How To Fish Stillwaters
June 20th, 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 3, conclusion

By Gary LaFontaine


My selection includes short leaders, three feet long tapering to 1X, for streamer fishing with sinking lines, and medium length leaders, seven to nine feet long tapering from 4X to 8X, for nymph fishing. I use long leaders - up to eighteen feet long and carefully tapered for good turnover - for emerger and dry fly fishing.

My experiences on mountain lakes have made me very fussy about colored lines and long, hand-tied, perfectly tapered leaders for my surface fishing. There has been only one day when this "stealth" combination wasn't good enough. It was on Abicaulis Lake in the Clark Fork of the Columbia drainage:

Log entry: August 17th
Miracle of miracles—the wind is a curse on this little lake, not just blowing but always blowing hard, but today there was only a breeze. Over half of the lake was flat calm and trout were rising everywhere.

I paddled out in the kick boat and my passing didn't stop fish from feeding. Then I cast, the line settled on the water easily, and everything in a patch of ten square yards ran from the area. Not only did that circle in the lake go dead but it stayed dead. An hour later, with fish still dimpling everywhere else, nothing moved in that circle. I made two more casts, created two more empty zones, and started wishing for the return of the endless winds.

The only way I could take fish on a dry fly was by kicking over to the choppy water and casting back into the flat water. Even then the fly line had to land entirely in the chop; only the leader could touch the flat water without scattering these hypersensitive trout.

I used an eighteen-foot leader, which took some tinkering and tying to get it to turn over into the breeze that was blowing in my face. It had to be as long as possible to reach as far as possible into the flat water. Once the fly, a size-14 Shroud to match the Callibaetis, was into the middle of the feeding fish, it only took a few minutes to get a strike.

Chest Pack

  • Predator Equipment Company
    For hiking while fishing the chest pack works better with a backpack than a vest. Mine isn't overly stuffed, except with flies (which weigh next to nothing). Following are items you are likely to find in my chest pack:

  • Binoculars (Orvis Image Stabilizer Binoculars).

  • Fly Boxes (Sierra Pacific Bristle Tack Fly Boxes)
    Weight is always a consideration, and these are light.

  • Fly Flotant (Loon Aquel or BTs Float-EZY).

  • Gum Rubber Shock Material.
    Dentists use this clear rubber material with braces. A 12-inch piece, tied with a double surgeon's knot between the butt section and the leader, cushions strikes and sudden lunges, preventing break-offs with fine tippets.

  • Hook File.
    This is for sharpening hooks, which should become a ritual before tying any fly onto the leader.

  • Indicator Yarn
    This is for the Hang-and-Bob Technique. Black, which shows up in the silvery glare, and yellow are valuable colors on lakes.

  • Leader Material (Maxima Chameleon from the butt section through OX; and Umpqua for IX through 8X) The properly tied dry-fly leader has a stiff butt, a fast-turning center, and a supple tippet. Even a nymph leader needs a supple tippet.

  • Nippers.

  • Polaroid Sunglasses.

  • Split Shot.

  • Stomach Pump.
    The name is misleading. The angler squeezes in a bit of water and sucks up the last few items a fish ate from his gullet. Properly used, the stomach pump goes nowhere near the stomach and doesn't injure a fish.

  • Thermometer.

What's missing? I leave out a lot of small accessories that are standard equipment in my regular fishing vest because every ounce counts; and a net is too bulky to carry into the high country.

MY FRIENDS would wake up screaming in the night at the thought of fishing a lake with only their river equipment. They are stillwater specialists, with rods, reels, lines, and leaders designed for the challenges posed by ponds and lakes. They also fish streams and rivers, but they use equipment designed to handle problems presented by running water.

Why don't stream specialists, who comprise the overwhelming majority of fly fishermen, have the same aversion to fishing a lake with only their river equipment? It doesn't seem to bother most of them. On any summer day on any popular Montana trout lake there are plenty of fly fishermen flailing away futilely with inappropriate gear. They catch little or nothing playing slog-and-flog.

The richer a lake, the more specialized you have to be to catch trout. Even on mountain waters, populated with supposedly unsophisticated wild fish, tactics developed specifically for stillwaters fool the most, the biggest, and the toughest residents. These specialized techniques require specialized equipment. Consistent success in lakes start with the proper tackle. ~ GL

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