waders, and life vest, weighs close to thirty pounds. I've taken that load many times on goats, alpacas, llamas, and horses, sacrificing some food or camping gear. In desperation I've also thrown the kick boat on top of my regular pack—which itself weighs fifty pounds for a weekend trip—and beat myself to death carrying in a lake-crossing craft. If I can't take a kick boat, a special, lightweight backpacker's float tube, weighing about ten pounds with fins, waders, boots, and life vest, goes with my gear.

I can't tell someone what they must bring into the high country. My backpacking friends, all stillwater experts have different preferences than I do; and with each of them the equipment fits his or her grab bag of tactics. My equipment lets me cover a lake my way.

The actual brand names of tackle are included for reference. My listings are not meant as recommendations. The products are my actual fishing tackle, and these items work for me. I haven't done extensive comparisons between various brands, and there are surely products as good from other manufacturers.

What follows is an extensive list of specialized stillwater equipment. The beginner at lake fly fishing probably isn't going to purchase the full array immediately. The first rod to own is one that many running water anglers already have—a long (eight feet or longer) 3-, 4-, or 5-weight rod. That rod, with a floating line and a sink-tip line, is enough to catch trout feeding on the surface or in the shallows.


The best rods for hiking the mountains are not the multi-piece pack rods. This has nothing to do with the design qualities of the rods—it has everything to do with walking. Of the three rods in my high-country gear, one is a four-piece breakdown model and two are two-piece models in old aluminum rod cases. Those long rod cases serve as walking sticks, especially on steep trails where the arm muscles can help the leg muscles on uphills and downhills. Here's what I use:

  • 9-foot 6-inch, 8-weight two-piece (Scott Eclipse)
    This heavy rod is mostly for deep presentations with sinking lines.

  • 8-foot 9-inch, 3-weight two-piece (Sage LL)
    This is my basic dry-fly and shallow-water nymphing rod. The soft tip of the rod protects the fine tippets used with small midge imitations. The light line lands softer than a heavier line and doesn't spook trout as badly in calm conditions.

  • 12-foot, 7-weight four-piece (Winston LT Spey)
    This rod has two purposes. It's for dapping in the wind with a floss blow line—an important technique for me— and it's for bank casting. Most of my lake fishing is from a kick boat, but there are times when it's too much trouble to put on waders, boots, and fins and go out in the kick boat. For those brief periods the long rod is great for casting from the shore. When trees are tight to the water's edge, with no room for a backcast, you can easily roll cast sixty feet of line.


  • STH #2 IM Cassette

    My one reel for mountain lakes is the kind with plastic cassettes. These quick-change cassettes, nine of them, are filled with different types of fly lines. This reel also has a smooth drag system, important for protecting fine leader tippets. ~ GL

    To be continued, next time: More Equipment for Stillwater Tactics

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