How To Fish Stillwaters
July 25th, 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

Streamers for Stillwater Fly Fishing

By Gary LaFontaine


Plain Jane

    HOOK: 10-14; TMC 5263—3X long streamer hook
    TAIL: marabou (clipped in a short stub)
    BODY: eggshell white yarn (wrapped)
    WING: marabou fibers (extending to the end of the tail)
    HEAD: natural gray deer hair (spun and clipped rough)

The marabou can be white for rainbows, pale green for cutthroats, yellow for brown trout, or red for brook trout. This fly is subtle enough that it doesn't make fish hesitate on the strike. It isn't big enough or flashy enough to be a threat. The Plain Jane is my favorite streamer when trout are in that pre-spawn, aggressive mood.

Bristle Leech

    HOOK: 4-6; TMC 5263—3X long streamer hook
    WEIGHT: strip of lead wire (tied along the top of the hook shank so that the fly rides upside down)
    SPINES: two short pieces of stiff, heavy monofilament tied in about one-third of the shank back from the eye at a 75-degree angle above the shank
    BODY: gray rabbit fur (still on the skin; wrapped) WING: two whole, gray marabou feathers (tied on the bottom of the hook shank so that the fly rides upside down)

This fly can be fished like any regular leech, with a swimming retrieve that makes the marabou fibers and soft fur flow sinuously. It is also the best pattern for the Multiple Roll technique. But it is designed specifically for sand- or mud-bottomed lakes and a unique method of presentation. Like most of my flies the Bristle Leech has a trigger characteristic—unlike all my other flies the "trigger" has nothing to do with how the fly itself looks or acts.

The trigger for the Bristle Leech is what it does when it's pulled off a soft lake bottom. Let the upside-down fly settle to the sand or mud. The stiff, monofilament spines will press into the bottom. When you jerk the fly, the spines kick up a puff of silt. This is exactly what the natural leech does when it comes out of the mud and starts swimming. The little spout of dirt, whether it's caused by a real leech or a Bristle Leech, is an attention getter.


Marabou Single Egg
    HOOK: 16; TMC 3769—2X heavy wet-fly hook
    WEIGHT: a piece of lead wire (lashed to the underside of the hook shank)
    EGG PUFF: marabou (red, salmon, yellow, or pink) tied in at the bend of the hook and looped to the eye, where it is tied in just behind the hackles
    BODY: pink sparkle yarn (wrapped)
    HACKLE: scarlet rooster

Sometimes the only thing that will work is an egg pattern. It's fine even to cast to wild fish in an overpopulated lake; there's nothing wrong with casting to trout in a stocked lake where there is no successful natural reproduction. The Marabou Single Egg catches those fish that are too preoccupied with fighting or nest building to take any regular fly.

THESE ARE ALL my patterns. They are not the only flies that will work on stillwaters; and they are not the only flies in my box. Other favorites include Randall Kaufmann's Timberline Emerger and Ralph Cutter's Martis Midge. These are not general flies, either. They are designed for stillwaters. It doesn't matter whether you carry three patterns or three hundred patterns—the key to success will always be knowing both when and how to use each fly in the box. The key for mountain lakes is carrying flies designed for stillwaters, not a random assortment of running water patterns.

Even if you understand the reason behind a pattern's design, you may still be unable to put together the puzzle of when and how to use that fly. There's a third dimension in fly fishing—where you fish controls the when and how. The methods that work on infertile lakes are different from the methods that work on rich lakes for a reason.

I categorize stillwaters by the food base. In my classification it's not just the diversity of food types in any given body of water that separates one lake from another. It's the amount of food overall, paucity versus abundance, that ends up being much more important to my fly fishing strategy. In an infertile lake the trout are like wandering trash-pickers for most of the day, sorting through all the waste in search of something good. In a rich lake, prey items are so abundant that when one of them hits a vulnerable stage in the life cycle, the trout move to specific areas and slop heavily on available individuals. ~ GL

To be continued, next time: More on the lakes

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