Stillwater Trout Fishing - getting dialed in
We began preparing our pontoon boats and gear for a swift launch.  We could see trout rising to midges all across the lake.  The fish seemed to be randomly cruising, taking an insect here and there as they moved along. 

The rewards of Stillwater fishing can be significant.This Rainbow took a size-22 midge

We were here for two reasons - to have fun and coincidentally, to check out the location for an upcoming outing by a local company.  My primary intent was to find out what the fish in this pond were feeding on so I’d know what flies to tie/recommend for this trip.  I was pretty sure we would find the normal assortment of midges, damsels, dragonflies, Callibaetis, leeches, etc.

In preparation for this day I had tied-up an assortment of small midge imitations from size-20 to 24.  However, a guide that spends a lot of time in the area stopped for a chat and suggested big black Wooly Bugger stripped through the drop offs.  Moreover, he indicated that we should be using 2X or better tippet because there are some real ‘tortugas’ in this 10 acre pond. 

Instead of taking time to see what food sources were available to the fish, we immediately adopted the large streamers strategy due to overpowering vision of 10-pound Rainbows.  It took a couple of hours working the deep areas with only a few average fish to acknowledge this plan had some flaws.  Naturally, this conclusion was reached after the number of risers in the shallows had dropped off significantly.  I’m sure the guide and his clients had done very well on streamers since there were a large number of minnows in the lake.  But today they simply weren’t producing or we didn’t have the right size, color, or who knows what?

I would guess 80% of fly-fishers are attracted to running water.  Most fish it exclusively.  I’m partial to streams and small creeks and will opt for this type of fishing given a choice.  On the other hand, still water trout fishing is a great way to avoid crowds and catch some really nice trout.  Furthermore, sitting in a floatation device and moving around a mountain lake on a beautiful summer day with something cold to drink within easy reach day is addicting.

The mentality of fishing stillwater is similar, but different from fishing a river. In a river, you can actually see boulders, seams, plunge pools, tail-outs and holding structure – logical fishing places. Lakes and ponds also have structure, but it's different and on a larger scale.  We’re talking about shoals, drop offs, sloping grades, and deep water.  I think most anglers (including myself) waste time in unproductive water.  The reality is that trout feed in certain areas of a lake and at specific depths depending on wind, sunlight, water temperature, and availability of food.

Early morning and late evening trout often cruise the shallows looking for a meal.  So what were the risers in this pond feeding on?  I didn’t see any damsel flies but I had seen plenty of midges and Callibaetis may flies the previous week while hiking around the pond to fish the river.  This particular insect, typically matched by #14-18 imitations, can be the most dominant summer insect on many Western stillwaters.  Weedy areas and Callibaetis nymphs go hand-in-hand because the nymphs feed on the algae.  As if by some signal, each of us switched over to a Callibaetis nymph pattern which immediately improved the fishing.

Larry Jurgens nets another good 20-inch Rainbow between the afternoon rain showers

My set up was a size 14 nymph of my own design with a size-22 black beauty midge tied to the hook bend as a trailer.  About 18-inches ahead of the Callibaetis was a micro split shot to get the flies a few inches under the surface.   Most of the fish took the black beauty.  Why use a midge pattern?  A 10+ year study made by well known stillwater fishermen showed that Chironomids (midges) comprise 40% of the year round diet of trout.  Even in the summer, when there are many alternatives, the number is 25% (the biggest single share).  I tried different colors but the fish preferred black.  All of us were using different patterns but the setup was roughly the same.  One member of the party put on a PMD emerger and for some reason the fish wouldn’t leave it alone.  The moral here - don’t be afraid to experiment. Of equal importance is to take the necessary time to see what is going on before you start fishing!

The Fly Patterns:

The Black Beauty is a Pat Dorsey pattern readily available in most any fly shop.  The fly on the left was tied with a glass bead (mercury silver from Spirit River).  The bodies are black thread with copper wire wrapped counter clockwise and a dubbed thorax.  This is a very simple pattern to tie and very productive to fish.


There are lots of Callibaetis patterns to chose from - to the left is one that I tie.  It also works pretty well as damsel fly imitation.  In general you want a thin body and a fatter thorax.