How To Fish Stillwaters
June 13th, 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
Part 2

By Gary LaFontaine


The greatest difference between my stream fishing equipment and my lake fishing equipment is the number of fly lines in my arsenal. For stream fishing there are two types of lines, a floating line for dry flies, shallow-water nymphs, and small wet flies or streamers, and a slinky rig, which really isn't a fly line at all but a monofilament running line with a slime line coating (Dai Riki Shooting Line), for bottom-dredging nymph fishing. I use floating line 98 percent of the time. For lake fishing I carry nine lines and, while the floating line is still my mainstay—the choice for roughly 70 percent of my stillwater fishing—I use the other lines a lot during a season.

  • Floating line—full, weight-forward line with a dull, olive finish for the 8-foot 9-inch, 3-weight rod (Teeny Professional Series)

    On calm days trout in lakes, with no current riffling the surface, spook easy. A fly line, more than anything, shouldn't hurt my chances of catching these fish. It has to be light, a 3-weight dropping more softly than an 8-weight on the water. It has to be a dark, not light, and it has to have a dull finish, not a shiny one. It has to be a weight-forward because sometimes on stillwaters distance casting is important.

  • Floating line—shooting head for the 9-foot 6-inch, 8-weight rod (Scientific Angler Ultra 3 Shooting Taper Floating Line)

    Sometimes distance casting is really important, especially when fishing from the bank. This is not a dull, dark-colored line (there are no dark shooting tapers in a floating line on the market). It gets dipped in green Rit dye. To hide the splash of the heavier line I make the leader at least sixteen feet long.

  • Floating line—full-length, special-taper weight-forward with a mist green finish for the 12-foot, 7-weight rod (Scientific Angler Mastery Steelhead Floating Line).

    I carry this full-length line with its long rear taper for smoother roll casting, for the long rod. This rod and line combination allows for those sixty-foot roll casts.

  • Floss blow line—90 feet for the 12-foot, 7-weight rod (no brand—it's just dental floss) This is flat, unwaxed dental floss, wound on a plastic cassette, for blow line dapping. The floss is available in bulk rolls from a dentist.

  • Sink-tip line—weight-forward, pale fluorescent yellow line with a 15-foot, dark brown sinking-tip section for the 9-foot 6-inch, 8-weight rod (Orvis Hy-Flote Sink Tip Line)

    Slow retrieves with a nymph often inspire subtle takes by the fish. With a regular sinking line even the most intent angler will miss these strikes. With a sink-tip line the juncture between the floating and sinking sections acts as a strike indicator, signaling the slightest tug on the fly. I use a sink tip for slow retrieves and a full sinking line for moderate and fast retrieves.

  • Sink-tip line—weight forward, yellow line with a 5-foot sinking mini-tip for the 8-foot 9-inch, 3-weight rod (Teeny Mini-Tip)

    Jim Teeny put on a lake fishing presentation in a large, glass-sided tank at a sportsmen's show. He demonstrated how different sinking lines act in the water. As he cast the mini-tip line, he said, "I love to spot fish cruising along the bottom, and this is the line that I use to get a fly in front of them quickly. The 'quickly' is the important thing."

    The mini-tip is the perfect line for presenting a nymph in six feet or less of water. It doesn't plummet right to the bottom, pulling the fly below the fish, like a full-sinking line. It's better than a floating line and a long leader because it gets a fly near the bottom faster.

    The problem with deep cruising trout is that they are hard to spot until they get close. With a sink rate of three to five inches per second on the mini-tip, you don't need much time to get a fly near the bottom. You can control the exact depth of the presentation by changing the weight on the fly or the length of the leader.

  • Intermediate line—weight forward, neutral density, amber line for the 8-foot 9-inch, 3-weight rod (Orvis 82-foot Intermediate Line)

    This neutral density line is only slightly heavier than water. It sinks just under the choppy, wind-driven current on a lake. It stays straight during a retrieve, instead of bellying, and this allows much better hook setting with a shallow, subsurface fly.

  • Full sinking line - weight forward, black line for the 9-foot 6-inch, 8-weight rod (Scientific Anglers Uniform Sink V with a sink rate of six inches per second or, as an alternative the Teeny T-400 shooting head with a faster sink rate of eight inches oer second)

    The modern lines sink uniformly. The tips are slightly higher density than the belly, eliminating sag in the line for better, direct-pull hooking. These are the lines I use for the countdown method. When the bottom has large rocks or sunken trees that eat flies, carefully counting down before retrieving is the only reliable way to skim the fly over fish-holding structure.

  • Lead core - 30-foot, shooting-head, green line for the 9-foot 6-inch rod (Cortland 450-grain Kerboom).

    For me this line is not for plumbing the deepest waters imaginable with a fly rod. It's possible to catch trout in thirty to fifty feet of water, and sometimes - especially when goldens are sucking minute organisms - it's tempting to fish those depths, but the fly rod is not an efficient tool for deep presentation. I limit my bottom fishing to depths of ten to fifteen feed (depending on my boredom threshold that day.)

    The lead-core line is for a special technique called the Yo-Yo Retrieve that is indispensable on valley lakes, and only occasionally useful on mountain lakes. The reason for this disparity is that rich valley lakes have soft, mucky, weed-covered bottoms and, with a few exceptions, mountain lakes have open, weedless bottoms. The Yo-Yo Retrieve works on rich, high-country stillwaters that are formed in soft earth instead of scraped out of rock. With the Yo-Yo Retrieve the lead-core shooting head drops to the mud bottom. In some mountain lakes it woudl get tangled on a boulder or log strewn bottom.

    The depth doesn't matter as long as a spot holds trout. Use the heavy lead-core line even in a few feet of water; the shooting line behind the lead core is always monofilament rather than floating running line. The leader varies from five to twelve feet, depending on the thickness of the weed beds - the heavier the weeds the longer the leader. The fly, a specially tied pattern with a foam underbody, such as a Floating Damsel, Floating Emergent Sparkle Pupa, or Floating Marabou Single Egg, floats up over the weeds. With every strip of the retrieve the floating pattern dives and with every pause it bobs up, but the teasing action of the fly is only part of the Yo-Yo's effectiveness.

    The other secret of the Yo-Yo is the lead-core line pulling through the weeds - not tearing them up but sending up puffs of mud and scaring out insects, crustaceans, leeches, and minnows. The heavy, lead-core shooting head creates a thirty-foot chum line as it slightly disturbs the bottom. This triggers feeding by the fish as the floating and diving fly swims right through them.

    There are dozens of mountain lakes in my region with the right bottom characteristics for the Yo-Yo Retrieve. The specialized line and flies are worth carrying for rich waters because the technique often works on those dead fishing days when nothing else takes trout. ~ GL

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

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