Mastering Parkland Stillwaters – Pre Planning for Success


Embarking on a long anticipated fly fishing trip to realize that you arrived ill prepared or without the right tools to effectively capitalize on an amazing angling opportunity is something we have all experienced a time or two.

Parkland lakes offer the “grand slam” of stillwater trout fishing, rainbow, brown, tiger, splake, brook and lake trout are all attainable targets, but each lake and their available species require their own dedicated strategy to maximize success rates. So let’s elaborate on the pre planning and get you on the right track.

lake researchLake Research
The pinnacle item to a successful stillwater fly fishing strategy will be lake research, with the end result focusing on the specific location of fish and their feeding habits. Obtaining angling or depth maps for the lakes you plan to fish will get you off to a great start. Maps for the majority of Parkland lakes can be downloaded off the FLIPPR web site with many listing prime fishing locations. Combine your map info with local knowledge on where to fish, how the lake is fishing, when the best time to fish is and the staple fly patterns that consistently produce fish.

Great resources for fishing knowledge are local fly fishing forums and fishing reports from local guide and outfitter blogs and web sites

Embracing Technology
With specific locations of fish and their feeding habits being the main priority, one should embrace technology to fully utilize lake research info and to find where exactly the fish are and what exactly the fish are feeding on.

Fish finders, depth finders, graphs, sonar, whatever you want to call them, have their place in helping to locate fish and the structure that sustains them. But let’s take this a step further. Sonar holds the key to effectively and efficiently patterning fish in a particular area and keeping your fly in their strike zone. Without it, it’s a complete guessing game and sometimes a complicated process of elimination.

Sonar will reveal the prominent forage that fish are feeding on and the specific water column that they are staging in. Visuals to key in on are small to large pods or bait balls that identify minnows and large sheets of scattered spots or dots that identify emerging insects. Stay on top of these visuals and focus your presentations to the specific water column where fish are consistently identified. This is a text book process to patterning feeding fish.

Rods That Get The Job Done
Whether you’re fishing from a boat, pontoon or float tube, choosing the right fly rod to meet the diverse needs of Stillwater scenarios is an important decision. Your fly rod choice shouldn’t be influenced by price nor should it be influenced by brand name, what your choice will need to consider is a 5 to7 weight rod in 10ft length with a forgiving tip flex.

A 10ft rod gives you the added leverage needed to effectively land trout in an acceptable amount of time, control trout in close ranges, keep them away from obstacles that will ruin your day, allow you to manage longer leaders, and at the same instance give you the extra height and speed needed to cast effectively during our all so common windy days. When it comes to consistently landing big fish a 10ft rod in relative weights with a forgiving tip flex will always give you the upper hand. Stillwater trout, and lets be specific to those species that live in our Parkland lakes, have a unique skill to fight harder than most and break leaders with ease on initial hook sets. Odds are seriously skewed when our oversized trout hit a fly and instantly run the opposite direction. Rods with a fast tip or excessive backbone will contribute to an instant leader break because there is not enough flex present when you strip set and lift simultaneously.

line & reelsThe Right Line and Reel
Covering the water columns is a term I use often, buts it’s also an acquired technique that honestly dictates all levels of success. Knowing how each fly line works and when to use them is the ultimate test in Stillwater fly fishing. Fly lines all have a specific purpose for ideal presentations and all effectively cover a certain water column. But the answer is in the retrieve of the lines and the path your fly or flies take when trailing such lines.

Your sinking variations will have specific sink rates that can be effectively timed with a countdown system. If you are using neutral flies without any weight a steady retrieve will keep your fly in the target zone. A floating line with a leader matching the depth of water you have chosen to fish works excellent for ultra slow retrieves or static presentations. Practice your countdowns and retrieves with various lengths of leaders and fly weights on all your lines until you know exactly what they do under the water. Combo your lines with matching mid arbour disc drag reels and 75 to 100 yards of gel spun backing.

leaders & droppers

Leaders and Droppers
Always consider where and what you are fishing for before choosing a leader set up. Whether your target is browns and brookies in thick cover or big rainbows on mud flats, your leader set up must meet the needs of your required presentation, account for surrounding cover or habitat and match the size of fish that will or could be caught. Presentation should always take precedence, especially if you are using small flies or need to down size. The go to leader should be a minimum of 6lb test high strength fluorocarbon. This rig will do great in clear water or when you need to slow things down and present something very small and specific.

A great all round leader will be an 8lb test high strength fluorocarbon. This rig will cover most scenarios and still have the flexibility for picky presentations. Great for intermediate or full sink lines where catching large cruising fish are common. This is confidence line that offers a lot of forgiveness.

When targeting big fish, (big meaning fish over the 26 inch mark), fish in heavy cover like rocks or logs, and any instance where the opportunity for rainbows in the 28 inch plus range are present, a 10lb test high strength fluro carbon leader isa great choice. 10lb test will give you confidence and all kinds of flexibility.

These leader suggestions also apply to dropper lines. Always match your dropper line strength to your leader strength. This gives you equal knot strength when joining two lines. Flies That Produce

Every Parkland Lake has its own distinct make up, just because a brown Wooly Bugger works on one lake doesn’t mean it will work on another, nor will it increase your odds of unveiling the true potential of each fishery. So cover somewhat of a gamut and focus on matching, in my opinion, the top 5 producing forage categories.

fliesMinnows: every lake has them, focus on stickleback, dace and shiner patterns from 1 to 2 ½ inches. All Parkland trout, including big rainbows, gorge on minnows especially after a big wind.

Leeches: definitely the number one choice for a “go to” pattern, focus on 1 to 3 inch flies, brown, black, claret and purple and their shaded variations will catch fish and big fish with the right presentation. Tie them sparse and balanced.

Backswimmers and Water Boatman: A favorite of most trout, really effective as a dropper pattern. Up size these patterns to size 8 and 10 to stand out and cause a commotion, especially during large hatches.

Scuds/Shrimp: If there was a commercial market for gammarus shrimp I am sure Manitoba could lead the world in production. Many of our trout enjoy record growth rates because of them. Lime green and grey are common colours. Pitching these patterns in size 10 and 12 along pencil weed edges can be highly productive.

Damsels and Caddis: It’s hard to choose so I put them both on the pedestal. Both are prevalent in most Parkland lakes and are great searching patterns. Like backswimmers and water boatman, these patterns are deadly on a dropper line, sizes 8 to 12 are favourable sizes.


About Author

Owner of Alpine Country Outfitters, Manitoba's Stillwater Fly Fishing Specialist Hunt Fish Marketing Consultant for Travel Manitoba Career Fishing/Fly Fishing/Hunting Guide in Manitoba Career marketer in Manitoba’s hunting and fishing industry Current board member on FLIPPR (Fish and Lake Improvement Program for the Parkland Region) Current board member on the Manitoba Lodges and Outfitters Association Past Executive Director of the Manitoba Lodges and Outfitters Association Competitor at four Canadian National Fly Fishing Championships 2004/2005/2009/2010 (Individual) Siver medalist at 2009 Canadian National Fly Fishing Championships: Fernie, BC (Team) Siver medalist at 2009 Canadian National Fly Fishing Championships: Fernie, BC Current waterfowl and fly fishing guide at Birdtail Waterfowl Past Fishing/Fly Fishing Guide at The Lodge at Little Duck, Webber’s Lodges, Knee Lake Resort, Hayes River Past big game and waterfowl hunting guide at Webber’s Lodges Former Orvis Endorsed Fly Fishing Guide/Fly Fishing Instructor Former commercial fly tyer

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