STARTING STILLWATER TROUT FISHING by Andy Lush
Part 1 – Finding the food, location, presentation, boat fishing and Spring
I find starting a new style of fishing both exciting and challenging and I hope you will too.
Newcomers to fly fishing will find the prospect of casting a fur and feather creation that vaguely resembles some food item very daunting indeed, confidence is a rare commodity at this point so it’s not surprising that a little inspiration is necessary.
I’ve always said that fly fishing is a fickle game you can go from “dejection to elation in just one fish”. Confidence is a key element if you are to succeed; confidence comes from believing you are doing the right thing, in the right place, at the right time, success breeds confidence!
How should you approach the task in hand?
To understand the where, when and how, you must first consider what makes trout tick, for almost all their entire lives trout will be searching for food and the more abundant this source of food is the more trout you will find there, so the easy answer is find the food source first, but where will this be and at what depth?
At the beginning of the season, around March, the water temperature will be low but the first warming rays of sunlight will warm the shallow marginal water, this is where the first weed growth will appear and signs of life begin to emerge from the mud and silt in the form of larvae and grubs.
Another major facture to consider is wind direction, why? Well the current created by the wind causes a considerable amount of undertow on the downwind banks this can clearly be seen in the form of coloured water, the suspended silt with its residents will be dislodged by this current creating easy pickings and a feeding opportunity for the trout so expect them to be feasting on this bounty.
Location and presentation.
The first pieces of the puzzle are now in place, now for presentation. Being cold blooded all freshwater fish are the same temperature as the water, in the early spring the cold water will mean the trout will be sluggish in their movements so don’t expect them to chase after fast moving objects, this is natures way of conserving energy, reducing the need to seek food at a time when little is available. What this tells us is to retrieve our flies slowly and as the food is near or in the bottom silt we must keep our flies hovering just off bottom avoiding snagging or picking up weed or leaf litter.
Now as we are looking at the marginal areas these are shallow so your choice of fly line will be either a floating line coupled with a long leader up to 1.5 times the rod length with a weighted fly or if its too windy, this creates a lot of line drag making it impossible to keep your fly creeping along close to the bottom, a slow intermediate line, with a sink rate of between 1” to 1.5” per sec, this line effectively tucks under the surface drag allowing you to continue fishing slowly and horizontally through the water column.
As you start casting into or across the wind consider angling some casts along the margins if space allows, this will keep your flies in the most productive water for the longest time, also cast across the wind for better hook ups, I’ll explain. If you cast with the wind behind you the trout will be approaching your fly from behind and this can lead to a lot of short takes, if you cast across the wind the trout will have your fly pass across its nose, as they face the current created by the wind, this produces many more positive hook ups usually in the corner of the mouth.
If the wind becomes too strong to cast directly into then move to a position that allows you to cast across it letting your line and flies swing around into the downwind margins. This is where presentation becomes all important, if you are able to use a ‘team’ of flies I would suggest continuing to use a floating line in conjunction with a weighted point fly, on the droppers place buzzer and bloodworm patterns, the heavy ‘sacrificial’ point fly will hold your dropper flies down at the productive depth, this is a very successful early season tactic from both bank and boat.
Depending on the wind strength you will have to keep tweaking your team until you get the balance right. I sometimes use an Airflo 5ft Polyleader, in the intermediate version, as this converts my floating line into a ‘midge tip’ with this weighted sinking section on the tip of my line gives me the ability to reduce the belly in my fly line keeping me in touch with my flies this also allows me to dispense with the weighted ‘sacrificial’ point fly which can be awkward to cast on a long leader, if the wind strengthens still further I’ll change to a heavier ‘slow sinking’ polyleader for extra depth and speed control.
You may find these tactics hard to master at first due to the difficulty of using multiple flies or long leaders or maybe the fishery rules do not allow the use of droppers? If so select a ‘slow intermediate’ line which sinks at around 1” per sec, by using the ‘countdown’ method i.e. counting the time you allow the line to sink before starting the retrieve, you can systematically search through the layers of the water, its important to remember the ‘count’ of the retrieve when you hook your first fish because once established you should be able to catch several more, remember ‘depth and speed’ is usually more important than the flies you are using. As you become more experienced you will notice your fly choice will be influenced by its ability to fish at a certain depth its construction i.e. weighted, un-weighted, light gauge hook, bushy hackles or even buoyant construction [Booby] will allow you to present it at the right ‘depth and speed’.
