How To Fish Stillwaters
June 27th, 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

Dry Fly Patterns for Stillwater Fly Fishing

By Gary LaFontaine


The most important class of dry fly for mountain lakes is the terrestrial imitation. The trout, feeding on blow-ins day after day throughout the summer, look for ants, beetles, bees, and spiders. The image of drowned fare floating awash on the surface gets imprinted in their minds.

Foam Ant
HOOK: 10-20; TMC 5230—3X fine wire
BODY: closed-cell packing foam (colored red, black, or brown with a marker)
HACKLE: rooster hackle (one turn of hackle between the two foam sections)

The big, black carpenter ants dominate the blow-in fare early in the season, but by midsummer the size-18 or -20 Red Foam Ant is my favorite variation.

Flying Ant
HOOK: 10-20; TMC 5230—3X fine wire
BODY: closed-cell packing foam tied in two sections (colored red, black, or brown with a marker)
WING: clear Antron (tied back at a 45-degree angle)

A size-10 Flying Ant doubled as a flying termite imitation on Gold Lake in Colorado. Look for ant and termite falls in late summer.

Foam Beetle
HOOK: 8-18; TMC 100—standard dry fly
BODY: peacock herl
BODY HACKLE: dyed olive grizzly (palmered and clipped flat on top and bottom)
WING: closed-cell packing foam (colored green on the bottom with a marker)

This pattern is the most important fly in my box for high lakes. There are always beetles in the stomach samplings of trout; and the fish will even break off selective feeding on other organisms to take a real beetle. The Foam Beetle pulls trout farther than the Foam Ant. It's also more visible—with the white top of the foam wing sticking up at an angle—than the ant imitation in choppy water. This is a great searching fly for general prospecting on windy afternoons, when you know the fish are looking to the surface but rises are impossible to see.

In our fishing, the Foam Beetle proved to be a much better stillwater pattern than a running water pattern. But why? With Graham Marsh and Tom Poole doing the scuba diving, we watched trout approach the Foam Beetle in both a lake and a river. The closed-cell packing foam, a strong attractor material because of the way it diffuses light, brought trout rushing up to the fly in both environments. In lakes a fish settled under the Foam Beetle and watched it for a few seconds; and then, as if simply looking at it was enough to calm doubts, it would rise to the fly. In streams a fish would also rush up under the fly, but as it stared at it the Foam Beetle would drift off with the current. This is a pattern that trout like to study before eating.

Foam Spider
HOOK: 14-16; TMC 100—standard dry fly
LEGS: deer hair tips tied in the middle (one pack extending out on each side)
BODY: closed-cell packing foam (colored brown with a marker) tied directly in front of the legs, with a longer section folded behind the legs, and a shorter section folded in front of the legs.

Spiders are another ubiquitous blow-in on lakes. The difference with them is that they seem, on purpose, to ride the air currents as a form of dispersal. They are important when vertical winds are blowing through the treetops; and as a result they seem to show up on the water at different times than other terrestrials. This makes a specific imitation a valuable fly.

Deer Hair Hornet
HOOK: 12-14; TMC 100—standard dry fly hook
BODY: yellow and black deer hair (alternating bands of spun and clipped hair) with a tapered waist about one-quarter the length of the hook shank behind the eye.
WING: clear Antron (fastened at the waist of the fly)

This is as much an attractor as an imitation. It's a big bright fly, and trout will swim a long way to take a look at it. The fish often circle the pattern, apparently suspicious of something that stings, but the way to counter this aggravating behavior is to fish a tandem of a Deer Hair Hornet and a Foam Ant. The trout come for the Hornet but end up taking the Ant.

Aquatic Insects

The high-country angler needs imitations for all the major stillwater insect orders.

Dancing Caddis
HOOK: 8-12; TMC 101—ring eye, wide gap, IX fine dry-fly hook.
BODY: natural or synthetic fur (color to match the natural insect).
WING: deer hair (color to match the natural insect) tied on the underside of the hook shank.
HACKLE: rooster to match the body color.

I'm not sure which dry fly would be my second, "must-have" choice after the Foam Beetle, this one or the Shroud. The Dancing Caddis matches either the sedentary or the running caddisfly adult, but when it's stripped across the top it makes a great prospecting fly even when there are no real caddis on the water. It's not just for calm surfaces, either. It bounces on choppy water, but it still draws slashing strikes. It's important to grease the entire leader (and even the line tip) with flotant with any stripped or twitched fly or else the sunken nylon will pull the fly under on the retrieve.

HOOK: small Flex Hook (roughly equivalent to a size 10)
Rear Section
TAIL: black Antron yarn (short, combed out)
BODY: high-density foam tied in at the tail, folded over and tied down with copper wire.
RIB: copper wire (binding down the foam).
BOTTOM WING: clear Antron
Front Section
TOP WING: calf tail tied at the back of the front section
BODY: Two strips of high-density foam tied in front of the wing and folded to the eye on the top and bottom of the shank

This imitation is tied in both gray, for the freshly emerged adult, and blue, for the mature egg-laying adult. It is a good fly to just toss out on the water and see what happens. The Flex-Damsel is a prime chunk, a big morsel for a trout to come up for from the bottom.

Improved Buzz Ball
HOOK: 10-14; TMC—standard dry fly hook
HACKLE: medium blue dun, orange, and grizzly (three hackles palmered and trimmed with a V-notch top and bottom)
WING: white Antron (short; extending half way back over the body)

The "improved" refers to the white Antron wing added to the original to make the fly more visible to the angler. The Buzz Ball imitates a mating clump of midges. For me it's an early or late season fly, something to toss up against an ice edge when adult midges are spinning in a tight mass over the water.

Antron Bivisible
HOOK: 10-22; TMC 5230—3X fine wire
REAR HACKLE: rooster (color to match the natural—mainly gray, brown, cream, olive, black, or red; hackle tied in by the tip and palmered to form taper)
FRONT HACKLE: clear Antron (the Antron fibers are put in a loop of thread and spun into a hackle) This pattern actually has three uses—for dapping with a floss blow line, for imitating an adult midge, and for imitating a Trico mayfly dun. It is just a good, all-around stillwater pattern.

HOOK: 8-16; TMC 5230—3X fine wire
TAIL: red marabou
BODY: gray natural or synthetic fur (covering only the rear half of the hook shank)

HACKLE: medium blue dun (two hackles tightly wrapped; covering the front half of the hook shank)

Originally this was a running water pattern for me, but then as a result of articles in Trout & Salmon, the English fly fishing magazine, it became popular in the United Kingdom as a stillwater fly. My early attempts at fishing the Shroud on ponds around the Deer Lodge valley during the Callibaetis hatch were so wonderful that this became one of my favorite stillwater flies, too.

It's a dry-fly Woolly Worm. The marabou tail ]doesn't sink the fly—it rides sodden in the surface film and with every twitch it slithers through the water. As a result the Shroud is one of the greatest general searching patterns on any type of stillwater environment. The Shroud and the Pheasant Tail Twist Nymph fished with a tandem presentation are absolutely the finest combination for mastering a Callibaetis hatch.

Clear Wing Spinner
HOOK: 14-22; TMC 5230—3X fine wire
TAIL: two hackle fibers (split)
BODY: synthetic or natural fur (thicker at the thorax)
WING: clear Antron fibers

This is the easiest spinner imitation to see on the water because the clear Antron wings stand out brightly on the surface. With the Clear Wing Spinner either match the Trico spinner (sizes 18-22 black) or the Callibaetis spinner (sizes 12-16 gray). ~ GL

To be continued, next time: Emergers and Wet Flies

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