I think we can agree most accomplished still-water fly fisherman focus the major amount of their time and effort on fishing structure in lakes. Structure can be categorized into several areas such as inlets and outlets, shoals, drop offs, weed beds, protruding points and shelves, underwater springs, woody debris and beaver huts. The littoral zone or shallow areas usually less than 25 feet deep is where the majority of the trout’s food base resides in a lake. Knowledgeable anglers will fish this zone with subsurface presentations and imitations imitating chironomids, dragonfly nymphs, damselfly nymphs, Caddisfly pupa, scuds, snails, mayfly nymphs as well as backswimmer and water boatman.
Another approach lake anglers take when aquatic insect activity is slow or non-existent is to fish leech’s or forage base food forms (minnow patterns). Good times to fish these forage patterns is early or late in the day or on cloudy bleak days hoping trout are in the mood to chase and eat. Many of these aquatic food forms will provide tremendous opportunities to fish many hatch or non-hatch type situations. These transient periods of both aquatic insect availability and full-on forage food predatory activities will require different presentation, delivery and retrieve styles. The angler will have to be prepared to present any specific fly pattern deeper down into the water column, just subsurface, in the film, or on the lake surface. With either an active or nonactive presentation/retrieve when any food base becomes available and/or vulnerable, especially during insect emergences and egg laying activity.
Two factors that control success on any outing on still-water is knowing the precise depth the trout are feeding at and what exactly they are feeding on. Are the fish feeding deep, shallow, just below or in the surface film, or even on the surface of the lake. Are they cruising in shallow, along weed beds or has the water temperature and food location resulted in the fish going deeper in the water column. Are they actively feeding or in the doldrums in which case you will have to elicit a response by using what is referred to as attractor patterns. There are times when anyone of several patterns will catch fish during those times when a specific food item is not readily and easily available. However, there are times when fly size, fly colour and fly profile, as well as the depth at which you intend to fish the fly become indispensable. One of these situations is during heavy chironomid hatches where trout will selectively feed on a specific size and colour of chironomid at a specific depth. Specific times within the open water season trout will prefer particular locations or depths within the water column for three reasons for comfort, to gain access to food or even to seek cover from predators. Early in the spring just after ice off and again in the fall as water temperatures reach or drop down to the 45–50-degree Fahrenheit ranges trout will move in shallow.
At these times trout are usually dining on leeches, Dragonfly nymphs, immature damselfly nymphs, scuds, boatman and to a lesser extent backswimmers. Basically, during these times of no insect activity trout will dine on food items that are usually available all year long.
Good lake fishing will provide a wide variety of match the hatch type fishing situations depending on what region, or elevation a lake is located at, the type of water chemistry present or even type of lake bottom structure available.
The lake bottom will also influence what food forms are present and in what densities. Mud bottoms will produce the heaviest and the most prolonged emergences of chironomids. While the Hyalella scud can tolerate alkaline waters as well as brackish back waters, it cannot tolerate a PH balance lower (more acidic) than 6.0. Lakes that meet these water chemistry values and have considerable marl shoals will produce the heaviest populations of hyalella scuds. If Gammarus scuds are present in significant numbers the water content must be high in calcium and contain plenty of weed beds, woody structure and benthic debris for the most part.
Lake bottoms that are covered with aquatic plants generally produce and attract the densest populations of aquatic insects which in turn attracts the most trout. Bottom structures composed of plenty of woody matter and rocky beds take second place to weedy areas. Lake bottoms of sand, silt or mud usually are least productive. However all three types of bottoms can be productive, as we mentioned previously mud bottoms can produce very high populations of chironomids. So, keep an open mind when there is no insect movement focus your efforts in and around weed beds primarily, and if insects are active focus your efforts, in around the bottom makeup where the insects are active. Whether the area is covered in weed beds, is rough and rocky, flat and silty, or in and around woody debris it doesn’t matter. When food becomes available in anyone of these areas that area where the food is available is most likely where the trout will be. The angler must be cognizant that this association of bottom structures and insect density/activity doesn’t apply to subsurface presentations only. If aquatic insects emerge in the surface film they will do so in close proximity or directly above where they developed and matured as an aquatic nymph, larva and pupa. So even when fishing just subsurface, in the film or with a dry fly during aquatic insect emergences you will be doing so over or in proximity to the structure these insects lived in during their aquatic life stage.
So the angler must put in an effort to discover which lakes contain what types of food base whether that be chironomid hatches, damselfly hatches, dragonfly hatches, mayfly hatches, caddisfly hatches, leeches, scuds or forage base minnows. This type of research will always be very worthwhile and will definitely improve both your success and overall enjoyment. Some lakes like some of the ones in Alberta has a wide variety of “chironomid lakes” that produce both subsurface, emerger type and dry fly action using fly patterns from size 18 on up to size 8 2X long hooks. Alberta lakes produce flying ant falls that provide dry fly action for some very large trout. Whether that be cinnamon, black or carpenter ant falls they are present and can be very exciting. We also have a few lakes that have three varieties of caddisfly hatches from size 16 all the way up to size 10 and even size 6-8 traveling sedges which bring up even the largest trout to feed on the surface.
Stream Weaver Flies would love to help you with any of your still-water fly fishing needs in order to help shorten the sometimes discouragingly long learning curve, that can often be confusing, frustrating and disappointing when first learning good still-water fly fishing tactics. Our programs and workshops we offer for lake strategies will delve into all we have covered in this introduction. The fly shop would enjoy being of service whether that be an informative still-water school or a guided trip out on local waters. The shop also offers very structured, informative and educational courses on how to tie deadly still-water fly patterns that will catch the largest selective trout on local lakes. I also tie and sells custom still-water fly patterns on request and I never mind helping you out with plane good old constructive, useful information.
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