I prefer to fish from a boat, its an essential part of my fishing technique “not just something to sit in”, by April it should be warm enough to start ‘drifting’ this style of fishing allows you to fish effectively while slowly moving across the water always searching for signs of feeding fish, as fish like to face the current in this case created by the wind they will mooch upwind all the time searching for food they will encounter periodic hatches of flies dependant on light levels, overcast skies produce more flies so expect the trout to be very active in these conditions even sipping emerging adults as they try to escape through the surface film, so the fish are swimming up wind. I’ll start my drift close to the upwind shore making sure not to disturb any bank anglers or cruising fish that could already be sipping emergers in the calm area just inside the ripple, the calm creates surface tension which traps emerging insects like glue to the surface and trout will take advantage of this so beware and approach with caution, the boat is positioned across the wind and the ‘drogue’ is deployed, this underwater parachute slows the boats drift speed which allows you to slowly retrieve your line, just enough to keep in contact with your flies as you ‘count down’ to the required level before commencing the retrieve, I’m drifting downwind, so sooner or later I’m going to cross paths with fish.
Good boat anglers are always scanning ahead of the boat by a distance of one or two cast lengths looking for any signs of fish, by this I don’t mean I expect to see the whole fish, rather their presence this can be a change in the pattern of the ripple, ‘nervous water’ that is caused either by trout poking its head through the surface sipping a fly or maybe a tail or dorsal fin just clipping the surface, whatever it might be any signs of fish out in open water near the surface is potentially a feeding fish and a feeding fish is very catchable, an accurate cast across and just upwind of it is often meet by a tightening of the line as a hooked fish leaps clear of the water, that in a nutshell is why drifting is vitally important if you want to succeed on reservoirs.
At last it’s a real joy to be on the water, the fly life is in full swing by now, you can catch from the bank slowly fishing your chosen flies on a floating line, remembering the ‘count’, without the need to cast directly into the wind, what joy!
Before I get too far ahead of myself I must mention two major fly hatches that occur during this spring period, these hatches offer the opportunity for some superb surface action with either wet or dry flies. First comes the Hawthorne these terrestrials usually hatch during late April they can be seen swarming around the newly flowering hedgerows close to the waters edge, once they land on the water they quickly drown but they don’t go to waste as the trout gorge themselves on these tasty morsels, beware the hatch only lasts for a few days so it could easily be missed by the less observant.
The second and far more important hatch is the Mayfly this occurs anytime between mid April to mid June, what a majestic fly this truly is, you will recognise it by its upturned wings similar to the Olive but much larger in size, the trout love them in all their forms be it nymph, emerger, adult or spinner. Its not just the trout that love Mayflies the water fowl feed on them heavily as well, I love watching the newly hatched young coots and ducklings chasing mayflies as they alight the water, oh how I love the spring!
You will have notice my preference for natural fly patterns, this stems from my early years of fly fishing, I used all manner of creations back then some very successfully but over the years my approach has gradually changed and with that change I’ve become more consistently successful, obviously my understanding of trout’s behaviour with experience has helped in this improvement but the change in tactics imitating the trout’s diet was for me the major factor, “a more logical approach”.
Very early on my catches were almost entirely made up of new stock fish, you can tell by their soft flesh, rounded tail fins and lack of food when spooned, at the time Bewl Water was stocked every other week and every other week I caught my limit and in between I struggled only fooling the odd fish at last knockings as the light faded and my poor presentation was not so easily noticed. I know that on large stocked waters such as reservoirs a reasonable number of fish escape capture early in the season and these fish go “native” and feed on naturals that’s not to say they can’t be caught on attractor flies such as Booby’s and Blob’s
On smaller Stillwater fisheries I believe the turnover of fish is much shorter maybe two or three days after introduction so the opportunity for fish to develop a taste for naturals is less likely, I still use my small fly natural approach but in all honesty I catch despite, not because of this approach I do it because I enjoy fishing this subtle way, again that’s my choice it doesn’t have to be yours, in fact you’d do well to be more open minded, look at the catch reports in the fishery log book to see what’s been catching over the previous few days.
See you next month, tight lines
The Friendly Fisherman