By Zach Lazzari
I’ve been getting after the stillwater fishing here in Montana lately and outside of the fact that I’ve been catching some hefty trout, I have also had lakes completely to myself. When the rivers are overcrowded with drift boats or simply blown out with runoff or poor conditions, stillwaters offer some incredible opportunities. Not only are their numerous lakes and reservoirs worth exploring throughout the west, the trout can grow exceptionally large and in many cases, they fight like crazy.
Part of the reason for the lack of anglers chasing fish on the many stillwaters available is the simple fact that finding fish is intimidating. Contrary to popular belief, stillwater fly fishing is not actually still. These waters are often in motion and learning to make a few simple reads can have on excellent fishing.
Reading the Lake
Before you jump out and start casting blindly, take a read of the lake. Look for color changes that indicate drop-offs, structure like rock outcroppings and logs and weed beds. Inlets, outlets and springs are always good places to focus as well (outside of spawning seasons). After taking a basic reading, focus on areas that are food rich and make a read on the currents. Structure attracts baitfish, weed beds host abundant populations of scuds, midge larvae and damsel and dragonfly nymphs and mud bottom zones have plenty of large midges and mayflies that ascend off the bottom. Playing the wind means paying attention to where the currents are driving food. In many cases, casting into the wind delivers a natural presentation as most insects will drift with the current rather than against.
Food Sources and Flies
Lake fishing isn’t all that different than river fishing. Check the surface film and surrounding bushes for specific insects. Otherwise, chironomids are a year-round game and fishing baitfish or general leech pattern is always a good move. A bugger and a chironomid on a floating or slow sink line can produce trout just about anywhere. When you start fishing the lake, it’s a blind process unless the fish are visibly feeding on top or near the surface. Working a bugger and chironomid against weed beds and over drop offs is a great approach to prospecting.
Alternate between low and fast retrieves and test different depths until you start picking up fish consistently. It may be a searching game in the beginning but once you find the right formula, you can repeat and get into some really consistent fishing. Big number days are not uncommon once you figure out the best approach to a specific body of water.
For stillwater fly fishing situations, we’d recommend our new JXP in the 9-foot 6-weight. This high-performance fly rod is a great fit for making long casts on lakes in windy situations. You might also consider the Reaper X 9-foot 7-weight rod. For the price, you won't find a better fly rod that can handle big flies, big fish and delicate situations.