So you’ve done your research, you know what lakes are producing and the locations where fish are active, you have the right rods, reels, lines, leaders, and flies and your ready to hit the water. You mark fish on your sonar, you observe active fish, there everywhere!
You cast every line, leader and fly combination in your possession but you continue to come up empty. You cast and retrieve, you troll, and you sit and wait. Hours later, in a desperate frame of mind you ask yourself, “What am I doing wrong?”
Welcome to the world of stillwater trout fishing, one of the most unpredictable and constantly changing angling environments. But like any other angling opportunity, it can be conquered, especially by those who are persistent and most importantly, adaptable.
Complacency; definitely one of our worst enemies when it comes to succeeding on the water. A personal barrier that blocks any and all chances of actively learning and embracing new techniques but also adapting to change. You can’t do the same old thing over and over and expect different results. Actually, I think that’s the definition of insanity.
Insane or not, we all do it. We cast the same distance and retrieve our flies at the same speed, with the same method, we fish the same spots over and over, we fish a piece of structure or feeding area the same way we always do, we troll because it works most of the time, we kick and splash in our belly boats or make noise in our boat, no big deal. And we still ask ourselves the same question when we aren’t catching fish, “What am I doing wrong?”
Thinking outside of the “box” and trying new things will always put you on top. Being persistent with new techniques will help you eliminate the ones that don’t produce, put you in a favourable position to accurately pattern most scenarios, and give you an arsenal of techniques that not only catches fish in the toughest of times but gives you the confidence to execute a successful strategy. So let’s crush the status quo and take a look at three stillwater techniques, with visuals, that you can apply with success to your next stillwater fly fishing trip.
Stationary Pitch and Pull
(When trout are located tight to shoreline structure) Double anchor your boat so that you are stationary and casting adjacent or parallel to productive shoreline structure. A drifting boat and drifting fly does not allow you to effectively target a small area. Anchoring gives you the advantage of staying on top of the active area especially when fish are tight to logs, rock reefs or weed edges.
Pitch your fly/flies close to the structure, allow the fly/flies to sink to the bottom or within the strike zone and retrieve them ultra-slow with a figure eight/hand twist retrieve with staggered pauses, making sure that you cover and hold in all water columns. Keeping your fly/flies in the strike zone is key when fishing tight to structure. Those trout are there for a reason and most likely won’t move out of their comfort zone to hit your fly/flies. Pitch in front of them and keep it in front of them for as long as possible. An ultra-slow retrieve with pauses will keep trout interested and trigger strikes outside of the active feeding area.
Key Point: This tactic works best with balanced or unweighted flies on floating lines with leaders that match the depth directly adjacent and off the targeted structure. Watch your line for strikes or add a strike indicator. Highly productive when trout have moved into shoreline structure to feed on minnows or scuds after a big or consistent wind.
Stationary Low and Slow
(When trout are located over a deep water transition or saddle)
Locate the main concentration of trout with your sonar and note the depth/water column that they are most consistent at. Double anchor your boat so that you are stationary and casting parallel to the deep water transition or through the trough/saddle. Staying on top of active fish in deep water can account for some serious size and numbers especially on sunny and calm days. This gives you an advantage to keep your line and flies lateral, within the active feeding column and not drifting off a hard to find spot.
Cast the line that allows you to match the depth of where the main concentration of fish have been consistently marked. Make sure that you keep your line and fly/flies within the targeted water column. Large concentrations of trout in deep water usually means they have found an ideal water temperature, favoured low light condition or are on feeding frenzy. Use 14 foot leaders with a fly at the point and a fly on a dropper at the seven foot mark. Start with an ultra-slow retrieve with pauses, slowly increase your retrieve speeds especially with sinking lines since you need to find an optimum strike reaction.
Key Point: This tactic works great when fish are holding deep due to low pressure systems, high sun and big wind. Most common fishable depths are between 12 and 18 feet and this presentation works best with sink tip and full sinking lines and when large hatches or bait balls are prominent.
(When trout are scattered, feeding high in the water column, or spooky; allows you to cover large areas effectively.)
Position your boat so that you are facing/casting into the wind, start your drift upwind from any location that is holding trout. This presentation allows you to cover a large area and keeps your flies at a consistent speed and in a targeted water column. Really, the best of both worlds and probably one of the most effective techniques to target cruising trout and trout that are feeding in the top three feet of any water column.
As you start your drift, cast 40 to 50 feet of line forward of your boat. Make sure you have enough drift speed to keep your line from sinking to the bottom and use your trolling motor to keep you in the right position. Do not retrieve your line, keep it out in front of you and allow it to present your flies at a consistent speed and in a targeted water column. Again, use 14 foot leaders with a fly at the point and a fly on a dropper at the seven foot mark, matched to a floating or intermediate sink line.
Key Point: Keep your line tight and your rod tip on the water at all times. Long lines with slack will not be forgiving when it comes to undetected bites. Keeping everything tight allows for an instant and solid hook set. Fish all depths and over any observed trout activity with this technique.