Stillwater Tactics

Stillwater Cover2

Stillwater Tactics and Selecting the Right Rod

By Brian Chan

Like most other outdoor activities the equipment we use to go fly fishing is constantly being refined. This is well illustrated when you look at the diversity of fly rods that are made with more and more models being designed for quite specific fishing techniques or casting situations. The continual growth and interest in stillwater fly fishing has benefited immensely from not only changes in rod design but also fly lines that are almost perfectly matched to specific rod actions. One of the most successful approaches to fishing productive stillwaters is with floating lines used in combination with long leaders and sinking flies or with strike indicators to suspend flies. Both tactics are extremely effective in catching trout in lakes.

Trout feeding behavior dictates where in the lake we fish. They spend the majority of their time feeding within the shoal and drop-off zones of the lake which is where most of the aquatic insects and other important invertebrates live. Depth-wise this means feeding is concentrated in water from 25 to just a few feet deep. However, within the prime depth ranges trout will often only feed on larval, nymphal or pupal insect life stages and other foods sources in a very narrow depth zone. More specifically, midges, mayflies, damselflies, dragonflies, caddisflies, leeches and scuds are all effectively fished with floating lines. Often, much of the trout’s feeding occurs within a couple feet of the lake bottom where food densities are greatest and there is less exposure to predators. Floating lines allow flies to be presented at precise depths whether with a slow retrieve or wind drift with a sinking leader or suspending under a strike indicator. The end result is your flies spend more time in potential feeding zones. Casting and retrieving full sinking lines in shallower water will often result in your fly passing quickly through the prime feeding depth zone.

fishing the edge of the dropoff2

Casting floating lines and long leaders with or without strike indicators is made much easier when using longer rods. This means rods in the 9.5 to 10 foot range. There are numerous advantages to fishing longer rods with the primary one being the ability to manage longer leaders which can sometimes be more than 20 feet in length. The longer rod provides greater leverage which in the end helps keep the fly line higher off the water when false casting. Float tube or pontoon boat anglers which sit low to the water will benefit even more by using longer rods. Casting long leaders with strike indicators is often made easier by opening the casting loop. Double hauling with super narrow loops can spell trouble when using a 20 foot leader, a couple of flies and an indicator. It is a lot easier to slow the cast down and open your casting stroke so that the fly line, leader, indicator and fly or flies land in the proper order with no leader tangles or knots. The longer rod makes this type of casting and fishing much easier. A 50 foot cast is more than long enough when fishing strike indicators. Super long casts will only result in you being unable to see the slight dip or bobble of the indicator as the bite occurs.

Floating line nymphing using long leaders is also an excellent way to cover the shallow water zone. The theory behind this tactic is to use a leader at least 25% longer than the water being fished. The goal is to wait for the fly to reach the desired depth zone and then begin the retrieve to imitate the selected food source. The leader and fly will be moving through the water column on a gradual angle thus the longer leader will ensure the fly can reach and stay in that zone while a retrieve or wind drift is used. Longer rods make it much easier to accomplish this.

My personal favorites are the Sage VXP 5100-4 and the Sage ONE 4100-4. Both will make the long cast with long leaders for nymphing over the shoal and drop-off zones of the lake as well as lay out indicator setups using slower, more open loop casts. Remember the objective is to have our fly in the trout feeding zone for as long as possible before having to cast again. Having the right equipment for these specialized fishing situations allows us to not only be more successful but increase the enjoyment of the experience.

Brian Chan is Sage ambassador for British Columbia Canada. His lifelong passion for fly fishing has resulted in his spending literally thousands of angling days on these world class waters. He has shared his extensive knowledge of aquatic biology, trout ecology, entomology, and lake fly fishing tactics with others, through a number of magazine articles, books, and instructional DVDs on fly fishing. Brian has been featured on many TV fishing shows and is currently a regular guest on Sport Fishing on the Fly and co-host of The New Fly Fisher.

light coloured shoals and dark water dropoffs3

5 Responses to Stillwater Tactics

  1. T.E. Lewis says:

    Insightful and good refresher Sage before the season gets started. Bryan is a pioneer for fly fishing and it’s nice to read about his experiences on the water.

  2. Peter says:

    I am not familiar with stillwater angling, I only fish on a small lake in the local hills. This article got my mind going about a few questions concerning how I approach fishing on that lake. I have not been thinking abut where the trouts feed for example, which means that I have not maximized the time my fly spends in front of the fish.
    Thank you for the article!

  3. david watson says:

    Often read about buzzer fishing using extremely long leaders and strike indicators – but never heard anyone explain how you land a fish on a 20ft leader with a strike indicator at the top! Can anyone advise??

    • Ira Siebert says:

      You can either do the old lift the rod, direct the indicator into your mouth to pull the peg/toothpick technique, or you could buy some slip indicators that are designed to slip when you set the hook on a fish. These indicators involve some form of peg that pinches the leader inside the indicator. That pinched line is pulled through with tension and then the indicator slips up and down the leader. I’ve also seen bobber stops used but the leader tends to struggle to slip through these set ups.

  4. Andres says:

    In our city lake/pond..a lot of fly fisherman use short leaders and at least 6 ft tippet.

    It is a C & R so the fish are fed on a daily basis which makes it hard to determine what fly they will eat.

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