Fly Fishing competitions have heavily influenced new fly-fishing equipment, tactics and fly development in the last couple of decades in Canada and the world scene. The UK anglers seem to have taken the forefront position on being the most advanced in lake tactic for trout in European and World competitions. Everything from clothing to rods designs, leaders and methods of fishing has changed considerably and undoubtedly has improved our general fishing. Many new flies to us have become available and how to fish them has transfered in with these great new fly patterns. Call it Loch/Lough/Lake or Stillwater as it all means lake fishing in any dialect of English. Many changes have advanced the lake anglers tactics and approach to lakes. This includes fly development and fly tying materials. Here I will share some of these ideologies that are proven in the national and international world of lake fishing with hopes that your skills and catch rates can be more consistent and will improve your abilities as an angler to advance in these newer tactics on any given day by adjusting to more fishing scenerios.
Lake fishing is usually divided during the open water season as early, mid and late fishing seasons. All three seasons have distinct fish behaviour, fish feeding moods, insect and other fauna activity which require adjustments in our presentations and flies to suit the feeding needs of the trout.
The early season is a time of anticipation for many anglers. From ice off when the surface water temperature is 34 Fahrenheit (0C) to a few weeks down the road at 52-58 degrees Fahrenheit signifies the early season. Use a temperature gauge as you move through a lake to determine the area you are fishing with the seasonal attitude to that area. Not all of a lake changes from one season to another at the same time. Especially after ice is off and on wind swept days. Back bay and wind-swept areas can frequently be warmer than the main body and the angler needs to adjust their tactics accordingly. The fish mood in the early season is usually neutral to negative during this time period. This typically will mean a slower presentation with lots of hang time for the fish feeding mood to kick on. This can be variable in different lakes even within close proximity to each other. This is part of why we use surface temperature to indicate and suggest the fishing period. Not all lakes warm or cool at the same time over the same days. How large or small a lake is and their exposures to wind are important factors on what changes or progresses in the calendar period. As the water warms the fish behaviour changes as does the fauna availability. Fish behaviours being negative, neutral or positive in no way means that fish are not catchable at the negative end of mood frame. But their mood does affect the type of presentation required and more so the type of retrieves, speed or even lack of retrieves imparted into the fly. It is selecting the appropriate fishing technique that will provide successful days under these varying conditions. As the surface water temperatures move closer to the low fifties the fish will make a few changes in their feeding habits and their behaviour becoming more neutral or positive in their behavioural attitudes. Much of this is based on food availability, food volume and food location (levels/depth), oxygen levels and subsurface temperatures.
During the early season a slow sinking line or a floating line with 20 foot leaders are extremely effective. During this time, it is imperative to get your flies deep, as quickly as possible without looking animated (relative term) on long casts. Using different types of hook gauge such as standard wire, 1X strong, 2X strong gauge all have different sink rates. Getting flies to bottom is a measure of time more than a measure of depth. Fish this time of year generally are feeding on or near the bottom. The transition from bottom feeding zones occurs sometime after ice off on lakes. It is typically noticed when a turn in the water occurs having suspended mats of lake bottom floating to surface. This announces a mixture of bottom water and surface water. The mats carry large volumes of food as they float to the surface with many creatures falling out of these mats. This is when we will transition into other types of fishing techniques. This time frame of bottom feeding behaviour is also the most unpredictable time of the year on trout lakes.
Back to the term “deep quickly” is a bit of a misleading statement and many of us take it too literally. Getting your fly’s deep means a sensible controlled countdown of your flies to a depth that the fish are feeding at to identify a feeding zone. To often as anglers and fly tiers over do this by adding too much weight on the vast majority of our lake fishing flies. The fly on the end of a leader in a three fly or two fly system is usually called the point fly. It can also be called the anchor fly in this same position if we have added weight to the fly pattern. The first dropper tag up from the point fly is called the mid fly and the next tag up towards your fly line is called the top fly or Bob fly. Bob flies often are flies that are very colourful or will move, push a lot of water to appease the lateral line hearing of a fish and visually simulate a fish.
Point or anchor flies can be jig type fly patterns with a Tungsten bead head for this early season or just a 1X or 2X strong hook that utilizes the weight of the wire gauge that the fly is built upon. Obviously the tungsten weighted fly has a sink rate of 2 feet per second and the 1X and 2X hooks sink at about 1 foot per 3 second. So you base your count down on the weight in the heaviest fly hook on the assembly method used.
Very early season fishing with a cast or team of wet flies on a slow sinking line or floating line with long leaders is an affective way for searching the shallower locations from 15 feet to 4 feet of water. Leaders of this length are a necessity for good spacing on multiply fly rigs and quick change outs of fly line sink rates to adjust to fish depth. Remember the 1.5 times standard rule to achieve bottom contact. A properly designed leader (not store bought) can easily roll over a three fly system effortlessly. Store bought leaders need to be modified to achieve the same turn over by cutting a leader of nine feet back to seven and a half feet on a 0x or 1x tippet. Cut back a foot and a half from the butt section, not the tippet section. This still allows a good turn over but also reduces the heavier butt section that can be over bearing on the leader. Copolymer or monofilament leaders for this section are the better choice because of their suppleness and stretch for shock loading on the take. It gives you some shock load and monofilament allows a slower descent than fluorocarbon tippets. Nylon and copolymer leaders also do not break the surface tension of water as effortlessly as the fluorocarbon tippets. This can be used to your advantage in slowing the descent rate. The working end below the feeding fish with this method is quickly found by cruising fish when given time. Running a weighted nymph style pattern on the point and unweighted patterns on the first dropper and a wet fly on the top dropper is very effective. The most important part of this style of presentation is the area we fish, the depth we fish and the speed of our retrieve, more so than the fly selection.
You will find with this method that once you have achieved the proper depth that most of the takes will be in the first few pulls on the retrieve. But as always fish will decide if they want the fly on the drop, in the curve of the return or at the entry or exist points of the cast. You need to stay focused to develop the anticipated take zone and adjust your presentation to it as necessary. It is all about finding the right level when you first start your approach to the water in front of you.
I almost always fish from a drifting boat and allow wind to move me down a lake. The drift is calculated to hit or drift over specific areas or structure intentionally. Slowing down the drift in winds over 10 km/h is critical. A slowed drift allows more casts into the area in front of you and allows the flies to sink deeper and to depth. At times I will anchor up wind from a piece of structure or area that is holding active fish. Here I allow 30 feet of rope out to the anchor and steer my boat left or right (by creating drag in the water with a paddle/oar or my electric motor keel will also yaw the boat. This allows for longer sweeping curves of the boat to cover off the area. Then I allow another 30 feet of rope out. This again allows me to sweep the area with the boat and the sweeping arch becomes broader in a port to starboard motion from the anchor point.
When fish stay down as they usually do during the early season. Deeper nymphs tactics and nymph patterns are needed. Nymphs depending on your perspective can also be what we call a micro leech. I personally do not particularly like to categorize flies that have longer narrow or long stout profiles as a leech pattern. The profiles on many aquatic fauna can have an over lap in length and the tear drop profile that is common to many aquatic species. Long narrow, long wide profiles are what you are looking for in a pattern. The name really isn’t relevant to a pattern so long as it will fit either of these profiles. Trout generally don’t see flies as we do. Certain triggers built into a fly pattern design or movement type of the pattern deceive trout. When purchasing or building your own my patterns the better approach is what is the fly intended to do and then either buy a profile that will achieve that function or build your own to do the same. Triggers can be shape, colour irrespective of the imitations resemblance to a food item. Long narrow can imitate leeches, minnows, damsels and worms. Long stout can also imitate minnows, dragonflies, water beetles and beetle larvae. What is relevant is the profile, then size and if the fly being used on the point has some weight or if it is a jig style pattern to be the anchor.
Jig style patterns allow you to drag the bottom and occasionally get hung up in debris. Non-jig style patterns should be methodically retrieved over or slightly above the debris so as to not hook up solidly with the hook point facing downward. Getting hung up with a jig has some distinct advantages. Jig flies have an advantage and most long narrow or long stout flies can be tied on jig flies style hooks, with or without super heavy weight and used as a point fly. They are able to walk across most substrates and debris without fouling as often and allow the hook to stay sharp because it rides hook point up. The jig flies make very good point flies that are utilized in some of the techniques we use in the early season.
First is they anchor your cast. Second it allows you to work the other two flies in a solitary position by increasing and decreasing the line tension to the anchored fly. This then when is slacked off allows the other two flies in a controlled fashion to descend slowly. This is a very controlled descent and conversely when the line is tighten back to the anchor fly will ascend the droppers respectfully. Many insects do not move long distances in a short period of time and nor do they do this quickly. Chironomids are a prime example of extremely slow ascending and descending movement with the occasional wiggle. Damsels and dragonflies move a bit faster if not spooked or evading a predator, but generally they slowly craw the substrate. Dragonfly nymphs as anchor flies seldom need to be moved as the naturals very slowly stock the substrate and usually are stationary. Minnow and at times leeches are an exception to the slower moving insects but even here again in a lake scenario they move rather slowly more often than at a steady clipper speed. The flies should only travel down a foot at best when you pull tight or loosen off tension to the anchor fly. When you tighten up the line by either lifting the rod until your leader becomes straight again or use a few figure of eight hand twists. Hold in this position and then repeat a few times. What is happening down on the fishing end of your leader is that the flies will rise and drop based on your tension against the leader. It is these descending and ascending slow movements that will instigate a strike. Once you’re satisfied that you have given it enough time to work. Retrieve the leader until the anchored fly has released and find another spot a few feet away to hopefully anchor your jig fly. This is an extremely good method of presenting many different fly patterns that perform exceedingly well when vertical motion is applied. This is a very natural movement of many insects. Especially when fishing the chironomid pupa type patterns.
Use darker flies at this time in the early season. Flies that are black, browns, dark olives and darker greys work best. Especially if you are using chironomid pupal patterns or leech and damsel fly style silhouettes. Traditional wet fly patterns in the silhouette can resemble many different fauna. This then allows fish to interpret the silhouette in many varying fashions to represent many food types. They also in many cases move piles of water for the fish to hear or sense with their lateral lines. This creates a sound signature or harmonic wave that allows fish to feel the flies long before they are seen.